Searching for Cracks in the Great Firewall of China

by John Prandato | April 30th, 2010 | |Subscribe

Just a few years ago, conventional wisdom held that Google would be the vanguard of Internet freedom in China, transforming the way information flows throughout the historically closed society. But while the rapid expansion of the Internet in China has indeed served as a vital medium for political activism, Beijing has essentially kept pace with its extensive surveillance network to silence “cyber dissidents” and with its use of the Web as a pro-government propaganda machine to steer public opinion. At first glance, it appears that China’s censorship practices warrant a strong U.S. policy and a thorough condemnation from the Obama administration. But as Emily Parker, the Arthur Ross Fellow at the Asia Society, explains, U.S. technological innovation – not U.S. policy – is likely the most capable, effective, and politically sensible tool for chipping away at China’s Great Firewall.

Since Google’s departure, the Chinese government has taken action to tighten its grip on the Internet. Earlier this month, China quietly acknowledged the creation of a new “Internet news coordination bureau,” officially responsible for “guidance, coordination and other work related to the construction and management of Web culture.” And just this week, China’s legislature proposed an amendment to the Law on Guarding State Secrets that would require telecommunications companies to “detect, report and delete” leaks of “state secrets,” broadly defined by the government as “information concerning national security and interests that, if released, would harm the country’s security and interests.” These measures are just the latest pieces fastened to a massive regulatory system, much to the chagrin of the international human rights community and many of China’s 400 million Internet users. (more…)

Nothing is Too Good for Our Boys, Redux

by David Isenberg | April 27th, 2010 | |Subscribe

Two years after my discharge from the Navy in 1977 I was doing undergraduate work at the University of Oregon. While there I was a member of a campus veterans group. We did a lot of advocacy on behalf of Vietnam and Vietnam era veterans, on issues that back then were still unknown, such as Agent Orange exposure and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

One thing I took away from that was that while most people were happy to talk about the sacrifices of veterans it was, in the end, mostly talk. When it came to actually doing something or putting their money where their mouth was, most people, rather like Dick Cheney’s famous excuse for avoiding the draft, had better things to do.  In short, as the classic mordant military humor puts it, nothing is too good for our boys in uniform so that’s what we’ll give them, nothing.  (more…)

Russia: A Nuclear Security Leader?

by Volha Charnysh | April 26th, 2010 | |Subscribe

Considered the Pandora’s box of nuclear security issues for decades, Russia is now being recast as a nuclear security leader. At the April Summit in Washington, Moscow won praise for ending plutonium production and signing the Plutonium Disposition protocol. However, Russia’s active and at times reckless pursuit of nuclear business contradicts its claim to nuclear security leadership and could weaken the commitments made at the Summit.

Reading Russia’s memorandum at the Nuclear Security Summit, one is struck by its dissonance with its US counterpart. While the US national statement begins by stressing “the risk of nuclear terrorism as the most immediate and extreme threat to global security”, the Russian document begins by praising the nuclear industry as “one of the strategic directions of development.” Only in the sixth paragraph of the memorandum does Russia acknowledge that the risks of nuclear terrorism are “still present” in the world. Those risks clearly do not emanate from Russia, according to the document that claims there are no “vulnerable nuclear materials and facilities with inadequate levels of physical protection” on the Russian territory.

While it may be overly optimistic when describing the security of Russia’s nuclear arsenal and fissile materials, the memorandum presents an accurate reflection of Russia’s priorities. While the two goals are someone related, for Moscow developing its nuclear industry is much more important than advancing nuclear security. (more…)

Bipartisan gift to the planet

by Brian Vogt | April 22nd, 2010 | |Subscribe

Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day and there’s a bipartisan gift to the planet in the works.  As Steven Pearlstein wrote in this op-ed, hopes for a bipartisan climate/energy bill getting passed have been resurrected from the dead in the past several weeks.  With a 60 vote hurdle in the Senate and fossil fuel energy producers located in both red and blue states, this has to be a bipartisan effort.  Although the bill has not been released, the sponsors of the bill – Senators Kerry (D-MA), Graham (R-SC), and Lieberman (I-CT) – have been making the necessary compromises to build a broad coalition of support.

Pearlstein describes here the rough outlines of what the bill will likely entail:

Although the Senate bill retains the cap-and-trade structure of the House bill, it would apply, at least initially, only to electric power producers, with other manufacturers coming under the regime after 2016. The oil and gas industry would be handled under a separate regime that requires refiners to buy emissions permits for all the carbon contained in the gasoline or other fuels they sell — in effect, a fee or tax on carbon. The amount of the fee would be determined by the price at which carbon emissions allowances are bought or sold by utilities on open exchanges. And while the fee would almost certainly be passed on to consumers in the form of higher fuel prices, most of it would be rebated through payroll and other tax credits. By paying more for energy and less for taxes, the idea is that Americans will use less energy and wind up with roughly the same amount of money to spend on everything else.

For some on the left, the compromises made to achieve bipartisan support will be too much.  Yes, it will be a weaker than many environmentalists would hope.  The cap and trade mechanism will not apply to the oil and gas industry.  However, the alternative proposed could be an important step forward and a real improvement over the status quo.  According to Pearlstein, it does provide for what will ultimately be a tax on carbon, which is an approach that I think is preferable to cap and trade.  I know that many on the right will cry foul at the idea of any new tax.  The important component of this tax or fee (whatever you want to call it) is that it will be refunded to consumers in the form of payroll tax reductions.  That’s good news for business because, as many on the right argue, employment taxes discourage work.  It’s also good news for lower income Americans because payroll taxes are regressive, putting a greater burden on them. (more…)

North Caucasus Spills Over on Moscow’s Doorstep

by Volha Charnysh | April 9th, 2010 | |Subscribe

Forty dead is hardly the final toll of the recent subway bombings in Moscow, and the attacks are hardly the final terrorist act in the Russian capital. The policies of the state that unabashedly prioritizes security of state power over the security of its citizens will continue making them targets of terrorism, restricting their human rights and civil liberties, facilitating recruitment into terrorist cells in the North Caucasus, and increasing the rebels’ popularity with Muslims around the world.

If the conflict escalates, the terrorist acts originating in the region may acquire a truly international character by transcending the Russian borders. Today, however, lumping all terrorists as a “common enemy,” the term US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used when expressing condolences after the attacks in Moscow, and equating the Chechen rebels with terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban is not very accurate.

Of course, there are indeed some links between all terrorist activities around the world. Some Russian terrorist leaders were trained in Al Qaeda camps during the 1990s or helped terrorists in places like Afghanistan. Moreover, the Taliban was the sole foreign government to recognize Chechnya’s independence. However, the increasing ties between Russian-based and foreign terrorist groups are the effect rather than the cause of the violence in the North Caucasus. Unlike the majority of terrorist attacks around the world, the Moscow bombings were perpetrated against the Russians not by foreigners but by Russian citizens. Moreover, most weapons used by the guerrillas in the North Caucasus are made in Russia, and are either purchased or stolen from Russian troops. (more…)

Bipartisan Support for Non-Proliferation Programs

by John Isaacs | April 8th, 2010 | |Subscribe

Health care is a partisan issue. Economic stimulus is a partisan issue. Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty has been a partisan issue.  One of the few issues that rises to genuine non-partisanship is support for nuclear non-proliferation funding and the fight against nuclear terrorists. It was Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar who joined with Georgia Democratic Senator Sam Nunn to initiate the Cooperative Threat Reduction program in the 1990’s and the program has received bipartisan support ever since.

While the Bush Administration was restrained in its enthusiasm for the program, Lugar and a bipartisan group of Members of both parties and both houses of Congress rallied support to restore funding.  When the program became encumbered by various bureaucratic hurdles, Lugar offered a Senate floor amendment in 2005 to expand the programs and remove the hurdles that won 78 – 19, including the support of 34 GOP Senators.


Will U.S. Inaction on its own Nuclear Security Issues Compromise Summit Success?

by Peter Stockton and Ingrid Drake | April 7th, 2010 | |Subscribe

At the Global Nuclear Security Summit, President Obama will likely highlight the significant investments in his FY 2011 budget to secure nuclear material around the world. But that may not be enough to inspire the 40 other nations attending the Summit to get out of their comfort zones and address their own nuclear security gaps.

Frankly, if we want other nations to follow, we have to lead by example. Highly enriched uranium (HEU) is a prime target for nuclear terrorists: with about 100 pounds it is possible to make an improvised nuclear device that could create a blast on par with the one that devastated Hiroshima. Yet, the U.S. has the world’s second largest stock of HEU and plutonium. Although U.S. security of this material has improved since 9/11, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is still uncovering far too many weaknesses within the nuclear weapons complex. In addition, the FY 2011 budget has decreased funding for dismantlement and for the most effective method of securing HEU (called downblending), and has increased funding for the construction of a facility that will create a long-term purpose for storing large stocks of HEU. This does not provide the other Summit nations much incentive to secure or reduce their own stockpiles.

The U.S. should alter its course regarding HEU. The steps to accomplish this are fairly straightforward, and should be supported by Members of Congress interested in national security and fiscal responsibility on both sides of the aisle.


Nuclear Security Summit Offers Unprecedented Opportunity

by Vlad Sambaiew | April 6th, 2010 | |Subscribe

Presidents, prime ministers and senior officials from more than 40 nations and international organizations will soon meet in Washington, D.C. for the unprecedented express purpose of finding better ways to control dangerous nuclear materials. While the nuclear security summit is a U.S. initiative, it is clear that significant progress in improving the world’s ability to secure and control materials such as highly enriched uranium will require cooperation and coordination by many international actors.

President Barack Obama gave a major speech on nuclear issues in Prague last spring, where he announced the United States would spearhead a global effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years. The upcoming summit is an important part of this process, especially given accounts that the global stockpile of nuclear materials may be large enough to build more than 120,000 nuclear bombs and that some of these materials continue to accumulate in unstable world regions.

While much needs to be done, the good news is the global effort to better control vulnerable nuclear materials can build on a solid foundation of recent practical experience. We often know what to do to improve protection and oversight. Sometimes the answers are as simple as building fences and installing surveillance cameras and sensors.


Drilling Our Way to a Climate Change Solution?

by John Prandato | April 2nd, 2010 | |Subscribe

On Wednesday, President Obama announced a proposal to lift the long-standing ban on offshore oil and natural gas drilling off much of the south Atlantic and north Alaskan coasts, as well as parts of the Gulf of Mexico. The announcement has drawn the ire of critics across the political spectrum. Some on the left are outraged by Obama’s “betrayal” of his environmentalist base, and some on the right have called the extent of new offshore access insufficient. In reality, the policy he outlined will do very little to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and it will have no effect on oil prices in the foreseeable future. And Obama knows it. From the administration’s perspective, this announcement is about one thing: building support in the Senate for comprehensive climate change and energy legislation.

Studies have shown that offshore drilling will have very little impact on domestic oil prices. In fact, not a drop of new oil from this proposal would be seen for at least seven years, and the modest uptick in production and negligible price dip would not even be felt for two decades. Offshore drilling’s impact on real prices pales in comparison to that which could result from sound financial regulatory reform to curb speculation in commodity futures exchanges, or from putting a stop to the supply manipulation routinely practiced by OPEC in response to the artificially rising demand.

Nevertheless, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham – who is expected to introduce a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by John Kerry and Joe Lieberman within the next month – has insisted that offshore drilling be part of the energy equation of the future. Obama’s announcement on Wednesday follows similar concessions in recent months to conservative nuclear and coal interests. The administration’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget request included $36 billion for the nuclear loan guarantee program and the stimulus bill included $3.8 billion for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) research and development. (more…)

All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.