Saturday, March 22, 2008

China's Military Strategy

The German news magazine Der Spiegel has an interesting interview with Chen Zhou, a PRC naval officer who teaches at the Academy of Military Sciences in Beijing. In it, Chen discusses the rationale for Chinese efforts to narrow the military gap between the PRC and the United States.
Here's an excerpt:
SPIEGEL: Why does China spend so much money on its military?
Chen Zhou: We understand very well that many countries are concerned when China grows not just in economic terms but also in military terms. But these fears are unfounded. We are not seeking a position of supremacy. We are in favor of peaceful development.
SPIEGEL: Then why the pronounced military buildup?
Chen: If we grow economically, we must also strengthen our military. We must protect our sovereignty, our unity and the country's security. Historically our military consisted primarily of land-based forces that were meant to protect our homeland. Since 1980, we have also been arming ourselves for other local conflicts and wars. Please do not forget the activities of the separatists in Taiwan ...
The complete interview is available here.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bush, McCain, and Torture

Today Senator John McCain goes to the White House to pick up the endorsement of President George W. Bush. He will almost certainly go out of his way to avoid President Bush for the remainder of the campaign.

But given the timing of this brief meeting, it is worth thinking about where Senator McCain and President Bush have been in the "torture debate." James Carroll provides a helpful entry into the subject.

Carroll's column in the Boston Globe on Monday notes that President Bush is poised to veto the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2008 because it seeks to tie CIA interrogation methods to the standards articulated in the US Army Field Manual. This would prohibit "acts of violence or intimidation, including physical or mental torture, or exposure to inhumane treatment."

Senator John McCain (as noted here) voted against this provision, apparently sacrificing his principles to the demands of the Republican presidential primary process, which effectively ended last night as McCain secured enough delegates to win the Republican nomination and his one remaining challenger, Mike Huckabee, bowed out. As Carroll notes, Senator McCain explained his vote against the provision this way: "What we need is not to tie the CIA to the Army Field Manual, but rather to have a good faith interpretation of the statutes that guide what is permissible in the CIA program."

The former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Harry Soyster is not impressed by Senator McCain's reasoning: "As Senator McCain well knows, the Bush administration has never provided a good faith interpretation of laws prohibiting torture; instead it has produced--and continues to produce--legal opinions that downgrade the definition of torture to the point where the term becomes virtually meaningless and any conduct at all is permissible."

Carroll concludes:

That torture is even a subject of debate in this country is a flabbergasting development. That dozens of America's most admired military leaders find themselves openly opposing the commander in chief on such a question is equally surprising. Another astonishment is that McCain, avatar of military honor, finds it necessary, according to his perceptions of what politics requires, to trim his opposition to torture. It may be just that unthinkable now that Bush will sign the bill before him. But who knows? On torture, the shocks abound.

Monday, March 03, 2008

What's a Lover to Do?

This comes too late to provide any Valentine's Day relief, but, as a public service, I nonetheless want to recommend an article in the February 2008 issue of Human Rights Quarterly (vol. 30, no. 1): "Flowers, Diamonds, and Gold: The Destructive Public Health, Human Rights, and Environmental Consequences of Symbols of Love," by Martin Donohoe.

Donohoe writes:

On Valentine's Day, anniversaries, and throughout the year, suitors and lovers buy cut flowers and diamond and gold jewelry for the objects of their affection. Their purchases are in part a consequence of timely traditions maintained by aggressive marketing. Most buyers are unaware that in gifting their lovers with these aesthetically beautiful symbols, they are supporting industries which damage the environment, utilize forced labor, cause serious acute and chronic health problems, and contribute to violent conflicts.

Cutting to the recommendations, Donohoe touts and the Veriflora certification system for flowers, certified conflict-free diamonds (with that status ascertained through aggressive questioning of the jeweler selling the diamonds), and gold purchases consistent with the "No Dirty Gold" campaign. Of course, there are also alternatives to flowers, diamonds, and gold:

Substitute gifts include cards (ideally printed on recycled paper), poems, photos, collages, videos, art, home improvement projects, homemade meals, and donations to charities. Consider alternatives to the traditional diamond engagement and gold wedding rings, such as recycled or vintage gold: old gold can be melted down and made into new jewelry. Other options include eco-jewelry made from recycled or homemade glass and coconut beads. Purchasing handicrafts constructed by indigenous peoples from outlets that return the profits to the artisans and their communities provides wide-ranging social and economic benefits. Such tokens of affection will be rendered more meaningful through their lack of association with death and destruction and because they symbolize justice and hope for the future.

That's the advice, ladies and gentlemen. Good luck implementing it.

Darfur Update

This article by Lydia Polgreen in yesterday's New York Times warns that recent three-pronged attacks on villages in Darfur--attacks involving the janjaweed, aerial bombardment, and the Sudanese army--represent "a return to the tactics that terrorized Darfur in the early, bloodiest stages of the conflict."

Polgreen continues:

Aid workers, diplomats and analysts say the return of such attacks is an ominous sign that the fighting in Darfur, which has grown more complex and confusing as it has stretched on for five years, is entering a new and deadly phase--one in which the government is planning a scorched-earth campaign against the rebel groups fighting here as efforts to find a negotiated peace founder.

The NYT article includes recent photos from Darfur, as does this BBC News web page.

Meanwhile, Nat Hentoff, writing in today's Washington Times, chides President Bush for planning to attend the Beijing Olympics:

Last month, during his legacy tour showing how his compassionate conservatism has indeed benefited a number of countries in Africa, President Bush did not include Sudan, let alone Darfur, in his schedule.

And, in response to Mr. Spielberg's refusal to help glorify the amoral nation that buys two-thirds of genocidal Sudan's oil and provides much of its arms that kill thousands of black Africans in Darfur, Mr. Bush said firmly: "I'm going to the Olympics. I view the Olympics as a sporting event." This was the same person who then said in Rwanda that the genocide there "is a reminder that evil in the world must be confronted." He called on all nations to stop the killing in Darfur.

Needless to say, a symbolic gesture is not what the victims of the Sudanese government's scorched-earth policy need most at this point. It may be, however, the most they can expect from President Bush--and the least he can do.