Saturday, February 12, 2005

Unfulfilled promise - a business perspective

A nice little overview of the current condition of the EU from the perspectives of a couple of businessmen sets out some of the reasons why the union must constantly evolve. But it also, without making too much fuss about it, notes the primary reason for opposition to the idea of further EU development:

"Europeans live well, so there is not much of an incentive to change"
Of course, and as is noted - if not in these words - in the article, without change there is a risk of stagnation. During the 19th century, British industry started spending less time and money on research and development; as a result, the country failed to maintain its sizable industrial lead over its competitors.*

However, the problem remains that even if you accept that constant development is necessary, no one can agree on which direction we should take to best maintain and improve on our global competitiveness. Should we join together as one trans-continental trading block, with a population greater than that of the US, and attempt to compete in every economic area? Or should we break back down into our constituent states and each attempt to dominate niche areas of the global market? Is it possible to do a bit of both, or is there another alternative?

Considering the EU is supposed to be all about safeguarding the future prosperity of the people of Europe, this sort of thing really bears much thinking about. This is the sort of thing which should have been discussed at length during the Convention on the Future of Europe, from which the proposed constitution sprang. But the question is so complex, and the future so uncertain, no one can really tell what the best route may be.

When it comes to the EU, you have to rely on gut feeling as much as logical projection. That is why it is so hard for the pro-EU camp to convince Eurosceptics and vice versa. We all agree that the current set-up isn't satisfactory - we just disagree on what should happen in the unknowable future.

* Yes, I know it was far more complicated than this - you needn't bother telling me

Friday, February 11, 2005


Today the first moves were made, by the unchallengable leader of an utterly dominant political party, towards the imminent elections in which his political opponents stand absolutely no chance of winning. This leader has advocated the imprisonment of people he perceives to be "enemies of the nation" without trial. He has continued to advocate the use of violence against those with whom he disagrees despite international condemnation.

Who am I talking about? Robert Mugabe or Tony Blair?


That is why there is a Backing Blair banner above this post. The idea behind the campaign seems strange at first. Think about it longer, it starts to make more sense. And even if you don't agree with the methods, it is surely impossible to have lived in Britain during the last four years without admiring the motives. Check it out.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

North Korea - just a tad bit mental

Here's the options: 1) North Korea is bluffing and they don't have nukes; 2) They're not and they do.

Let's take 2) first.

If North Korea have nukes, what can they hit? Well, they reportedly have missiles with a range of 3,700 miles, and there are reports of North Korean warheads being found in Alaska. That's not good.

If you reckon those are exaggerations, fine - they are from biased South Korean sources. These are fact. Two years ago, North Korea fired a missile into the Sea of Japan. On August 31st 1998, they managed to fire a missile OVER Japan, which landed in the Pacific. North Korea certainly - at the very least - has missiles capable of reaching anywhere in Japan.
(More North Korean missile info here.)

Japan is, for a fact, North Korea's most likely target other than their cousins to the south. Not only is there a historical dislike for the Japanese in the Korean peninsula as a whole (WWII and all that), but Japan is effectively the staging post for the United States in the region, thanks to sizable US military bases in the country, so would need to be hit quickly to prevent US retaliation. North Korea was also beaten by Japan in the football the other day. (You may laugh, but Pyongyang officially announced that Japan was the North's sworn enemy before the match...)

If North Korea nuked Tokyo, what (apart from biker gangs and psychic mutant children charging around a post-Metropolis dystopian cityscape) would happen? Well, think what happened after 11th September 2001, when just two buildings in New York were destroyed. Multiply that by a couple of hundred (at least). Beyond the tens of thousands, probably millions of deaths, there would be instant global economic meltdown. Tokyo, with London and New York, is one of the major epicentres of world commerce and finance. With it gone, we'd all be screwed.

But they wouldn't do that, right? That's what you're thinking. The whole point of an independent nuclear deterrent is that it means you can't get pushed around by the other nuclear powers any more. That's why Britain got one, that's why France got one, and that's why both India and Pakistan got one. Heck, it's even why the USSR got one.

No one would actually be stupid enough to deploy nukes in an age where everyone's got 'em, because that leads to Mutually Assured Destruction (the wonderfully-acronymed MAD) - that's what you're thinking. North Korea nukes Japan, the US is obliged by treaty instantly to nuke North Korea. And the US has rather more warheads lying around. The north of the peninsula would be melted into a pretty sheet of shiny black glass. It simply doesn't make sense.

Well, you see, the thing about "MAD" is that it's major flaw is that all it takes is someone who actually IS mad for it all to fall apart. The North Korean leadership are hardly known for the loving care and attention they spend on their citizens. They're hardly known for doing their best to keep them alive. What makes you think the leadership wouldn't just retreat into a bunker miles underground, nuke Tokyo and watch the world descend into economic chaos? They're communists, after all. They actually WANT the destruction of the current capitalist system. If you buy your Cold War propaganda, they would be more than willing to sacrifice their fellow countrymen for the greater good of the global revolution.

But what about 1)? What if they're bluffing?

If so, they're actually very cunning. It works like this:

Everyone knows North Korea has been building its missile programme. Everyone knows they're a bit crazy. Everyone knows they're part of the "Axis of Evil".

The Axis of Evil was Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Iraq is now out of the picture, and was found to have none of the Weapons of Mass Destruction that were claimed.

Iran is currently facing the brunt of the diplomatic pressure from the West, just as Iraq did before it. The difference? Iran actually HAS a nuclear programme, albeit one they claim to be for non-military purposes.

So, if the only other remaining member of the Axis of Evil suddenly stands up and says "HEY! WE'VE GOT WMDs! LOOK AT US! WOO!", the world - and specifically the United States, really should stand up and start doing something.

After all, if the Bush administration and Blair government were TRULY convinced that Saddam had WMDs, yet were still willing to sacrifice their brave troops on the battlefield with insufficient protection against chemical and biological attack (rather than the far safer option of simply bombing the shit out of the place), surely they'll have no qualms about invading North Korea to rid that country of its WMDs either? Because, let's face it, not to do so having set the precedent of Iraq would not only be hypocritical, but if North Korea ACTUALLY has nukes, it would also be utterly irresponsible.

Now, having made this announcement, North Korea knows that the US has only two options. First, make a show of diplomatic efforts (which have never worked in the northern regime's history) followed by invading - just like Iraq. Second, effectively ignore it, and focus on the Middle East.

It's a catch-22 for the US:

1) If they attack North Korea, the constitutionally pacifist and economically vital Japan will almost certainly be attacked in retaliation (either with nukes or conventional missiles), plus the already overstretched US military risks getting bogged down in ANOTHER war of attrition in South East Asia to go with the one they've still got in Iraq.

2) If they don't attack North Korea, then any accusations that US foreign policy isn't "anti-WMD" or "anti-dictator" so much as "anti-Muslim" really cannot be shaken off. In other words, this announcement could, indirectly, lead to yet more Islamic fundamentalist / al Quaida militancy, as lack of action will be seen as proof of the United States' "crusade" against Islam.

As I say, Fuck...


A truly mental rogue state announcing it already has Nukes. Great.

"North Korea today publicly acknowledged for the first time that it has nuclear weapons and rejected recent attempts to restart disarmament talks soon."
From the Guardian - more can be found at North Korea Zone, which is being updated with new links and will likely become invaluable over the next few days.

And here was me pondering moving to Japan...

Congratulations Charles and Camilla

But you should have done this thirty years ago.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Veritas anthem and stuff...

Very busy today. Sorry.

Forgot to link to the Veritas anthem. Truly superb stuff. Also, Backing Blair should be up and running tomorrow. It will be well worth a look.

Oh, you want more? Right, linkdump time - these are all interesting stuff:

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

EU / US relations - a fresh start?

Condi is in Paris today to make a speech which could mark a turning point in the EU's relationship with the Bush administration. She is expected to stress common objectives, and to make vague gestures to forget the tensions of the last couple of years. In turn, France in particular is looking increasingly keen to rebuild the bridges which were shattered by pointing out that the invasion of Iraq was illegal.

Part of the reason for the shift is the ongoing problems with Iran, which has announced that after today's meeting in Geneva, if an agreement is not reached over their nuclear programme they will withdraw from further talks.

The diplomatic efforts of the EU (principally Britain, France and Germany) to prevent another Middle Eastern conflict have thus far been sterling, so perhaps there is little wonder that Condi has been playing down talk of a fresh war of "pre-emptive defence". Especially as the British Foreign Secretary is on the record as saying he can see no way Britain would participate in such an attack and even drawn up a dossier stating clear reasons why such a move would be bloody stupid. The EU's foreign policy head honcho Javier Solana thinks pretty much the same.

What with President Bush himself due in Brussels on 22nd February (including - possibly - a stint giving a speech before the European Parliament), could this finally be the beginning of the end of the unfortunate and highly silly spat between the two powers on either side of the Atlantic? Yes, the supposed anti-Americanism (actually anti-Bushism) of many Europeans has hardly helped matters, but the frankly xenophobic anti-French attitude of the US ("Freedom fries" and the like) has only entrenched a Europe-wide dislike of everything Bush seems to stand for. This is not healthy either for Europe or America.

As has been amply proved over the last couple of years of poor relations, the EU and its individual member states don't really need America. As has been proved by the recent negotiations with Iran, America needs the EU (or, at least, some of its member states) - even if only as a respected and experienced diplomatic intermediary. Following yesterday's post, perhaps it really is time to start questioning the assumption that the US is the world's only superpower?

Of course, there's still that little matter of the constitution - and things are hardly looking rosy on that front - but the EU certainly seems genuinely to be trying to work in partnership with the US, and these efforts finally appear to be being reciprocated.

Iraq has already proved that America can't go it alone. A genuine partnership between the US and EU, however, could be an overwhelming force indeed.

Update: The various platitudes Condi has uttered on her European trip can be found here.

How to lose a General Election

Step 1: Have no policies to speak of
Step 2: Be led by a shifty bloke who everyone blames for the Poll Tax
Step 3: Sue the single biggest media owner in the country

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the Conservative party: political fucking genius.

(Links later when they appear. Rest assured, the Tories are suing the Rupert Murdoch-owned Times newspaper, thus ensuring the hostility of Sky News, The Sun and The News of the World to boot. The Sun and The News of the World - lest we forget - having more readers between them than pretty much every other newspaper in the country put together...)

Monday, February 07, 2005

The EU and immigration

This seems to be a popular topic at the moment, what with Labour and the Tories both promising to get tough on the issue, and old permatan setting up a new party almost entirely based on a desire to have less foreigners in the UK. It's not a debate I have any particular desire to get into, as it's overly complex and has many high emotions attached to it. However, the always good Berlin Sprouts has pointed out the contradictory nature of current European immigration policies, so this may be of interest.

In short, here is (part of) the problem which needs to be addressed. Again - I stress - this is overly simplified and I have no desire to get into a debate about this, as to be honest it's not an issue I see as important, even though others evidently do:

  • For the European market to work effectively, the unimpeded transfer of goods and people is vital.
  • The unimpeded transfer of people necessitates looser border controls within the EU - fewer passport checks etc.
  • Looser border controls within the EU can be exploited.
  • Therefore, outward-facing borders need to be tightened to prevent misuse of internal harmonisation.
  • Additionally, individual member states need to harmonise immigration and - especially - naturalisation policies (to prevent one state's soft attitude being exploited by immigrants from outside the EU who can become EU citizens easily in one part of the Union and then migrate freely to another).
  • If Spain offers amnesty to its illegal immigrants the risk comes that they can then travel freely to any other part of the EU - including countries which would not have allowed them entry of choice.
  • This can then undermine national anti-immigration policies - such as those being proposed by Labour, the Conservatives and others in an attempt to win popular xenophobic support in the upcoming elections.
The current EU immigration system is a half-measure - ease of travel within the EU has been sorted out, but wider issues of how to deal with external migration remains dealt wtih on a state by state basis. But by its very nature, immigration is a trans-national problem. Surely it is better to deal with it on a trans-national basis?

The United Kingdom has over 10,500 miles of coastline - it is impossible to police it all. As most immigrants get to the UK via the European mainland, it makes sense to have an agreement with other EU member states - preferably a firmly binding one because (let's face it), it's far easier and more appealing to allow migrants to pass through your own country to get to another than it is to waste time and money dealing with them yourself.

The current EU-wide immigration system is not working. Hence Article III of the proposed constitution.
  • Article III - 168 of the new constitution proposes to harmonise immigration proceedures across EU states - including harmonisation of proceedures governing entry, residence, the granting of long term visas and residence permits, and "illegal immigration and unauthorised residence, including removal and repatriation of persons residing without authorisation"
  • Article III - 166 proposes new systems to harmonise regulation of the EU's external borders.
  • Annex B also maintains the opt-out of Britain and Ireland from the free internal travel agreements.
  • There are also proposals for EU border guards to cut down on immigration.
With EU help, all the fuss about illegal immigrants coming across the Channel via boats and the Chunnel could become a thing of the past. Immigration issues would also be covered by Qualified Majority Voting ensuring that - unlike with the current system - that minority of EU countries (like Spain) which have fairly liberal attitudes to foreign migrants would no longer be able to bugger up the plans of countries (such as Britain and Germany) who want to implement stricter controls.

See? Further integration can be useful.

"There are two superpowers in the world, and the other is Europe"

I think they mean the EU, but still - an interesting article which follows on from Tony Judt's NYRB article extracted here, looking at a few new books about the Euro-American relationship.

Europe has power: not military power, but all the other kinds. It has the euro, a rival currency. Its economy is as large as America's (about $11 trillion), and its population is larger. It has the regulatory power and market clout to humble the likes of General Electric and Microsoft. It has many of the world's biggest and best companies, including (writes Rifkin) 14 of the world's 20 largest commercial banks and six of the top 11 telecommunications companies. It has a growing membership, a new constitution, and 25 United Nations votes. Reid quotes Romano Prodi, a former president of the European Commission: "Europe's time is almost here. In fact, there are many areas of world affairs where the objective conclusion would have to be that Europe is already the superpower, and the United States must follow our lead."

To bipolarists, Europe is also, just as importantly, a social pole: a rival model of how best to organize society and the world, and even human life. "The European Dream," writes Rifkin, "emphasizes community relationships over individual autonomy, cultural diversity over assimilation, quality of life over the accumulation of wealth, sustainable development over unlimited material growth, deep play over unrelenting toil, universal human rights and the rights of nature over property rights, and global cooperation over the unilateral exercise of power." Europe, writes Leonard, "can offer the best of both worlds: a synthesis of the dynamism of liberalism with the stability and welfare of social democracy." Thus "the European way of life will become irresistible."

Irresistible. Inevitable. Back here in Washington, it's tempting to say we've heard this before from Marxism, but that would be a cheap shot. Unlike communism, the E.U. seems to represent not an enemy of liberal capitalism, but a new and possibly improved version of it.

Well, maybe; but we've heard that before, too.

Worth a look, and it's not too long, which is always a plus. (Via Political Theory Daily Review)

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