Sunday, June 27, 2010

Posting Gap

Your humble blogger has been lax of late - mostly because of the meeting bug which is a species of tick whose natural habitat is mostly within donor agency buildings. Carriers then fan out around the world. The meeting bug bites victims on the head and symtoms include an uncontrollable urge to schedule multiple group thinks and then call follow-up meetings on five minutes' notice.  These meetings usually involve a cast of thousands who reveal a blinding grasp of the obvious.  Anyway, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

The US played a great match against a great Ghanaian team and lost in overtime. Nothing to be ashamed of - they at least made it to the knock out rounds - something the French and Italian teams did not.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Consultant Exclusivity Agreements - Unfair Practice

I’m busy – actually swamped – so there have been no posts this week and won't be until the weekend.

Except this one.

Consultants are getting a raw deal when they are forced to sign exclusivity agreements with firms bidding on tenders issued by the EU, USAID or World Bank. These agreements tie consultants to one bid with no guarantee that the proposal will win. Aside from being a questionable market practice in general, there is no consideration for these one-side contracts and they are unenforceable. Except, of course, the donor agencies will enforce these types of agreements either through official or unofficial blacklisting of consultants, consulting firms or both. In most jurisdictions, courts would throw out this practice and, as far as blacklisting occurs, provide for punitive damages.

It is really time for both the donors and the consulting firm to face the problem and the only way for the issue to be resolved fairly is for consultants to demand consideration for signing exclusivity letters.

These agreements, as currently structured, deprive the consultant of work opportunities at no cost to consulting firms. They are options. Options carry a cost in the market. If consultants do not work as a group to force this issue, they will remain at the mercy of consulting firms and the donors.

Consultants should demand that payments for the option be made at the time of signing – just like any other similar option contract. That sum can then be applied to the remuneration package if the firm wins the tender. If the firm does not – well – too bad. That is a cost of doing business in a market economy.

Individual consultants will never risk demanding this obvious reform but can do so collectively.

Which organization will step up and take down this unfair practice?
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Monday, June 14, 2010

Gaming for Afghan Minerals

The timing behind the report in the Paper of Record (which brought you Judith Miller) concerning the vast potential store of mineral wealth in Afghanistan is very, very suspect. Why now? What’s the purpose of this report at a time when the US is scheduled to exit, stage right? The geological investigation has been going on since at least 2004. Assuming that the initial reports were available to certain inner circles by 2006, what is the big revelation supposed to do? Keep the US in Afghanistan?

All other things being equal, there is not a country in the world that is going to go mining in Afghanistan any time in the foreseeable future for many reasons. The first being the amount of lead and depleted uranium in the air while the second reason…well, there is no second reason.

The World Bank helped draft a mining law? Is this a joke? Of course they did. So what? In what court would any mining developer care to enforce its rights against a local war-lord?

The article, its timing and who wanted it printed is suspicious.
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Friday, June 11, 2010

Welcome to BICT and Mult-Polar World

OK. I was wrong. I thought that the Israeli assault on the Turkish flotilla would have sunk the vote on sanctions against Iran. It did not. Whether these sanctions work or not, and I don’t believe that they will achieve the desired result, is not really the question. Israel is now more isolated than ever, as is Iran. The vote against the resolution by Turkey and Brazil was more about regional muscle-flexing and desire to play a larger role in their regions and the world, than their understandable anger over the snub of their nuclear fuel swap agreement with Iran – which is not entirely dead depending on the next move by the US.

Turkey has faced the fact that the opposition by France, Germany and Austria to EU membership has killed the prospect regardless of previous commitments by Brussels to move forward. It has now turned to its old domains in the east and south to increase and solidify Turkish influence and power and it is succeeding.
Ankara may have genuinely believed in the uranium swap deal; but, regardless of the outcome, it has placed itself solidly in the regional power column, independent of the US while still remaining within NATO. Turkey principal competition is Iran. They are not allies and the Iranian brand of Islamic rule is not palatable in Turkey. The attack on the Turkish flotilla has elevated Turkey’s standing in the region as the pre-eminent political power. By voting “no” in the UN against sanctions and joining with Brazil in a nuclear fuel swap deal, its political capital in the Middle East leaped multiple levels. All these events come at Iran’s expense and make Turkey a leader in the region, wielding political and military clout that cannot be safely ignored. Even Russia knows this and has been careful to rapidly build closer economic ties to Turkey. Although Turkey is heavily dependent on Russia for energy, Moscow knows that Turkey can create serious problems for it in the Caucuses and less so in Central Asia.

Brazil, meanwhile, is rapidly asserting its independence and strength in South America and has shown that it can be a player of international scope. Brasilia has increased its trade relationships with China, Russia, West Africa and the Middle East, especially now Turkey. Clearly the leading political and economic power in South America (despite the pretensions of the Chavez regime), it is in a position to require the US to pay attention to its views. Joining with Turkey in the nuclear fuel swap agreement puts Brazil on the map outside of its region.

Russian agreement on the new sanctions also reflects an awareness that it will need to be more sensitive to a multi-polar world. Although it clearly may indulge in more aggressive behaviour in the Caucuses, any such further adventure will come at a steep price as it tries to build ties with Turkey. Turkey is in a position to make life easier for Russia in the Caucuses and may ultimately be instrumental in resolving the long-running confrontation between Yerevan and Baku. By asserting its independence from the US when its interests conflict with those of Washington, Turkey is leveraging its regional strength and becoming a trusted broker.

All the recent events are pointing toward a new balance of power where regional interests can trump traditional alliances. The US can no longer rely on Turkey or Brazil to tow any particular line if their national interests would be adversely affected. For that matter, neither can Russia or the EU. Each must deal with the regional powers in a different way. The now famous BRIC bloc is not really accurate. Drop the R and add a T. Welcome to the new world.
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World Cup Begins

World Cup Stadium 2010, Cape Town, South Afric...Image by Hadassah28 via Flickr
The games begin…
Sitting here surrounded by South Africa, the celebratory atmosphere is palpable. And for good reason. South Africa has completed all its preparations, including construction, on-time. Months ago, BBC correspondents were openly questioning whether all the stadiums would be finished. They are. Hosting the World Cup is a big deal for Africa.

South Africa plays Mexico and the US plays England today in the opening matches. My money is on SA to win its game by a point. I’ve watched the US play Turkey and Australia in friendly’s and win both and they have a chance but can’t afford to make the same errors in the tournament because if they do, they will get crushed. For those who don’t know, the US is ranked 14th in the world. That ranking is not bad. Australia was 20th, so a win should have been easy, but it almost came off the wheels between minutes 70 and 85. England is an entirely other matter. Good luck to the US.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Overcoverage of Issues and Events

I have to admit that I’ve been lax in posting. There are two reasons for this outside of the need to actually complete some work. The first is the extreme obviousness of many topics and issues about which I could write if they were not so obvious, and the second is the useless warnings that bubble up about the necessity to deal with these issues to avoid the giant rocks from space that are sure to obliterate the planet if we don’t solve the problem NOW - but, well - let’s just list a few…

Israeli intransigent refusals to deal with any issue to move the region closer to peace,

Iranian intransigent rejection to agree on any solution dealing with anything,

Somali pirates seizing yet another ship (and being paid-off),

German pronouncements on their superior work ethic versus everyone with a shade darker skin colour

Greek worker riots as a result of reduced payments for doing nothing anyway,

Spanish riots as a result of Greek riots and 40% unemployment among youth,

French riots as a result of being French,

G20 meetings,

G8 meetings,

G pick-a-number meetings,

The imminent implosion of the Euro and the end of civilization,

North Korean insanity

In that light, a hat tip to Drezner for posting this:

An ineffectual international organization yesterday issued a stark warning about a situation it has absolutely no power to change, the latest in a series of self-serving interventions by toothless intergovernmental bodies.

“We are seriously concerned about this most serious outbreak of seriousness,” said the head of the institution, either a former minister from a developing country or a mid-level European or American bureaucrat. “This is a wake-up call to the world. They must take on board the vital message that my organization exists.”

The director of the body, based in one of New York, Washington or an agreeable Western European city, was speaking at its annual conference, at which ministers from around the world gather to wring their hands impotently about the most fashionable issue of the day. The organization has sought to justify its almost completely fruitless existence by joining its many fellow talking-shops in highlighting whatever crisis has recently gained most coverage in the global media.

“Governments around the world must come together to combat whatever this year’s worrying situation has turned out to be,” the director said. “It is not yet time to panic, but if it goes on much further without my institution gaining some credit for sounding off on the issue, we will be justified in labeling it a crisis.”

The organization, whose existence the White House barely acknowledges and to which hardly any member government intends to give more money or extra powers, has long been fighting a war of attrition against its own irrelevance. By making a big deal out of the fact that the world’s most salient topical issue will be placed on its agenda and then issuing a largely derivative annual report on the subject, it hopes to convey the entirely erroneous impression that it has any influence whatsoever on the situation.

The intervention follows a resounding call to action in the communiqué of the Group of [number goes here] countries at their recent summit in a remote place no-one had previously heard of. The G[number goes here] meeting was preceded by the familiar interminable and inconclusive discussions about whether the G[number goes here] was sufficiently representative of the international community, or whether it should be expanded into a G[number plus 1, 2 or higher goes here] including China, India or any other scary emerging market country that attendees cared to name.

The story was given further padding by a study from an ambulance-chasing Washington think-tank, which warned that it would continue to convene media conference calls until its quixotic and politically suicidal plan to ameliorate whatever crisis was gathering had been given respectful though substantially undeserved attention.
I'll be back soon  with a post on one or more of the topics listed above. Or maybe something not sufficiently covered by the MSM.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Stalin in Virginia

This barely qualifies as a foreign policy topic, but is nonetheless marginally newsworthy.
There is no question that the Soviet Union bore the brunt of Hitler’s war machine and that without them, the war would have gone on for a considerably longer period with it’s outcome in serious doubt. Nevertheless, Stalin was responsible for horrendous acts of terror internally accounting for at least 10 million deaths in Russia and Ukraine alone.

The Soviet Union also was, as is so often overlooked in the former Soviet Union, an ally of Nazi Germany from 1939 until it was attacked in June 1941. The pact with Hitler allowed the Soviets to eliminate the independence of the Baltics and partition Poland with Germany, all part of Stalin’s desire to see the West incinerate so that the Soviet Union would become the most powerful player in Europe. He was not much different from his ally turned enemy in Berlin.
Perhaps a different way could have been found to recognize the significance of the Soviet contribution to defeating Hitler rather than a placing a bust of Stalin at the Virginia memorial.
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Friday, June 4, 2010

Last Word on Israel

As the spin out of Israel unravels and Netanyahu defends his regime, this is spot on.
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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Israel is to the US as North Korea is to China

Thought for the day: 

President Obama needs to sit down with Hu Jintao and trade ideas on how to handle behaviourly challenged children who are seriously alarming the neighbors with thunderingly moronic actions.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

International Law, Israel and Practicality

The debate over whether Israel violated international law by attacking the Turkish flotilla in international waters has begun. Unfortunately for Israel, it is likely to lose the legal argument despite the absurd attempt by FM Lieberman to justify the attack on the basis of international law – which he clearly does not understand nor cares to understand.

Aside from the pure stupidity of the selecting the wrong action from a range, it is part of a larger seige policy regarding Gaza that has failed catastrophically in achieving its goal of destroying Hamas. To hammer home that point, the Egyptian government today opened its border crossing to Gaza without a time limitation. Just to be clear, I believe that Hamas is a terrorist organization that hurts rather than helps the Palestinian people and needs to be consigned to a black hole somewhere.

The legal proposition that, absence a state of war, a state has the right to intercept ships in non-territorial waters is seriously flawed.

First, let’s dispose of one of the more absurd analogies such as the one here which equates this incident with the sinking, boarding or destruction of German ships in international waters by the US (or the UK, for that matter) during World War II. Unless news reports have missed it, Israel is not in a state of war with Turkey (although it might as well be, at this point). Furthermore, both during the First and Second World Wars there was serious condemnation by neutral nations for the blockades that affected their shipping imposed by the warring nations who were accused, correctly, of breaching international law. During the World War I England successfully ignored the complaints and continued to intercept, board and intern neutral ships bound for German ports if the navy determined that the cargo could, in any way, help the German war effort. There was no question that the actions were illegal, and effective; so effective in fact that those in Germany advocating unleashing unlimited submarine warfare overwhelmed those in the Kaiser's inner circle who opposed doing so because it was illegal. Circumstances of a declared war, however, changed the matrix of acceptability.

Second, by logical extension, Israel is now claiming the right to stop, destroy or seize any ship in international waters if it deems it to be a threat to its security. If this sounds absurd, it is. It is also profoundly stupid. Even the US relunctantly demurred  (under President Bush no less) from stopping and boarding a North Korean ship in international waters despite the fact that evidence strongly pointed to the possibility that it was carrying weapons destined for some unsavoury characters in the Middle East.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Israel would only be entitled to stop ships within its territorial waters if they breached any of the restrictions to the right of innocent passage. Israel could make a legitimate argument if the attack occurred within its territorial waters where innocent passage rules apply, but it did not. Innocent passage is the right of all ships to engage in continuous and expeditious surface passage through the territorial sea and archipelagic waters of foreign coastal states in a manner not prejudicial to its peace, good order, or security. Just ask Argentina.

Israel has no legal justification for its actions in international waters regardless of the inane remarks of its Foreign Minister – the same man incidentally who deliberately and publically embarrassed the Turkish ambassador last year and who has continually rejected all attempts by third parties to help in resolving the Palestinian issue.

Israel has engaged on a policy of confrontation and defiance with its ever shrinking circle of friends and handing its enemies the moral high ground. In effectively severing military and economic ties with Turkey with this action (something the current Turkish government was uncomfortable with in the first place) it has put it security at risk. It has also handed the current Turkish government an election victory.

But, ultimately it is not the legal question that matters.  Time and time again, this Israeli government has exhibited a remarkable aptitude for taking the least desirable route.  Assassination in Dubai using stolen, non-Israeli passports; embarrassing the Vice President of the United States and the Turkish ambassador; defying international opinion by continuing construction of illegal settlements and evicting Palestinians; continuing an ineffective blocade of an entire city; and, rattling sabers at Iran in an attempt to draw the United States into another war.  It has attracted the condemnation of Europe - particularly the UK and France while Ireland may go as far as expelling the Israeli ambassador- and irretrievably damaged its relations with a rising, powerful Turkey.  NATO is now involved because a member state's ship was attacked. 

As a result, there will be no new sanctions imposed on Iran and the fact that the United States agreed to the resolution in the UN condemning Israel's actions and calling for a raising of the Gaza siege is unprecedented. Turkey is lost as an even reluctant ally. Egypt has elected to break the circle. Nation's are now weighing their strategic interests and not to the benifit of Israel. This is a game changer.
Legal or not, this latest event puts Israel more at risk than ever. Time for Netanyahu and his conservative friends to go before Israel does.
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