Archive for June, 2011


Roadblock in Azerbaijan/NATO relationship?

June 30, 2011

From Eurasianet:

Azerbaijan’s cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization may not be progressing at a brisk clip, but some local analysts believe that the country’s accession to the Non-Aligned Movement last month put an even bigger question mark over the future of Azerbaijan’s Euro-Atlantic integration.

On May 25, Baku signed on with the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), a grouping set up in 1955 to oppose “domination” by the world’s “major powers” and colonialism in its various forms. Apart from Belarus and Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan is the only former Soviet republic to have joined the left-leaning organization, a group more closely associated with the Cold War era.

The surprise decision to join forces with NAM prompted criticism from the Azerbaijani opposition that Baku is selling out on closer cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union.  NAM membership requirements state that any “bilateral military agreement with a Great Power” must not be “deliberately concluded in the context of Great Power conflicts.”

Azerbaijan has been one of the most stalwart allies of the United States during the War on Terror, and US support for their NATO membership (and in their disputes with Armenia and former imperial master Russia) was seen as their reward.   Joining the NAM might put that relationship into question. However, the same article also notes that:

Elkhan Shahinoglu, director of the Baku-based Atlas research center, sees another weakness to what he describes as an “illogical” tactic for dealing with Armenia. “Tensions in the South Caucasus are growing and Azerbaijan needs a military alliance with [NATO member] Turkey and deeper cooperation with NATO to ensure its security,” Shahinoglu said. “It does not need neutrality.”

NAM’s criteria about military alliances related to “Great Power” struggles appear flexible, however; Afghanistan and Iraq are both NAM members.

Some Baku analysts, though, still regard this move as an attempt by Azerbaijan to distance itself from NATO and to give itself room for criticizing the alliance. Military analyst Jasur Sumarinli , editor-in-chief of the news agency, believes that the withdrawal of Azerbaijan’s 90 soldiers from Afghanistan could soon follow.

“The cooperation with NATO will stall even more,” Sumarinli said, adding that Russia’s influence on Azerbaijan, correspondingly, could increase. “Such a decision should not be taken without public and parliamentary debates.”

Azerbaijan’s National Security Concept document lists Euro-Atlantic integration as a “strategic goal.” Yet, unlike neighboring Georgia, which has cast its foreign-policy lot definitively with the West, Azerbaijan has always attempted to balance its interests between NATO, Russia and, to its south, Iran.

Read the whole thing.




NY Times Frack Attack Draws Many Rebuttals

June 29, 2011

Last weekend, the New York Times published a major story that claimed the perceived boom in shale gas would turn out to be an uneconomic “Ponzi scheme.”   The story from what is still the nation’s paper of record poured a lot of cold water on the natgas fracking fever.

However, multiple outlets this week have fired back at the Times and reporter Ian Urbina, claiming that the piece was not journalism but rather a polemical attack that cherry picked quotes and data and ignored anything that disproved the central thesis.

The debate is ongoing.  EnerGeoPolitics is definitely in favor of fracking and believes it is a crucial development in the future energy mix of this nation and the world.  But readers should decide for themselves.  Below are several of the rebuttals leveled at Urbina and the Times.  Read them all and draw your own conclusions:

Chesapeak Energy statement (Chesapeake was directly attacked in the Times article)

IHS Drilling Data (another org directly mentioned in the article)

Ken Medlock from the Baker Institute

Wall Street Journal rebuttal

Michael Levi, Council on Foreign Relations Fellow for Energy and Environment

In addition, Energy in Depth compiled a comprehensive list of statements that can be found here (note – some of these statements are pulled from the full articles linked above).


Consumer electronics and Climate Change

June 28, 2011

This graph from the Energy Information Agency speaks for itself:

Our DVD players, microwave ovens, laptops and other gadgets contribute far more greenhouse gasses than do our SUVs


Obama speech on Afghanistan leaves many Afghani’s “fearing for their lives”

June 27, 2011

Fotini Christia, in a “Letter from Kabul” for the journal Foreign Affairs yesterday, writes:

(M)ost striking for Afghans, Obama’s speech was not about “transition,” the euphemism for withdrawal the United States typically favors, but about abrupt disengagement, with no convincing commitment to seeing Afghanistan through to peace. The speech was clear on the plan to bring U.S. troops home but vague on the specifics of how to leave behind a stable Afghanistan, beyond asserting that the Afghan government would now have to take the lead. But Afghanistan’s weak government and embattled president do not inspire confidence. Afghans seem convinced that the country will relapse into all-out civil war after the United States withdraws. Many Afghans understandably fear for their lives. During a large international development agency’s recent meeting in Kabul, an Afghan employee asked “What is the plan for evacuating local staff when the United States withdraws?” Amid charts illustrating dwindling aid deliveries, she foresaw Kabul becoming another Saigon. An Afghan colleague of mine, who has worked for years on development projects with foreigners comes to work every day in his shalwar kameez (the baggy pants and long shirt that many South Asians wear) and changes into Western attire at the office. He drives a beat-up car and routinely moves his family to different rental apartments in Kabul. “If the Taliban comes back, and people know I worked for foreigners, I will be found hanging from a lamppost,” he said. The Taliban lynched Afghanistan’s last communist president, Mohammad Najibullah, that way in 1996.


Shell Oil and Canadian Govts to collaborate on massive CCS project in Alberta

June 27, 2011

Shell Oil, the province of Alberta and the Canadian national government will collaborate on the largest ever project to capture and sequester carbon emissions from a refiner of Alberta oil sands.  The project will use carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology to store up to 1 million metric tons of CO2 under ground over a 15 year period.  The total cost of the project is projected to be $2 Billion.  The provincial government will provide $745 million and the national government $120 million.


The Afghanistan Withdrawal

June 23, 2011

Short take:  We support it.  To us, Afghanistan only made sense in conjunction with Iraq.  The two operations together brought the US a ring of allies and operational bases in Central Asia and the Persian Gulf that allowed a physical containment of Iran.   We have argued for years that should have always been the larger geopolitical objective.  Absent that, the operation in Afghanistan should have been a punishment operation meant to shatter al Qaeda on the ground, but with no need for a long term commitment to the nation.

Once the Iraq project was  largely abandoned and other US allies in the region began dropping away, an Afghanistan commitment no longer made any sense.

To be clear, we advocated a very long term commitment to both nations, with permanent US military bases as part of a vast regional network.  However, the moment to seize that opportunity passed in 2008.  A strategy based on a large physical presence in Central/Southwest Asia is no longer in the cards, so it is best to redeploy as quickly as possible.  Redeploy to where is the question.  Neither American political party has articulated a Grand Strategy for the next decade, although people like Daniel Drezner are hard at work trying to piece one together from the various loose strands lying around.


Chinese intransigence on dam projects worries neighbors

June 22, 2011

I have written previously on China’s massive hydro electric plans for the upper Brahmaputra River and tributaries.  Despite the Chinese government’s recent admission to serious environmental problems stemming from the construction of the Three Gorges dam, and despite existing complaints from their downstream neighbors negatively effected by their extensive damming of the Mekong, China appears to be continuing with plans for as many as 24 new projects along the Brahmaputra.  A recent editorial in the Times of India blasted China for it’s “abhorrence of any proposal to share natural resources,” and listed a growing number of nations that have been effected by recent Chinese high-handedness (Russia, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and India itself).

China, self-secure in its economic power, may be overplaying its hand.  With its aging population and flattening birthrate, the centralized economic system may be nearing the limits of it’s growth at the same time that it is almost forcing it’s neighbors into the balancing coalition (opens as a pdf file) that it has always feared.   Personally, I believe that Chinese power has reached or nearly reached it’s apex – we are at or approaching “Peak China,” to coin a phrase.   Of course, that neither diminishes it’s power nor does it make it less dangerous – remember, Germany reached its peak before it launched two world wars to challenge British hegemony.