China and Libya and Algeria

From the Globe and Mail, 3 September:

The documents suggest that Beijing and other governments may have played a double game in the Libyan war, claiming neutrality but covertly helping the dictator. The papers do not confirm whether any military assistance was delivered, but senior leaders of the new transitional government in Tripoli say the documents reinforce their suspicions about the recent actions of China, Algeria and South Africa. Those countries may now suffer a disadvantage as Libya’s new rulers divide the spoils from their vast energy resources, and select foreign firms for the country’s reconstruction.

Omar Hariri, chief of the transitional council’s military committee, reviewed the documents and concluded that they explain the presence of brand-new weapons his men encountered on the battlefield. He expressed outrage that the Chinese were negotiating an arms deal even while his forces suffered heavy casualties in the slow grind toward Tripoli.

“I’m almost certain that these guns arrived and were used against our people,” Mr. Hariri said.

Senior rebel officials confirmed the authenticity of the four-page memo, written in formal style on the green eagle letterhead used by a government department known as the Supply Authority, which deals with procurement. The Globe and Mail found identical letterhead in the Tripoli offices of that department. The memo was discovered in a pile of trash sitting at the curb in a neighbourhood known as Bab Akkarah, where several of Col. Gadhafi’s most loyal supporters had lavish homes.

The document reports in detail about a trip by Col. Gadhafi’s security officials from Tripoli to Beijing. They arrived on July 16, and in the following days they met with officials from three state-controlled weapons manufacturers: China North Industries Corp. (Norinco); the China National Precision Machinery Import & Export Corp. (CPMIC); and China XinXing Import & Export Corp. The Chinese companies offered the entire contents of their stockpiles for sale, and promised to manufacture more supplies if necessary.

The hosts thanked the Libyans for their discretion, emphasized the need for confidentiality, and recommended delivery via third parties.

“The companies suggest that they make the contracts with either Algeria or South Africa, because those countries previously worked with China,” the memo says.

The Chinese companies also noted that many of the items the Libyan delegation requested were already held in the arsenals of the Algerian military, and could be transported immediately across the border; the Chinese said they could replenish the Algerian stocks afterward. The memo also indicated that Algeria had not yet consented to such an arrangement, and proposed further talks at the branch offices of the Chinese companies in Algiers.

Mauritania/China fisheries deal

The Mauritanian parliament passed a major fisheries deal between with a Chinese firm, causing controversy in parliament and among the opposition. The deal would give the firm tax  and duties exemptions and other preferential conditions many Mauritanians feel would contribute to depletion of the country’s fish stocks, marginalize local fishermen, increase the likelihood of corruption (Al-Akhbar has a long article detailing the conditions, here; [Arabic]). Lawmakers called the deal “embarrassing for Mauritania,” and complained of “tax exemptions on the one hand and exceptions from Mauritanian law on the other”. Others argued in favor, saying the deal would bring needed jobs and industrial development, and “the maximum benefit from our [Mauritania's] fisheries”; the controversy led to a suspension of the parliamentary debate on the issue and opposition MPs to boycott the vote. Members of the ruling UPR party have also expressed reservations over the deal. Sailors and members of the 25 February youth movement protested outside of parliament recently to voice its opposition to the deal (some of whom were arrested). MPs and ministers agree the deal is “historic” in terms of the country’s fishing industry and its relationship with China; they seem divided as to whether the deal is a net plus for the country in the long term.

UPDATE: Here is the text of the agreement in French.

Experiments in Map-Making

Previously, this blogger complained about popular maps of North Africa as it related to AQIM, particularly in English-speaking media. Below are some rough, experimental maps that attempt to show some of the priorities discussed last week’s post on some of the politics between the various actors in the Maghreb-Sahel region. Nothing here is perfectly depicted or with total accuracy, but they are a start toward … something. [UPDATE: Another map, after the jump.]

1. In the first map represents the priorities discussed in the posts referenced above.  Algeria, Libya and Morocco are colored blue as key actors while other relevant local actors are colored tan. Senegal is not included, though it might be advisable to include that country (as well as Gambia). The black arrows indicate “geopolitical thrusts” and are highlighted to indicate priorities according to understandings of political, economic, social and military efforts as expressed in the posted mentioned above (under “intra-regional squabbling”). The yellow arrows indicate indirect influence or the independent influence of secondary actors.  Because this map is concerned with intra-regional priorities and interests, it does not include the behavior or priorities of western actors directly. The large number of vectors make it … potentially quite confusing.

Continue reading

Rise and Fall, Push and Pull (Pt. III)

France24 has made available a video tape showing the daily routine of AQIM fighters at an undisclosed location by an unnamed “defector” from the terrorist group. The summary is as follows:

A video cassette obtained by FRANCE 24 contains rare images of Islamist militants in the remote Sahel desert. The exclusive footage shows a gathering of allied insurgent groups, training sessions for young recruits and, perhaps most interestingly, scenes of daily life and leisure of fugitive fighters.

The cassette was found on a defector of one of the insurgent groups active in northern Africa under the banner of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM. The defector was stopped by security personnel for a control of personal documents.

[. . .]

The images are not dated, nor do they offer clues about what country they were taken in. What they do offer is a rare, unscripted glimpse of the lives of Islamist militants; in their daily chores, during moments of playfulness and boredom.

Much of the video consists of Algerians and Mauritanians (as well as some Moroccans and other Arabs; they are practically all Arabic speakers) horsing around, rolling the mud and playing commando. Like previous videos of the group’s after hours activities, the new tape makes AQIM look less terrifying than their reputation portends. It underscores previous knowledge: that it draws mostly urban, Moorish Mauritanians and that Algerians appear to be heavily entrenched in leadership positions.

At the moment it is more interesting to think about the tape while at the same time considering much of the ideas put out in the very engaging and interesting ACAS Bulletin, “US militarization of the Sahara-Sahel: Security, Space & Imperialism,” which includes an excellent article on democracy promotion in the region under Bush and Obama by fellow blogger Alex Thurston of the great Sahel Blog. Most interesting is Jacob Mundy’s introduction which, as introductions do, synthesizes the over arching ideas about American involvement in the Sahara-Sahel region, particularly by way of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), energy interests and the rest. The whole issue asks important questions about the value, risks and motivations around American policy in the region and the “threat” that AQIM and “terrorism” poses to the region. Many North Americans take terrorism as first order threat to American interests in the region. Others have it somewhat differently: terrorism is a symptom (like smuggling and ethnic violence) of broader, systemic problems such as environmental, social, cultural and economic change and parasitic elites. Mundy and other authors in the Bulletin note that terrorism has been used to legitimize other, perhaps darker, motives. It is likely that the threat terrorism poses to vital American interests in North and west Africa has been exaggerated over the last decade.

Continue reading

More Fast Thoughts

Nouakchott seems to be awash with rumors of a deal with France regarding a possible prisoner exchange. According to knowledgeable sources in and outside of Mauritania, rumors that Joyandet’s visit to Nouakchott would be used to press the Mauritanians to  to meet AQIM’s demands over a Frenchman kidnapped in Niger are credible. These sources say that a prisoner swap was at the top of the agenda at Alan Joyandet’s meeting with president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and that the two reached some kind of an understanding on this early. It is said that this came with assurances of French solid support (including financial aid) for Ould Abdel Aziz pending his compliance with this request. Ould Abdel Aziz would release (presumably) Salafist prisoners and AQIM would release the French citizen currently held. Additionally, other sources say that Ould Abdel Aziz planned to leverage his relations with Mohamed Hassan Ould Dedew to manage Islamist opinion regarding last week’s verdicts. He was initially embarrassed by Ould Dedew’s comments but after the Aleg 3 may be more comfortable.

The French also registered their opposition to the death penalty, which may help the government in maneuvering away from Sidi Ould Sidina, Mohamed Ould Chabarnou and Maarouf Ould Hiba’s death sentences; executions are highly impolitic in Mauritania, as they risk upsetting tribal relations. Given that at least one of the killers comes from a large tribe, and that all three have launched appeals, it is seems possible for their sentences to be commuted in the future. But, as many in the media have noted, the episode is the first of its kind in Mauritania and many things are in play.

Ould Abdel Aziz’s visit to Khartoum for the inauguration of Omar al-Bashir was a demonstration of support and gratitude (for al-Bashir’s advice and backing earlier). He is now preparing for a visit Paris (as well as Nice, for independence celebrations). Also abroad this week was General Mohamed Ould Ghazouani (the second most powerful figure in the regime) has been in discussions with French and Chinese officials. His mission to Beijing includes military and economic issues (with emphasis on the economic side; think fish). The outcome of both Paris visits will be especially relevant, as will be the results of the Brussels donors meeting. The economic situation (especially in agriculture) will make this summer a rough one and the government knows that it will need as much help as it can get. Workers’ strikes are threatened, staged or obstructed almost weekly (more on that later) and the opposition has capitalized on several of them thus far. More are likely to come as the summer progresses.

UPDATE: Ould Abdel Aziz’s original plan was to travel directly from Khartoum to Paris; he re-routed his travel arrangements so that he could head to Paris from Nouakchott. According to local sources this was a quick and abrupt return and its purpose is still obscure.

Algerians and Chinese: Chinatown show down

Algeria and China have quite fine relations. To say “Algeria and China” is to say the governments of the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria and the People’s Republic of China enjoy long and friendly relations. The PRC was the first country to recognize independent Algeria. Quite a few Algerian military officers, engineers and others were educated in the PRC. Chinese television once broadcast programs on the Algerian “people’s revolution”. Algerian communists counted many, many Maoists in their ranks in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and the Chinese Embassy is historically one of the more important in Algiers. Any Algerian who has done his national service has held a Chinese made rifle and served in a military modeled after the People’s Liberation Army.

Still, as is the case in any relationship, there is tension. Algerians have not taken well to the large numbers of Chinese that have arrived in Algeria over the last decade, mostly to build the housing units and infrastructure projects president Bouteflika promised Algerians in 1999, 2004 and 2009. Algerians want those jobs. But they’ve gone to Chinese firms on Chinese terms. So the flare ups in Sino-Algerian relations recently have been the result of domestic politics; in other words, areas the two governments historically have ignored in their dealings with one another. But now, rebells in Algeria are setting upon Chinese interests based on the conduct of a Chinese rebellion; and ordinary Algerians are roughing up Chinese nationals, brought to the country as a result of this otherwise long and happy relationship. While these things will mean little for Sino-Algerian relations on the whole (neither government places enough care on such affairs for them to be so significant as, say, the racial violence against Algerians in France in the 1970’s was to Franco-Algerian relations), it is important that they be laid out. Continue reading

Friday bulletin

Some especially relevant news: Stoning Beit Sidioca, Mauritania at the Arab Summit and the world system, Erdogan as a human being and a Muslim, who won’t be in Algeria’s election and questioning Egypt’s “leadership.” Continue reading

Algeria and Russia’s Bad Mood

Leaving room for Europe
Leaving room for Europe

Word that Algeria is willing to  increase its gas supplies to its European customers (and that it would “never” cut supply to Spain, one of its largest partners), as long term contracts allow, is significant in many ways. It is surely an expression of Algerians’ desire to distance themselves from Russia’s aggressive attempts to cut supply, maintaining their autonomy in the gas game and shifting their place on the board. Continue reading

A set of possible changes

This attitude leads Tacitus to distort history systematically by representing it as essentially a clash of characters, exaggeratedly good with exaggeratedly bad. History cannot be scientifically written unless the historian can re-enact in his own mind the experience of the people whose actions he is narrating. Tacitus never tried to do this: his characters are seen not from inside, with understanding and sympathy, but from outside, as as mere spectacles of virtue or vice. One can hardly read his descriptions of an Agricola or a Domitian without being reminded of Socrates’ laugh at Glaucon’s imaginary portraits of the perfectly good and the perfectly bad man: ‘My own word, Glaucon, how energetically you are polishing them up like statues for a prize competition!’

Tacitus has been praised for his character-drawing; but the principles on which he draws character are fundamentally vicious and make his character-drawing an outrage on historical truth. He found warrant for it, no doubt, in the Stoic and Epicurean philosophies of his age, to which I have already referred: the defeatist philosophies which, starting from the assumption that the good man cannot conquer or control a wicked world, taught him how to preserve himself unspotted from its wickedness. This false antithesis between the individual man’s character and his social environment justifies, in a sense, Tacitus’ method of exhibiting the actions of an historical figure as flowing simply from his own personal character, and making no allowance either for the way in which a man’s actions may be determined partly by his environment and only in part by his character, or for the way in which character itself may be moulded by the forces to which a man is subjected by his environment. Actually, as Socrates urged against Glaucon, the individual character considered in isolation from its environment is an abstraction, not a really existing thing. What a man does depends only to a limited extent on what kind of man he is. No one can resist the forces of his environment. Either he conquers the world or the world will conquer him.

R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History, Revised Edition, with Lectures 1926-1928. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

It will be seen that at each point Burnham is predicting a continuation of the thing that is happening. Now the tendency to do this is not simply a bad habit, like inaccuracy or exaggeration, which one can correct by taking thought. It is a major mental disease, and its roots lie partly in cowardice and partly in the worship or power, which is not fully separable from cowardice.

Suppose in 1940 you had taken a Gallup poll, in England, on the question ‘Will Germany win the war?’ You would have found, curiously enough, that the group answering ‘Yes’ contained a far higher percentage of intelligent people – people with IQ of over 120, shall we say – than the group answering ‘No’. The same would have held good in the middle of 1942. In this case the figures would not have been so striking, but if you had made the question ‘Will the Germans capture Alexandria?’ or ‘Will the Japanese be able to hold on to the territories they have captured? ’, then once again there would have been a very marked tendency for intelligence to concentrate in the ‘Yes’ group. In every case the less-gifted person would have been likelier to give a right answer.

George Orwell, “James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution,” May 1946.

In the interview, Mr. Scowcroft said the Bush administration’s two terms were “difficult years.”

“The general mood of the last administration has been more a combination of idealism and self-assertion,” he said. “And if the election was a vote on foreign policy — and I’m not sure it was — then you can say, yes, that idea has been rejected in favor of realism.”

Sen. Lugar, in an interview, said the president-elect appears to have a “pragmatic” view of foreign policy. The Republican lawmaker took himself out of the running for secretary of state shortly after the election, but he said that he hoped to use his perch on Capitol Hill to help the new administration retool U.S. foreign policy.

Scowcroft Protégés on Obama’s Radar,” Yochi J. Dreazen and Soibhan Gorman, The Wall Street Journal, 24 November, 2008.

Obama enters office signaling that he will continue the policies of President Bush’s late second term in Iraq and Afghanistan, and key architects of those policies, starting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, will likely keep their jobs. That would leave Russia as the unexpected laboratory for Obama to shape his own foreign policy.

Leading Democratic Russia experts said they anticipate dramatic changes to a Bush policy that eschewed arms treaties, and shifted rapidly from viewing Russia as a key ally in the War on Terror to a hostile enemy of the freedom of its former satellites.

“There is right now a kind of gathering of the clan of the Russia wonks, some of whom will be in the administration,” said Strobe Talbott, who was President Clinton’s top Russia adviser. “The Obama administration is going to have to do something that the Bush administration avoided doing for years — and that is treating Russia as a first-class strategic challenge.”

Russia poses challenge to Obama,” Ben Smith, Politico, 26 November, 2008.

In Mr Chávez’s wake, socialist presidents in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua have also developed ties with Iran. Mr Ahmadinejad promised investments of $1.1 billion in developing Bolivia’s gas, and $350m to build a port in Nicaragua. But there is little sign of either investment materialising. Brazil’s foreign minister, Celso Amorim, recently visited Tehran and delivered a letter from President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva inviting Mr Ahmadinejad to visit. Since Iran is the subject of United Nations sanctions, and Brazil has been actively, if fruitlessly, pursuing a permanent seat at the UN, this raised eyebrows in Brazil. Mr Amorim’s visit was “inexplicable” and “gratuitous”, according to Luiz Felipe Lampreia, a former foreign minister.

The intercontinental ambitions of Iran, Russia and Venezuela have all been puffed up by oil, and so are vulnerable to the steep fall in its price. The lasting change for Latin America is its burgeoning ties with China. At the APEC summit, Mr Bush’s last trip abroad, it was Mr Hu who was the centre of attention. Mr García treated him to a parade around Lima’s colonial centre before they announced that they had wrapped up a free-trade agreement between their two countries. That matches a similar accord China concluded with Chile in 2005.

China’s total two-way trade with Latin America has shot up from just $12.2 billion in 2000 to $102 billion last year. Though Chinese investment—mainly in mining and oil—has grown more slowly, it is now picking up. Last month China became a member of the Inter-American Development Bank. But China has also disappointed some Latin Americans. Some Brazilians complain that Brazil sells raw materials to China while buying manufactures from it. Brazil is frustrated that neither China nor Russia has helped its Security Council bid.

All Latin American countries are naturally keen to diversify their economic relations, and some seek wider political ties. But Europe ($250 billion last year) and the United States ($560 billion) remain Latin America’s biggest trade partners. And the foreign leader that most Latin American politicians will be keenest to see over the coming year is Barack Obama.

Friends of Opportunity,” The Economist, 27 November, 2008.

[A]ll three of his choices — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as the rival turned secretary of state; Gen. James L. Jones, the former NATO commander, as national security adviser, and Robert M. Gates, the current and future defense secretary — have embraced a sweeping shift of priorities and resources in the national security arena.

The shift would create a greatly expanded corps of diplomats and aid workers that, in the vision of the incoming Obama administration, would be engaged in projects around the world aimed at preventing conflicts and rebuilding failed states. However, it is unclear whether the financing would be shifted from the Pentagon; Mr. Obama has also committed to increasing the number of American combat troops. Whether they can make the change — one that Mr. Obama started talking about in the summer of 2007, when his candidacy was a long shot at best — “will be the great foreign policy experiment of the Obama presidency,” one of his senior advisers said recently.

The adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the three have all embraced “a rebalancing of America’s national security portfolio” after a huge investment in new combat capabilities during the Bush years.

Denis McDonough, a senior Obama foreign policy adviser, cast the issue slightly differently in an interview on Sunday.

“This is not an experiment, but a pragmatic solution to a long-acknowledged problem,” he said. “During the campaign the then-senator invested a lot of time reaching out to retired military and also younger officers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan to draw on lessons learned. There wasn’t a meeting that didn’t include a discussion of the need to strengthen and integrate the other tools of national power to succeed against unconventional threats. It is critical to a long-term successful and sustainable national security strategy in the 21st century.”

A Handpicked Team for a Sweeping Shift in Foreign Policy,” David E. Sanger, New York Times, 30 November, 2008.

My previous reservations about Obama’s realist tendencies (I called his disposition “liberal internationalism with realist characteristics”), I think are baring out. This may not, however, ultimately be the case. Obviously, it is impossible to predict the future, even with the most clear understanding of a subject’s history or policy. If Obama’s hands are free in areas outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, meaning that he leaves Iraq to be handled in the Pentagon and shifts the burden towards Afghanistan, there are many things that could happen. I think it will be interesting to examine a few possibilities. Continue reading

Fast links

newsThese items have caught my fancy over the last week or so.

A good Economist article on the moral dimensions (or lack there of, as many Western writer increasingly look at it) South Africa’s foreign policy. It is more intelligent than the one authored by a certain Kurchick in 2007, to which I responded, as it recognizes the importance that national interests and identity politics plays in the formation of foreign policy, even for Africans.

David Brooks explains why the Republicans will move further to the right in coming years, and will suffer at the polls for it.

The value of “talking” is making itself apparent to some of those for whom it has hitherto remained opaque.

For Iran’s leaders, the only state of affairs worse than poor relations with the United States may be improved relations. The Shiite Muslim clerics who rule the country came to power after ousting Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a U.S.-backed autocrat, in their 1979 Islamic revolution. Opposition to the United States, long vilified as the “great Satan” here in Friday sermons, remains one of the main pillars of Iranian politics.

[. . .]

“People who put on a mask of friendship, but with the objective of betrayal, and who enter from the angle of negotiations without preconditions, are more dangerous,” Hossein Taeb, deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, said Wednesday, according to the semiofficial Mehr News Agency. “The power holders in the new American government are trying to regain their lost influence with a tactical change in their foreign diplomacy. They are shifting from a hard conflict to a soft attack,” Taeb said.

The pitiful thing is that over last year or more few commentators brought up such an argument, including those obsessed with the idea of regime change for regime change’s sake.

A conference of Algerian activists, academics, intellectuals and so on and so forth, put together a declaration on the necessity for political change in Algeria. Barack Obama was not the keynote speaker. Nevertheless, Brahim Younessi believes that “change is inevitable” in Algeria.

L’Express considers the risks of a third term for Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Andrew Sullivan, rather pretentiously, on why he blogs.

China is building an aircraft carrier.

Imagine that a hydrogen bomb fell in your tomato field.

To reiterate what I and others have been stressing for a long time:

China and India’s explosive rise today has disturbing similarities to the rapid growth of Germany, Japan, and the United States in the years leading to World War I. At that time, everyone paid a terrible price because the global system failed to reconcile its old and new powers. China’s and India’s huge scale will make those historic problems of the twentieth century seem comparatively trivial. Moreover, the old problem of making room for rising powers will be hugely complicated by an impending ecological crisis. We are unlikely simply to “grow” out of our economic conflicts.

[ . . .]

For both America and Europe, however, too much success in the twentieth century has become a danger for the twenty-first. Both are trapped in unproductive nostalgia. America’s continuing anxious pursuit of hegemony threatens its national prosperity and crowds its liberty. We should recognize the lingering unipolar view for what it is: a facile doctrine that masks a too ardent taste for domination. Purging America’s political imagination of its unipolar bias is an urgent task for liberals and conservatives alike.

How Europe Could Save the World,” by David P. Calleo, in World Policy Journal, Fall 2008, Vol. 25, pgs. 7, 11.

A European Obama? Eventually, maybe.

“In Europe there is still a long way to go,” said Cem Özdemir, who is about to make history in Germany as the first politician of Turkish descent to take the reins of a political party (he’ll be co-leader of the Greens). “The message is that it’s time to move on in Europe. We have to give up seeing every political figure from an ethnic minority as an ambassador of the country of his forefathers”.

Time to scrap the baby talk and get back to reality: “Obama cannot expect a peaceful term in office“.

Let us enjoy the moment. Nothing has improved yet, but to ensure that things will improve, Obama will need more than his own good intentions. He will also need the good will of people who could not abide him until now.

The best intentions often yield the most onerous circumstances with the most modest results.

Thoughts on the Axes

The discussion over the affects of the rapid drop in oil prices on Russia, Iran, and Venezuela brings the following thoughts to mind about Russia’s balancing efforts:

1) Russia’s coalition building efforts are at least twofold and certainly overlapping: (1) with China in Eurasia and the Pacific (the “axis of sovereignty”), and (2) with Venezuela, Iran and other hydrocarbon producers with less than friendly dispositions towards the West. Continue reading

China, Russia and the campaigns

The same flaws in accentuation. Image by Comedy Central.
The same flaws in accentuation. Image by Comedy Central.

Gvosdev of The National Interest and Washington Realist references an article by Judah Grunstein of World Politics Review (a good friend of TMND), in which Grunstein laments the idealistic rhetoric being blattered out by the American presidential campaigns, especially on Russia and China. He wonders if the “resurgence of Russia” and the rise of China “is the kind of geopolitical event that can be countered, or whether it is the product of broader historical forces that we are powerless to resist but might be able to channel.” While Gvosdev draws an important distinction between the campaigns’ general views of “this,” I do not believe that these events are part of a single historical force; China is rising, regardless of Russia or anyone else, and perhaps even in spite of Russia; Russia’s alleged “resurgence” is something very different (it’s more of a “lashing out” than revival). These are my thoughts going ahead, in part. Gvosdev writes: Continue reading

Algiers: Pragmatic non-intervention?

Paris and Algiers on the same page?
Paris and Algiers on the same page?



El Khabar is reporting that the Foreign Ministry in Algiers is “following the developments in Mauritania closely.” According to El Khabar, Algiers believes that  it is “too premature to develop any position right now.” The article mentions Algerian investment in Mauritanian infrastructure projects and reminds readers that the two countries have had hot-and-cold relations, especially as a result of the Western Sahara problem and Mauritania’s brief alliance with Morocco during those two countries’ invasion of the Sahara during the 1970’s. In another article, El Khabar writes of Mauritania as “a model in the Arab nation — until yesterday.” Their position seems clear.

The previous article (on the FM’s reaction) furthermore reminds us of Algiers’ commitment to “noninterference in [other countries'] internal affairs.” This dedication to state sovereignty is on display elsewhere in Algeria’s relations, with Bouteflika having received the Sudanese Minister of Industry yesterday, stressing Algeria’s “unwavering support” for that regime and the Minister voicing his appreciation for Algeria’s “strong and clear” position on the Sudanese file. The men also condemned “attempts at hegemony or tutelage in the international community.” Algeria has been one of the most resolute defenders of the Sudanese regime at the UN, its Ambassador there commonly referring to the violations in Darfur as “alleged” acts of violence. The country has become a corner stone of the Beijing consensus on national sovereignty and human rights (the Sudanese Minister called Algeria an “inspiration for resistance” against the international community). Bouteflika is in Beijing for the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, where he is also celebrating 50 years of Sino-Algerian relations. Next week, he will be in Tehran. That will be an interesting visit, and the Russian gas cartel proposal will probably be a topic of discussion. Bouteflika will, for the nXth time, reiterate his support for Iran’s nuclear program and the importance of sovereignty.

But Algiers will likely take whatever France’s position ends up being on Mauritania. As France has become increasingly hostile, Algeria will probably follow that lead, betting that Abdallahi will be reinstalled and aiming for good relations with a leader whose men have rebuffed the Moroccans on the Sahara issue. Their commitment non-intervention might show up rhetorically if France takes some heavy action against the coup (this might be in the cards given Sarkozy’s recent statement), but it may be more muted than it would be otherwise, because this is France we’re talking about. They won’t take issue with the result though. Algeria’s Beijing-style policy will allow it to condone a successful move against the Colonels, but it will not do so boisterously.

At the same time, though, supporting the restoration would give them a good chance to highlight their differences with the Moroccans. Showing up the Moroccans on an issue like the rule of law, which from Algiers’ and its supporters’ vantage point is lacking in Morocco’s Sahara policy, will come before non-interference, especially on such a low-profile issue. The Moroccans were talking as big a game as they can on 29 July, and Algerian papers have responded by highlighting the damage done to Morocco by the closure of the border. We’ll see how this plays into the countries’ relations.

China and Mauritania: historic ties

Readers will be interested to know that China and Mauritania have extraordinarily strong ties. Mauritania, under the post-independence regime of Mokhtar Ould Daddah, was one of the first countries to recognize the PRC over Taiwan (19 July, 1965), leading an avalanche of African states in the same direction afterwards (this was apart of his effort to gain support for recognition of Mauritania as an independent state and not a part of Morocco).

In the 1970’s, the leaders of the modern UFP (supporters of the old government not supporting the coup) were part of party with a Maoist disposition and the party maintains a very friendly relationship with the CPC (one of its leaders, Mohamed Mustafa Ould Badreddine, is nicknamed Badr es-Siin, “the Moon of China,” rather than “the Moon of Faith”). Ironically, Ould Daddah stomped on these fellows rather routinely.

As a reward for its early endorsement of the One China Policy, much, if not most, of Mauritania’s infrastructure is built and paid for by the PRC, including the Friendship Port, Nouakchott’s Olympic stadium, roads, mines, airports, and even the Presidential Palace itself. Indeed the last of the initial aid packages dished out to the Ould Daddah regime in the 1960’s ran out as recently 2002 or 2003. Mauritanian leaders, like their counterparts throughout the developing world, condemned this year’s violence in Tibet. The Mauritanians also appreciate Beijing’s willingness to overlook the problems in their domestic politics (the coups, slavery, corruption, etc.) both in bilateral relations and in international fora.

The Chinese will likely not condemn the coup (as I stated earlier) and will work as assuredly with the next government as they have all those before.

Quick Algeria talk

People ask me who Algeria’s greatest international partners are and who they will be in the future. Three countries always make the list: France, Russia, and China. The relationship with France is a complex one based on the colonial history, culture, diaspora and most especially economics. So long as they face each other across the Med, they will be tied to one another. How deep that relationship remains depends on the persistence of Algeria’s linguistic schizophrenia.

Russia was historically one of Algeria’s two main patrons during the Cold War (the other being China), and there is good deal of Russophilia in sectors of the elite (this is also true of other Eastern Bloc countries, like the former Yugoslavia, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, etc. where many Algerians studied; there are clubs dedicated to Russian culture and language in Algiers). Algeria buys 4% of Russia’s weapons as of last year, and the modernization of its air force (the key to intimidating and/or defeating Morocco in combat, if the occasion should arise) depends on good relations with Russia. People-to-people links between military officers and ministers in both countries are no longer as strong, though, because of the collapse of the USSR and the promotion of younger leaders on the Russian side with whom the Algerians are less familiar. For this reason, and Algeria’s relations with France, it is unlikely that Russia’s gas cartel ideas will find much favor except in more militant circles in Algeria, who are kept out of the circles of agency in the country.

China ties, as President Bouteflika stated this week are “ideal“. In 2006, the two countries signed a strategic partnership agreement that reiterated 50 years of very close ties. The PRC was the first country to recognize the provisional Algerian government during the War of Independence, and trained many soon-to-be Algerian soldiers and officers. For this reason the Algerians have always favored the Chinese over the Russians (I suspect that the “bad attitude” some Algerians attribute to Russian diplomats has something to do with it as well). The Algerians also coosposored resolutions aimed at “restoring China’s legitimate seat in the United Nations.” Bouteflika has visited China twice, in 2000 and 2004. This illustrates the importance of the Algeria-China relationship, especially to Algeria. The Chinese have a keen interest in Algerian gas, and the Algerians have just as much an interest in Chinese rifles and artillery (the country’s primary assault rifle is Chinese made). Many in governing circles thoroughly admire the “Chinese model” of authoritarianism as well. Algeria strongly supports China’s world view on state sovereignty at the UN and elsewhere (Africa, mostly). China, as well as Russia, provide cover for Algeria at the Security Council on the Sahara issue as well. China is also very active in construction of every type in Algeria. Algiers now has a budding China town, and Chinese wares, cheap and fashionable, are becoming more and more popular. The China relationship may suffer if locals begin to turn on the Chinese workers/expatriates that do a lot of the labor Algerians believe they should be doing. Even then this would likely be squashed and minimized by Algiers and China’s presence would be fortified nonetheless.

Which matters more, if at all?

TEHRAN, Iran – More than 100 nonaligned nations backed Iran’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear power on Wednesday, an endorsement sought by Tehran in its standoff with the U.N. Security Council over its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment.

[ . . . ]

Senior Iranian officials depicted the support from a high-level conference of the Nonaligned Movement as deflating claims by the U.S. and its allies that most of the international community wanted Iran to stop enrichment.

The conference’s backing, which echoes the group’s previous declarations, acts to “remove this notion that the international community opposes the nuclear activities of Iran,” said Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

Nonalligned countries back Iran’s nuclear program,” George Jahn, AP, 30 July, 2008.

The unnamed Russian diplomat said the SCO foreign ministers at a meeting in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, a week later would decide on whether to lift a moratorium on bringing in new states. “The moratorium has lasted for two years. We have now decided to consider the possibility of the SCO’s enlargement,” he said. It appeared that weathering US opposition, Moscow was pushing Iran’s pending request for SCO membership. Founded in 2001, the SCO currently comprises China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Iran has observer status.

However, in the events, following the meeting in Dushanbe on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov revealed that the foreign ministers did not discuss the enlargement of the SCO, while finalizing the agenda of the organization’s summit meeting on August 28, and that Iran wouldn’t be able to get the status of an associate member.

[ . . . ]

Since such issues are invariably decided within the SCO on the basis of a consensus between Russia and China, it stands to reason that either Russia didn’t press Iran’s membership case or China disfavored the idea. On balance, it seems to be a combination of both. Conceivably, Moscow didn’t press after informally ascertaining Beijing’s lukewarm attitude. Tajikistan, which hosts the SCO summit in August, has openly favored Iran’s membership. If the two Big Brothers had given the green signal, Tajikistan would have asked Iran to come in from the cold. No doubt, Tehran, which openly canvassed for SCO membership, has suffered a diplomatic setback.

Snub for Iran eases nuclear crisis,” M K Bhadrakumar, Asia Times, 29 July, 2008. Continue reading

Arma mundumque cano

The Economist has a graphic showing the top five arms exporters. Naturally, the United States and Russia dominate, with only 6 percentage points of difference between them (31% and 25% of world sales, respectively). Notice that Algeria purchases 4% of Russia’s arms sales. This is the result of increased revenues from rising oil and gas prices, which have gone towards modernizing Algerian air craft and artillery in particular. The aim is at the very least to reach parity with neighboring Morocco’s Western supplied military.

It would interesting to see who the largest sellers in the “Other” category (making up 21% of the world total). China is somewhere after Sweden (somewhere in or near the top ten), going by lists I’ve seen previously. China is Russia’s largest customer, and many of its weapon exports are copies of Russian hardware. It’d be interesting to see where those copies go (and where the more notorious destinations, such as Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Myanmar, rank in the tally) . . .

It all must fall

”The development of the situation in Zimbabwe until now has not exceeded the context of domestic affairs,” Wang said. ”It will unavoidably interfere with the negotiation process.”

South Africa, a Zimbabwe neighbor that holds one of the council’s non-permanent seats, led the opposition to the sanctions, arguing that Zimbabwe is not a threat to international peace.

Russia and China Veto U.N. Sanctions on Zimbabwe,” NYT. 11 July, 2008. Continue reading

Russian Gaming

Russia’s frustrated response to the signing of the Czech-American missile defense agreement is indicative of just how desperate that country has become in its decline. After news of the signature of the preliminary dealings, the Russian foreign ministry released a fiery statement claiming that “we will be forced to react not with diplomatic, but with military-technical methods”.

Putin attempted, last year, to reach a compromise that would have been favorable to Russia in that it would have decreased the effectiveness of the proposed American program. It is difficult to say if Russia would move militarily over the construction of the radar system, which it sees as being directed not merely against Iran, whose missiles it is purports to eventually guard against, but towards Russia. The Foreign Ministry statement bellows that “[T]here is no doubt that bringing elements of the US strategic arsenal close to Russian territory could be used to weaken our deterrent potential.” Russia sees the system, based in its old western stronghold, as a barrier to its freedom of action, cutting deeply into its perceived sphere of influence and consequently as a swipe at its hopes of recovering its Great Power status. Continue reading