Live And Let Leak

A BROWSER BONUS: Thanks to our new content partnership with Foreign Affairs magazine, we can offer Browser subscribers the full text of selected Foreign Affairs articles. Our first choice is Jack Shafer’s essay on government secrecy, from the March/April issue, in which Shafer argues that whistleblowing and leaking form part of the de facto system of checks and balances in American government (2,800 words)

Russian Revisionism Pick of the day

Short, brutal, brilliant analysis. “Putin’s strategic goal is not to cut off Crimea, but to bring about a constitutional crisis that will remake Ukraine into a confederate state with a very weak center, the eastern part of which will be more integrated with Russia and the western part closer to Poland and the EU. Realizing that he has lost Kiev, Putin seems to want to move Ukraine’s center of power elsewhere” (Metered paywall) (1,330 words)

China Reorganises For The Future

November’s Communist Party Plenum launched “the biggest reform to Chinese political governance in decades” — the recentralisation of fiscal authority. “The new tax system and debt control mechanism will prevent local governments from misusing resources to reach short-term economic targets. With its new spending power, central government can finance social policies for years to come” (Free registration required) (2,600 words)

There Is No Ukraine

I recommend this not as a finding on the future of Ukraine, but as useful statement of the historical and political difficulties that Ukraine has to overcome. As Figes says: “Those Ukrainians most concerned about their country’s future would do well to recognize that identity’s inherent fragility. The original generation of Ukrainian nationalists suffered precisely for their failure to do so” (Metered paywall) (1,450 words)

How To Shut Down A Reactor

After agreeing to cap Iran’s nuclear programme, President Hassan Rouhani has to sell the deal at home. The programme has been going for decades, is central to national aspirations, and supports thousands of bureaucrats and scientists. There are going to be hiccups. “Iran must be held to its promises, but not in a manner that weakens the power or resolve of the very people who have the strongest interest in keeping those promises” (1,620 words)

Confidence Enrichment

The interim nuclear deal with Iran is a step in the right direction. A small step in quantitative terms: Iran will get $7bn over six months; its nuclear programme will be slightly delayed. But it’s a much bigger step in terms of confidence-building. “The interim agreement marks a very important, albeit mostly symbolic, step toward the type of deal that, not so long ago, seemed entirely unimaginable” (Free registration required) (900 words)

The End Of Hypocrisy

Leakers such as Manning and Snowden make their impact less with the new information they reveal, more with the documented confirmation they provide of what the United States is actually doing and why. Public evidence undermines Washington’s ability to act hypocritically and get away with it. It becomes harder for allies to overlook Washington’s covert behavior, easier for adversaries to justify their own (Ungated until Oct 30) (2,200 words)

Biology’s Brave New World

All the key barriers to the artificial synthesis of viruses and bacteria have been overcome. “The biologist has become an engineer, coding new life forms as desired.” Which may produce breakthroughs in public health; equally, it may produce plagues and other horrors on a global scale, as the science gets easier to replicate. “The tracking of novel DNA and life forms should be implemented on a voluntary or mandatory basis immediately” (7,380 words)

The Myth Of US Energy Dependence

America learned the wrong lessons from the OPEC embargo and oil shock of 1973. The “shock” was due mainly to America’s own policy response of regulating fuel prices and imposing rationing. Nor is America dependent on Middle Eastern oil: only 9% of supply comes from the region today; the proportion has never been above 15%. “What Americans import from the Persian Gulf is not oil but its price” (3,680 words)

The Reincarnation Machine

In praise of metal shredders. “The shredder stands as the singularly most important piece of recycling equipment ever developed. It is, among other things, the best and really only solution to managing the biggest source of consumer waste in the world today: the roughly 14 million American automobiles that are junked annually” Much of the shredded metal gets shipped to Asia, and made into new cars there (3,000 words)

Putin Scores on Syria

First published on September 6th, now ungated, so a few days behind the news, but a durable analysis of the underlying strategies. “Putin knows what he is doing. He stands back while others blunder in and act in the heat of the moment. He needles and riles his opponents so they trip themselves up and do his work for him. Putin intends to win this particular round of his sparring match over Syria on points” (1,650 words)

Australia’s Choice

Australia is caught between two great powers, on both of which it depends: America and China. So far it has managed to stay on relatively good terms with both, by telling each what it wants to hear. But how long can that parallel diplomacy survive, as competition between America and China becomes more explicit? Unless the fundamentals in Asia somehow change, Australia will have to make a historic choice (1,760 words)

Drones Over Damascus

Drones are supposed to offer a cheap, low-risk way to eliminate emerging global threats without getting entangled in protracted conflicts. But, as their absence from the Syrian conflict shows, their uses are in practice quite limited. For one thing, they require unfettered access to the foreign airspace. They are slow and noisy, they fly low, and they hover a lot. If the enemy has air defences, drones are sitting ducks (1,160 words)

The Day After Assad Wins

Survival will count as a victory of a sorts for Assad, but Syria will be a huge mess. The Damascus rump state may end up controlling around 40 percent of the country, with 60-70 percent of the population. The rest will be in the hands of militias. Iranian and Hezbollah forces will remain in Syria indefinitely. Syria will be “abjectly dependent” on Russia and Iran for money and resources (1,270 words)

Who Is Ali Khameini?

Impressive full-length portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader, who heads the country’s religious and military establishments, and outranks President Rouhani. Khameini has “always been critical of liberal democracy”. He thinks that “capitalism and the West are in inevitable long-term decline”. He sees America as “inherently Islamophobic”, if decreasingly dangerous. He values Western science and literature: his favourite author is Victor Hugo (8,700 words)

The Business Habits Of Highly Effective Terrorists

Terrorist chiefs make terrible bosses. The problem: micro-management. It’s baked into the system. When your subordinates are, almost by definition, violent fanatics, you have to keep close tabs on them every step of the way. “Terrorist managers can craft meticulous long-term strategies, but those are of little use if the people tasked with carrying them out want to make a name for themselves right now” (1,110 words)

The Danger Of Human Rights Proliferation

“The expanded and diluted notion of human rights allows illiberal states to change the focus from core freedoms to vague and conceptually unclear rights that place no concrete obligations on states. Enabled by such rhetoric, no human rights violation can stand scrutiny on its own merits. Instead, human rights violations are relativized. Cuts in development aid can be labeled human rights violations just like torture in North Korea” (1,480 words)

The Frankfurt School At War

How Wild Bill Donovan, head of US espionage in WWII, hired emigré German Jewish Marxist intellectuals to explain Nazi culture to Washington. “The Frankfurters argued that the Nazis’ radical anti-Semitism was an attempt to guarantee the complicity of the broadest possible swath of the populace in Nazi crimes. With their hands dripping with blood, most Germans would likely see no real choice but to fight to the death against the Allies” (2,850 words)

The Second Great Depression

Post-2008 recession has seen much less human misery than in the Great Depression, because of political factors — the social insurance programs established in and since the 1930s. But in economic terms, Europe is in a worse position now than it was when the Great Depression began. America will have at least one lost decade, perhaps two, and will be much weaker when the next storm hits (3,000 words)

America’s Senseless Spying On Europe

Disclosures that America has been spying on European Union citizens and institutions puts in jeopardy a transatlantic security relationship that had been growing markedly closer and more trusting in the past decade. “If European governments now decide to curtail that cooperation, Washington will have only itself to blame”. European regulators could also fine American companies for sharing data with the NSA (1,260 words)

The Road To D-Day

Wonderful writing, overwhelming subject. Portrait of England in 1944, on the eve of the Normandy Invasions by which WWII would be won or botched. “The British government allowed men to buy a new shirt every 20 months. The monthly cheese allowance stood at two ounces per citizen. Many children had never seen a lemon. More than 50,000 British civilians had died in German air raids since 1940″ (8,100 words)

Fake It Till You Make It

Taking and using other people’s ideas and intellectual property is good for growth. It used to be the American way. Now it’s the Chinese way. “Just as copying allowed the economy of the United States to grow in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, today it allows China to do the same. And, just as the British overstated the economic threat posed by American copying back then, so, too, is the Chinese threat overblown today” (2,944 words)

Israel’s Man In Damascus

Former head of Mossad explains why Israel doesn’t want the Assad regime to fall. “Israel knows one important thing about the Assads: for the past 40 years, they have managed to preserve some form of calm along the border”. The civil war is bad news on every front. Al-Qaeda backs the rebels, Iran backs the Syrian army, the whole region is destabilised. Best policy option for Israel: stay neutral, and focus on Iran (1,073 words)

The Polish Model

Conversation With Radek Sikorski, Polish foreign minister. Interesting throughout. “We Poles, like you Americans, are a revolutionary people. So when others get rid of their tyrants, our initial reaction is one of solidarity. But we also know that crises are usually taken advantage of not by the best people but by the best-organized people. There is very little that we as outsiders can do to affect events, except to set a good example” (3,090 words)

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