April 20th, 2010

[BRIEF NOTE] On the Soviet support for Argentina in the Falklands War

The news that the Soviet Union may have lent intelligence support to Argentina during the Falklands War didn't really surprise me.

As it fought the British task force in the struggle for the Falklands, Argentina was receiving help from the Soviet Union, a Russian writer has claimed.

Moscow made an unlikely ally for the right-wing junta that had occupied the islands but the journalist Sergei Brilev has uncovered evidence that the Soviet Union was spying on the British at the height of the 1982 conflict.

He concluded in a recent book that the Kremlin came close to thwarting the Falklands expedition and the career of Margaret Thatcher by passing vital intelligence to the Argentina Air Force from Soviet satellitespositioned over the war zone.

Mr Brilev interviewed former KGB and Red Army generals who confirmed that Moscow was tracking the Royal Navy around the Falklands during the war. He told The Times: “The exact data passed is still classified but there are coincidences of chronology that show that several Argentine successes may have been the result of what the Soviets provided.”

A satellite launched on May 15 was particularly helpful as British troops were landing and coming under constant attack infrom Argentine jets at San Carlos Bay, known as “bomb alley”. Argentine missiles sunk HMS Coventry and the support ship Atlantic Conveyor on May 25, raising fears in London of a catastrophic military defeat if more vessels went down and the task force could not support the soldiers on the ground.

“Argentina did not have the intelligence capability to track those ships. It’s quite possible that they got the co-ordinates from the Soviets,” said Mr Brilev.

The Soviet satellites may also have played a role in the war’s most controversial incident, the sinking of the General Belgrano by a British submarine with the loss of 368 lives. Mr Brilev said that Norway intercepted Soviet satellite photographs showing the Belgrano’s position and passed them to Britain as a Nato ally.“So it may have been the USSR that helped the British to hit the Belgrano,” said Mr Brilev, who is an anchor and deputy director of the Rossiya state television channel in Moscow.

While the Kremlin hoped to damage Britain as a Nato enemy, Mr Brilev suggested a more basic reason for its support of the right-wing junta. Argentina was one of only two countries that ignored an embargo on exports of key foodstuffs to the struggling Soviet economy after Moscow’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

“The commercial interchange reached $2 billion (£1.3 billion), which was a fantastically big sum at that time. The USSR owed them something,” he said.

Rachel Schmidt's 1989 excellent survey of Argentina's relationship with the two Cold War superpowers makes the very critical point that even a radical left-wing Argentina wouldn't welcome that much Soviet influence. Peronism is an ideology that opposed the West and the East in the Cold War, after all, and was strongly attached to the Non-Aligned Movement. Argentina under the junta certainly wasn't a radical left-wing country, for all that the generals were willing to make use of the Soviets (and the Soviets, likewise). Besides, Argentina has a very long history of seeing itself as a Great Power, a rival to Brazil and Chile, independent of the Northern Hemisphere powers, and a force in the world. That self-conception might have changed now, in the wake of Argentina's economic decline and Buenos Aires' signing onto a secondary position in Brazil's continental plans, but again, the generals were strongly attached to that vision of Argentina.

So, grateful that the Argentines exported enough food to keep the Soviet citizenry happy, the Soviets returned the favour by supplying the Argentines with the satellite data necessary for them to give a bloody nose to one of their principle Cold War antagonists. What's surprising about that?

[BRIEF NOTE] On Argentine Antarctica

This map, originally from here, is a map of "Argentina showing all the territories recognized by that country's government as their own," including the Falklands and the various territories in Antarctica. As Wikipedia has it, Argentine Antarctica comprises a territory of nearly a million square kilometres, including the relatively hospitable Antarctica Peninsula and a triangle extending to the South Pole, this area in turn being one of the departments of Argentina's Tierra del Fuego Province.

Argentina's claims to this vast territory, based on its geographical proximity to the South American continent, have made it a rival of Chile and the United Kingdom, nearly fighting a war with Chile in the Tierra del Fuego region on the South American mainland in 1977 and actually fighting a war with the United Kingdom in 1982.

In many ways, Argentina has been heavily committed to the idea of the colonization of the Antarctic continent. From the early 20th century on, accepted Argentine opinion has seen the country as a tri-continental country, including South American, Antarctic, and South Atlantic islands territories. Canada has a similar conception of itself as an Arctic nation, and has lately become concerned with exerttng its active control over the region via "Arctic sovereignty" missions. Unlike Canada, however, Argentina's claims have been actively contested by its South Atlantic neighbours, not by Chile now with the 1980s reconciliation between the two countries but still with the United Kingdom concerning maritime boundaries with the Falkland Islands.

[LINK] "The Coming Tide of Global Climate Lawsuits"

Rachel Morris' Wired Science article describes a very interesting approach to fighting climate change: get the vulnerable countries to sue the better-off ones.

The Prunerov power station is the Czech Republic’s biggest polluter: Its 300-foot-high cooling towers push plumes of white smoke high above the flat, featureless fields of northern Bohemia. Prunerov reliably wins a place on lists of Europe’s dirtiest power plants, emitting 11.1 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. So when CEZ Group, the state-controlled utility, proposed an overhaul to extend the facility’s life for another quarter of a century, protests flared — including one from a place about as far from the sooty industrial region as you can get, a place of tropical temperatures and turquoise seas with not a smokestack in sight. This January, the Federated States of Micronesia, some 8,000 miles away in the Pacific Ocean, lodged a legal challenge to the Prunerov plant on the grounds that its chronic pollution threatens the island nation’s existence.

Is that, well — legal, you might ask? In international law, there’s an established principle called transboundary harm, which means that if a Canadian factory belches toxic chemicals into a river, fouling a reservoir in Vermont, sooner or later the people at the Canadian factory will be hearing from some American lawyers. For the first time, Micronesia applied this tenet to climate change — arguing that its survival is jeopardized by any large power plant that doesn’t curb its carbon footprint. “They’re using a very creative approach to the international legal process,” says Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.

A groundbreaking transnational legal action might sound like a tall order for a country of 107,000 people whose most high-profile endeavor to date has been hosting the 16th season of Survivor.

Yet Micronesia has incentives to get innovative. NASA satellite maps show that the nation inhabits the spot where sea levels are rising most rapidly. For the past three years, abnormally high tides have assailed the islands, souring the soil and salting the aquifer, making it impossible to grow taro, one of the country’s few staple foods. Last year, the government declared a national emergency and spent more than 7 percent of its budget of $42 million to ferry bags of rice and drinking water to its low-lying islands. Professor Charles Fletcher, a geologist from the University of Hawaii who has conducted research in Micronesia, said, “This is the first situation I’m aware of where sea-level rise has led to threats to food and water security.”

[. . .]

Environmental lawyers point to several possibilities for international claims. Countries affected by oceanic changes could seek redress using the Convention on the Law of the Sea, although it can’t be used against the United States — which hasn’t ratified the treaty. A nation could go after a polluter in the International Court of Justice on the grounds that its citizens’ human rights would be violated if their country were wiped off the map — but, again, the United States is not a signatory, and the ICJ is somewhat toothless.

A number of lawyers told me that the most promising avenue might be the common-law doctrine used in the Kivalina case. Any nation could sue a U.S. company in U.S. court for a “nuisance” caused by climate change — Tuvalu v. ExxonMobil, if you will. And a couple of island nations that were once American protectorates, like Micronesia and Palau, have legal compacts with the United States that give them more powerful tools: They could potentially sue a company or even a government agency, using domestic statutes such as the Clean Air Act.


[LINK] "Pastor keeping the faith - when there’s little hope in sight"

As part of its ongoing coverage of the reconstruction projects in the southern Haitian city of Jacmel, the Globe and Mail recently featured an article by Jessica Leeder describing how one local church, notwithstanding its large number of parishoners and long history, has found itself stymied because of its independence. No one, it seems has an interest in helping them.

It has become routine for worshippers at the Église Baptiste Stricte to stroll right past the doors of the ancient church and into the backyard.

Their pews have been set out there for months, propped up beneath a patchwork of tarps on an uneven foundation of stone, brick and cement that anchored a couple of houses before they collapsed.

The church, which stands sentry to Jacmel’s beloved heritage district, had been home to 165 years’ worth of Sunday prayers before the evening of Jan. 12. When the earthquake that night fractured half of Jacmel, a good portion of the church caved, too.

No one was killed in the crush, but it sent the church’s slight, 50-year-old pastor, Dieucin Marcelin, into a panic over how he will protect the ministry he’s been building up for 15 years.

[. . .]

Their church has more than 1,000 local members, a rich history as the first Protestant church in the region, and links with more than 100 smaller churches in Haiti. What it does not have, crucially, is a strong link with any of the big American churches that specialize in post-disaster bailouts.

Pastor Marcelin seems to be at a loss for how to get one. It keeps him awake at night, and prompts him to ask everyone he can for help – money, publicity, lists of foreign Baptist organizations. Still, he can’t seem to make the connection that will help begin to pay for the $700,000 (U.S.) his congregation needs to fix their crumbled heritage structure.

“We have no help at all,” Pastor Marcelin said, despondent during a recent interview. “We are doing what we can with what we have … but we have no type of help. We would like to take this opportunity to open many doors, for foreigners – United States or France or Canada – for other countries to come help us, so we can have the means.”

What he would also like to do is broaden the church’s reach into the community by adding health and youth programs. He would also like to fix up a school across town that is affiliated with the church, most of the buildings for which have been spray painted with the fateful red-circled dot that indicates a need for outright demolition.

[LINK] "Neanderthals may have interbred with humans"

Wow. Thanks to The Loom's Carl Zimmer for the very useful link.

Neanderthals may be gone but they're not forgotten — at least not in the human genome. A genetic analysis of nearly 2,000 people from around the world indicates that such extinct species interbred with the ancestors of modern humans twice, leaving their genes within the DNA of people today.

The discovery, presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on 17 April, adds important new details to the evolutionary history of the human species. And it may help explain the fate of the Neanderthals, who vanished from the fossil record about 30,000 years ago. "It means Neanderthals didn't completely disappear," says Jeffrey Long, a genetic anthropologist at the University of New Mexico, whose group conducted the analysis. There is a little bit of Neanderthal leftover in almost all humans, he says.

The researchers arrived at that conclusion by studying genetic data from 1,983 individuals from 99 populations in Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Sarah Joyce, a doctoral student working with Long, analyzed 614 microsatellite positions, which are sections of the genome that can be used like fingerprints. She then created an evolutionary tree to explain the observed genetic variation in microsatellites. The best way to explain that variation was if there were two periods of interbreeding between humans and an archaic species, such as Homo neanderthalensis or H. heidelbergensis.

"This is not what we expected to find," says Long.

Using projected rates of genetic mutation and data from the fossil record, the researchers suggest that the interbreeding happened about 60,000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean and, more recently, about 45,000 years ago in eastern Asia. Those two events happened after the first H. sapiens had migrated out of Africa, says Long. His group didn't find evidence of interbreeding in the genomes of the modern African people included in the study.

The researchers suggest that the population from the first interbreeding went on to migrate to Europe, Asia and North America. Then the second interbreeding with an archaic population in eastern Asia further altered the genetic makeup of people in Oceania.

If this is true, it leaves me feeling, well, a bit happier. At least there's something left of our sister (sub?)species.

[DM] "Vojvodina's ethnic homogenization as a 21st century paradigm"

I've a post up taking a look at how the Serbian autonomous province of Vojvodina is becoming increasingly homogeneously Serb by population, thanks to assimilation and migration and whatnot, and suggest that the processes of a still famously multicultural Vojvodina are pioneering, really, comparable processes in other multicultural areas past the demographic transition.