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Turkish Soldiers Inside Syria Abducted By Islamist Rebels

By , April 23, 2014 7:27 pm

ISTANBUL — Turkish troops conducting a resupply mission to a small Turkish military post inside Syrian territory were ambushed and detained Wednesday by Islamic extremists affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, according to Turkish media reports.

The troops were later returned to Turkey, news outlets in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa said. But it wasn’t clear what happened to the four armored personnel carriers they’d been traveling in. One report said ISIS had kept the vehicles, which had been seen flying ISIS flags.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday confirmed that a convoy had been sent to the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire. The tomb lies about 15 miles inside Syria, but Turkey claims sovereignty over the area under a 1921 territory. Erdogan said the convoy had been sent to deliver supplies to the Turkish military contingent assigned to guard the tomb.

He did not, however, mention the ISIS ambush or the abduction of the Turkish troops, an incident that could put Turkey’s military, widely regarded as the region’s best equipped, on a collision course with ISIS, whose militants are fighting both Syrian government forces and other anti-government rebel groups for control of eastern Syria.

“Right now, the issue is not about ISIS,” he told reporters in Ankara. “The job of our convoy is to transfer aid to the Suleyman Shah tomb.”

The Turkish military said the dispatch of the convoy was a planned activity, and nothing out of the ordinary.

Local news reports said the vehicles crossed into Syria from the Sursitpinar border gate and were ambushed near the town of Manbij. The troops — the exact number was not reported — were then taken to Manbij and later repatriated to Turkey, Sanliurfa.com reported, citing local Syrian sources and another unnamed source.

The news portal, without naming its source, said that the vehicles, after their capture, were being driven about with ISIS flags on them.

In mid-March, ISIS demanded that Turkey abandon its military outpost at the tomb and threatened to attack and destroy it. This apparently gave rise to a secret conversation among top Turkish officials about whether Turkey should seize the opportunity to take on ISIS, an Iraq-based offshoot of al Qaida that is also fighting the Iraqi government for control of western Iraq and is considered a serious menace to regional stability. Al Qaida leaders denounced the group earlier this year for disobeying orders to withdraw from Syria, where another rebel group, the Nusra Front, is al Qaida’s recognized affiliate.

A recording of the secret conversation about a possible incursion into Syria was posted on YouTube and proved deeply embarrassing to the Erdogan government, which launched a major investigation to find the source of the security breach. The government also blocked access to YouTube and Twitter in an effort to halt dissemination of the recording.

According to news accounts, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu can be heard on the recording saying that “without a strong pretext,” Turkey would not receive support for an intervention into Syria from the United States or other allies. The chief of Turkish intelligence, Hakan Fidan, reportedly responded that “if needed, I would dispatch four men to Syria” and “have them fire eight mortar shells at the Turkish side and create an excuse for war.” He added: “We can also have them attack the tomb of Suleyman Shah as well.”

If the government was seriously considering doing anything at the time, it was put on hold following the publication of the discussion.

Based on the scanty details available Wednesday, it wasn’t possible to determine whether the resupply convoy was a genuinely routine operation or a probe to test ISIS’s intentions.

Assyrian International News Agency

Five Ways the Myth That Iran Was Developing Nuclear Weapons Was Hyped

By , April 23, 2014 1:47 pm
Arak nuclear reactor in Iran

Arak nuclear reactor in Iran

More and more men and women are either born with a talent for, or are developing skill in, technical matters, especially computer hardware and software. With those capabilities now widespread, it’s odd that more people don’t take the time to acquaint themselves with the technical issues surrounding Iran’s alleged nuclear-weapons program. While the issues may be somewhat daunting to non-technical types such as this author ― though certainly not beyond our capacity to understand with a little effort ― they’re easy for the technically gifted. True, they’re on the dry side, but it can’t be any more tedious than trying to figure out how to draw more clicks to an ad.

Apologies if it seems like I’m trying to shame people into reading Gareth Porter’s recent book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare (Just World Books, 2014). In the course of the book, he outlines how the United States and Israel, supported by England, France, and Germany, along with the media, used fabricated evidence to make it appear as if Iran were developing nuclear weapons. Five elements of the campaign follow:

1. The discovery of the Natanz enrichment facility in 2002. Writes Porter: “The United States and its allies … exploited Iran’s nuclear secrecy effectively to create a pervasive suspicion that Iran was using its civilian nuclear program to hide a covert ambition for nuclear weapons.” Iran insisted on its right, as guaranteed by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to enrich uranium, but had kept it secret for fear of an attack by the United States or Israel, as well as to hide Chinese cooperation both for China’s and its own sakes.

2. “Like other states with uranium enrichment capabilities,” writes Porter, “Iran expected such capabilities to add a ‘latent deterrent’ to its overt conventional deterrence of foreign aggression. … US officials and some intelligence analysts were well aware of that motive and recognized that it did not mean that Iran intended to obtain nuclear weapons. But one administration after another deliberately confused the two issues in public pronouncements.”

3. Israel Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Benjamin Netanyahu “used the alleged threat from Iran’s nuclear and missile programs to achieve a set of political-strategic aims that had little or nothing to do with Iran. [They] professed alarm about an Iranian threat that Israel’s top intelligence officials did not accept and that served multiple political-diplomatic ends for their respective governments.”

4. The George W. Bush administration “focused on the occupation of Iraq as the fulcrum of policy toward the rest of the region … to keep open a path to regime change in Iran. That entailed explicitly refusing to countenance an agreement between the European three (the United Kingdom, France, and Germany) with Iran in 2004-5 that would have committed Iran to a minimal nuclear program that would not have constituted a proliferation threat.”

5. “Virtually every new quarterly report from the [International Atomic Energy Agency] on its investigation in 2004 and 2005 generated a new round of media stories of suspected Iranian covert enrichment or weapons work. … however, none of those suspicions turned out to be correct, and the IAEA had to acknowledge in the end that it had found no evidence of Iranian weapons-related activity in any of the cases it investigated.”

Meanwhile, just as it did with Iraq and the weapons of mass destructions charges, the establishment media allowed itself to be led down the primrose path to another possible war. You’d think one nonexistent nuclear weapons program as a pretext for war per generation was enough.

If you wish to understand, once and for all, how the United States, Israel, their European allies, and the media willfully obscured the truth about Iran’s uranium enrichment program, read Manufactured Crisis. Even if you’re familiar with the issue, it’s full of surprises.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Torchlight Procession Marking the 99th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

By , April 23, 2014 1:44 pm

Torchlight Procession Marking the 99th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

Posted 2014-04-23 20:02 GMT

A torchlight procession marking the 99th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey is taking place in Yerevan.

The procession has been organized by the youth unions of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsutyun (ARF-D) and the Nikol Aghbalyan student union.

The participants are marching toward the Memorial to Armenian Genocide victims.

Head of the ARF-D Hay Dat office Giro Manoyan said:

“We’ll struggle for justice to the end. We demand that the occupied part of our homeland be returned. The Turkish premier has made a statement today because he is afraid of you and other similar actions taking place in Armenian cities. He’ll try to deceive the international community by offering his condolences, but not apologies, as if people had died in an earthquake. We say ‘no’ to the denial policy and we’ll continue our struggle. Our demand is remedied injustice, restitution and admission.”

ARF-D youth union members handed an open letter to a staffer of the Armenian presidential administration. They demand that Armenia’s authorities withdraw their signature from the Armenian-Turkish protocols on the threshold of centennial of the Armenian Genocide.

Assyrian International News Agency

Earth: Game Over?

By , April 23, 2014 8:05 am
climate-change-earth-day-carbon-tax-fossil-fuel-renewable-energy-mass-extinction

Earth has “rebooted” a number of times through climactic changes and mass extinctions. The next one we see may be our last. (Photo: Mykl Roventine / Flickr)

Video games usually provide you with multiple lives. If you step on a landmine or get hit by an assassin, you get another chance. Even if such virtual reincarnation is not built into the rules of the game, you can always reboot and start over again. You can try again hundreds of times until you get it right. This formula applies to first-person shooter games as well as simulation exercises like SimEarth.

The real Earth offers a similar kind of reboot. Catastrophe has hit our planet at least five times, as Elizabeth Kolbert explains in her new book, The Sixth Extinction. During each of these preceding wipeouts, the planet recovered, though many of the life forms residing in the seas or on land were not so fortunate (“many” is actually an understatement—more than 99 percent of all species died out in these cataclysms). As Kolbert points out, we are in the middle of a sixth such world-altering event, and this will be the first—and possibly the last—extinction that we will witness as human beings. The planet and its hardier denizens may soldier on, but for us it will be game over.

A subset of environmentalists is already preparing for the end game. In the latest New York Times Magazine, Paul Kingsnorth—the author of the manifesto Uncivilizationconfesses that he has given up trying to save the planet. He rejects false hopes. “You look at every trend that environmentalists like me have been trying to stop for 50 years,” he says, “and every single thing had gotten worse.” He’s heading to the wilderness of Ireland to grow his own food, homeschool his kids, and prepare for the difficult days ahead.

Survivalism: it’s not just for right-wing wackos any more.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are still trying to figure out how to avert disaster. The United Nations recently released another in its series of reports on climate change. This one tries to put a price tag on what we need to do over the next 15-20 years to stop the global mercury from rising.

To implement the recommendations of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), governments must dramatically increase their investments in low-carbon energy sources. Each year, governments will have to spend an additional $ 147 billion on such renewable sources of energy as solar and wind power. On top of that, governments need to put $ 336 billion each year into greater energy efficiency in public and private infrastructure. If we follow all the IPCC recommendations, we can expect to save about $ 30 billion from eliminating subsidies to industries in the dirty energy sectors.

That still leaves an annual bill of more than $ 450 billion. This is probably a lowball figure, given the commitment that the industrialized world has made to help the developing world continue to grow economically without expanding its carbon footprint. This figure aclimatlso doesn’t cover current climate change costs associated with extreme weather events, droughts in food-growing areas, the preservation of coastal areas, and other catastrophes in the making. The bill for upgrading U.S. infrastructure alone will run into hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

If you’re planning to remodel your kitchen, you’re supposed to get a couple of different estimates. So, with a task as large as saving the world, it’s probably wise to check in with a couple other sources.

But those looking for salvation on the cheap are going to be disappointed. The International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization connected to the OECD, estimates that the world needs to invest a trillion dollars into clean energy—every year between now and 2050. Then there was the Stern Commission report on the economics of climate change that came out in 2006. At the time, Nicholas Stern estimated that stabilizing the current level of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere would require an investment of 1 percent of global GDP, which at the time was a little more than $ 300 billion. He revised that up to about $ 600 billion a couple years later, though nowadays he’s talking more in the trillion-dollar range as well.

Of course, these costs should be compared to the price tag for not addressing climate change quickly and resolutely. This, Stern estimated, would add up to 20 percent of global GDP. At some point, of course, we will hit a tipping point at which no amount of money can turn back the clock.

Where will the money come from? A “climate security” tax on military spending would make sense, forcing governments to turn swords into windmill blades. We’re currently wasting over $ 1.7 trillion a year on the enormous potlatch otherwise known as the global military budget.

Another “simple” answer is to not only remove subsidies from dirty energy but to tax it as well. In this way, governments discourage the use of coal and oil and raise the revenue necessary to invest in clean technologies. It seems an elegant solution, except that the energy companies and their political representatives have bitterly fought against carbon taxes. In 2011, the Labor government in Australia pushed through a carbon tax and established a $ 10-billion “green bank” to support sustainable energy projects. That hasn’t lasted long. The new center-right government has vowed to repeal the tax, but the Australian parliament has so far turned back the government’s repeal effort.

Denmark offers a less fractious alternative. The country is currently planning to unshackle itself completely from fossil fuels by 2050. And it plans to do that without relying on nuclear power. The country has invested heavily in wind power, and last year, for the first time, wind supplied more than 50 percent of the country’s energy consumption for an entire month. How much will this 40-year transition cost? The estimate is roughly 1 percent of the country’s GDP. By the end, Denmark will have cut its carbon emissions by 80 percent.

The Denmark model requires a few caveats. The entire scheme involves significant investment in new technologies and infrastructure upgrades. It also depends on a critical variable—the increasing cost of fossil fuels. If oil and gas and coal remain cheap, capital will not flow into the new technologies. In other words, the possibility of the earth burning up is not sufficient to concentrate our minds and mobilize our efforts. It comes down to a pocketbook issue. Only astronomical prices at the gas pump will force us to change our behavior, individually and collectively.

We could wait for the market to push up these prices, but that will likely be too late. Instead, we need to artificially raise the costs of fossil fuels, and that brings us back to some form of carbon tax. Another part of that strategy would be to leave some of that ancient, liquefied plant and animal matter in the ground and at the bottom of the ocean, forgoing deep sea drilling, refusing to rip up forests for the treasures beneath, and leaving the tar sands be.

But perhaps the most important caveat is this: Denmark will only succeed if we are all on board. We don’t have the luxury of sitting back, seeing if the calculations involved in Denmark’s fossil-free scenario work out, and then following suit if we like the results. By that time, it would be too late.

As with our individual lives, there is no reset button for the human race (Noah’s flood notwithstanding). Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska put it well in her poem “Nothing Twice” (translation by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh):

Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
That we arrive here improvised
And leave without the chance to practice

Even if there is no one dumber,
If you’re the planet’s biggest dunce,
You can’t repeat the class in summer:
This course is only offered once.

If humanity fails this particular science class, we’re done. It doesn’t matter whether we’re straight-A students from Denmark or flunkards like congressional climate change denier James Inhofe. We won’t be given another chance at the global joystick.

Earth: game over. For us at least.

John Feffer is the co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Baghdad Claims Preliminary Accord in Oil Talks, Kurds Say No

By , April 23, 2014 8:02 am

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Comments by officials in Baghdad and Erbil shed no light on a seething oil quarrel between the two sides, with Iraq’s deputy premier saying that a preliminary agreement had been reached and the Kurdish premier reporting no progress in talks.

Meanwhile, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz added that facilities storing Kurdish crude at the port of Ceyhan — awaiting sale and re-export once the Erbil-Baghdad row has been resolved — are nearly full.

In an interview with Sky News Arabia, Iraq’s deputy prime minister for energy affairs, Hussein Shahristani, said that the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has given preliminary approval for Kurdish oil exports through Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO).

He claimed that Erbil had said in a statement that the exports would be within the framework of Iraqi regulations, and that they had not begun yet due to technical reasons. Shahirstani said that Baghdad was waiting for Erbil to commit to that decision.

However, there has been no indication from Erbil that such an accord has been agreed.

Earlier, Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani announced that talks with Baghdad had made no progress. “We were expecting to reach an agreement within Iraq and for that we showed a lot of patience, but our patience has a limit,” the premier said at a news conference. “If we know we can’t reach an agreement we will have our own solution,” he warned.

Iraq and its autonomous Kurds fail to see eye-to-eye over oil exports from the Kurdistan Region. Early this year the Kurds began exports through a newly-extended pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Baghdad vehemently objected, cutting off Erbil from the national budget, declaring the exports “illegal” and threatening to sue any company lifting Kurdish oil at Ceyhan.

Turkey, which badly needs Kurdish oil for its growing economy but also does not want to anger Baghdad, said it would only store the oil until an accord was reached between Baghdad and Erbil. Months later, there is still no clarity over the issue.

Yildiz, the Turkish energy minister, said lately that the volume of exported crude from Kurdistan via its own independent pipeline has reached 1.5 million barrels. “We will be in a position to send this oil to world markets once the tanks are full. We can’t keep this in tanks,” he said.

“The pipeline on the Iraqi side is in unusable shape. This is a loss for Iraq,” the Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

Kurdistan’s completion of an independent pipeline early this year, to export oil to Turkey, added to the tensions between Erbil and Baghdad. Each claims to have authority over oil extraction and export based on different interpretations of Iraq’s constitution.

Assyrian International News Agency

Goodbye, Carl Bloice

By , April 23, 2014 2:24 am
carl-bloice

Carl Bloice (1939-2014)

One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us.
—James Baldwin, “The Fire Next Time”

Carl Bloice—Foreign Policy In Focus columnist, blogger, and long-time African-American journalist—negotiated that journey with power and grace. Right up to the moment when he lost his long battle with cancer, he was contributing to the website Portside and struggling to complete an FPIF column on the Middle East. He died in San Francisco on April 12 at age 75.

He was a journalist his whole life, although he began his love of words as a poet. Born January 28, 1939 in Riverside, California, he grew up in South Central Los Angeles at a time when racism and discrimination were as ubiquitous there as palm trees and beaches. He was one of those people who could not bear the humiliation of silence in the face of injustice. And that simple—if occasionally difficult—philosophy was at the center of who he was. Civil rights, free speech, the war in Southeast Asia (and later Central America, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq), women’s rights, homophobia, and the environmental crisis: wherever the dispossessed were voiceless, Carl Bloice spoke for them.

He was also my friend, for 44 years my colleague and co-conspirator, and the person who taught me how to write and think. I say this because this is less an obituary about an accomplished African-American journalist than a friend’s funerary oration, something we Irish think is important.

Carl sold me on James Baldwin—and many other essayists, thinkers, novelists, and poets—by convincing me that words mattered. He was utterly certain that a well-written piece of prose could tumble a government, shame the mighty, or shelter the powerless.

He was a member of the Communist Party much of his life, finally leaving the organization over its resistance to internal democracy and its reluctance to embrace women’s liberation, gay rights, and the defense of the environment.

In 1962 Carl was one of the first northern journalists to cover the southern civil rights movement, and he was staying at the A.G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham, Alabama when the Ku Klux Klan tried to murder Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with a bomb. It blew Carl out of his bed.

He recognized Watergate for what it was months before the mainstream press caught on to the profound corruption at the heart of the scandal and covered it for two years. He reported from Moscow, Central Asia, North Korea, Mongolia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. He was on the editorial board of the Black Commentator and wrote columns for FPIF on Israel, Libya, Argentina, Afghanistan, Cuba, and the growing and disturbing U.S. military presence in Africa.

He was also a very funny man who loved to eat, drink, and gossip. Indeed, the two of us decided that we had stumbled into a profession that gave us the perfect cover to engage in our favorite past time. Yes, yes, we talked politics—mainly foreign policy—but if the antics of the Kardashian clan slipped into the conversation, well, that was okay.

We dearly enjoyed spotting linguistic slights of hand. In a recent story for the New York Times, a reporter was going on about German-Russian tensions over Ukraine, and how Berlin is more comfortable with diplomacy—specifically the upcoming Ukraine-Russia-U.S.-European Union talks in Geneva—as opposed to some of the Cold War-type rhetoric that has been flying around. “Diplomacy at last had a chance,” she wrote. “Germany was back on familiar terrain—represented in Geneva, notably not by its own diplomat but by Catherine Ashton, the foreign policy chief of the 28-nation European Union, a partnership often gently mocked in Washington, but hallowed in Berlin as the real, if cumbersome, governing body of Europe.”

I love those words, “gently mocked.”

They made me recall a conversation this past February between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, and the American Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. The two were plotting how to overthrow the elected government of President Viktor Yanukovych and install their handpicked guy in Kiev, and Nuland said, “Fuck the EU.”

Who knew the Times considered “fuck” gentle mocking?

A few weeks ago I would have phoned Carl and we’d have had a good laugh, but today there is no one to pick up the phone. The hardest thing about death is the silence it brings into our lives.

Carl believed that words could empower the majority of humanity to reclaim their world from the 1 percent. In this he was much like his fellow poet, Percy Shelley, who penned these words of outrage in the aftermath of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre when cavalry charged into a Manchester crowd that was demanding democracy, killing 15 and wounding hundreds:

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number—
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you—
Ye are many—they are few

Good night sweet poet. This harp shall ever praise thee.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Syria Hands Over 86 Percent of Chemical Weapons

By , April 23, 2014 2:20 am

(VOA) — The global chemical watchdog says Syria has handed over more than 86 percent of its chemical weapons stockpiles.

The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Tuesday that Syria had delivered another batch of chemicals to the port of Latakia to be destroyed offshore on a U.S. ship. The agreed upon deadline to eradicate Syria of its chemical stockpile is June 30.

This news comes as U.S. officials have said they have indications toxic chemicals were used in a rebel area of Syria this month.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the alleged attack in the western village of Kafr Zita involved an industrial chemical that was probably chlorine.

“We are examining allegations that the government was responsible. We take all allegations of the use of chemicals in combat very seriously. And we are working to determine what happened. We will continue consulting and sharing information with key partners, including of course at the OPCW,” said Carney.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said chlorine was not on the list of chemicals that Syria declared last year when it agreed under international pressure to destroy the arms.

Washington and its allies say President Bashar al-Assad’s forces unleashed sarin gas last year, killing hundreds of civilians. The Syrian government said it was the opposition fighters who used the chemical weapons.

French President Francois Hollande said France also has indications that chemical weapons are still being used in Syria.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has expressed concern about Syria’s plans to hold a presidential election on June 3 because the vote goes against an international outline for bringing a political solution in Syria.

The 2012 Geneva document calls for a transitional government for Syria, which would then hold fresh elections.

The election that the government announced Monday will give Assad the chance to win a third seven-year term in office. The opposition trying to oust him from power immediately dismissed the vote as a farce.

Assad is battling rebels in a conflict that began as peaceful protests in March 2011 and quickly grew into a civil war that has killed more than 150,000 people, mostly civilians.

Another 2.6 million people have fled Syria to surrounding countries. The war has displaced more than 6.5 million people within Syria.

Assyrian International News Agency

From Grozny to Crimea: Russia Learns to Finesse Military Intervention

By , April 22, 2014 8:41 pm
ukraine

“Western experts,” reports Michael Gordon in the New York Times on April 21, see Russia’s military, “disparaged for its decline since the fall of the Soviet Union,” now “skillfully employing 21st-century tactics” in East Ukraine “that combine cyberwarfare, an energetic information campaign and the use of highly trained special operation troops to seize the initiative from the West.”

Many were initially caught off-guard when “the Russians used a so-called snap military exercise to distract attention and hide their preparations. … specially trained troops, without identifying patches, moved quickly to secure key installations. 

Then

Once the operation was underway, the Russian force cut telephone cables, jammed communications and used cyberwarfare to cut off the Ukrainian military forces on the peninsula. [They sent] small, well-equipped teams across the Ukrainian border to seize government buildings that could be turned over to sympathizers and local militias.

Russia’s hand may still be heavy, but it squeezes now instead of striking massive blows.

The dexterity with which the Russians have operated in Ukraine is a far cry from the bludgeoning artillery, airstrikes and surface-to-surface missiles used to retake Grozny, the Chechen capital, from Chechen separatists in 2000. In that conflict, the notion of avoiding collateral damage to civilians and civilian infrastructure appeared to be alien.

What does this portend?

The abilities the Russian military has displayed are not only important to the high-stakes drama in Ukraine, they also have implications for the security of Moldova, Georgia, Central Asian nations and even the Central Europe nations that are members of NATO.

Now that Russia has attained a relatively painless success ― sanctions and international standing aside ― with its new clever, agile military, it may find it difficult to resist the urge to exercise its newfound capabilities again. In other words, while one set of clichés may be out ― iron fisted at home, ham-handed abroad ― another, however wrong or right, might need to be revived: the domino theory.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Security Forces UN to Distribute Most Food in Government-held Areas in Syria

By , April 22, 2014 8:38 pm

The World Food Program gives out most of its food aid to Syria in government-held areas, with only a quarter of the distributions occurring in rebel-controlled territory, according to latest figures from the U.N. agency.

The findings underscore the obstacles facing the WFP, which is the major distributor of food aid in Syria, in getting help to rebel-held areas. Many of those zones are under frequent bombardment by Syrian forces, making access dangerous for aid workers and their drivers.

In addition, the WFP needs government permission to cross into rebel territory. And many Syrians fleeing combat are more likely to head for areas that are held by the government or are contested, drawing fewer airstrikes or heavy fire.

“The displacement is disproportionately higher in areas that they think is safer, which is government-controlled areas and contested areas,” said WFP spokeswoman Abeer Etefa. “Our focus is always on those displaced population, which is one reason why you have increased distribution in government-controlled areas.”

The distribution breakdown, presented in monthly WFP maps, shows the percentage delivered to both sides in each of the country’s 14 provinces. In March, all food aid was given to government areas in six provinces, including Aleppo, Damascus and Hama. In Raqqa and Dara, all aid was distributed to opposition areas, according to the WFP.

In all but one of the remaining provinces, a majority of aid went to government areas, with an even split in the final province. On average across the provinces, the maps show, 75% of the aid distributions occurred in zones controlled by President Bashar Assad’s forces.

The war has left immense poverty and need across the country. However, opposition towns and neighborhoods have been some of the hardest hit, with government shelling and air campaigns reducing some areas to disaster zones with little surviving infrastructure.

And though many civilians have fled to government towns and neighborhoods, a large number have moved to other opposition areas deemed safer. In the last few months, makeshift refugee camps have sprung up all along the border with Turkey, some of them little more than shelters made of tarps and sticks.

The WFP’s most recent assessment in Syria revealed that more than 9 million people lack reliable access to sufficient food and 6.5 million cannot survive without food assistance. This comes at a time when humanitarian agencies are warning that the country may be facing a drought, which would exacerbate the situation.

The agency’s goal is to reach 4.25 million people each month in Syria, which amounts to about 40,000 tons of food, but it has regularly fallen short. In March it reached 4.1 million people and distributed in all 14 provinces, Etefa said.

Kareem Shami, an opposition aid volunteer in Damascus blamed the Syrian government for the lack of aid going to opposition-controlled areas.

Assad’s military “has instituted the blockades so that aid cannot get in,” he said. “He hasn’t blockaded it for nine months in order for the U.N. to come in and provide aid.”

The government has pursued a siege campaign against many opposition areas in Damascus and Homs, preventing food, medicine and other aid from entering for many months. Rebels have also laid siege to some towns, but to a lesser extent.

The WFP, like other U.N. agencies, operates under a General Assembly mandate that says Syria’s sovereignty cannot be violated. That rule in effect bans crossing borders that are under opposition control, limiting aid distribution to such places as Aleppo, where all crossings with Turkey are in rebel hands.

But Etefa said safety was also a major concern. “Who are the truck drivers that you can send to an area that is being bombed in order to deliver?” she asked. “It’s a war zone.”

On Saturday, a blast in Hama killed an aid driver and injured two others, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent tweeted. “Each side has a role to play in the fact that many people are going hungry,” she said, adding that at a time when access was improving, “I don’t want to point fingers.”

This month, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees delivered humanitarian assistance to an opposition-held neighborhood in Aleppo. The government and rebels agreed on a rare cease-fire so the aid could be delivered.

The UNHCR had last delivered aid to the area in June 2013, and no assistance had reached the population there since, according to the United Nations.

There have been other one-time instances of aid getting into hard-to-reach rebel areas, including Qamishli in the northeast of the country and the eastern suburbs of Damascus, the capital. But such limited deliveries do little to alleviate the situation.

In the Yarmouk camp near Damascus, home to both Palestinian refugees and Syrians, aid has been allowed to enter on and off depending on government permission or clashes between rebels and government forces. More than 100 people are said to have died from starvation in Yarmouk, according to opposition activists.

On Sunday, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees warned that U.N. food in the Yarmouk camp was about to run out after 12 consecutive days without food deliveries because of fighting between the rebels and government.

“The U.N. groups are always waiting for permission from the regime, and for the regime, aid is a red line,” Shami said. “And even when it comes in, it is in such a small amount.”

Assyrian International News Agency

Climate Change Comes to the Caribbean

By , April 22, 2014 2:59 pm
climate-change-caribbean-latin-america-tourism-fishing-bananas

Climate change threatens the livelihoods of millions of people across the Caribbean who rely on fishing, agriculture, and tourism to survive. (Photo: World Bank Photo Collection / Flickr)

The future of our planet looks pretty bleak. The latest report released by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints a dire picture: climate change is here to stay, and we’re not doing enough to prepare ourselves.

Extreme weather events from hurricanes to floods and droughts will leave virtually no corner of our planet untouched. Climate chaos will undoubtedly inflict damage upon wealthier nations, but no one is more vulnerable than the world’s poor.

The Latin American and Caribbean region is home to dozens of low- and middle-income countries that are still struggling to develop. Many depend on the warm waters and mild weather of the Caribbean to sustain their crucial agriculture and tourism industries. Climate change threatens the livelihoods of millions of people across the region who rely on these sectors to survive.

The small island nations of the Caribbean depend on the ocean as a source of food and income. Catching and eating fish have been traditions in the region for centuries, and fish remain a dietary staple. However, this heavy reliance on the ocean for sustenance may be upended by climate change. According to a recent report, the world’s oceans will see a 170-percent rise in acidity by the end of the century, which could prove devastating for global fish stocks that are already overexploited.

In the small country of Antigua and Barbuda, a severely impacted fish population would have dire consequences. Located in the western Caribbean, Antigua and Barbuda is the largest per capita consumer of fish in the entire world. Not only do Antiguans consume a lot of fish, their country’s location also makes it a prime exporter of fish products to profitable markets in Puerto Rico and the continental United States. The Antiguan export of fish commodities is currently valued at $ 1.5 million. For fishermen trying to make a living and the rural poor who rely on this industry for food, the future of fishing resources looks grim.

In other countries, the lucrative banana industry is under assault. The bananas grown on the tiny island of Dominica bring in a yearly profit of $ 68 million, a valuable source of foreign exchange for the small country. The banana industry is also the second largest employer on the island, accounting for 6,000 jobs for a population of just over 70,000. In 2007, Hurricane Dean ripped through the island, decimating the vital industry. On Christmas Eve, 2013, a day meant for shopping and preparing for the upcoming major holiday, Dominicans awoke to heavy rains that caused massive flooding and landslides throughout the island. The changing climate promises even more destructive storms, putting the banana trade—and with it much of the Dominican economy—in mortal peril.

The region depends not only on the exports it sends out, but on the people it brings in. With sandy beaches, sapphire blue waters, exotic plants, and colorful marine life, many countries in the region rely on booming tourism sectors. Jamaica’s tourism industry, for example, earns the country approximately $ 2 billion annually, bringing in nearly 50 percent of its foreign exchange earnings and providing a quarter of all jobs on the island. Now, though, rising sea levels are expected to inundate the coastal areas popular with beachgoers. A World Bank Study found that a 1-meter rise in sea level could potentially destroy 60 percent of the coastal wetlands in the Caribbean and the developing world. More intense hurricanes, rainfall, and landslides are all threatening the island’s tourism sector as well.

Though tourists can cause extensive environmental damage, one country manages to boast a thriving, environmentally friendly tourism sector that has still proven lucrative. Costa Rica’s sustainable tourism industry, which has won countless awards, brought in nearly $ 2.2 billion in 2012 alone.

In 2013, world traveler Larry Kraft took his family to the Monteverde area in north-central Costa Rica. With an elevation of 4,500 feet, Monteverde is popular for its cloud forests, zip-lining, hiking, and wildlife. Tour operators constantly tout their sustainable practices and explain how the revenue raised is spent on conservation of the environment. Unfortunately, this ecofriendly tourist destination has already begun to see the negative impacts of climate change.

Members of the Monteverde community told Kraft of worrisome weather pattern changes during the rainy season. The rain was once so predictable that residents could set their clocks to the heavy daily rains. But in recent years, there have been seasons where there simply hasn’t been enough rain. This has led to water shortages within the community and insufficient water for farms located downstream. Because 76 percent of Costa Rica’s electricity comes from hydroelectric plants in the Monteverde watershed, the lack of heavy rains has also caused power outages in the region.

Droughts especially spell disaster for poor countries with weak agricultural sectors. In Haiti, a drought in the northeast region is wiping out crops and livestock, leading to the loss of two harvest seasons. According to an official from the government’s National Food Security Coordination Unit, the drought is causing an “extreme emergency” across the region. Still reeling from its 2010 earthquake and badly underdeveloped after decades of U.S. intervention, internal instability, and predatory international “development” policies, Haiti’s food security was already precarious at best.

The drought, which has persisted for eight months and counting, has left farmers without water for crops, drinking, or cooking. Hungry children populate schools that have food supplies, but no water to prepare food with. Other schools simply have no food or water at all. The population in northern Haiti needs immediate relief, but experts predict it will take six months for the region to recover.

Mexico is facing similar problems. In 2012 the northern region of Mexico saw record droughts. Though the region is usually arid and has seen droughts before, climate experts worry about the duration and the frequency of the recent shortages. The 2012 drought that plagued the region and extended into the southwestern United States was not just a dry spell, but an obvious sign of northern Mexico’s changing climate.

The largest state in Mexico, Chihuahua, has taken a major blow to its livestock and agricultural output. Between July 2011 and July 2012, 350,000 cattle starved to death. And while the state normally produces 100,000 metric tons of corn a year, in 2011 it produced a mere 500. Corn farmers lost a staggering $ 65 million. The loss of crops and livestock leads to hunger and cripples the ability of farmers to support themselves or participate in their economy, hindering development.

Climate change has already battered the economies of the Latin American and Caribbean region—there is no denying or changing that fact. Looking towards the future, the best regional experts and development professionals can do is focus on mitigation and reducing risk. If the world does not start treating climate change like the serious risk—and the inevitability—that it is, the consequences for the region will be catastrophic.

Nathalie Baptiste is a Haitian-American contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus who lives in the Washington, D.C. area. She holds a BA and MA in International Studies and writes about Latin America and the Caribbean. You can follow her on Twitter at @nhbaptiste

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