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Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

Singapore: Social Laboratory

Everything that Edward Snowden warned against, and then some, is happening in Singapore, where government put in place total electronic surveillance after the SARS outbreak of 2003, using techniques developed at the NSA. Government can monitor and analyse all data, all communications. The public approves. Singaporeans believe “light-touch repression” helps keep them safe from foreign and domestic threats (Metered) (4,800 words)

Why Hawks Win

From the archives, wisdom for the ages. Foreign-policy hawks prevail more often than they should in world affairs because “a bias in favor of hawkish preferences is built into the fabric of the human mind”. People tend to be overly optimistic about their strengths; deeply averse to cutting their losses; and bad at understanding others, especially rivals, even while assuming that their own motivations are clear (Metered paywall) (2,100 words)

Stuxnet’s Secret Twin

Three-year study of the Stuxnet virus shows it was designed to slow down Iran’s nuclear production line, not to destroy it. And it did just that, probably delaying Iran’s efforts by two years. The code discovered in 2009 was a second version of the virus; the first was found two years earlier but not recognised. Disclosure of Stuxnet may have been deliberate, to publicise America’s technical prowess (Metered paywall) (4,160 words)

The Seduction of George W. Bush By Vladimir Putin

From the start of his presidency George Bush tried to forge a close working relationship with Vladimir Putin. The result was failure and bitterness. Bush overestimated Putin’s democratic instincts and underestimated his stubbornness and guile. Neither leader understood how the other saw the world. The crunch came in 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia — a country that Bush wanted to bring into Nato (Metered paywall) (4,300 words)

A Translation Guide To Foreign Policy Gibberish

If you struggle to understand State Department and White House spokespersons, keep this cheat-sheet handy. Then you will know that when they say: “All options are on the table”, they mean: “Bombs”. (Metered paywall) (500 words)

Larry Summers, Anger Translator

Now here’s a persuasive argument for having Summers as Fed chairman. Imagine the scene when he testifies to Congress — losing his patience, slapping his forehead, uttering audible groans, saying what he really thinks of the questions he’s asked: “I don’t mind explaining stuff. I like explaining stuff. That’s why I teach. But if I explain stuff three times. And people still don’t get it. I start to lose confidence” (825 words)

Aeroflop: Snowden In Moscow

Russian perspective on Snowden affair. “In hindsight, Russia obviously miscalculated when it allowed Snowden to board the Moscow-bound flight.” Nobody expected to have him hanging around this long. The political damage has been containable, but there have been no offsetting benefits. He can stay a while longer if he keeps quiet. But Russia will want him out before Obama visits in September (1,170 words)

Five Rules for Arming Rebels

It’s better not to get involved at all in a conflict that you cannot win. But since the Obama administration has decided to get involved in Syria, here are some rules of thumb. America doesn’t have any reliable friends in this one. Not Qatar, not Saudi, not Turkey. Don’t give the rebels anything that we’d want to get back afterwards, such as portable anti-aircraft weapons. And — this ought to be obvious — have clear rules for the endgame (2,000 words)

How To Negotiate Like A Pashtun

When America reduces its troop presence in Afghanistan from 100,000 to 3,000, and cuts the budget proportionally, it may find that its useful influence grows. Why? Because America’s huge footprint has trampled on local Pashtun leaders, turning them into rivals and enemies. Now, partnership becomes possible. “The United States may find that friendship is much less expensive than dominance — and a better basis for deal-making” (2,000 words)

The Driver

On the life and death of Imad Mughniye, “the violent mastermind of Hezbollah … the most dangerous man you never heard of”. Made his mark with the Beirut embassy bombing in 1983. Hijacked TWA flight 847 in 1985. Plotted 1994 Buenos Aires synagogue bombing. Right-hand man of Hezbollah boss Hassan Nasrallah for two decades. Blown to bits by a car bomb in 2008. Set by whom? Probably Syria, at Israel’s request (4,014 words)

China’s Flu Pandemic: The Big One?

Ten years after SARS, a new virus strikes China, perhaps more deadly, and certainly harder to contain. “The H7N9 flu now evolving before Humanity’s eyes in China has killed 18 percent of the 108 people with lab-confirmed infections as of April 22. That’s a lethality about nine times the mortality rate of the Great Influenza of 1918-19, which claimed at least 50 million lives”. It’s not a bird flu, but what is it, and where does it hide? (6,400 words)

How Geography Explains The United States

Just what the headline says. “The United States is the only great power in the history of the world that has had the luxury of having nonpredatory neighbors to its north and south, and fish to its east and west. Canadians, Mexicans, and fish. That trio of neighbors has given the United States an unprecedented degree of security, a huge margin for error in international affairs, and the luxury of largely unfettered development” (1,726 words)

South Korea: The Enabler

South Korea encourages North Korea’s bellicosity. It tries to buy Pyongyang’s peace with trade and aid, while directing its own defence build-up against a completely unthreatening Japan. The South teaches the North that extortion pays. “The price of continued US protection [of South Korea] should be the adoption of a serious defense policy, the closure of the Kaesong racket, and a complete end to cash transfers to the North” (1,425 words)

Sim Paulo

Sao Paulo in Brazil boasts some of the world’s worst traffic james. On a bad day the tailbacks can stretch for nearly 200 miles. A blogger is moved to act: “I decided to take a crack at fixing the problem. But as I’m a video-game blogger living 6,000 miles away in Manchester, England, it seemed unlikely that Sao Paulo’s authorities would hand me the key to the city planner’s office anytime soon. So I decided to try out some ideas first on SimCity” (1,660 words)

Russia And China: Face, Trust, And Fear

Fear of inferiority has been the thread running through Sino-Soviet relations since Mao first met Stalin. Then it was China that was the lesser partner. Now it is Russia. When Deng and Gorbachev normalised relations in 1989, Deng said the two countries had quarrelled because “the Soviet Union incorrectly perceived China’s place in the world” (1,732 words)

‘Face’ And Something ‘Delicious’

Fear of inferiority has been the thread running through Sino-Soviet relations since Mao first met Stalin. Then it was China that was the lesser partner. Now it is Russia. When Deng and Gorbachev normalised relations in 1989, Deng said the two countries had quarrelled because “the Soviet Union incorrectly perceived China’s place in the world”

How To Pick A Secular Pope

“While the pope and the UN secretary general are more or less the sacred and secular versions of one another, the processes by which they are selected are pretty much the opposite. The consequence is that Catholics get Pope Francis, while the world gets Ban Ki-moon. Francis feels like exactly what the Church needs. Ban is disappointing-by-design”

Prince Of The White House

How the President can take charge of national security and foreign policy, and not get sandbagged by bureaucrats. By a veteran of the Reagan and the Bush 41 administrations. in brief: Sack everybody from the previous administration on day one, appoint loyalists all the way down, and hold them close. Illuminating if not encouraging

Prince Of The White House

How the President can take charge of national security and foreign policy, and not get sandbagged by bureaucrats. By a veteran of the Reagan and the Bush 41 administrations. In brief: Sack everybody from the previous administration on day one, appoint loyalists all the way down, and hold them close. Illuminating if not encouraging

While America Slept: How The US Botched China’s Rise

America fought long and hard to maintain its leadership over the Soviet Union. Why has it made little attempt to thwart China’s rise? Two main reasons: because America has been distracted by its adventures in the Middle East; and because America went on assuming, at least until very recently, that its global position was unassailable

You Can’t Hack A Steakhouse

Why it’s impossible to spy on the US policy process: “Washington is a cacophonic symphony of gigantic plans, dueling facts, eager ideals, petty pursuits. To understand it, you have to be able to hear it all at the same time and also understand that the music never stops. Beijing will blow a circuit board trying to make sense of all this”

Ice Removal

How do you launder $50m of stolen diamonds? Very easily. “Anyone could walk in off the street with a few million dollars in polished diamonds and ask for them to be graded. Unless the person were acting very strangely, it is unlikely anyone would find this suspicious. This is a business in which millions of dollars in stones are commonly traded”

Broken Tooth And New Macau

When China took back the southern enclave of Macau from Portugal in 1999, Macau was a corrupt, sleepy gambling town in the grip of triad gang violence. Under Chinese rule the triads have been suppressed, foreign firms have come to run casinos, and Macau does five times the gambling business of Las Vegas. It’s still sleazy, but it works

The Pentagon Should Pay Less Attention To Africa

As America runs down its military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pentagon gets more and more deeply engaged in Africa, training and equipping armies in name of security, counter-terrorism. Wrong strategy. African countries need help with governance and development. Sending guns and money to existing regimes risks having the reverse effect

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