Archive for March 19th, 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Libyan No-Fly Zone, my fearful Country, and its big Mouth

Demanding an immediate ceasefire in Libya, including an end to the current attacks against civilians, which it said might constitute “crimes against humanity”, the Security Council this evening imposed a ban on all flights in the country’s airspace — a no-fly zone — and tightened sanctions on the Qadhafi regime and its supporters,

writes the UN department of public information. Resolution 1973 (2011), the one which imposes the no-fly zone,

authorized Member States, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi,

but excludes a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory – not one inch, as the information department quotes Lebanon’s speaker at the United Nations security council (UNSC).

Just another German press review

Just another German press review

Just as on Iraq early in 2003, Europe presented itself divided once again. But different from then, I’m not so sure today that Germany’s government made the right decision in the resolution 1973 vote. I’d have preferred to see Germany supporting it.

I can sense some of the risks. Nobody seems to know if the resolution’s scope  will be wide enough to protect the Libyan population effectively. Not only Libyans, but other Arab countries supportive of the resolution, too, will blame any failure on America and Europe. A divided Libya may turn into a another failed state, close to the borders of the European Union. We don’t know who the anti-Gaddafi forces are – and after all, the resolution helps them more than Gaddafi and his connections.

In fact, the European-Gaddafi coexistence had been quite comfy during the past few years. The Great Socialist Jamahiriya‘s leader had kept North African refugees back on the African continent, and Western business people fell over each other to strike lucrative deals with the dictator and his connections.

But not knowing if the people who would replace Gaddafi are worse or better than him creates no obligation to stay on the sidelines and to watch Gaddafi’s revenge on his opponents (including scores of suspected opponents) unfold. We don’t know who the oppositionals are, but we do know what kind of “leader” Gaddafi is. By now, any suggestion that he should bring the entire country back under his control has become an unreasonable demand on the Libyan people.

There is no institution like the Egyptian military in Libya. If the no-fly zone, plus all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, but minus an option to occupy Libyan territory, will be successful in stopping Gaddafi’s forces (many of whom aren’t Libyan nationals, but mercenaries from elsewhere in Africa), either all Libyans, or those outside the reach of Tripoli, will have to find agreement among themselves before they can build such institutions. It’s looks like an adventure, rather than like a project.

Therefore, a government may abstain in the UN security council’s vote, and be proven right in the end.

But even if that should be the case, Berlin would have chosen its position for the wrong reasons, and in contradiction to messages it had sent during the past months. The German government cited some which one may find convincing indeed, but most crucially, it abstained because it was afraid of public opinion at home. The government  finds it hard already to maintain our country’s existing military commitment to Afghanistan.  German pacifism*), an attitude based on the experience of the second world war,  plays a big role here.  It helped for the short term in 2002, that then chancellor Gerhard Schröder succeeded in making the public believe that the Bundeswehr was basically sent to Afghanistan to rebuild bridges and protect little girls on their way to school. The rude awakening since wasn’t really that helpful. Afghanistan looks like a never-ending story, and involvement in Libya could become a quagmire, or a failure.

According to a survey quoted by the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Wednesday, 90 percent of the German public support the government’s position on Libya. Government and population seem to share the feeling that our allies could ask for a German fighter jet’s involvement, and the feeling that this would be asking too much.

Some German papers have criticized our government’s – and oppositional parties’ – siding with countries such as China or Russia. That doesn’t bother me. If I was convinced that the resolution 1973 on Libya was wrong, I wouldn’t mind our government’s company. Besides, one could say that China’s and Russia’s positions are pretty consistent with their previous views on the northern African revolutions.

Berlin? Not so. Here is some of Guido Westerwelle‘s (German foreign minister) exhilarated bushwah in Egypt, in February this year, according to an official German website:

“A movement for freedom has started here, and we intend to do our bit to help ensure that it brings success for the people.”


“Tahrir Square is to the Egyptians what the Brandenburg Gate is to Germans,” Westerwelle said, adding that Germany had a noticeably good reputation in Egypt – “perhaps in part because we made such a good job of our own peaceful revolution for freedom.”

That, plus some comments by Westerwelle on Libya, in a radio interview, also in February – i. e. shortly after Benghazi and other Libyan cities ousted the pro-Gaddafi forces (and therefore took the risk of being treated as “traitors”, should those forces return):

“This regime is hitting out like mad; it is waging war against its own people; it is threatening the people with a protracted civil war – and that’s why I have decided that we will again call for an emergency session of the UN Security Council. I believe sanctions are inevitable in the light of these severe human rights violations and the massive use of violence. These might include travel bans for the ruling family, but also the freezing of assets.”


We Germans made our position crystal clear right at the beginning of the week – along with other colleagues, may I say, France for instance – and this will not have been lost on our other colleagues. This morning I will be meeting my Italian counterpart, Franco Frattini, whom I value very highly, and whom I know to be a compassionate man who is completely aware that Europe’s foreign policy must be interest-based, but above all value-oriented. And we as European democrats stand on the side of democratic change.

Where is my country standing now?

To be fair, one should add that Westerwelle didn’t want to take a stance on possible military intervention then. But at that time, late in February, he didn’t need to. The situation in Libya was different from now, and without Britain, France, but above all America supporting military action, Germany’s position wouldn’t have made a difference anyway.

But Germany’s position now appears to be that, while it will always do “its bit” to “encourage” change, the risks will be exclusively for the people south of the Mediterranean themselves to take – even when Germany would be quite capable to take a share in it. That stinks.


*) I don’t think that my use of the word pacifism in this context is really doing justice to the concept. But as genuine pacifism and genuine callousness (plus lots of other mindsets in between) are habitually lumped together as “pacifism” anyway, I’m doing likewise here.

Reactions to the Fukushima I Disaster, March 15, 2011
LSE and “Biased Media”, March 4, 2011
Angela Merkel calls Kadafi Speech “frightening”, L. A. Times blogs, February 22, 2011


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Scientific: Salt, Autobahn, and Free Elections

The good news, for all the friends of free markets, is that Hong Kong is still a free market. Panic-buying in Hong Kong pushed up the retail price of salt to as high as HK$30 a catty, from the usual HK$2, according to the HK Standard (via ESWN). Eating lots of salt may help to ease your fear, but it can also kill you, if you eat too much of it, a warning tweet or other microblog post with a sad story from Zhejiang Province informs us.

Meantime, a saltrush in Guangdong Province has reportedly ebbed away, after several authorities in charge had refuted rumors (辟谣, pì yáo).

Or maybe it was rather once it dawned on the innocent (but chronically wary) buyers that they had been “fooled” yet again. On Friday, after the frenzy, Guangdong Provincial Price Bureau received complaints from citizens who wanted to return their salt bonanzas, and their money back, but were turned down by the retailers, reports the Yangcheng Evening Post (via Enorth). Inevitably, during the days of (occasional, I guess) panic, the Chinese retail market had turned out to be a very free market, too. Yangcheng Evening News also provides us with some salt statistics, courtesy Guangdong Provincial Salt Bureau (广东省盐务局).

The salt-buying frenzy began on March 16, at 2 p.m., and ended on March 18. But even though it lasted only for two days, it amounted to what would regularly be a one-month sales quantity. Some 1,000 tons were sold in Guangzhou on March 17. Normally, it would be 180 to 200 tons a day.

Seems that cool heads mostly prevailed in Guangzhou itself  – but then again, maybe there just wasn’t more salt on offer. Anyway, thinking of five Grannies instead of one buying salt, and near-empty shelves ahead, such situations probably have to lead to a strong sense of competition, for the survival of the fittest. Chaotic scenes were probably rather local phenomenons anyway, from Wednesday through Friday.

Let’s simplify this… how does a traffic jam occur? An experiment in Essen, Northrhine-Westphalia, tries to explain. All participating car drivers were told to keep an unvariable distance to each other, at a constant pace. It worked for ten minutes, which is actually quite good. The supervisor’s explanation: the bigger the differences in individual drivers’ pace, the more likely a jam will occur. On the Autobahn, car speeds differ widely.

Who caused the jam? Nobody knows. The driver who is to blame doesn’t know either. The jam occurs some fifteen to twenty cars further behind him or her. Once you get too close to the rear bumpers of the car in front of you, a chain reaction will occur behind you, as you have to brake, making the car behind you slamming on the brakes (more so than needed, maybe) obliging the next cars in the row to do likewise.

It’s a bit more complicated with buying frenzies, probably, because we have two circular flows here: the chain of buyers, and the stream of supplies.

But the moral of the story is the same: the buggers who cause the problems are likely to get away. Except for that anxious buyer in Zhejiang. He expired – or so the microblog quoted by ESWN is saying –

after taking in too much salt in order to ward off radiation. By the time that his family took him to the hospital, it was too late.

When nothing goes right, blame someone. A tweet as an example (please mind that China in itself is at various  mental developmental stages, and this may be meant seriously, or it may just be a bit of Jasmine fun):

This episode also shows that the Chinese government is failing its people.  The people want salt but there is no salt to be found anywhere.  This is the failure of the government.  If there were free elections, salt would be available to anyone who wants it anytime.

We have free elections in Germany, but we don’t have the universally five-lane autobahn we‘d like to have either.


Garlic Prices: to Buy is to Believe, May 14, 2010
Zigong (“Salt City”), Wikipedia


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