Saturday, January 01, 2005

Questionable Donors

The BBC offers a fascinating account of why some offers of international aid aren't worth the press release they're written on ...
And son it was in December 1973 when Her Majesty's diplomatic staff in the Ugandan capital of Kampla telegrammed London to pass on an offer to save the UK from financial ruin from General Idi Amin Dada.

By the end of his reign Amin had fallen out with Britain and given himself the title of Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.

But in 1973 he was still trying to ingratiate himself with the former imperial power.
Amin - whose penchant for irritating the British sometimes went to bizarre lenghts - had already declared himself the King of Scotland (Her Majesty was not amused) and went about dressed in a kilt. Of course, he was also a murderous, ruthless dictator whose reign killed hundreds of thousands of Ugandans. Nevertheless, he generously established the "Save Britain Fund" with 10,000 Uganda Shillings and then offered the British "one lorry load of vegetables and wheat," so long as the British would send a plane to collect it. When the British frostily ignored this offer, Amin denounced Britain. A month of so later the fickle dictator offered to help broker a peace agreement in Northern Ireland. Downing Street tried to put a positive, yet condescendingly British, spin on the proposal.
"As the general's messages go, this is one of his more lucid and, although it is as preposterous as one might expect, the acting high commissioner believes that it was sent with the best of intentions," the prime minister was informed.
Surprisingly, the UN did not jump at the chance to administer Amin's "Save Britain Fund."

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Australia's Baby Blues

Australia has a problem. The problem threatens to undermine Australia's economy, pension system, future political stability, and perhaps fundamentallty change its national character. Europe and - to a lesser extent - the US face the same problem. Australians aren't having enough babies, writes Sarah MacDonald on the BBC.
The Australian population recently passed the 20 million mark. In order to replace ourselves we need every woman to have an average of 2.1 children. We're only producing 1.7 and that is predicted to be less than 1.6 by 2010.
But Australia's leaders, unlike their European and American counterparts, are at least willing to talk about their problem.
Prime Minister John Howard uses phrases such as "Come on, come on, your nation needs you" and his treasurer is even bossier. While releasing the annual budget in May - which included a cash baby bonus for all new mothers - Peter Costello smirked and cajoled the women of Australia with the words:

"If you can have children, you should have one for your husband, one for the wife and one for the country."

The treasurer and prime minister's prominent conservative colleague Malcolm Turnbull has long been warning us we risk extinction if we don't hurry up and procreate.
Immigration has taken some of the edge off Australia's baby dearth, allowing the overall population to continue to rise even as the number of children declines. But the consequences of a society that produces fewer and fewer of itself is becoming evident to many Aussies, Ms. MacDonald writes.
Australia likes to see itself as a young vibrant nation, but the truth is - because of the decline in birth rate and an increase in life expectancy - our population is noticeably aging.

I just had a summer holiday near a popular beach town and was amazed at the way the area was changing. Aqua-aerobics for the elderly, bingo nights, card clubs and ballroom dancing dominated the town's activities.
The reasons for the fall in Australian fertility are the same as those lowering birth rates around the world: increasing wealth and education.
The reasons Australian women are having fewer babies are many, varied and complex. Of course, one major reason is that they can. Women have control over their fertility.

There's a global trend that illustrates the more educated women are, the higher the income they earn and the fewer children they have. In Australia many woman are waiting to have kids until they feel established in their careers.

Combine this with the social trend that extends our adolescence and states that 30 is the new 20 and 40 the new 30 and you can see why the average age of marriage has risen to 27.
Ms. MacDonald observes that Australia and the US stand as the only industrial nations that have not mandated minimum paid maternity leave. She also laments the lack of affordable child care. Yet, the developed nations that have such mandatory paid maternity leave and provide government sponsored child care fare no better in encouraging their populations to replace themselves. Europe, which has enshrined such ideas into its social welfare system, faces even more dramatic decreases in fertility (among native European groups). Europe only produces 1.5 births per woman; should this trend continue, researchers say that Europe's population may contract by 88 million excluding immigration by 2050. Thus, a generous social policy doesn't seem to have much impact on fertility rates.

The catastrophic effect of dangerously low fertility combined with an ever-increasing elderly population on social welfare systems has attracted the attention of even the UN. At a 2002 UN conference in Madrid, Anna Diamantopoulou, social affairs commissioner for the European Union, warned that "a higher birth rate would be needed to counter an 'alarming' rise in the proportion of elderly people." Ms. Diamantopoulou chided European nations for allowing their birth rates to fall "out of balance" and told the conference: "The first problem is that we are not replacing our populations, with low birth rates causing a growing distortion in our demographic structures."

Ms. MacDonald observes that some have blamed feminism for Australia's baby bust.
Some prominent Australians - including women - are blaming feminism for our fertility problems. Last year broadcaster Virginia Haussegger wrote an article in the Melbourne Age newspaper about what she called her "sad, barren state". It's still being discussed and dissected.

She said motherhood was presented to her generation as a handicap and a hindrance.

She was angry that she took the word of feminist mothers who she says told her she could have it all when they should have been warning her about the biological clock.

Sher was called "petulant, a brat, and shameful," but she also got appreciative letters from women who felt as angry as she did.
Similar arguments have occured in the US, where many women who put off having children until their late thirties and forties have suddenly discovered the harsh biological realities resulting from that decision. Life is based on compromises and trade-offs; philosophies that claim one can "have it all" usually fail to deliver, because we live only so long, aging limits are abilties, and one can only do some many things at once..

But what of the Australian government's efforts to encourage Aussie parents to have more children? Paying bonuses to couples who have more children is an idea with a longer pedigree than Mr. Howard may know. Augustus Caesar, worried over the falling birth rate amongst Romans, tried much the same thing two millenia ago. Appalled by the prevalence of immorality amongst Romans, and the limiting of family size, especially among the patrician class, Augustus imposed a fusillade of legislation know as the Julian laws (since Augustus had been adopted into the Julian family). Adultery became a crime; men under sixty and women under fifty were required to marry - or face severe financial penalties; patricians were forbidden to marry from certain lower classes; in government appointments men with large families were favored over those with smaller families; women who bore three or more children were entitled to financial and social benefits from the imperial government.

The result? According to historian Will Durant,
The laws were loosely drawn, and recalcitrants found many loopholes. Some men married to obey the law and divorced their wives soon afterwards; others adopted children to secure offices or legacies and then "emancipated" - i.e. dismissed - them. Tacitus, a century later, pronounced the laws a failure; "marriages and the rearing of children did not become more frequent so powerful are the attractions of a childless state." ... Augustus himself doubted the efficacy of his laws, and agreed with Horace that laws are vain when hearts are unchanged.
Augustus, anticipating Pat Buchanan among others, finally concluded that only religious revival and a return to traditional morality would stem the tide of immorality and family decay that he felt threatend Roman fecundity. To that end, he encouraged religious devotion, lavished state funds on temples and religious celebrations, and banned Egyptian and Asian cults thought to be subversive to the Roman pantheon. Under these auspices, religion practice increased amongst the Romans, but the effect on Roman fertility seems minimal. Within a generation of Augustus's death, Durant notes,
The Gracchi had been a family of twelve children; probably not five families of such abundance could be found in Nero's age in patrician or equestrian Rome. Marriage, which had once been a lifelong economic unjon, was now among a hundred thousand Romans a passing adventure of no great spiritual significane, a loose contract for the mutual provision of physiological conveniences or political aid. To escape testatory disabilities of the unmarried some women took eunuchs as contraceptive husbands; some entered into sham wedlock with poor men on thge understanding that the wife need bear no children and might have as many lover as she pleased. Contraception was practiced in both its mechanical and chemical foprms. If these methods failed there were many ways of procuring abortion. Philosophers and the law condemned it, but the finest families practiced it.
Nevertheless, Durant says, "the infertility of the moneyed classes was so offset by immigration [to Rome from the provinces] and the fecundity of the poor, that the population of Rome and the Empire continued to grow." The ancient families of Rome disappeared; in their place, gradually stepped "Roman businessmen, Italian municipal dignitaries, and provincial nobles" who, in their turn fell victim to the same practices that had erroded the Roman patriciate and were eventually replaced by other immigrants from the Eastern Greek-speaking portions of the Empire.

The Roman experience aside, other contemporary societies are quietly trying to increase the number of children they produce. Last year, Hong Kong announced that it would alter its tax policies to encourage families to have more children. Hong Kong also announced that it would admit new immigrants based on the financial assets and they potential skills each immigrant could bring to the territory." We want to upgrade the quality of the population," Donald Tsang, chief secretary to Hong Kong's administration told the New York Times. Though Hong Kong, "remains one of the most crowded cities on earth, it has become concerned with a steep decline in its birth rate," the Times noted. "On average, 10 women here give birth to a total of just 9 babies in their lifetimes, compared with the 21 babies that would typically be needed for a self-sustaining population." The Times reported Hong Kong's policy changes in neutral language. If the US government had announced such a program, one doubts the Times would have shown such objectivity.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Rising China Threatens Taiwan

Beijing, never content at oppressing the mere 1.2 billion already under its rule, continues to hurl ominous threats at the breakaway province of Taiwan.
China said on Monday its armed forces had a "sacred responsibility" to crush moves towards independence by Taiwan, whatever the cost, and described relations with the island as "grim".

The warning followed Beijing's announcement this month that it would submit an "anti-secession" bill to the National People's Congress next March.

The Communist government of China has repeated threatened the small island nation, terrified apparently, that the Taiwanese people should have the right to determine their own future. But, this is hardly surprising since no communist government can tolerate the existence of freedom and the rule of law anywhere, but particularly not on its own border. China's incessent stream of threats has become more worrying in recent years because of Bejing's rising economic strength, which will permit it to modernize its armed forces. Taiwan fields barely a fraction of China's military might, but its weaponery has mostly been purchased from the US. American technology has permitted the smaller Taiwanese military to present a much greater challenge to China's oxymoronically named People's Liberation Army (PLA). However, China is moving to change that.

Monday's defence white paper, the fifth to be published since 1995, said: "Should the Taiwan authorities go so far as to make a reckless attempt that constitutes a major incident of 'Taiwan independence', the Chinese people and armed forces will resolutely and thoroughly crush it at any cost."

The PLA navy was focusing on training amphibious combat forces, while the airforce was continuing to switch its emphasis from territorial defence of China to both "offensive and defensive operations", the paper said.

Both amphibious landings and the projection of air power across the ocean would be prerequisites for an operation against Taiwan.

The paper also emphasised the need for China to continue pruning its armed forces into a smaller, more skilled and technologically advanced force. "The PLA . . . aims at building qualitative efficiency instead of a mere quantitative scale, and transforming the military from a manpower-intensive one to a technology-intensive one," the paper said.

Bejing has looked abroad for aid in augmenting its military technology.

Beijing has been lobbying the European Union to lift its arms embargo on China, in place since the killings near Tiananmen Square, a move Washington has interpreted as an attempt to counterbalance the potential weapons sale to Taiwan. The Pentagon has reacted angrily to EU moves to lift the ban.

In addition to the navy and airforce, the white paper also focused on the PLA's "second artillery force", which is responsible for China's nuclear deterrent and its growing conventional missile armoury.

The combination of all three, says the paper, is aimed at "winning both command of the sea and command of the air, and conducting strategic counter-strikes".

That Europe, which has enjoyed the protection of American military might for almost six decades, would consciously decide to undermine the US military by selling advanced weaponry to an American rival - especially a repressive, totalitarian rival against which the US may very well find itself waging war - should be interpreted as nothing short of an openly hostile act by the EU against the US. A betrayal of massive proportions - not merely of the US, but of every democratic principle that the EU purports to espouse. Washington has strongly protested.

Washington said that the prospect that its Pacific forces could be threatened by advanced European weapons sold to China was unacceptable and that lifting the embargo would lead to restrictions on American co-operation with Europe on defence issues.

“We can’t countenance the notion of advanced European weapons technology finding its way into the People’s Army and threatening our forces in the region, or Taiwan,” a US government official told The Times. “It is very close to the bone for us. It is not at all in the EU’s interest to lift the arms embargo.”

At an EU-China summit in The Hague, Jan Peter Balkenende, the Dutch Prime Minister, will tell Wen Jiabao, his Chinese counterpart, that Europe has agreed in principle to end the embargo once China improves its human rights record and the EU has agreed a new code of conduct for arms sales.

The embargo has become one of the most sensitive geo-political issues, with the United States worried that its European allies will be arming a country that it sees as a potential military rival. The US and EU each imposed an arms embargo after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 but France and Germany have been pressing to end it to boost sales for their defence industries and to improve relations with Beijing.

If the EU carries through on its planned arms sale to China, the US should immediately end transatlantic military cooperation, not merely impose an embargo. The day US allies seek to arm an enemy of the US in defiance of American pleas - particularly an enemy that can attack US soil - those nations cease to be allies. Should Europe go through with this policy, the NATO alliance should be dissolved, American troops and equipment brought home from Europe, and the American nuclear umbrella retracted. Moreover, the EU should be advised that should the weapons it sells to China be used against the US, the EU will be held militarily responsible.

The Bush administration has made no pronounced effort to confront the rising threat from China, which is likely only to encourage Chinese ambitions. While Washington remains occupied chasing RPG-wielding thugs in Mosul and Baghdad, China has brilliantly manipulated its trade relationship with the US into a cash cow bringing home hundreds of billions in American dollars to fuel its military acquistions, research and ulimately geopolitical ambitions.