Monthly Archives: July 2013

Weekly Quiz: Test Yourself on This Week’s Events

The weekly quiz is now live. Good luck!

Expanding Japan’s Defense Forces

The Japanese helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga conducts training operations in 2009.

The Japanese helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga conducts training operations.

A study by the Japanese government concluded that the country should bolster its marine forces and introduce surveillance drones in an effort to expand its naval forces to address emerging regional threats. The report, ordered by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, also proposes improving the country’s defenses against ballistic missile attack and expanding its offensive potential to strike against enemy bases. Because Abe’s party controls both houses of parliament, it is in good position to implement the report’s recommendations after the report is finalized in December.

The report is the latest in a series of moves intended to expand the Japanese military. Earlier this year, Japan announced it would increase military spending by some $2.1 billion, largely to finance the acquisition of new missile interceptors and fighter jets.

The latest report clearly represents a growing concern in the Japanese government about two threats: North Korean ballistic missile technology and the ongoing standoff between Japan and China over the status of the disputed Senkaky/Diaoyu Islands. At the same time, Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution limits the ability of Japan to maintain an armed military force, restricting the country to a self-defense capacity only. The Article was included at the insistence of the United States at the end of World War II. Specifically, Article 9 reads,

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. (2) To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

In reality, Japan maintains a small military force known as the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF). But the composition of those forces remains a politically sensitive subject both inside and outside Japan, with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan both asserting that Article 9 permits the maintenance of a military force for self-defense and advocating revision of Article 9 to make that point clearer. Leftist parties, though, argue that the JSDF is unconstitutional and propose dramatic reforms, such as transforming the standing military forces into something more akin to a national militia.

The question of increased military spending raises the specter of an arms race in the region. The challenge—as the security dilemma model suggests—is that increased military spending by one country is often met by increased military spending by others. As a result, the efforts of one country—in this case, Japan—to improve its security position by increasing military spending and capacity may actually be undermined as other countries—in this case, China and North Korea—respond in a similar manner. Security is actually decreased rather than improved as a result.

What do you think? Should Japan expand its military capacity in response to growing tensions in the region? Or does Japanese military growth merely exacerbate existing tensions? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Thinking About Nuclear Weapons

nukeAlex Wellerstein, a nuclear weapons historian at the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics, has produced an amazing (if somewhat ghoulish) tool for thinking about the potential impact of nuclear weapons. The Nukemap takes advantage of Google Earth’s 3D technology to evaluate the impact of various sized nuclear explosions—ranging from the 20 ton “Davy Crocket,” the smallest nuclear weapon ever created, to the massive 100 megaton “Tsar Bomba,” the largest ever created. Once a target is selected, the impact of explosion can be viewed, fallout patterns can be plotted (taking into account prevailing weather patterns and topography), and casualties are estimated.

It’s a very interesting addition to thinking about nuclear deterrence and proliferation, and I’ll certainly add it to my list of teaching resources for future use.

The Staggering Costs of Climate Change

DSC_1793Researchers at the University of Cambridge and Erasmus University in the Netherlands published a report in the journal Nature yesterday that outlines the economic impact of climate change in the Arctic. According to the report, methane released by melting permafrost in the Arctic—which unlike the loss of sea ice, rising ocean levels, the vulnerability of Arctic species like the polar bear—have largely been ignored in consideration of the impact of climate change. However, the report cautions that the impact of methane releases could be massive.

Much of the attention paid to date to methane in the Arctic has focused on the development and extraction of new resources from land uncovered as a result of retreating polar icecaps. The Arctic, the report notes, is home to about 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13 percent of its undiscovered oil, and climate change may make those resources more accessible for extraction. According to Lloyd’s of London, the oil and natural gas alone could be worth up to $100 billion. The race for these resources has already triggered increased tensions over control of Arctic resources, including an effort by the Russian government to plant a flag on the Arctic sea floor, and increasing tensions between the US and Canadian governments over control over Arctic sea lanes.

But scientists warn that the economic costs associated with climate change in the Arctic could dwarf any economic benefits from newly accessible resources. Indeed, the report in Nature noted that,

We calculate that the costs of a melting Arctic will be huge, because the region is pivotal to the functioning of Earth systems such as oceans and the climate. The release of methane from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea, off northern Russia, alone comes with an average global price tag of $60 trillion in the absence of mitigating action — a figure comparable to the size of the world economy in 2012 (about $70 trillion). The total cost of Arctic change will be much higher.

The problem, of course, is that climate change represents the classic collective action problem, where the benefits (gains from extracting new Arctic resources, for example) are captured by a relatively small group while the costs are borne globally. Indeed, it is widely acknowledged that the majority of the impact of climate change will be borne by the developing world—the countries which have been least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that have driven climate change in the first place.

What do you think? Can a political solution to climate change be achieved before the climate is irreversibly altered? Or should efforts to address climate change shift from prevention and mitigation to adaption? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Weekly Quiz: Test Yourself on This Week’s Events

The weekly quiz is now live. Good luck!

The Global Politics of Smuggling

Han Solo: Now that's my kind of smuggler!

Han Solo: Now that’s my kind of smuggler!

Alright, I’ll admit it. When I think of smugglers, the first thing that comes to my mind is Han Solo. In reality, though, smuggling has a long history. Smuggling refers to the illegal transport of goods or persons, usually across international boundaries, in violation of domestic or international law. Smuggling is most often motivated by a desire to avoid paying taxes, but can also involve illegal immigration or emigration (e.g., human trafficking) or the trafficking of illegal substances (e.g., drugs,  weapons, or counterfeit goods).

Over the weekend, Panamanian prosecutors announced they would file charges against 35 crew members of the Chong Chon Gang, a North Korean ship passing through the Panama Canal. The ship’s manifest indicated it was carrying 10,000 tonnes of sugar bound from Cuba to North Korea. But inspection of the ship’s cargo found 240 tonnes of weapons,  including two Volga and Pechora anti-aircraft missile systems, nine missiles “in parts and spares,” two Mig-21 Bis and 15 engines for those airplanes. The weapons were found inside containers hidden within the sugar shipment.

Cuba described the weapons as “obsolete defensive weapons” and contended they were headed to North Korea for repair. The Panamanian government described the same weapons as “sophisticated.” The MiG-21 is a fighter jet with a limited range that first entered service in 1959. The missile systems in question are similarly dated and easily evaded by current US aircraft technology. Given this, the description of the weapons as “sophisticated” might be a bit of a stretch.

Regardless of the quality of the weapons themselves, it seems clear that the shipment was undertaken in violation on a United Nations Security Council embargo on weapons shipments to North Korea. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718 (2006) requires that all United Nations Member States “shall prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to the DPRK, through their territories or by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in their territories, of…battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems.” More expansive sanctions are imposed by Resolution 1874 (2009).

North Korea has a long history of flaunting United Nations resolutions and has often sought to exacerbate tensions with the broader international community. North Korea might also be seeking to reduce their reliance on Chinese support by expanding the number of trading partners it has.

The real question, though, is why would Cuba undertake such an exchange? The Cuban government had been moving to normalize relations with the United States, and had been making effective progress in this endeavor. Cuba has very little to gain from such a minor transaction, but it stands to lose a great deal now that the shipment has become public. Even assuming every element of the Cuban government’s story is true, that they were transporting the weapons systems to North Korea for repair, and that the sugar was payment, Cuba has little to gain. Philip Peters, President of the Cuba Research Center, noted that “This appears to be a violation of the U.N. resolution. But in military terms it has almost no significance at all. What this incident says about Cuba is that there aren’t a lot of places where you can go to get these old airplanes and antiaircraft systems fixed.”

And writing for The New Yorker, Jon Lee Anderson observes that, “It is difficult to know, as yet, just why Cuba would have wished to secretly load [weapons] of Soviet vintage onto a North Korean cargo ship, the Chong Chon Gang, which then concealed that cargo underneath ten thousand tons of Cuban brown sugar. But the explanation that Cuba’s foreign ministry quickly offered on Tuesday, a day after the ship’s dramatic seizure by suspicious Panamanian authorities at the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal, was somewhere between decidedly strange and scarcely believable.”

What do you think? Will the discovery of Cuban weapons bound for North Korea undermine negotiations to normalize relations between Cuba and the United States? Or will Cuba’s explanation mitigate any negative diplomatic effects? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

India’s School Lunch Program Tragedy

An Indian girl eats lunch at school as part of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme.

An Indian girl eats lunch at school as part of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme.

Tragedy struck in India this week as 47 students fell ill and 22 died after consuming food tainted with a powerful insecticide. The tainted rice was consumed as part of a school lunch known as the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, consisting of rice, soybeans, and potatoes on Tuesday. India boasts the world’s largest public nutrition program, and the lunch was served as part of that program, intended to bolster school attendance and improve student performance in school. The program reaches some 120 million children in 1.2 million schools across the country.

The tragedy sparked protests on Wednesday. During the protests, at least four police vehicles were set alight. The government has promised a complete investigation into the incident and has offered to compensate the families of the children in the amount of 200,000 rupees (about $3,300).

Each of the deaths of the 22 children is a tragedy in its own right. Equally tragic, though, would be the loss of the school lunch program as a result of the poisoning. Recent improvements in the program have resulted in more timely delivery of higher quality food. Some are concerned that the tragedy may undermine support for and participation in the program. And the tragedy certainly speaks to the need to improve safety in school kitchens and the quality of the food served. But the program itself remains a powerful tool to in addressing the challenges of childhood malnutrition in India.

(This story was originally blogged at Global Food Politics and is reprinted here by permission).