Archive for April, 2010

21 years of living next door to Anzac

My first Anzac Day in Australia was in 1989 and it brings back happy memories purely because it was an unexpected long weekend and a first chance to visit Adelaide. When in the city of churches I paid no attention to whatever Anzac Day ceremonies were in place and probably spent the day either on Glenelg beach or in the Barossa wineries. Even when I got Australian citizenship a few years later, I didn’t think my love for living in Australia would ever cover its military history or traditions. (picture: 2010 dawn service at Muckadilla, Western Queensland)

The first twenty years of my life spent in Ireland left a strong legacy of distrusting any institutions that had strong links to British imperialism and the culture around Anzac Day fitted that bill. I was also naturally inclined to view it through the prism of the senseless slaughter of the First World War. Its religious overtones held little appeal too. My anti Anzac Day sentiments were shored up by Peter Weir’s Gallipoli and the angry lament of the Pogues’ version of “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”.

Eric Bogle wrote that song in 1971 but Anzac Day would eventually prove him wrong. Although the numbers of the original diggers shrunk to nothing, there were more than enough veterans of other military conflicts and overseas engagements to take their places. The size of the march began to increase again and so did the audience for the services and parade. The young people stopped asking “what are they marching for” and began to wear their grandparents medals with pride. Gelibolu Yarımadası became a compulsory stop on any European tour.

Thanks to the attention it got from the Hawke and Keating governments Anzac Day was well on the mend in Australia by 1996. Through a collection of circumstances I was awake and in the centre of Melbourne for that year’s Anzac Day dawn service. I shivered through a crisp autumn morning at the city’s massive war memorial on St Kilda road but was fascinated by the formal solemnity of the ritual I was watching. Lit by fires under the dramatic dawn skies, the ceremony expertly fused elements from church services, funerals, concerts, orations and military display in pervasive sombreness.

About a month earlier, John Howard was elected Prime Minister. Eight long years after he said it, the times finally suited him. The invented tradition of Anzac Day chimed in perfectly with his more strident view of Australian white history and the British tradition it sprung from. He also tapped into a growing nationalism based on “Aussie, Aussie” culture and the primacy of the flag. Anzac Day became bigger than ever.

I resisted most of these strains. Yet Gallipoli was growing on me. I read Les Carlyon’s wonderful history of the campaign and what struck me most, apart from the inevitable catalog of errors, was the number of Australian deaths. 643 in the first week, 1,805 through May, 265 in June, 143 in July, 2,054 in the August offensive with another 572 in the last four months. All across Australia that winter, people would have heard about the death of a father, brother, son, cousin or friend. This was Australia’s first major national tragedy since Federation in 1901 and it was this communal grief that the ANZAC committees tapped into as early as 25 April 1916.

The Anzac experience was compounded by events in Western Europe. Thousands more Australians would die in the horrible hell holes of Ypres and the Somme. Over 400,000 Australians enlisted in the First World War – almost two in five of the adult population between 18 and 44. 61,513 of them died (easily the largest of any conflict) and another 170,000 were injured or taken POW. In a country of four million people, it would be difficult to imagine anyone who wasn’t somehow affected by this catastrophe. Anzac Day was as good a way as any of honouring the memory of this harrowing experience.

This year, my job as a country reporter took me to two dawn services, the first in Roma and the second 40km away in the small town of Muckadilla. I hadn’t been to a dawn service since that first one in Melbourne in 1996 though I had attended a few of the parades. The formal part of the Roma and Muckadilla proceedings had not changed. “Shortly after 2am, three battleships, the Queen, the Prince of Wales and London reached their sea rendezvous off Gaba Tebe and stopped to lower their boats,” began the narrative of 95 years ago. The flag was lower and raised, the Ode was recited followed by a minute’s silence, the last post and the national anthem.

But beyond effigies of symbolism lay the meeting of real people. 250 people turned up in Roma, 42 in tiny Muckadilla, easily doubling its population. A bigger crowd still congregated back in Roma for the parade and another service. But for me it wasn’t the ritual that was important. It was what those people did and said to each other before and after the ceremonies that gave the day its power. It brought people together for a common theme if not a common purpose. Again as part of my job, I asked various people what Anzac Day meant to them. Almost all the answers were thoughtful and complex. Most remembered the deaths of family members or friends or people they knew about. If nothing else the Anzac tradition concentrates the mind wonderfully about mortality, and that for a day is no harm.

April 27, 2010 at 12:14 am Leave a comment

Time to ditch the Salary Cap

The fallout continues from the latest Australian rugby league salary cap breach which has seen champions Melbourne Storm hit with the largest punishment in the code’s history. The Storm were stripped of their 2007 and 2009 premierships, not allowed to compete for points this season, forced to return $1.1m in prize money and fined $500,000. Their breaches included $1.7m in salary over five years for the News Ltd owned team. News Ltd CEO John Hartigan has distanced himself from the fraud and former Club boss and now rugby Melbourne Rebels boss Brian Waldron has fallen on his sword as the supposed “architect” of the rorts. (photo:Getty)

However there are a lot of questions unanswered. As many commentators have pointed out, the case brings into question ownership of Australian sporting teams. There are also obvious conflicts of interest between News Ltd as owners and media reporting on the issue. It seems difficult to believe that senior administrators such as Hartigan are as innocent as they portray themselves especially as News have admitted it does not have a “satisfactory explanation” as to what the players’ agents knew and when.

But questions much also be asked about the efficacy of the salary cap system itself. None of this would have occurred if there was no salary cap and it has been of dubious benefit in keeping the competition open and clubs from falling into financial ruin. The salary cap is an American import. In the US sports administrators first brought in salary caps in the 1980s to avoid the ruinous escalation of player salaries and competitive imbalance leading to boring games. The positives also include the ability of smaller clubs able to keep their star players.

But some experts have viewed salary caps as a collusive resort by clubs to maximise league revenues by controlling labour costs at the expense of less competitive balance within the league. Although European football also has dangers of competitive imbalance and financial instability it never followed the American example. As the University of Zurich noted in a 2008 paper, The labour relations approach employed by the hermetic American major leagues is not feasible within the European association-governed football pyramid. Another key difference is European clubs are treated as win-maximisers and not as profit-maximisers in sports economics literature: Kesenne and Jeanrenaud argue the most important divergence between the USA and Europe is that American clubs are business-type companies seeking to make profits, whereas the only aim of most European clubs so far is to be successful on the field. However in recent years UEFA and the clubs have begun exploring options due to the general perception that competitive balance in European club football is declining and a large number of clubs are accumulating ever-increasing debt.

Like European football clubs, Australian sporting clubs were also considered win-maximisers for most of their existence. Matters began to change in the late 1980s as first Australian Rules and then Rugby League began to move to national competitions. In 1987 the then Victorian Football League (renamed to AFL in 1990) brought in the cap as the Brisbane Bears and West Coast Eagles joined the competition. Up to then the biggest Melbourne clubs Carlton, Essendon and Collingwood had dominated the competition and the salary cap was seen as an equalisation policy (as well as a means of ensuring the poorer Melbourne clubs would survive in a national setting).

The then NSW Rugby League competition (renamed NRL in 1995) also brought in a salary cap in 1990 after the Brisbane Broncos, Newcastle Knights and Canberra Raiders had taken the league beyond the Sydney suburbs. Unlike the AFL however, the NRL has to deal with the problem of players leaving to play in lucrative overseas markets but the league believes this is an acceptable price to stop richer clubs dominating. The problem is, however, it does not completely stop that domination. In the last 12 years, Melbourne and Brisbane have won three times each – and it is no coincidence both clubs are owned by News Ltd.

The fact remains that in both AFL and NRL codes the history of the cap has been most honoured in the breach. The new Sydney Swans breached the VFL cap in the very first season and were fined $20,000 for doubling the cap. In NRL there have been 13 known breaches in 20 years involving multiple clubs. In AFL there have been at least 16 breaches in the 23 years of its existence and there have also been breaches in the next level down including most recently in the South Australian SANFL when Norwood was fined $50,000 and excluded for 12 months from registering any players outside its promotional boundary zone after a serious breach of the 2008 cap.

Like many good ideas, the salary cap is one prone to the law of unintended consequences. As sport becomes big business, its owners and controllers will stop at nothing to achieve success. It is all too easy to avoid scrutiny and the Storm debacle was only uncovered by accident. In my view, it is time to remove the cap. It won’t affect lower income clubs who can barely reach the cap ceilings now and it will drive more honest behaviour in the big clubs and patrons will get to judge exactly how much their stars are earning. As in every other occupation, the market should be best judge of salaries not the administrators.

April 25, 2010 at 9:48 am 1 comment

Australian Government refuses to implement a Human Rights Act

The Australian Government finally issued its Human Rights Framework today after considering a consultation committee report for over six months and ending a process that started in December 2008. The Government is calling it a “framework” because it has gone against the recommendation of the national human rights consultation panel to introduce a new human rights act. McClelland said a human rights framework (pdf version) is more appropriate than legislation. “The Government believes that the enhancement of human rights should be done in a way that as far as possible unites rather than divides our community, and the framework is designed to achieve that outcome,” he said.

The head of the consultation panel, Jesuit priest and law professor Frank Brennan, was disappointed with the decision. He said he doubted if politicians will be sufficient faithful to framework obligations without judicial oversight. The Australian Human Rights Commission also criticised the Government’s response saying while it includes important steps to improve the understanding of human rights in Australia, it had missed the opportunity to create an adequate national system of protection. “The Government has missed the opportunity to provide comprehensive human rights protection for everyone in Australia through adopting a national Human Rights Act,” President of the Australian Human Rights Commission Cathy Branson said. Branson urged the Government to revisit the question of the Act as part of its 2014 review of the Framework.

According to The Australian, the reason McClelland refused to include a Human Rights Act was because of a rebellion within his own party. It said this was one of two contentious issues (introducing rules for judges that would have required them to interpret legislation in a way they believe is in accordance with human rights was the other) but did not reveal who in the party room was against these measures or why they opposed them.

Opposition spokesperson for legal affairs George Brandis called it a “humiliation” for McClelland. He said the Rudd Government wasted more than $2 million in promoting an idea which never had community support and only appealed to “a self-regarding elite of legal academics and activist judges.” Brandis said The Opposition has always opposed the bill of rights as “a dangerous and foolish idea”, which would have diminished parliament’s authority of Parliament and politicised the judiciary. “It would have been a Trojan horse to impose a left-wing social agenda on Australians without democratic legitimacy,” Brandis claimed.

According to McClelland’s media release the framework is based on five key principles. These are: a commitment to human rights obligations; the importance of human rights education; enhancing domestic and international engagement on human rights issues; improving human rights protections, including greater parliamentary scrutiny; and achieving greater respect for human rights principles within the community. McClelland said the Government would spend $12m on education initiatives and would establish a new Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights to scrutinise legislation for compliance with international human rights obligations.

In the blogosphere, reaction to the announcement was mostly scathing. Classical Liberal Andrew Norton agreed with the decision not to include a charter but said it would have focussed attention on which freedoms deserved to achieve semi-constitutional status and which were matters of ordinary political debate. Instead, he said, human rights would become subject to undemocratic treaties. Guy Beres said McClelland’s assertion an Act would be divisive is risible given how divisive the lack of one is. Kim at Larvatus Prodeo agrees with Beres and said the Act had been squibbed by the ALP’s “authoritarian streak, which seems particularly prominent in New South Wales.”

In the end this was political compromise of an ugly kind. While most Labor MPs were philosophically in favour of such an Act (especially knowing how its lack contributed to some of the worst excesses of the Howard administration), no one in Rudd’s kitchen cabinet was prepared to die in the trenches of marginal seats for it in an election year. In the end, it has been replaced by feel-good phrases, a rubber-stamp committee and an education campaign that has “failure” written all over it. Taxpayers can consider themselves lucky that just $12m will be wasted on it. We will have to wait until the 2014 review of a likely third-term Labor Government before something better is offered.

April 21, 2010 at 11:08 pm 1 comment

Federal Court to rule on The Australian’s terrorist leak source tomorrow

The Federal Court will reveal tomorrow whether it will allow Victorian Police name the source of the leak to The Australian’s journalist Cameron Stewart over last year’s Melbourne terrorist arrest operation. On 4 August 2009 the Australian printed Cameron Stewart’s exclusive. The article quoted Australian Federal Police commissioner Tony Negus saying the AFP had disrupted a “terrorist attack that could have claimed many lives”. Four men were arrested in Melbourne in Operation Neath after 400 police raided homes in the city’s northern suburbs. The four were said to have been inspired by Somalia’s Islamist Al Shabaab and about to attack a military base using semi-automatic weapons.

A great story, and Stewart had gotten the inside scoop. The Australian had learned of the operation a full week before it occurred and agreed to hold off on publication until the morning of the raid. But Victoria Police were incensed to find out the details of the operation hit the streets for the first run of the paper in the early hours of this morning and criticised it for potentially jeopardising a series of early morning raids, calling it an “unacceptable risk”. The Australian rejected the claim, saying the story was held up from early editions while the raids took place. According to the paper’s then editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell, “only papers that were sold at newsagents after the raid, and those destined for home delivery, had the raid story on page one.”

The online outlet Crikey later found out the edition with the story in it was available in some retail outlets at 1.30am, some three hours before the raid started. While few if any papers were purchased, thefts of papers outside agents are not uncommon and those that do buy papers at that time of the morning include taxi drivers, which happened to be the occupation of some of the suspects. So it is fair to say, the integrity of the operation could well have been jeopardized by The Australian’s actions. But it is also arguable the operation should have been brought forward as soon as the AFP realised its secrecy was compromised.

On 9 August the police corruption watchdog got involved. In a media release Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity commissioner Philip Moss announced they would investigate an alleged security breach relating to Operation Neath. The announcement said the ACLEI investigation was part of a coordinated response by State and Federal law enforcement and integrity agencies, including the Office of Police Integrity (Victoria). “ACLEI’s focus will relate to the involvement, if any, of members of the Australian Federal Police in the alleged security breach,” the release said.

In March, Stewart won the Gold Quill for outstanding journalism at the Melbourne Press Club’s annual Quill Awards dinner. In his acceptance speech for the award Stewart said he couldn’t speak about the incident due to reasons of legal confidentially. He painted the case as one of press freedom and said the lack of shield laws for sources and journalists was a disgrace. “What none of you know here is that it’s been a very, very difficult and ugly legal battle behind the scenes,” he said. “But let me tell you that it is a real fight in this country for press freedom because it is a very ugly battle that we face and I hope that every single person in this room does what they can to stand up for it.”

As a result of the ACLEI / OPI investigation, a Victorian policeman was identified as Stewart’s source and suspended for leaking the information. When ACLEI and OPI drafted a report into the source of the leak, The Australian won an injunction prohibiting its publication. The case currently before the courts attempts to overturn that injunction. However the two police forces involved have broken ranks. Margaret Simons in Crikey said last week court documents show ACLEI has cut a deal with The Australian and has agreed not to publish any of the information they have obtained about the newspaper during their investigation and will also allow The Australian to review any report it writes that refers to the paper or its employees.

The Victorian agency is understandably unhappy with its federal counterpart and going ahead with the request to overturn the injunction. Simons has been covering the case from the courtroom for the last few days using the Twitter hashtag #ozleak No-one is prepared to make a call on what way the court will judge. But the case does put into question dodgy practices in the media and police. Both Simons and Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes have publicly questioned whether Stewart deserved a high journalism accolade for his work on a story that could so easily have gone drastically wrong. Was it great work in the interest of the public’s right to know or merely “a policeman blabbing to a journo about a legitimate terrorist investigation” as Holmes put it? Either way, Stewart may find nasty repercussions if he is ever forced to confirm the source in a criminal investigation.

April 20, 2010 at 9:12 pm Leave a comment

West and Third World disagree on legitimacy of Sudan elections

International observers have disagreed on whether Sudan’s first multi-party elections in 24 years were free and fair. While western observers and media say the election falls “far short” of international standards, African and Middle Eastern observers say it was successful despite defects. The vote was held over five days last week and results have not yet been formally announced but President Omar al-Bashir and his National Congress Party are expected to win comfortably.
(photo: AFP)
Al-Bashir who took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989 is hoping to legitimise his rule ahead of war crimes charges from the international criminal court. The country’s national election commission said the election results due tomorrow would be delayed further. An election official told AFP they could not set a definite date because the count was a “complicated process”.

Counting of the votes began on Friday amid logistical snags and charges of fraud. The Sudanese National Elections Commission has said 60 percent out of 16 million voters cast ballots. The election was marred by an opposition boycott and the withdrawal of two presidential candidates, the Umma party’s Sadiq al-Mahdi and the former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement’s Yasser Arman. The NCP dominates the north of the country and currently rules alongside the SPLM as part of a peace deal that ended civil war in 2005, but there are significant tensions between the two parties.

The head of a 130-member EU observer mission in Sudan criticised the poll, saying there had been “significant deficiencies”. Veronique de Keyser said the organisation of elections represented a complex challenge. “Unfortunately…deficiencies in voters’ lists and weak organisation hindered the voters’ participation,” she said. “I am also concerned that polling was affected by intimidation and threats. De Keyser said that although the elections paved the way for democratic progress, it is essential shortcomings are addressed to achieve a genuine democratic environment for future elections.

The EU’s position was endorsed by monitors from the US Carter Centre, run by former US president Jimmy Carter. A statement from the centre said it was apparent that the elections will fall short of meeting international standards and Sudan’s obligations for genuine elections. “Unfortunately, many political rights and freedoms were circumscribed for most of this period, fostering distrust among the political parties,” the statement read. “Ultimately the success of the elections will depend on whether Sudan’s leaders take action to promote lasting democratic transformation.”

However Arab League observers said the election was a “big step forward” and will become “an example for other African and Arab countries”. The African Union also disagreed with the EU and Carter Centre assessments. The head of the AU observer’s mission, Kunle Adeyemi said it was not a perfect election but a historic one. “Looking into the fact this is a country that had not had a multi-party election for almost a generation…to say they are free and fair, to the best of our knowledge we have no reason to think the contrary,” Adeyemi said.

UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon was also upbeat about the success of the election. He welcomed efforts by the ruling parties in Sudan to enter dialogue with opposition candidates and parties. The UN said polls closed across Sudan today without any major violent incidents, although there were some reported cases of irregularities and opposition boycotts. In a statement, Ban said he “encourages all political actors in Sudan to tackle issues in a spirit of dialogue, towards a peaceful electoral outcome and ongoing implementation of the CPA [the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the north-south civil war]”.

That war is heading towards its inevitable conclusion next year. This is likely to be the last time Southern Sudan voters vote for their autonomous leaders within the Sudanese election. In January 2011 Southern Sudan votes on a referendum on full independence which most observers expect will be carried. However Juba, which is set to become the world’s newest capital city, has no landline telephones, no public transport, no power grid, no industry, no agriculture and few buildings. Growing fears over a post-Sudan split is leading Southern Sudan to build new trade routes. One ambitious plan calls for a high speed railway line from Juba to Tororo in Uganda which would cost $7 billion. This railway line could facilitate the movement of goods and people to and from Juba to any part of the wider East African region including Mombasa, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

April 19, 2010 at 10:45 pm Leave a comment

Cameraman takes the rap for Nine’s shoddy practices

On Wednesday last week, Channel Nine Melbourne sacked one of its news cameramen Simon Fuller after an incident on the streets with a man named Gad Amr on 1 April. On that day Gad’s son Omar Amr, 19, was released by Melbourne Magistrates Court on strict bail conditions after being accused of a riot in the suburb of Oakleigh last month in which drag-race fans trashed a Bob Jane T-Mart store. Amr and two fellow defendants Hussein Alameddine and Aziz Elbayehare are due to reappear in court on 27 July.
(photo: ABC)
The Oakleigh riot was instigated by the cancellation of a proposed Easter drag race at Calder Park which was sponsored by Bob Jane T-Marts. On 19 March Disappointed fans took to the streets to protest the decision but became violent when it came upon a Bob Jane T-Mart store in Oakleigh. The store was torched and looted and the owner was lucky to escape with minor injuries. Hundreds of drag racing fans trashed the store, broke windows and stole car parts from inside, forcing bystanders to flee for safety.

Although the three charged on 1 April were all middle-eastern, there was no suggestion the riot was in any way racially motivated. However it is likely the Amrs felt they were being unfairly treated as Channel Seven and Nine camera operators followed them down the street after their court appearance. Such behaviour by camera operators may be unedifying, but it is hardly unusual. The pedestrian parade is a staple of TV news court reporting usually with the suspect / victim covering their face as they walk away quickly from the camera.

It is difficult to say exactly why this case differed from the thousands like it that have taken place near Australian courthouses. Occasionally they turn violent if the victim feels the camera crews have taken too many liberties but mostly people just try to get away from the situation as quickly as they can. The situation is unlikely to change any time soon as news directors insist on footage from this charade as part of their court coverage. It was Channel Nine cameraman Simon Fuller’s job to follow the Amrs out of the court room and grab footage of Omar for that night’s news.

When confronted by Gad Amr and asked to stop filming, Fuller’s automatic reply was “I’m just doing my job”. Fuller was mostly right. In following Amr down the street he was doing his job. The question is whether he was “just” doing that. In the footage of the incident dissected by Media Watch Jonathan Holmes said “at most he needed a couple of shots of the pair. You’d think he’d have got enough by now.”

So why did Fuller keep shooting? It would appear from that moment on, it became personal for Amr and Fuller. Amr came close to Fuller as if threatening (this was the only footage of the incident shown by an opportunistic Channel Seven whose own camera operator was also following the action). Fuller became defensive saying “You don’t touch me” and “You don’t touch people” before retreating to his Nuremberg Defence of “We’re just doing our jobs.” As Holmes said “You don’t touch people. But it’s fine, apparently, to stick a camera in their faces for minutes on end while they walk down a public street.”

As the argument continued, it degenerated further into a swearing match. The son Omar, called Fuller “a fucking knuckle” to which Fuller replied “you fucking terrorist”. It is likely that this insult cost Fuller his job. After Media Watch got hold of the footage and contacted Channel Nine, they were told Fuller was “stood down pending the completion of an investigation”. Two days later he was sacked.

In my view, Fuller was a scapegoat. There was much he did wrong. He filmed the Amrs for too long but probably figured his employers would love the image of the aggressive middle easterners attacking an “innocent” media person. (The irony is that this is exactly what rivals Channel Seven and Ten did with the footage while Nine did not show any of it.) His racist attack on the Amrs of “fucking terrorist” was incredibly stupid and unsurprisingly provocative though the Amrs’ own behaviour (particularly the son Omar’s) in the incident was not beyond reproach either. However it could be argued Fuller’s obscenity was heat of the moment stuff that could have been dealt with a rebuke and a personal apology to the Amrs.

I believe Fuller is now unemployed not because he did all those things but because his behaviour was publicly revealed. He besmirched Nine not because he overstepped the mark but because he was caught making a racial slur. I very much doubt Channel Nine no longer condone camera operators “just doing their job” when they invade the privacy of people walking down the street. Individuals need to be responsible for their actions, but their employers must be clear about what is expected of them. Fuller, in my view, is a scapegoat for rotten corporate practices. Nine will feel good about themselves but they will continue to harass members of the public in the interest of news ratings.

For a vigorous rebuttal of my take on this, I am indebted to Jo White, an American-based Australian journalist, critic and researcher who goes by the online name of Mediamum. When I called Fuller a scapegoat on Twitter, White said he got what he deserved and it was people like him that gave journalists such a bad reputation. “What he did was unethical, reprehensible and about as bad as journalism gets,” wrote White. “He should have been sacked fifty times.” White said he got involved in the story, abused his position and denied the “terrorist” slur was a heat of the moment offence. “The problem is each Journalist should take responsibility for their own actions and not hide behind employers,” she wrote. “Sacking Fuller won’t solve the problem. But it gets rid of one albeit small representation of it.”

April 18, 2010 at 9:07 pm 6 comments

Obama gets a good start in Nuclear Security Summit

The Washington Nuclear Security Summit ended yesterday after two days with a 12 point communiqué and an agreement to meet again in 2012 in South Korea. The 47-nation summit agreed to lock up the world’s most vulnerable nuclear materials within four years to keep it out of terrorist hands. The communiqué said nuclear terrorism was one of the most challenging threats to international security and strong nuclear security measures were the most effective means to prevent “terrorist criminals or other unauthorized actors” from acquiring nuclear materials. The conference also issued a call to all nations to work collectively “to strengthen nuclear security and reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism.”

The conference follows in the footsteps of the recent US-Russia agreement to reduce nuclear weapons. The outcome will see an renewed role for the International Atomic Energy agency who will inspect sites where fissile material is stored (including in the US). Other positive outcomes include Chile, Ukraine and Mexico agreeing to ship out their entire stock of highly enriched uranium, which can be used in weapons. The Guardian judged the summit a reasonable success, partly thanks to a narrow focus on a field that is more technical than political.

However, the Christian Science Monitor said while the conference objectives were reassuring, a “global reality” will make the goal difficult. It said worldwide production of highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium is going to increase in coming years as civilian nuclear programs grow. Experts such as David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington see contradictions in the approach. Albright said France blocked limiting the production of separated plutonium, which is a core element of the French nuclear energy industry. But there were also successes including the US/Ukraine agreement to secure Kiev’s stockpile of highly enriched uranium and the North American agreement to remove Mexico’s supply of highly enriched uranium to the US for conversion to low-enriched uranium.

This was Obama’s first major international conference on home soil and he used the full force of his personality to bear on events. He held 15 bilateral meetings with regional leaders. Several European diplomats told the Washington Times the large number of attendees reflects Obama’s popularity abroad. Nuclear weapons were not a huge issue for many of those leaders and Obama’s challenge was to make them care about securing the military sites, research reactors and universities where nuclear materials are stored. “Coming into this summit, there were a range of views on this danger,” Obama said. “But at our dinner last night, and throughout the day, we developed a shared understanding of the risk.”

In the president’s closing speech Obama outlines four major planks to the agreement that came out of the meeting. Firstly he declared nuclear terrorism to be one of the most challenging threats to international security. To stop this threat, Obama said, requires action to protect nuclear materials and prevent nuclear smuggling. Secondly he said the conference had endorsed the US position to secure the world’s vulnerable nuclear materials within four years. Thirdly the conference reaffirmed the fundamental responsibility of nations to secure its nuclear materials and facilities. Lastly it acknowledged international cooperation was required to maintain effective security.

Security was quite effective at the conference itself with almost 50 world leaders in attendance. However not everyone was happy about it, with Dana Milbank in the Washington Post complaining of excessive media management. Most sessions were closed to the press, foreign media were given short shrift and no questions were allowed in bilateral meetings with only anodyne readouts available. It wasn’t until the end of the conference that Obama allowed tough questions from his own media corps, including pointing out the nonproliferation agreements weren’t binding, the failure to curb North Korea’s weapons, and the notable absence from the conference of nuclear rogue state Israel.

But the most notable questions were about Iran. According to Tony Karon in Time the goals of the summit were so modest it could hardly have failed. Karon says the real action took place off the main stage with Obama doing one-on-one lobbying with world leaders over sanctions against Iran. Neither Russia nor China seem prepared to support the US on the matter. China in particular as Iran’s largest energy partner is reluctant to support measures such as shutting down investment in the energy sector, blocking access to international credit or punishing companies associated with the Revolutionary Guard. China and Russia’s veto powers seem destined to defeat any significant move to hobble Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

April 14, 2010 at 10:23 pm Leave a comment

Older Posts


wordpress stats plugin Creative Commons License
This work by Woolly Days is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia License.

Twitter feed

  • @PeterPyke no worries. thanks for the reply 12 hours ago
  • "Britain should not be surprised if the enthusiasm for this dream... gives the yes camp a narrow victory" theguardian.com/commentisfree/… 1 day ago
  • Hmm. Someone landed on my website on a search for "are there any semi-naked pictures of enda kenny?" Sorry buddy, can't help you there 1 day ago
  • RT @conradhackett: Global military spending US 37% China 11% Russia 5% S Arabia 4% UK 3% Japan 3% India 3% Brazil 2% Turkey 1% UAE 1% http… 1 day ago
  • @PeterPyke Hi this is Derek from the Gatton Star. Just wondering how much of the Laidley school fire you saw? 1 day ago

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers