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Writing Worth Reading

Uneasy Neighbourhood

Think of Mongolia as China’s Ukraine, and this otherwise low-key backgrounder gains much more salience. Mongolia is a big, weak, mineral-rich country which “occupies one of the toughest strategic positions of any country in the world”, caught between powerful neighbours, China and Russia, both of which covet its resources. “Mongolia is like the filling of a sandwich. The last thing it wants is to be devoured” (1,030 words)

Putin Ends The Interregnum

“What a mess Putin has gotten us all into! But let’s also give him his due: He has paved the way for the emergence of new trends. He has facilitated the formation of Ukrainian national identity. He has thus undermined his own dream of creating Eurasian Union. He has precipitated a crisis in his own country. He has reminded NATO of its mission and prompted the liberal democracies to reflect on their own principles” (2,400 words)

The New World Order

In the second half of the 20th century we were presumptuous, or optimistic, enough to think that Western values would conquer the world. But “vast regions of the world have never shared and only acquiesced in the Western concept of order. These reservations are now becoming explicit, for example, in the Ukraine crisis and the South China Sea. The order established and proclaimed by the West stands at a turning point” (1,300 words)

If You Want To Be A Millionaire …

… Go to Belarus, where the methods and institutions of the Soviet Union survive under President Aleksandr Lukashenka. A kilo of sausages costs 100,000 Roubles (about $10) and you will need a million roubles to buy a winter coat. Vodka is cheap and plentiful, making Belarusians the world’s heaviest drinkers. The KGB punishes dissenters. Farm workers earn $100-$200 a month. The young dream of moving to Poland (2,528 words)

Iraq And Syria Follow Lebanon’s Precedent

The speed with which the Middle East is unravelling follows from the arbitrary way in which the nation-states there were created by Britain and France a century ago. “It is time to stop thinking about stabilizing Syria and Iraq and start thinking of a new dynamic outside of the artificial states that no longer function”. The future may lie with clan-based equilibriums holding power, as in Lebanon (1,930 words)

China’s Future

Big backgrounder. The first half, pace the headline, is about China’s past, and skippable. The second half, on the domestic and foreign outlook, is much better. China is “a civilisation pretending to be a state”. It hesitates to claim openly a global role. But “lack of engagement is not unusual in a rising power. It took a world war to draw America irrevocably on to the world stage”. One hopes China will settle for less (6,200 words)

Endgame For Putin

Vladimir Putin is over-extended in Ukraine. But he won’t give back Crimea. So the West will pile on the sanctions until domestic discontent topples Putin. There’s no appetite now for a diplomatic compromise blurring the status of Crimea, because Western leaders have decided that Putin’s word is not worth having. Merkel’s patience snapped when Putin blamed MH17 on Ukraine. “The West no longer believes anything he says” (920 words)

The Making Of Vladimir Putin

Putin rose in the 1990s as Boris Yeltsin’s protegé, which gave him a certain acceptance in the West. But his true power-base was always the Soviet military and intelligence establishment that attempted the putsch against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 and reasserted itself during the Kosovo war of 1999. As president, Putin has been smart but not wise. His Russia is “a paranoid state that makes its own enemies” (5,560 words)

Syria In Revolt

Intelligent, informed, measured account of the Syrian conflict, explaining from the ground up in social and political terms why the revolt happened when it did against a seemingly all-powerful state; and arguing that the closest historical analogy would be the Hungarian anti-communist uprising of 1956: “No one said that the country was in the throes of a civil war because Hungarian was killing Hungarian” (4,880 words)

Russia, An Economic Black Hole

Russia sees trade primarily as an instrument of political control; which scarcely helps its attempts to construct a free-trade bloc rivalling the European Union. So far it has persuaded only Belarus and Kazakhstan to join its Eurasian Economic Union. “Moscow essentially bribes its vassal states with cheap gas in return for ensuring that they will never have significant trade with anyone else” (Metered) (1,070 words)

America Is Not For Black People

There’s a lot being written, and rightly so, about the confrontation between heavily-armed police and protesting citizens in Ferguson, Missouri. This is a good discussion of the underlying issues: First, that if police forces are equipped with military arsenals, then policemen will tend to behave like soldiers; and, second, that fear of black Americans is widespread among white Americans (2,030 words)

Edward Snowden: Most Wanted

The tone is a touch breathless; but the story of Snowden’s work for CIA and NSA, and his disillusion there, are worth the price of admission. He snapped after hearing James Clapper, director of national intelligence, testify that the NSA did “not wittingly” collect information on millions of Americans. “I was reading it in the paper the next day, talking to coworkers, saying, can you believe this shit?” (7,500 words)

A Brit in Gaza

Reporter’s notebook. “It’s all your fault”, say older Palestinians — and, in a way, they are right. In 1917 the Britain government pledged support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, while promising that “existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” would be protected. It defaulted on that promise. “That’s why my British face and accent do not go down universally well here, among those who know their history” (803 words)

Isis Consolidates

The Isis Caliphate is bigger than Great Britain and encompasses at least six million people. This “new and terrifying state” constitutes “the most radical change to the political geography of the Middle East since the Sykes-Picot Agreement was implemented in the aftermath of the First World War”. America and Britain confront an enemy “a hundred times bigger and much better organised than the al-Qaida of Osama bin Laden” (3,240 words)

Obama On The World

Interview with American president. Russia “could invade” Ukraine at any time. Intervening in Libya was right, failing to prepare for the aftermath was wrong. Biggest threat to America is its own dysfunctional politics. Arming rebels in Syria would never have worked, and won’t work now. Kurds have built “an island of decency” that deserves protection. Internal pressure might change Israeli policy; external pressure will not (Metered) (2,900 words)

Neutralizing Ukraine

A solution to the Ukraine crisis: Let Ukraine add a clause to its constitution requiring that accession to any military alliance — Nato, or a Russian-led counterpart — must be ratified by two-thirds of voters or regions. The effect would be to grant veto power to Ukraine’s two camps — pro-Russian and pro-Western. The general outcome, to keep Ukraine unaligned, would reflect the will of the Ukrainian population as a whole (775 words)

Dear Guests

What the war in Gaza tells us about Israeli and Hamas/Hezbollah/Iran strategy. Israel wants to make clear that it will punish attacks by Hamas at whatever cost in civilian deaths, and with whatever reputational damage to Israel: “You will not outcrazy us out of this region”. Iran is determined to keep Israel in the West Bank, in order to delegitimise and isolate Israel in world affairs (Metered) (1,000 words)

A Friend Flees The Horrors Of ISIS

The Islamic State advances through northern Iraq, trapping tens of thousands of Yazidis in the mountains with a choice between starvation and slaughter. The insurgents’ immediate target seems to be the Mosul Dam, which provides electricity to Mosul. “If ISIS takes the dam, which is located on the Tigris River, it would have the means to put Mosul under thirty metres of water, and Baghdad under five” (2,090 words)

Military Culture Versus The Robotics Revolution

How service culture dictates the way that weaponry is used. US Air Force drones are flown remotely from US bases by a pilot officer in a flight suit, with a joystick, sitting in a mock cockpit. US Army drones are flown by enlisted men using computer screens, but located within the theatre of battle. Why? Because Air Force culture centres on pilot skills; Army culture centres on deployment to war (2,440 words)

Is Genocide Right For You?

Satire. “Remember, while genocide is not right for all situations, and must be used responsibly, it can be effective in nation-building, establishing a political power-base, and incorporating the military industrial complex into every aspect of a secure economic total future. If you are not authorized to conduct a genocide yourself, it may be possible to contract an authorized agent to conduct genocide for you” (378 words)

Watching The Eclipse

Virtuoso dissection of Mike McFaul’s doomed ambassadorship to Moscow, showing how he was plunged into a hostile environment without any of the necessary skills or experience and duly imploded. Spliced into the middle is a passage of current reportage from Moscow, interviewing various leading lights of Putinism — Kiselyov, Markov, Dugin, Prokhanov — who sound, without exaggeration, to be insane (11,500 words)

Interview With President Obama

Verbatim Q&A. Much about Africa. Straight talk on China and Russia. “Russia doesn’t make anything. The population is shrinking. We have to respond with resolve in what are effectively regional challenges that Russia presents. We have to make sure that they don’t escalate where suddenly nuclear weapons are back in the discussion. As long as we do that, then I think history is on our side” (Metered) (4,870 words)

Interview: Amos Oz On Gaza

Oz begins with a question of his own: “What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?” His qualified support for the Israeli military action in Gaza — “justified, but excessive” — may surprise. That, as he says, “is where the difference lies between a European pacifist and an Israeli peacenik like myself” (1,700 words)

Just How Likely Is Another World War?

Political scientist catalogues the similarities and differences between 1914 and 2014, seven of each, and finds they balance one another fairly evenly; which is not in itself particularly encouraging news. “This exercise in historical analysis leads me to conclude that the probability of war between the U.S. and China in the decade ahead is higher than I imagined before examining the analogy — but still unlikely” (3,000 words)

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