Monthly Archives: February 2013

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South Koreans burn pictures of North Korean ruler Kim Jong-eun after Pyongyang's nuclear test. (AP)

North Korea’s decision to conduct its third underground nuclear test will come as no surprise to governments around the world. Pyongyang has been making clear for some weeks that it planned a nuclear test at a “higher level” than its previous two in 2006 and 2009. Its decision to press ahead has already triggered widespread condemnation from the US and its allies. Now that the test has taken place, diplomats and nuclear experts will be asking four key questions about the nuclear explosion.

First, have the North Korans managed to developed a device that they can place on top of a long-range missile?

North Korea stated that the test used “a small and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously”. This will prompt fears that Pyongyang has managed to miniaturize a nuclear warhead, in order to place it on top of a long range ballistic missile. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

A rare beast has reappeared in Europe. In recent years, there were no confirmed sightings. But in the past few weeks, this shy animal – known as “good news” – has been spotted in various European locations.

In a word, yes. The news that Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down at the end of February has taken many people by surprise, but the Code of Canon Law (the Catholic Church’s collection of rules and procedures) does allow for papal resignation:

“If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.” (From Book II, Part II, Section I, Cann. 330 – 367)

Pope John Paul II explicitly referenced this right in 1996, when he set out his new rules for papal election:

3. I further establish that the College of Cardinals may make no dispositions whatsoever concerning the rights of the Apostolic See and of the Roman Church… even though it be to resolve disputes or to prosecute actions perpetrated against these same rights after the death or valid resignation of the Pope.

Precedents: We asked Professor David d’Avray, an expert on religious history at University College London, to tell us about precedents for papal resignation. He picked out two particularly interesting examples: Celestine V in 1294 and Gregory XII in 1415 (who we think was the last pope to resign until today’s announcement). Read more

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The suggestion that the rise in tensions between China and Japan could lead to a world war is a grim one. So I hesitate to admit that I quite enjoyed writing last week’s column - largely because it sent me scrambling back to some old books on the origins of the first world war, that I have not looked at since I was a student. My original article has also provoked some interesting reactions from historians and political scientists.

Professor David Stevenson of the LSE wrote a letter to the FT, agreeing that there are disturbing parallels between events in the West Pacific now, and the prelude to the outbreak of hostilities in 1914. He believes, however, that things will only become really dangerous, if and when the two sides become accustomed to the idea that they might go to war. Read more

South Koreans protest this week about a possible North Korean nuclear test. (AP)

This is turning out to be a rather fraught time for people who worry about the spread of nuclear weapons around the world. In recent days, there has been much dismay about the way talks are going between world powers and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear programme. Iran does not look like it wants to make the kind of concessions that the US and its allies seek if there is to be a deal that averts Israeli or US military action over the programme.

Now it looks like there is about to be bad news from the world’s other nuclear pariah state – North Korea. All the signs are that Pyongyang is about to conduct another nuclear test, its third since 2006 and potentially one that is far bigger than the two it has conducted previously.

Nobody can be 100 per cent sure that North Korea will test a nuclear weapon in the next few days. But the signs are growing that something is afoot. North Korea announced last month that it would conduct a nuclear test to protest against UN Security Council sanctions, stating it would be an explosion at a “higher level” than has been seen in the past. Read more

 

 

Grateful to Jose Antonio Martinez Soler for this photomontage doing the rounds of Spain’s blogosphere

The headline around which almost the entire Spanish political (and royal) class appear to be creasing themselves with laughter says: “Former British minister resigns for lying about a traffic fine”. Read more

The most important Italian election for 30 years?

Some argue that the elections to be held in Italy are the most important for that country in three decades, since the fate of the euro could be at stake. Tony Barber, Europe editor, and Guy Dinmore, Rome bureau chief, join Gideon Rachman to discuss the election.

John Brennan – Barack Obama’s nominee for Central Intelligence Agency director – testifies before the Senate intelligence committee today. The hearing offers a rare moment of public scrutiny of the government’s expanded use of drones to kill suspected terrorists, which has returned to the news this week.

By Shannon Bond in New York with Geoff Dyer in Washington. All times are GMT.

 

A police officer asks protesters to move to the sidewalk during a demonstration in front of a Raytheon company building in Florida in August 2012 (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A police officer asks protesters to move to the sidewalk during a demonstration in front of a Raytheon company building in Florida in August 2012 (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The CIA’s drone programme may be classified as covert, but it is increasingly in the public spotlight. On Thursday, John Brennan – Obama’s nominee for CIA director, and the driving force behind the White House’s drone strategy – will appear before the Senate. As Geoff Dyer points out, Brennan’s confirmation hearing will offer a rare moment of public scrutiny of the war on terror – and the ethics of targeted killings.

In the FT

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(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

I have just spent a few days traveling across Veneto, Italy’s industrial heartland in the north east of the peninsula. One of the tasks I had set myself for this trip was to understand whether Italy’s economic crisis is fuelling euroscepticism.

Italy has traditionally been among the continent’s most europhilic countries. To the astonishment of outside observers – particularly those from the Anglo-Saxon world – Italians have seemed relatively at ease with the idea of handing more and more powers over to Brussels.

One of the reasons behind this attitude is their deep lack of trust in their own political class. The euro is seen as a bridge to modernity and progress, rather than a drag on national sovereignty.

After the wave of austerity which has recently hit Italy, and which Brussels was at least partially responsible for, I expected this attitude to have become somewhat less positive. Veneto was an excellent testing ground for its resilience. This wealthy region is governed by Luca Zaia, from the Northern League, the most eurosceptic among Italy’s mainstream parties. Veneto has a strong export-oriented manufacturing sector, which can no longer rely on competitive devaluations as it did in the 1980s and 1990s, before Italy entered the euro.

This point was made to me by Roberto Brazzale, a food entrepreneur from the province of the city of Vicenza, who has off-shored much of his production of parmesan cheese and mozzarella to the Czech Republic. “We must exit the euro,” Mr Brazzale said. “And do it before our industrial base is completely wiped out”. Read more

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(AP)

John Brennan’s confirmation hearing on Thursday for CIA director is shaping up to be a rare moment of scrutiny into the war on terror, especially the use of drones to kill suspected terrorists. Among politicians, there is little opposition to the basic idea of targeted killings, but a growing feeling among some members of both parties that the programme has got out of control. Here are 10 questions he should be asked.

1) Legality. The legal opinion that justifies killing suspected al-Qaeda terrorists who are Americans is being shared with some members of Congress, but is secret for everyone else. If the government claims the authority to kill some of its citizens, at the very least shouldn’t the legal justification be made public?

2) The Decider. According to a leaked summary of the legal opinion, drone strikes can be authorised by an “informed, high-level official”. How senior does that official have to be? Only the president? His counter-terrorism adviser? Military commanders in the field? And what happens if other high-level officials disagree? Read more

(LAURIE DIEFFEMBACQ/AFP/Getty Images)

Hold back the celebratory cupcakes (Getty)

As the FT reported this morning, the US has refused to give the Europeans the big, bold announcement on trade that they were desperately seeking.

The plan was that tomorrow’s US-EU summit would announce the beginning of negotiations to form a trade agreement between the US and Europe. But, for now, the Americans are refusing to play ball.

In Brussels, some may see this as a lamentable lack of vision. In fact, it is simply a welcome injection of some scepticism and realism. Read more

He is not quite kissing babies yet but Mario Monti is throwing off his image as a fusty economics professor and former EU bureaucrat with his first election campaign spot.

The one-minute spot – released today on social network sites and local television stations – shows the human side of the 69-year-old, playing on the carpet with his grandchildren and promising a “together we can do it” better future.

Hammering home the message that the “old parties are not capable of reforming Italy”, the ad skips over the issue that Mr Monti’s centrist alliance includes two of parliament’s most veteran politicians.

If the campaign carries echoes of Barack Obama, could that be because Italy’s technocrat prime minister has hired two consultants from the old team led by David Axelrod, strategist for the US president?

The spot cleverly splices images of wads of cash changing hands and lines of official limousines as Mr Monti promises to crack down on corruption and wasteful government spending while promising economic growth, jobs and “responsible” tax cuts. Read more

Moaz Al-Khatib (L), with Lakhdar Brahimi during the Munich Security Conference on February 1 (Getty)

Moaz Al-Khatib (L), with Lakhdar Brahimi during the Munich Security Conference on February 1 (Getty)

Moaz al-Khatib, the Damascene preacher elevated to lead Syria’s rebel coalition last November, is the most astute tactician the opposition has fielded so far.

The feelers al-Khatib has put out to Bashar al-Assad and his backers in Russia and Iran are clever, even though anyone who discerns diplomatic progress here, let alone the birth of a “peace process”, will be disappointed.

Al-Khatib, president of the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces (the full title by which more than a hundred countries recognised the rebels in December) has ostensibly revived the idea of a dialogue with the Assad regime, in weekend talks held in Munich with the Russian and Iranian foreign ministers – who both said this was what they had been advocating all along. But the devil is, as ever, in the detail.

The conditions set by al-Khatib include: the release of 160,000 prisoners (the number he says) the regime is holding; the issue of passports to tens of thousands of refugees who have had to flee Syria without papers; and that any talks on transitional arrangements to end the war should be with Farouk Sharaa, the Syrian vice-president.

A little more than implicit in the latter point is the offer of safe passage out of Syria for President Assad – which most rebel forces on the ground and a good number of the political figures in the National Coalition regard as taboo, maybe even treachery. Read more

In February, the weather in Almaty is usually well below freezing. So as some of the world’s top diplomats prepare to travel to the former capital of Kazakhstan this month for yet another meeting with Iran over its nuclear programme, most will be feeling somewhat gloomy. The concern is not just the weather, of course, The thing that will induce angst is the near-certain prediction that they will sit there for days in the freezing cold of the southern Kazakh mountains – only to make no progress yet again in talks with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. As one top diplomat tells me: “The best I’m hoping for is that we agree another date to meet. That’s it.”

Judging by the advanced briefing for this meeting – where Iran will negotiate with the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – it’s easy to see why Almaty is set to join Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow as the scene of another negotiating failure. Read more

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