India’s quest for Arctic ice

ARCTIC OCEAN – The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St-Laurent ties up to the Coast Guard Cutter Healy in the Arctic Ocean Sept. 5, 2009. The two ships are taking part in a multi-year, multi-agency Arctic survey that will help define the Arctic continental shelf.  Photo Credit: Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard

Photo Credit: Patrick Kelley/U.S. Coast Guard

By Suvi Dogra, Research and Liaison Officer, Geo-economics and Strategy Programme

From the Antarctic to the Arctic?

Over 30 years ago, India surprised the world with its expedition to the Antarctic. It may have surprised once again by securing observer status at the Arctic Council – a grouping of Arctic States (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US). For months, the Arctic Council has been debating the issue of admitting observers to its gatherings. Last week the Council decided to admit six new observers  ̶  China, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea. Interestingly, the EU has not yet been admitted.

While the observers have no say in the decision-making process, this inclusion is significant, because it shows the Arctic Council is no longer defining itself in geographic terms and has factored in geo-economic elements. The economic rise of China and India is bound to impact on the Arctic region, both through global warming and their widening maritime footprint and interest in the Arctic’s vast oil and gas resources.

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Change of tack needed in Baltic gas policy

Vilnius to Kaliningrad gas pipeline Photo Gazprom

By Pierre Noel, Hassanal Bolkiah Senior Fellow in Economic and Energy Security

In the Baltic states, energy security remains perceived as a truly serious issue. It’s seen as a question of survival rather than, as it is in much of the world, merely an exciting topic for after-dinner speeches. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania depend entirely on Russia for their gas supply and have complicated political relationships with Moscow. Recent numerical indicators of gas-supply security – including my own – show that the Baltics are among the least secure countries in Europe. Therefore they want to invest in gas-supply security.

The European Commission encourages them to do so, but has precise ideas about how it should be done: it has made subsidies contingent on the building of joint regional infrastructure. Brussels’ dream however, although aggressively pursued since 2009, has failed to materialise. In fact, Baltic gas-security cooperation faces serious political and even legal hurdles. Steps already taken have managed to infuriate Russia without improving the Baltic states’ ability to cope with supply disruptions in any way.

Therefore it is important to know if Baltic cooperation is absolutely needed, simply desirable or just one solution among others to improve Baltic gas-supply security.

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Avoiding the resource curse

Traders in the Ghanaian Stock Exchange World Bank Photo Collection

By Elly Jupp, Research Associate, IISS-Middle East

Today Economist readers voted in the newspaper’s latest debate that Africa’s rise is real. But the margin was ‘surprisingly narrow’. This is a resource-rich continent where economic growth has often been hampered by corruption and poor governance. Indeed, countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Uganda have all at times faced what is commonly called ‘the resource curse’, where the discovery and sale of oil or valuable minerals benefits only a small percentage of the population, and dominates the economy to the detriment of other industries.

In such situations, an influx of foreign investments can push up the value of the local currency, making other exports uncompetitive and depressing the wider economy. The jobs created for local people in resource-extraction tend to be relatively few and low-skilled, with the processing and manufacturing of the raw product moved abroad. Exporters are also vulnerable to the vagaries of the commodities markets, whose violent price swings affect the poorest hardest and make growth unsustainable. Sometimes the profits from commodities simply disappear into the pockets of kleptocratic regimes.

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An Iraqi strongman calls

Nuri al-Maliki on his cellphone. Photo Kurd NetBy Sarah Johnstone, Assistant editor, online

As ‘Genghis Khan with a telephone’ in the 1930s, Joseph Stalin routinely picked up the receiver late at night to issue instructions that led to the imprisonment or execution of millions. Author Toby Dodge probably wouldn’t compare current Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to the brutal Soviet leader; at the launch of his new book last week he steered away from describing Maliki as despotic as former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Nonetheless, Dodge’s portrayal of the Iraqi premier is of a man with ‘clear dictatorial ambitions’ who understands the utility of the telephone.

Dodge’s just-released Iraq: From War to a New Authoritarianism recounts how the PM’s office in Baghdad has subverted the military chain of command, directly ‘ringing up mid-ranking officers and issuing orders to them on their mobile phones’. It is one of the methods by which an initially unremarkable, ‘grey’ politician has managed to centralise power in the weak office of the Iraqi prime minister since his appointment in early 2006.

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Setting the agenda for Russia’s G20 presidency

Russian G20 presidency. Photo G20
Russia has assumed the helm of the G20 forum of leading economies at a time of concern that the group – so decisive in the wake of 2008 global financial crisis – is in danger of losing its way. What can Moscow do during its year-long presidency to help restore the group’s credibility?

Colleagues at the Council on Foreign Relations have canvassed opinion, ‘hoping to assist the government of Russia in defining priorities’. As part of its Council of Councils initiative, which includes the IISS, the CFR has published a collection of policy ‘memos'; one comes from Sanjaya Baru, IISS director for Geo-economics and Strategy, and Samuel Charap, our senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia.

In ‘Russia and the G20′, Baru and Charap point out that Russia is unique in being both a member of the G8 leading industrialised nations and one of the BRICS (the term for the world’s fastest-growing emerging markets, which also refers to Brazil, India, China and South Africa). Although Moscow has a mixed record in leveraging its position between the West and ‘the rest’, it does have the potential to act as a bridge between advanced and developing economies, they believe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has set out five central issues for the G20 summit in St Petersburg this September, from reforming the international currency system to advancing discussions on energy security and climate change. Meanwhile, emerging nations have been calling for a greater role in international financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank, and the latest round of WTO trade negotiations has long been stalled.

The IISS authors focus on the ways in which the G20 could respond to its critics by taking forward the agenda agreed at its September 2009 summit in Pittsburgh to speed up the restructuring of the IMF and World Bank shareholdings, reviving the Doha Round of WTO talks and discouraging countries from ‘pursuing beggar-my-neighbor trade and currency policies’.

While they recognise the problems hampering the G20’s effectiveness – from national leaders’ current domestic preoccupations to overlap with G7, G8 and BRICS meetings – Baru and Charap suggest that the G20 has enormous influence over the IMF and the IBRD (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development), as it includes almost all the major shareholders. ‘Even the WTO can be guided by the G20′.

The same is not necessarily true, they argue, of other global negotiations, especially those relating to climate change, where many non-G20 countries have such major stakes.

Read the collected memos: ‘Prospects for the Russian Chairmanship of the G20′


Why Russia won’t help on Syria

Встреча Министра иностранных дел России С.В.Лаврова и Президента Сирийской Арабской Республики Б.Асада, Дамаск, 7 февраля 2012 года - 07022012

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov with Syrian President Assad in Damascus

With all the high-level diplomatic visits to Moscow and accompanying news headlines, a casual observer might easily conclude that Russia holds the key to resolving the Syrian crisis, writes Samuel Charap, IISS senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia, in a New York Times op-ed. ‘But as the latest round of failed talks this weekend – this time between Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations and Arab League envoy on Syria – conclusively demonstrate, Russia will not be part of the solution on Syria.’

Charap says that some members of the international community continue to hope that Moscow can bring its influence on President Bashar al-Assad to bear on some sort of political transition. However, he points that the Kremlin has not only ‘fastidiously’ avoided joining the call for Assad to step down, but has also issued three UN Security Council vetoes during votes on Syria, and ‘bent over backward to water down the Geneva Communiqué calling for a peaceful transition of authority’.

Russia is not blind to the tragedy of the situation, but its approach to international intervention is very different from that of much of the rest of the international community, particularly the United States and the European Union. ‘Moscow does not believe the UN Security Council should be in the business of endorsing the removal of a sitting government,’ explains Charap. Indeed, it views many past US-led interventions as threatening to the stability of the international system and is not convinced that Washington’s motives in Syria are driven purely by humanitarian concerns. It even worries that giving its imprimatur to international action on Syria could potentially threaten ‘regime stability’ in Russia itself by creating a dangerous precedent that could eventually be used against it.

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Obama’s second chance at Prague nuke agenda

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

The US electorate has spoken, and most of the international diplomats, academics, and others with whom I spoke on the day after our presidential election on 6 November breathed a sigh of relief that the stewardship of the world’s (still) sole superpower will remain in safe hands for another four years. The rest of the world famously backed Barack Obama, so while much of the satisfaction I heard about the Democrat’s re-election pertained particularly to the nuclear-policy matters being addressed in my various meetings, I also found myself, as an American citizen abroad, congratulated more broadly.

The election turned on domestic issues, and even the presidential debate that was supposed to be dedicated to foreign policy pivoted back to the American economy and education system. Nevertheless, the question that I have been asked most is how Obama will use his renewed lease on the White House to address global issues. In my area of specialisation on arms control and non-proliferation, everyone agrees there is much to be done. Unfortunately, there seems little scope for Obama to do it. And, of course, Iran looms large on his agenda.

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