Monthly Archives: July 2010

In this week’s podcast: We ask whether Cameron’s trip to India to build business and commerce relationships has been a success; we ask whether Paul Kagame is likely to hold on to his role as president in the upcoming elections in Rwanda; we ask what the sentencing of former Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch means for the people of Cambodia; we look at the disappearing marshlands of Louisiana. Read more

FT column: Somali lessons for Afghanistan

My latest column is on Afghanistan

Whenever western leaders ask themselves the question, why are we in Afghanistan, they come up with essentially the same reply – “To prevent Afghanistan becoming a failed state and a haven for terrorists.” Until Afghanistan is stable, so the argument goes, we cannot risk withdrawal.

Cameron, Afghan aid and Iran’s nuclear programme

In this week’s podcast: David Cameron faces trying questions on his first visit to America as UK PM, about the Lockerbie bomber Mr Megrahi and the possible involvement of BP in the lobbying for his release; Chilcot inquiry update following the former director-general of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller’s statement on Monday that Blair ignored her advice about going to war with Iraq; aid distribution and corruption in Afghanistan; Iran and its nuclear programme, which may not be as advanced as first thought. Presented by Gideon Rachman with guests in the studio James Blitz, the FT’s defence and diplomatic editor and David Blair, the FT’s Middle East and Africa news editor. Helen Warrell reports on Afghan aid. Produced by LJ Filotrani

I’m off on holiday tomorrow and will not be back until mid-August. I intend to devote the next three weeks to eating nectarines, drinking chilled pink wine and reading books that don’t have much to do with international relations. I will only blog if something really important happens, or I’m bored. Otherwise, this blog will spring back into life around about August 15th.

The International Court of Justice seems to have done its utmost to sit on the fence over the legality of Kosovo’s secession from Yugoslavia. It has ruled that Kosovo’s declaration of independence was legal, but it has not pronounced on the legality of the secession as such. This feels to me like an evasion. Common sense and the norms of free speech suggest that, of course, they are allowed to proclaim their independence. The question is whether the rest of us should recognise an independent Kosovo as a legal entity. Read more

About a month ago, I blogged about the fact that China is now the world’s largest manufacturer. As I pointed out at the time, China seems to be becoming the world’s leading something-or-other, every month. Other recent milestones have been: world’s largest vehicle market and world’s largest emitter of carbon-dioxide. Today, the FT has run another story in this genre. Apparently China is now the world’s largest consumer of energy. This is quite a statistic, since just ten years ago, China was consuming just half the amount of energy used in the United States.

The best take on the generic “China is now the world’s largest….” story has been brought to my attention by Geoff Dyer, the FT’s Beijing correspondent. It is a story from the satirical magazine, The Onion, headlined “China to Overtake US as World’s Biggest Asshole by 2020.” I’m afraid this seems entirely plausible. Read more

FT column: Britain’s nuclear choice can be cheap and scary

My latest column is on UK’s nuclear weapon system

Specialists in nuclear deterrence occupy a world that requires the coldly rational contemplation of completely insane courses of action. Under normal circumstances, this is a world that non-specialists can ignore. But, every now and then, nuclear deterrence becomes a subject of wide public concern. Now is just such a time in Britain.

It is a sunny summer afternoon in London, and the courtyard of St John restaurant is bright and airy. Inside the dining room, however, things are much darker. There is little natural light, the walls are white, the lamps are black and the waiters pad silently around in the gloom.

St John has a reputation as a restaurant for people with a serious interest in food – which makes me wonder why Oleg Deripaska has arranged to meet there. Deripaska, a 42-year-old tycoon who made his fortune by dominating Russia’s aluminium industry, is known for many things: his enormous wealth, his prowess as an industrialist, his political connections and the rumours about his past that have seen him denied visas to visit the US. Read more

As we have all just seen at the World Cup, staging a major international sporting event can be a great way of advertising a country. But it also involves big risks: the minor risks involve logisitics, expensive stadiums and disappointed tourists. The biggest risk is terrorism.

International security analysts are increasingly worried that the Commonwealth Games which will be staged in Delhi in October could be a very tempting target for jihadist terrorists, who have already struck India many times. Read more

Somalia, Iran sanctions, China-US

In this week’s podcast: We turn our attention to the violence which erupted at the weekend in Somalia; we look at what impact the US imposed sanctions on Iran are having; we discuss why American business seems to have gone sour on China. Read more

France’s lower house has voted to ban women from wearing full-face veils (the burka and the niqab) in public places. The measure still has to pass the upper house and will face a constitutional challenge. But the strength of the majority was startling: parliament voted 335-1 in favour. Even counting for over 200 abstentions, that is quite a statement.

Liberal opinion here in Britain is generally that a burka ban is intolerant and borderline racist. It is pointed out that only about 2,000 women in France (of a Muslim population of 5m) wear the most restrictive face-covering versions of Islamic garb covered by the law. Liberal critics say that it is not upto the state to legislate what women should wear, and that the new law panders to the French far right.

I am not sure what, I think – which is why I’m not going to write a newspaper column about it. But, at the least, I think the issues are more complicated than the standard liberal reaction allows. Read more

FT column: American business sours on China

My latest column is on trading between America and China.

Multinational companies still have a vaguely villainous image for much of the left. But they are one of the most powerful forces in the world pushing for peace, prosperity and international co-operation.

Sports tournaments are meant to be celebrations of youth. But last night’s World Cup final made me feel very old. First, there was the sight of poor old Nelson Mandela being trundled around the pitch – he’s about to turn 92 and I’m afraid he looks a little, how shall we say, past it. And then the cameras zeroed in on Jack Taylor, the last Brit to referee a World Cup final: the 1974 game between the Dutch and the Germans. I’m afraid, I remember that game with crystal clarity – as if it were yesterday, in fact. But the fact that Mr Taylor is now in his eighties, is a reminder that it was all a very long time ago – and I’m also getting old. Read more

Until very recently, I’ve been almost instinctively gloomy about Greece. It seemed to me that the combination of unpayable debts, deflationary cuts in spending and a febrile national political culture was the perfect formula for further political and economic trouble.

But maybe the Greeks will surprise us. The first stages of economic reform seem to have been pushed through with impressive speed and resolution. Late last week, parliament voted to increase Greece’s pension age – an important step both for controlling spending and for improving the country’s image in the rest of Europe. Read more

In this week’s podcast: Gideon Rachman returns from his travels and gives us his reflections on South Africa, and his feelings about the impact of the World Cup on the country. We also look at the first conviction at Guantanamo Bay under the Obama administration and finally we turn our attention to Europe and the trouble that politicians in both France and Italy find themselves in as they approach their summer break.
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At first sight, there is little geo-political needle in a Spain v Holland World Cup final. But listen to the Dutch national anthem on Sunday night, and you will realise that this is a grudge match dating back almost 500 years. The Dutch anthem is sometimes claimed to be the oldest in the world, and it is certainly the only one I know to contain sarcasm in its very first stanza. Read more

Germany is having a good summer. There is the World Cup adventure – although that may come to an end tonight. And then there is the startling revival in the German economy.

And yet the row about the European Union’s bail-out for Greece has once again revived worries in the rest of Europe about the direction of German foreign policy. I particularly enjoyed this article in Prospect, by Hans Kundnani, about Germany. Kundnani points out that the great cliche in Germany is that the country’s foreign policy is becoming “normalised” as it pursues its own national interests. He argues that this is only partly true. The Germans are certainly pursuing their own national economic interests with increasing determination and are increasingly sceptical both of the European Union and of multilateralism, in general – which I suppose does make them more like the other big powers in Europe. On the other hand, according to Kundnani, Germany remains abnormally suspicious of the use of military force and of power politics, in general. Read more

FT column: South Africa’s trial by World Cup

My latest column is on South Africa:

There are still five days to go before the last ball is kicked at the World Cup, but the sense of relief in South Africa is already palpable. Over the past month, the country has put itself on trial by hosting the world’s biggest sporting event. South Africans were desperate to show to foreigners that their country was safe, welcoming and sophisticated. But they also wanted to prove a point to themselves: that their nation, which is still deeply divided on racial grounds, could unite around a successful tournament.

So much for the collapse of Europe and the unstoppable rise of the Latins. There were three Latin American-European clashes in the last quarters of the World Cup – and the Europeans won all of them. In my newspaper column last Tuesday, I argued that most efforts to impose some sort of theory about the rise and fall of nations on a mere football tournament were basically bullshit – and I feel vindicated by the collapse of the “collapse of Europe” theory.

I saw the two Joburg-based quarter finals live. Getting to matches in Johannesburg is a good deal less convenient than elsewhere. In Durban and Cape Town, the new stadiums are right on the beachfront and easy to walk to. Getting to Soccer City in Soweto involves complicated park-and-ride schemes. And Ellis Park, where Spain and Paraguay played last night, is in a ropey part of the centre of Johannesburg. I had met a couple of Chileans who complained of having to walk back from a game there, through darkened streets at past midnight. But I went to the match with Lungile Madywabe, a South African journalist, who was quite happy parking his (old) Mercedes in the neighbourhood. The surroundings of the stadium were pretty lively: short-time hotels, darkened night clubs with music blaring, some people gathered around briars and lots of stalls selling match memorabilia, including the dreaded vuvuzelas. Read more

Petraeus, Google and Russian spies

In this week’s podcast: We look at how General Stanley McChrystal’s replacement General David Petraeus is getting on in his first week as head of UN and Nato forces in Afghanistan. We hear from the FT’s Beijing correspondent Kathrin Hille about Google’s final attempts to rescue its presence in China; and finally we turn our attention to the alleged Russian spies arrested in the US earlier this week.  Read more