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The World

Archive | The World

Oil Theft in Nigeria

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Men guide a boat carrying drums filled with refined stolen oil near Nigeria’s oil state of Bayelsa in December 2012. Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters

Today, black is the new gold, especially in Nigeria. It is Africa’s largest oil producer and the 13th largest in the world.

Men guide a boat carrying drums filled with refined stolen oil near Nigeria’s oil state of Bayelsa in December 2012. Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters

However, Nigeria is facing a major problem. Oil is being stolen at an industrial scale of 100,000 barrels every day costing the country over $8 billion in lost revenue a year. Oil theft is operated by sophisticated multinational criminal enterprises that make Nigeria’s oil industry very complicated because the lines between what is legal and illegal are becoming very blurred. According to a recent article in the Economist, to steal oil, thieves illegally tap into pipelines and other infrastructures in the oil rich Niger Delta. They then funnel the stolen oil into small barges and boats. Some of the stolen oil is refined locally while the rest is transferred onto larger vessels and is refined elsewhere. The stolen oil is then mixed in with oil from legitimate sources and sold around the world.

Nigeria’s oil marketplace is dynamic but not very transparent. The specifics of who is stealing the oil and where it actually goes is hard to accurately estimate. However, Chatham House, a leading London think tank argues that due to the lucrative nature of the business, the key players don’t want the status quo to change. Politicians, security forces, oil workers, criminal entities, and local community leaders all seem to benefit from the oil theft and thus do little to stop it. A large-scale theft network includes security personnel, facilitators, local and foreign transport networks and a range of buyers and sellers. The profits from the buying and selling of the stolen oil is laundered by middlemen in financial hubs from New York to Singapore to Geneva. The money is deposited into the accounts of shell corporations and invested in legitimate businesses.

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Dim Prospects for Peace in Southern Thailand

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A soldier stands guard on the Thai side of the river as people prepare to cross into Malaysia in Sungai Kolok in southern Narathiwat province, March 8, 2013.  Source: Reuters

Since February of this year the Malaysian government has sponsored talks in Kuala Lumpur (KL) with the aim of ending the bloodshed that has plagued southern Thailand for nearly a decade.

A soldier stands guard on the Thai side of the river as people prepare to cross into Malaysia in Sungai Kolok in southern Narathiwat province, March 8, 2013. Source: Reuters

At the negotiating table are Thai government officials and the rebel group Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Coordinate (BRN-C). The talks have, thus far, failed to achieve their objective, as there remains a wide gap between both sides’ demands. The absence of leadership or political cohesion within the insurgency raises question about which rebels are being represented in KL, and to what extent the BRN-C fully represents or can influence all entities that comprise the insurgency. Events on the ground indicate that the insurgency has entered a new phase of enhanced violence and human rights abuses that now target children. Within this context, prospects for success in KL appear dim.

Three-quarters of Thailand’s population is ethnically Thai and 95% are Buddhist. Yet, in the southern provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Satun, and Yala the majority of citizens are ethnic Malays who practice Islam. All of the provinces, except Yala, were previously governed by the Malay-Muslim sultanate of Pattani, which ceased to exist after the state of Thailand (then known as “Siam”) annexed the territory over a century ago.

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Examining India’s Look East Policy 3.0

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Indian Naval ships.  Photo: Michael Scalet

“India will have to play a very great part in security problems of Asia and the Indian Ocean, more especially of the Middle East and Southeast Asia, as India is the pivot around which these problems will have to be considered.” – Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India

Indian Naval ships. Photo: Michael Scalet

The changing geopolitical environment in Asia and in particular in the Indian Ocean region brings attention to the role of oceans in shaping a country’s strategic and security policy. The launch of India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, Vikrant, on August 12, and later, a military satellite from French Guiana, on August 30, appears to form an integral part of India’s Asia-Pacific strategy or India’s Look East Policy (LEP) 3.0 Strategy. China views the Indian aircraft carrier and military satellite as a power projection by New Delhi in the region. For example, the official, China Daily, quoted Chinese analysts, “the development of the aircraft carrier (as well as the readiness of India’s first nuclear submarine for sea trials) were significant steps towards enabling India to project power across the oceans, not only in the Indian Ocean, but also eastward in the Pacific.”

Similarly, Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher at the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Naval Military Studies Research Institute is of the view that these developments have contributed to India’s efforts “to quicken its pace to steer eastward to the Pacific.” Therefore, the question that arises is whether this maritime component is a new feature of India’s LEP 3.0? Why and how is the Asia-Pacific significant for India? What is India’s stake in the region and how does New Delhi perceive this region in terms of India’s evolving strategic interests?

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Understanding China’s Underwhelming Response to Typhoon Haiyan

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Displaced Filipino and other international personnel prepare for takeoff from Tacloban Air Field

A week after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, the Chinese have been bit players in the response, with an initial pledge of 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) in-kind aid, and $200,000 in cash. Is this all we can expect?

Displaced Filipino and other international personnel prepare for takeoff from Tacloban Air Field

Probably not. Yet while all the news stories on the meager Chinese donations usually note that China has “the world’s second largest economy,” they usually fail to put China’s generosity (or lack) into context. Context helps to understand Chinese actions in two ways. First, any donation should properly be judged against not against a country’s absolute wealth but in relation to its wealth and population: i.e. wealth on a per capita basis. Seen from this perspective, China falls to #92 in the list of prosperity (using the World Bank’s measure of 2012 GDP/pc, or per capita, PPP).

With a per capita GDP of $9,233, the Chinese are far less wealthy than the countries that have contributed the most to the relief effort, so far: the UK ($32 million, $36,950 GDP/pc), Australia ($30 million; $44,598 GDP/pc), and the US ($20 million; $49,965 GDP/pc). (Many of these countries have also pledged in-kind assistance). Still, the response could have been more generous. Indeed, as I outline below, a historical perspective shows just how paltry the Chinese response has been so far, and how much it likely has to do with Chinese bitterness about the Philippine’s recent actions in the South China Seas.

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George Washington Strike Group boosts Philippines Relief Effort

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An MV-22B Osprey circles the airfield before landing to join efforts in assisting the Philippine government in aid and relief operations at Vilamor Air Base, Manila, Philippines, Nov. 11, 2013

A US aircraft carrier and its escort of two cruisers have arrived off the Philippines coast to help communities devastated by Typhoon Haiyan.

An MV-22B Osprey circles the airfield before landing to join efforts in assisting the Philippine government in aid and relief operations at Vilamor Air Base, Manila, Philippines, Nov. 11, 2013

The top US commander in the Philippines told the BBC that US military support would be on an unprecedented scale. Officials have begun burying some typhoon victims in mass graves. The confirmed death toll stands at more than 2,300 but is likely to rise. The UN says some 11 million people have been affected by the typhoon. With images of the suffering flashed around the world, a huge international aid effort has swung into operation.

The USS George Washington will expand search-and-rescue operations and provide a platform for helicopters to move supplies, the White House said. Two US destroyers are already in the Philippines and other US vessels are expected to arrive in about a week, the US Navy said. On Wednesday the US also ordered the activation of a hospital ship, the USNS Mercy. However, if deployed, it would not reach the Philippines until December. US Marine Brigadier General Paul Kennedy told BBC Radio 5 live that the US aid effort was being stepped up to a level that has “probably never been applied” to a humanitarian crisis. He said the arrival of the USS George Washington would triple the number of available helicopters, which can also deliver hundreds of thousands of gallons of water every day.

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Has the Arab Spring Failed?

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Libyan rebel rests after a battle with Qaddafi's forces

Challenging the falsehoods and simplifications that surrounded the so-called Arab Spring from the very start doesn’t necessarily mean that one is in doubt of the very notion that genuine revolutions have indeed gripped various Arab countries for nearly three years.

Libyan rebel rests after a battle with Qaddafi’s forces

In fact, the revolutionary influx is still underway, and it will take many years before the achievements of these popular mobilizations will be truly felt. One can understand the frustration and deep sense of disappointment resulting from the state of chaos in Libya, the political wrangling in Yemen and Tunisia, the brutal civil war in Syria, and of course, the collective heartbreak felt throughout the Arab world following the bloody events in Egypt.

But to assign the term ‘failure’ to Arab revolutions is also a mistake equal to the many miscalculations that accompanied the nascent revolutions and uprisings from the start. Many lapses of judgment were made early on, starting with the lumping together of all Arab countries into one category – discussed as singular news or academic topics. It was most convenient for a newspaper to ask such a question as “who’s next?” when Libya’s Muammar al-Gaddafi was so pitilessly murdered by NATO-supported rebels. It is equally convenient for academicians to keep contending with why the Egyptian army initially took the side of the January 25 revolution, the Syrian army sided with the ruling party, and while the Yemeni army descended into deep divisions.

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Pakistan Tense following Drone killing of Hakimullah Mehsud

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Hakimullah Mehsud

A tense Pakistan is awaiting the announcement of a new Taliban leader, after Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone strike on Friday.

Hakimullah Mehsud

Pakistan media say Mehsud’s funeral has taken place at an unknown location in the tribal area of North Waziristan. A Pakistan government minister said the drone strike believed to have killed Mehsud had destroyed attempts to hold peace talks with the militants. Taliban commander Khan Said Sajna is tipped to become the new leader. Mehsud was killed along with four other people - including two of his bodyguards - when four missiles struck their vehicle in the north-western region of North Waziristan, a senior Taliban official told the BBC. Neither the Pakistani nor US governments have officially confirmed or denied the reports.

Caitlin Hayden, a spokesperson for the US president’s National Security Council, would not comment on any US government involvement or confirm the death but said, if true, it would be a serious loss for the group. Several previous claims of Mehsud’s death, made by US and Pakistani intelligence sources, have proven untrue. Without commenting on Mehsud’s death, the Pakistan government said it strongly condemned the drone attack as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. The attack occurred on the same day the government announced it was about to send a delegation to North Waziristan to try to get peace negotiations with the Taliban under way.

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Spain’s Indictment of Hu Jintao and International Justice

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Pictured: Hu Jintao with Xi Jinping

Earlier this month, Spain’s Audencia Nacional accepted an appeal by a Spanish based Tibet advocacy group claiming that the Chinese government had supported “genocidal policies” in the Tibet Autonomous Region and initiated a probe.

Hu Jintao pictured with Xi Jinping

Among those indicted is Hu Jintao, the former President of the People’s Republic of China (2003-2013), who the appellants allege supported the policy while he was the Secretary of the Communist Party in Tibet from 1988-1992 and President of the nation almost a decade later. The court cites two factors for the basis of Spanish jurisdiction in the matter, invoking the controversial doctrine of universal jurisdiction, which is recognized by the Spanish legal system. Firstly, one of the complainants, Thubten Wangchen, is a Spanish citizen and secondly there is no evidence that any Chinese authority or court has initiated an investigation into the complaints made initially in 2008.

The lawsuit claims that during the years Mr. Jintao led the administration in the Tibet Autonomous Region, many of the policies and measured implemented were aimed at “eliminating the idiosyncrasies” of an independent Tibetan identity and existence. The policies stated include the “implementation of Martial law, forced displacement, mass sterilization campaigns and the transfer of a large number of ethnic Chinese people to gradually dominate and displace the indigenous Tibetan population.”

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Syrian War Spilling into Lebanon

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Watchful: Israel faces Syria across the Golan Heights. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Throughout the years, Lebanon’s demographics have experienced periodic influx. But particularly in the last two years, the demographic shift has been so overwhelming due to the flood of Syrian refugees in desperate need for shelter.

Watchful: Israel faces Syria across the Golan Heights. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The situation is highly charged, if not perilous, considering Lebanon’s unmanageable sectarian balances, let alone the direct involvement of Lebanese parties in the brutal Syrian war. If not treated with utter sensitivity and political wisdom, Lebanon’s vastly changing demographics will not bode well in a country of exceedingly fractious sectarian politics. The numbers speak for themselves. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 790,000 Syrian refugees have crossed into Lebanon since the beginning of the conflict. The number is constantly increasing, as an estimated 75,000 make the difficult journey from Syria to Lebanon every month.

Those refugees also include tens of thousands of Palestinians that have borne the brunt of the war in the last two years. In addition to approximately 250,000 Syrians working and living in Lebanon, the country already hosts hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were driven out of Palestine in several waves, starting with the Nakba, or Catastrophe in 1947-48. While the refugees were initially welcomed by their host country – as Syrians were initially welcomed in Lebanon – they eventually became a party in Lebanon’s war of numbers, as each sect was terrified by the prospect of losing political ground to their rivals.

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Saudi Arabia’s Message to the United States

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The Saudis have said they disagree with the U.S. approach to Syria

Last week’s decision by Saudi Arabia to pass on an opportunity to become a member of the UN Security Council speaks to the Council’s perceived ineffectiveness on a host of issues, and what comes with membership — the need to take a public position on sensitive issues in international relations.

The Saudis have said they disagree with the U.S. approach to Syria

This is contrary to the Saudi approach to influencing its neighbors, which is essentially to throw money their way and presume doing so will result in policies that are in line with that of the Saudis. To many countries this would seem an odd approach to conducting international affairs, but it actually makes a good deal of sense given the context. Saudi Arabia has the money, and they use it, often obtaining the desired effect. The Kingdom’s decision vis-à-vis the UN seat does not have a major impact on its relations with its neighbors and allies, but rather preserves it.

However, the Saudi announcement that it will implement a major shift in its relations with the U.S. should serve as a major wake-up call for Washington — not only in terms of bilateral relations, but for what it implies about the Kingdom’s relations with other nations in the Middle East and beyond. In essence, the Saudis have said they disagree with the U.S. approach to both Iran and Syria, and plan to ‘go it alone’ in addressing Iran’s nuclear program and the ongoing Syrian conflict. They are betting that they will do no worse by embarking on an independent path than they did in achieving their objectives by being aligned with the U.S. The Saudi government not only sees the Obama Administration as ineffective on both subjects, but acting in a manner contrary to their own interests and policies.

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Paths to Achieve Peace and Security in Africa

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A Somali woman waiting for medical treatment from AMISOM. Stuart Price/UN

It is impossible to separate peace and security in Africa from economic development, democratic governance, and improvement in the daily lives of Africans, including those from ethnic and religious minorities.

A Somali woman waiting for medical treatment from AMISOM. Stuart Price/UN

A significant failing in any one of these three areas will put in serious doubt the ability of a country to maintain peace and security. Africa has experienced impressive economic growth in recent years. That is the good news. At the same time, too many African countries continue to experience conflict. That is the bad news. Conflict can quickly reverse the benefits of even strong economic growth. Fragile states are especially susceptible to conflict.

The African Development Bank estimates there are 20 “fragile states” today in Africa. Almost half of these states qualify as “middle income,” a shift from a decade ago when most were low-income countries. The African Futures Project, a collaborative effort involving the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa and the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, uses criteria that identify 26 fragile African countries. It projects that 10 of these countries will remain fragile until at least 2050. Whether the number of fragile states in Africa is 20 or 26, the large number is of concern for many reasons. Adding to the concern is the estimate that by 2050 some 23 percent of the world’s population will be living in Africa.

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The Middle East Being Redrawn Again

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U.S. soldier provides security in Mahmudiyah, Iraq

The warm waters of the Gulf look quiet from where I am sitting, but such tranquility hardly reflects the conflicts this region continues to generate.

U.S. soldier provides security in Mahmudiyah, Iraq

The euphoria of the so-called Arab Spring is long gone, but what remains is a region that is rich with resources and burdened with easily manipulated history that is in a state of reckless transition. No one can see what the future will look like, but the possibilities are ample, and possibly tragic. In my many visits to the region, I have never encountered such a lack of clarity regarding the future, despite the fact that battle lines have been drawn like never before. Governments, intellectuals, sects and whole communities are lining up at both sides of many divides. This is taking place to various degrees everywhere in the Middle East, depending on the location of the conflict.

Some countries are directly engulfed in bloody and defining conflicts - revolutions gone stray, as in Egypt, or uprisings turned into most-destructive civil wars as in Syria. Conversely, those who are for now spared the agony of war, are very much involved in funding various war parties, transporting weapons, training fighters and leading media campaigns in support of one party against another. No such elusive concept as media objectivity exists anymore, not even in relative terms.

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Somalia: Origin, Development and Future of AMISOM

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A Kenyan soldier with AMISOM stands guard in Kismayo, southern Somalia. Stuart Price/UN

In 2006, the Islamic Courts controlled Mogadishu and virtually all of south and central Somalia. While they enacted some highly controversial policies, they did reestablish authority in the regions under their control and many Somalis welcomed that stability.

A Kenyan soldier with AMISOM stands guard in Kismayo, southern Somalia. Stuart Price/UN

The Transitional National Government (TNG) of Somalia, operating out of Nairobi, and neighboring Ethiopia, which had troops inside the Somali border and especially in Baidoa, perceived the Islamic Courts as a threat. At the end of 2006, the Islamic Courts’ militia made the mistake of attacking the Ethiopian forces in Baidoa, suffering a major defeat. Ethiopian forces, encouraged by the Somali TNG, then marched to Mogadishu and forced the leaders of the Islamic Courts to flee to the southern end of Somalia.

The presence of Ethiopian forces in Mogadishu was deeply resented by Somalis; their presence gave Somali Islamist elements and especially the new organization known as al-Shabaab a rallying cry for removing the Ethiopians. This posed a dilemma for the TNG, which did not have a security force capable of confronting al-Shabaab, and the Ethiopians, who had a strong force but were disliked by Somalis. Normally, this would be an occasion for establishing a UN peacekeeping operation, but the UN refused to get involved. This left the problem with the African Union, which agreed to send a force that became known as AMISOM to Somalia in support of the TNG.

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Yemen’s Future is Defined by Hope and Division

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Yemen's President Abd Rabuh Mansur Hadi

On Oct 12, tens of thousands of Yemenis took to the streets of Eden in the South of the country, mostly demanding secession from the north. The date is significant, for it marks the 1967 independence of South Yemen, ending several decades of British colonialism.

Yemen’s President Abd Rabuh Mansur Hadi

But for nearly five decades since then, Yemen is yet to find political stability, a semblance of economic prosperity, and, most importantly, settle the question of its national identity. It has been two years and nine months since a large protest has occurred in the Yemeni capital. Sana’a initiated what was quickly named the Yemeni revolution and ignited media frenzy that Yemen had officially joined the so-called Arab Spring. Seeing Yemen as a member of the ‘Arab Spring’ club, as opposed to appreciating the Arab country’s own unique historical and political circumstances, was a media shortcut that failed to explain the vast majority of events that followed the Yemeni youth early protests on Jan 27, 2011.

One of the most significant dates of the massive protests against the 33-year role of now deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his family’s strong hold over state institutions was Feb 3rd. It was then that both Sana’a and Eden stood united under one banner. It was a momentous day because both cities once served as capitals of two warring countries. The youth of Yemen were able to fleetingly bridge a gap that neither politicians nor army generals managed to close despite several agreements and years of bloody conflicts. But that collective triumph of the Yemeni people was only felt on the streets of the country, overwhelmed by poverty and destitution, but also compelled by hope. That sentiment was never truly translated to a clear political victory, even after Saleh was deposed in Feb 2012.

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Mikhail Kosenko’s Conviction: A Return to Soviet Punitive Psychiatry

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Pictured: Russian activist Mikhail Kosenko is shown incarcerated

On October 8, Mikhail Kosenko, an opponent of President Vladimir Putin, was arrested after participating in the May 2012 anti-Putin Bolotnaya Square protests for assaulting an officer and taking part in the mass riots, and was condemned to indefinite detention in a psychiatric ward.

Pictured: Russian activist Mikhail Kosenko is shown incarcerated

He will be forced to undergo compulsory psychiatric treatment. Kosenko is the second in a series of 28 cases to be found guilty, after Maxim Luzyanin was sentenced last year to 4½ years for his involvement in the protests. While Putin’s crackdown on the opposition is certainly nothing new, Kosenko’s sentence sets a dangerous precedent for the other cases, as it signals a return to the Soviet practice of punitive psychiatry.

From the beginning, the case against Kosenko was extremely weak and has been dismissed by some human rights experts as a complete fabrication. The officer whom Kosenko allegedly attacked and left with a concussion has denied that the latter was his aggressor and claimed during his hearing that he did not know the accused. Moreover, video footage showed him as a bystander to the fighting between the police and protesters. According to the New Yorker, the only policeman who identified Kosenko as the aggressor was heard in a closed session.

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