Friday, February 13, 2009

Libertarian on Antarctica Cooling and Warming

Climate Scientists Blow Hot and Cold, by Patrick J. Michaels
Cato, February 12, 2009

Just about every major outlet has jumped on the news: Antarctica is warming up.
Most previous science had indicated that, despite a warming of global temperatures, readings from Antarctica were either staying the same or even going down.

The problem with Antarctic temperature measurement is that all but three longstanding weather stations are on or very near the coast. Antarctica is a big place, about one-and-a-half times the size of the US. Imagine trying to infer our national temperature only with stations along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, plus three others in the interior.

Eric Steig, from University of Washington, filled in the huge blanks by correlating satellite-measured temperatures with the largely coastal Antarctic network and then creating inland temperatures based upon the relationship between the satellite and the sparse observations. The result was a slight warming trend, but mainly at the beginning of the record in the 1950s and 1960s. One would expect greenhouse effect warming from carbon dioxide to be more pronounced in recent years, which it is not.

There's actually very little that is new here. Antarctic temperatures do show a warming trend if you begin your study between 1957, when the International Geophysical Year deployed the first network of thermometers there, and the mid-1960s. Studies that start after then find either cooling or no change.

Steig and his colleagues didn't graph the data for the continent as a whole. Instead they broke it into two pieces: the east and west Antarctic ice sheet regions. A naïve reader would give equal weight to both. In fact, in the east, which is much larger, there is clearly no significant warming in the last several decades. When the results are combined, the same old result reappears, namely that the "warming" is driven by years very early in the record, and that the net change since the early 1970s is insignificant.

The reaction to this study by Steig and his co-authors is more enlightening than its results. When Antarctica was cooling, some climate scientists said that was consistent with computer models for global warming. When a new study, such as Steig's, says it's warming, well that's just fine with the models, too. That's right: people glibly relate both warming and cooling of the frigid continent to human-induced climate change.

Perhaps the most prominent place to see how climatologists mix their science with their opinions is a blog called, primarily run by Gavin Schmidt, one of the computer jockeys for Nasa's James Hansen, the world's loudest climate alarmist.

When studies were published showing a net cooling in recent decades, RealClimate had no problem. A 12 February 2008 post noted: "We often hear people remarking that parts of Antarctica are getting colder, and indeed the ice pack in the southern ocean around Antarctica has actually been getting bigger. Doesn't this contradict the calculations that greenhouse gases are warming the globe? Not at all, because a cold Antarctica is just what calculations predict ... and have predicted for the past quarter century."

A co-author of Steig's paper (and frequent blogger on RealClimate), Penn State's Michael Mann, turned a 180 on Antarctic cooling. He told Associated Press: "Now we can say: No, it's not true. ... [Antarctica] is not bucking the trend."

So, Antarctic cooling and warming are both now consistent with computer models of dreaded global warming caused by humans.

In reality, the warming is largely at the beginning of the record — before there should have been much human-induced climate change. New claims that both warming and cooling of the same place are consistent with forecasts isn't going to help the credibility of climate science, and, or reduce the fatigue of Americans regarding global warming.

Have climate alarmists beaten global warming to death? The Pew Research Centre recently asked over 1,500 people to rank 20 issues in order of priority. Global warming came in dead last.

We can never run the experiment to see if indeed it is the constant hyping of this issue that has sent it to the bottom of the priority ladder. But, as long as scientists blog on that both warming and cooling of the coldest place on earth is consistent with their computer models, why should anyone believe them?

Building a Modern Military: The Economic Crisis and its Impact on the Chinese People’s Liberation Army

Building a Modern Military: The Economic Crisis and its Impact on the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. By Kristen Gunness
The Brookings Institution, Feb 12, 2009

February 2009 — Over the past year there has been much speculation as to the impact of the global economic crisis on China. Debates range from concerns over domestic stability and the Chinese Communist Party’s ability to rule, to what China’s role should be in helping the international community to “solve” the crisis. However, little attention has been given to the impact of the economic crisis on China’s national defense, or to its potential impact on the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) ability to continue to reach its lofty, and costly, modernization goals.

The recently issued White Paper on “China’s National Defense in 2008” describes some of these modernization goals, aimed at producing a force capable of fighting “local wars under informatized conditions.” They include improving military training, continued emphasis on personnel development, particularly in the officer corps, more cost-effective logistics support, improved integrated equipment support, and greater emphasis on information technology and building of military information systems.[1] In addition, China has entered an era in which its expanding role in the international community, as both a regional and global leader, is forcing the PLA out of its traditional comfort zones and into increasingly complex and challenging activities at home and abroad. The most recent of these activities is the deployment of Chinese navy ships to the Horn of Africa, to participate in a multinational counter-piracy effort.[2] The PLA has also sent troops abroad on various peacekeeping operations in Africa. On the domestic front, the PLA has been called to the aid of the Chinese people in times of disaster and emergency, as with the March 2007 snowstorms and the Sichuan earthquake in May 2008.[3]

The stakes are high for these missions: the international and domestic spotlight is squarely on the PLA. However, success for these and other operations depends on the PLA’s ability to man, train, and equip the military with what it needs to accomplish the mission, as well as on its ability to sustain operations and mobilize national assets in support of emergency relief and military contingencies. All of this presumes a certain level of domestic stability, funding, and access to resources.

What are the potential impacts of China’s changing economic environment on the PLA, and in particular on its ability to continue along a path of successful military modernization? While a truly complete answer to this question would require a longer article, there are three areas in particular where the economic crisis has the potential to affect the PLA: the defense budget, domestic unrest, and civil-military relations.

The Economic Crisis and China’s Defense Budget

China’s economic situation appears to be worsening as the global crisis deepens. According to recent estimates, China’s real GDP growth from January-September 2008 was 9.9%, 2.3% lower than the same period in 2007, and predictions for the results of 2008 show GDP growth slowing from 11.9% in 2007 to 9.8%. Analysts also predict that in 2009 GDP growth could drop further, to 8.4%.[4] China’s export sector has also suffered, with China’s official Xinhua News Agency reporting that Chinese exports had fallen sharply in the first half of 2008, and that half of China’s toy exporters had closed their doors.[5] In November 2008 the Chinese government announced a whopping $586 billion stimulus package focused on a host of domestic issues such as infrastructure construction, the public health system, education, welfare benefits, and subsidized housing.[6]

China’s slowing GDP growth and spending on stimulus packages—not to mention the money the CCP must increasingly put toward other daunting socioeconomic issues such as environmental pollution, poverty, and pension programs—begs the question of whether China can continue to maintain double digit increases in defense spending as it has over the past several years. The current economic crisis raises the prospect of the PLA becoming the victim of a “guns versus butter” debate.

In March 2008 the PRC announced a 17.6% increase in its defense budget and now spends, according to official figures, $59 billion a year. This followed an average annual increase of 15.8% from 2003 to 2007. The defense budget is only 1.4% of China’s GDP, again according to official figures. [7] U.S. estimates, published in the 2007 Annual Report to Congress on the Military Power of the People’s Republic of China, place China’s military spending at the higher figure of between $97 billion and $125 billion. China has stated that the budgetary increases are primarily for costs associated with raising military personnel’s standard of living, and that only a small amount of the money goes toward procurement of new technology and weapons. The PLA has certainly had to absorb the cost of overhauling its personnel system as it implemented the policies necessary to get rid of the “dead weight” in the PLA and attract, retain, and train the types of soldiers it needs to man the high-tech force it wishes to become.[8] However, there are also examples of the PLA recently investing in costly technological ventures, particularly in the space arena.

From a purely numeric point of view, some experts contend that in spite of an economic slowdown, China will be able to continue to maintain or even increase its military spending. A RAND report published in 2005 estimated that by 2025 China’s defense spending will be $185 billion, even with a lower average annual economic growth rate of 5%.[9] That said, the PRC government is already feeling increased pressure to put more money into social services, and there are certainly many domestic social woes that could limit or drive government spending away from defense. These social challenges—such as the costs associated with an aging population, a widening urban-rural income gap, and health costs from pollution—will only be exacerbated by the economic crisis. In spite of this, best estimates are that the PLA will receive the funding it needs and will likely not have to substantially cut military programs in the future.

The Economic Crisis and Increase in Domestic Unrest

Beyond the defense budget, the PLA depends on a host of other factors to continue on a path of successful military modernization. The Party mandates that the PLA has a responsibility to help maintain domestic stability, and therefore the issue has the potential to divert PLA attention and resources. In part, the PLA’s success hinges on its ability to deal with the external security challenges brought about by China’s global presence, while at the same time fulfilling its role as the Party’s guarantor of internal stability. And it must do both of these while it is still struggling to professionalize.

There are signs that the economic crisis has brought increasing unrest to China. Although the PRC government has not published official figures on mass incidents since 2004, experienced foreign analysts, drawing on Chinese sources, estimate the official figure at 80,000-90,000 incidents a year.[10] Exacerbating the prospects for domestic protest, analysts estimate that slower GDP growth, specifically growth below 8%, will not allow the government to create the jobs necessary to employ China’s 20 million new job seekers each year.[11]

In November Chinese Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu stated that police, “should be fully aware of the challenge brought by the global financial crisis and try their best to maintain social stability.” On January 5 Hu Jintao cautioned the People’s Armed Police (PAP), stating that challenges in 2009 would be “hard and complicated.”[12] Although the Party has put resources into better training for the PAP and other domestic security forces, the lackluster performance of these organizations in some cases has called their competency into question. A recent example is the March 2008 pre-Olympic riots in Tibet, during which the Public Security and PAP forces apparently lost control of parts of Lhasa and the PLA were forced to become involved. In addition, the Party recently issued new PLA training materials for handling unrest and other domestic stability issues, further indicating that the Chinese military could potentially have a more robust role in this area.[13]

While the PLA has thus far largely avoided involvement in suppressing domestic unrest, the Tibet incident does raise the question of whether the military will be able to keep its distance from the rising numbers of protests and riots. If the PAP and other domestic security forces do not prove up to the task, the PLA might very well find itself more involved in China’s domestic security, which could impact its ability to focus on broader modernization plans. The degree to which this would be the case is of course dependent on the level of domestic unrest and how much attention the PLA needs to devote to internal security missions; something to watch for as the impact of the economic crisis in China becomes more apparent.

The Economic Crisis and Civil-Military Relations

Another potential impact of the economic crisis on the PLA’s modernization plans is increased frictions in civil-military relations, particularly those at the local level, brought about by greater resource constraints and other socioeconomic changes in China’s society. There are some areas where economic realities are presenting challenges to the PLA in civil-military relations:

First, the PLA is challenged in attracting and retaining the types of well educated youth it needs for its modern officer corps. China’s civilian college graduates are increasingly turning to the private sector for more lucrative jobs, and while the slowing economy has made the PLA a more attractive option for out of work college graduates, the number of recruits is still small. This has forced the military to put more money toward financial incentives to recruit these college graduates.[14] At the same time, the economic crunch is making the military an increasingly attractive option for China’s less educated rural youth, which are less desirable to the PLA. The PLA’s difficulty in recruiting China’s middle-class, educated, tech-savvy youth could potentially undermine its ability to build the modern, technology-centric officer corps it is aiming for.

A second area in which the PLA is challenged is the increasing difficulty of persuading local officials to bear the costs of providing the PLA with the materiel and support it needs for training and large scale exercises. Evidence suggests that this tension between the PLA and local officials has grown in recent years, and that local officials have increasingly grumbled about providing resources to the PLA and losing money for themselves, even when China’s economy was growing at a double-digit rate. A worsening economic situation could potentially make local civil-military relations even more challenging, which has implications for China’s national defense mobilization system and readiness.[15]

The PLA’s ability to adapt to rapidly changing domestic circumstances also hinges on the state of its relationship with the Party. For the moment, the Party appears to support the PLA in its modernization goals and seems to be providing it with the resources and funding required, but this may not always be the case depending on the economic or domestic situation. One could imagine that Party-PLA tensions could arise if, for example, the internal stability situation worsens and the PLA is called in to suppress mass incidents, bringing it closer to the level of involvement in domestic politics in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Additionally, changes in China’s external security situation could drive future “guns vs. butter” debates between the Party and the PLA, particularly as the Party faces mounting social pressures and tighter budgets. For example, with Ma Ying-jeou’s election and reduced tensions between the Mainland and Taiwan, one could argue that the PLA has less immediate reason for the continued fast-paced acquisition of advanced equipment. If China’s domestic problems become bad enough, it could provide impetus for the Party to decide that now is the time to cut back on expensive defense spending and invest in social services instead.

In closing, China’s changing economic and domestic situation is affecting the PLA in various ways, some of which are likely to be further exacerbated by the current economic crisis. The PLA has proven adept at taking advantage of opportunities provided by the changing socioeconomic environment where it can, and has already made headway in addressing some of the domestic challenges it faces. However, it is clear that these challenges are likely to exist for some time to come, and as China is changing so must the PLA.

This commentary reflects the author’s personal views and does not reflect any view or opinion of the U.S. Government.


[1] State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, “China’s National Defense in 2008.”
[2] For a summary of PLA Navy counter-piracy operations in Somalia, see the PLA Daily’s website, “China’s Navy Fights Pirates,”
[3] For information on peacekeeping operations see: Information Office of the State Council, “China’s National Defense in 2006,” December 29, 2006. In addition, the PLA’s increased focus on non-traditional security missions were announced by Hu Jintao in 2004, in his speech, “Historic Missions for Our Military in the New Period and the New Century.”
[4] CRS Report for Congress: “China and the Global Financial Crisis: Implications for the United States,” Wayne M. Morrison, updated November 17, 2008.
[5] China Xinhua News Agency, November 4, 2008.[6] Zhiwu Chen, “Economic Crisis Could Push Reform in China,” published by Yale University in YaleGlobal Online,
[7] BBC News, “Q&A: China’s Military Budget,” published on March 3, 2008.
[8] For more explanation on the PLA’s personnel policies, see Roy Kamphausen, Andrew Scobell, Travis Tanner (eds.) The “People” in the PLA: Recruitment, Training, and Education, published by the National Bureau of Asian Studies, Strategic Studies Institute, 2008.
[9] RAND Project Air Force Research Brief, “Forecasting China’s Military Spending Through 2025,”
[10] I am grateful to Murray Scot Tanner for his help and excellent comments on protests and mass unrest in China.
[11] Morrison, “China and the Global Financial Crisis…” Op. cit.
[12] Reuters, “China Seeks to Curb Unrest Amid Global Financial Crisis,” November 19, 2008. South China Morning Post, “Hu Rallies Police Unit,” January 5, 2009, in Hong Kong South China Morning Post Online in English,
[13] For an in-depth look at the PLA’s involvement in domestic unrest, see Murray Scot Tanner, CNA, “How China Manages Internal Security Challenges and its Impact on PLA Missions,” forthcoming publication from the National Bureau of Asian Research
[14] One example of these incentives is the National Defense Scholarship Program, which helps pay for the cost of attending college in return for service in the PLA
[15] For a detailed discussion of this and other civil-military issues, see David Finkelstein and Kristen Gunness (eds), Civil-Military Relations in Today’s China: Swimming in a New Sea, ME Sharpe, 2007.

Why Nurture Russia's Illusions? Excessive deference only strengthens Putin's hand

Why Nurture Russia's Illusions? By Matthew Kaminski
Excessive deference only strengthens Putin's hand.
WSJ, Feb 13, 2009

Barack Obama wants to make friends with Russia, "press the reset button" as his Veep proposed the other day.

Sounds familiar. Bill Clinton bear hugged Boris Yeltsin and George W. Bush peered into successor Vladimir Putin's soul. Yet relations haven't been this bad since Konstantin Chernenko's days at the Kremlin.

So what? America is on a roll in Eurasia. Democracy, open markets and stability spread across the region in the Clinton and Bush eras. From Estonia to Georgia to Macedonia, free people want to join the West.

At every step of the way, Russia sought to undermine this great post-Cold War project. Grant that the Kremlin acts in defense of its perceived interests but so should the U.S., and continue down this same path.

Here Foggy Bottom's finest chime in: Yes, but imagine a world with a friendly Russia, able to help us, say, stop Iran's atomic bomb program. So let's not push so hard to deploy anti-Iran missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic that Russia hates -- use, if necessary, the excuse that costs and feasibility require further study. Back off on closer NATO ties for Ukraine and Georgia. Make Russia feel important and consulted. Joe Biden sketched out this sort of bargain at last weekend's Munich security conference.

The conceit is we can win the Kremlin over by modifying our behavior. Before Mr. Obama tries, he should be aware of recent history. On missile defense, American diplomats spent as much time negotiating with Russia as with the Central Europeans, offering Moscow the chance to join in. Nothing came of it. On Kosovo independence and Iran sanctions, Russia blocked the West at the U.N.

Last spring, NATO snubbed Georgia and Ukraine in a signal of good will to Mr. Putin. The day after, Mr. Putin privately told Mr. Bush that Ukraine wasn't "a real country" and belonged in the Russian fold. Five months later, Russia invaded Georgia and de facto annexed its breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Mr. Obama may be tempted to think Russia can be won over. After all, they would seem to need America (short for the West) far more than America needs Russia. We're not the enemy. Russia's real strategic challenges are in the East: China looks ravenously at the vast, mineral-rich, lightly populated Siberian steppe cut off from Moscow (to this day, you can't drive across Russia). And to the South: The arc of Islamic extremism, starting with a possibly nuclear Iran, a competitor for Caspian energy and influence.

And as Mr. Putin discovers each day his economy sinks further, Russia failed to take advantage of sky-high oil prices to diversify away from energy. It sells nothing of value to the world aside from gas, oil and second-rate weapons. Its infrastructure is decaying and its population in decline.

A Kremlin leader with a long-term view would see these grave threats to Russia's future and rush to build a close partnership with the West. But the interests of Mr. Putin and his small, thuggish, authoritarian clique don't necessarily coincide with that of Russia.

The Obama magic dust doesn't seem to work on a regime defined and legitimized by its deep dislike for America. Dmitry Medvedev, the Putin underling in the president's office, moved the state of the nation address to the day after the American election to spin the outcome for the domestic audience. The U.S., he said into the winds of pro-American sentiment sweeping across the world in the wake of the Obama win, was "selfish . . . mistaken, egotistical and sometime simply dangerous."

The Kremlin then welcomed Mr. Obama into the White House with the administration's first serious foreign policy headache. Taking $2 billion from its fast-depleting reserves, Russia bullied and bribed Kyrgyzstan to close a U.S. military airfield, the main transport hub for supplies going into Afghanistan. Russia's desire for a "sphere of influence" trumps the threat of resurgent extreme Islamism in its southern underbelly.

The thinking here is Cold War porridge. But the Russians were never offered a new narrative. Mikhail Gorbachev's idea of a "European family" and Yeltsin's reforms foundered. Mr. Putin went back to a familiar recipe: Russia, empire-builder and scourge of the West.

A Cold War mentality lingers in America, too. A foreign policy caste rich in Sovietologists by habit overstates Russia's importance. The embassy in Moscow is huge; bilateral meetings inevitably become "summits," like in the old days.

Mr. Obama's fresh start is a good time for a reality check. The U.S. can work with Russia, seen in its proper place. To even suggest that the Russians have a special say over the fate of a Ukraine or our alliance with the Czechs lets Mr. Putin nurture the illusion of supposed greatness, and helps him hang on to power.

Ultimately it's up to the Russians to decide to be friends. One day, someone in the Kremlin will have to confront a hard choice: Does an isolated and dysfunctional Russia want to modernize and join up with the West, look toward China, or continue its slow decline? Until then, Mr. Obama better stock up on aspirin and dampen his and our expectations about Russia.

Mr. Kaminski is a member of the Journal's editorial board.

China, Rice, and GMOs: Navigating the Global Rift on Genetic Engineering

China, Rice, and GMOs: Navigating the Global Rift on Genetic Engineering. By Ron Herring
The Asia-Pacific Journal, Jan 12, 2009

A recent article in Nature [1] asked provocatively: Is China ready for GM rice? The title reflects widely shared anxiety over genetic engineering in agriculture. The use of the term “GM” specifically conjures a politically charged object: “GMOs” or “genetically modified organisms.” Is anyone ready for FrankenFoods? Strawberries with fish genes? Human cloning? The question has an ominous overtone, though both reporter and venue are identified with science. The question derives its energy from the decision of the Chinese Government to go full speed ahead with genetically engineered rice to confront what the state constructs as a gathering Malthusian crisis of hunger. What the article does not tell the reader is that the farmers are way ahead of the government: ready and able. Transgenic rice – officially unauthorized within China – has for several years been showing up in exports from China to Europe, to Japan, to New Zealand – and probably many other places that simply are not checking.

To ask if China is “ready” for “GM” rice is then doubly loaded. The necessity of getting ready implies threat; “GM” ties a specific cultivar to global anxiety about transgenic crops. The anxiety is multi-pronged: does the spread of transgenics entail threats of corporate dominance? Environmental risk? Food safety? The anxiety is heightened because these crops are spreading faster globally than perhaps any previous agricultural innovation, both through official channels of firm and state and underground, like films on DVDs or business software on CDs.[2] The transgenic genie is out of the bottle.

Then the question of who must be “ready” becomes especially curious. Farmers are clearly ready. As in many countries, cultivators in China risk prosecution to grow unauthorized transgenic crops, including Bt rice. They do so because they are impatient with bureaucratic delays and unwilling to pay corporate technology fees. And in fact, though urban consumers of GM politics think otherwise, there is not a lot to get ready for on farm: all the technology is in the seed, typically with a few altered genes, often only one. There is no more preparation than in playing an illegal DVD of a Bollywood film, once you know how to operate a player.

But is the state ready? Here the construction of transgenic rice as a special category designated by “GM” indicates why the issue carries political freight. Being “ready” implies a state of preparation, alertness, and consequences of not being ready, all of which are bad. No one was ready for the financial meltdown of 2008, most especially pensioners and homeowners. Is China ready for democracy? Open internet? But no one has ever asked -- in Europe, or in China, or in India -- if nations were “ready” for transgenic pharmaceuticals – which have been with us, and thoroughly normalized, since successful production of human insulin via transgenic bacteria began in 1978. There are no FrankenPills on posters. Useful to urban consumers and endorsed by the authority of medical science, transgenic pharmaceuticals have not drawn protests. Agriculture is different. The category “GM” as site of risk has become so normalized in political discourse about agriculture that no one ever asks: what is especially risky about any particular cultivar? Is China ready for “GM rice” really means: is the state ready to confront the political and administrative complexities of seed surveillance contrary to farmer interests?

The answer is probably “no.”We already know that stealth transgenic rice – and unauthorized Bt cotton as well – are being grown by Chinese farmers without permission of the state. What Jane Qiu’s article highlights is why the state or farmers or anyone else should care.

The Government of China, like many governments in nations with large agricultural sectors – e.g. India, Brazil – officially promotes and invests in biotechnology as a means of responding to what are constructed as urgent crises on the land. Rice stands for the larger problematic of increasing food production. Much of the corporate propaganda for transgenic technologies evokes the Malthusian threat, but here the evocation of urgency is from the Chinese state. This is no small issue: regimes incapable of feeding their populations have not fared well historically. Nor have their citizens. Being dependent on the global economy for fuel and food runs counter to imperatives of statecraft itself, across many ideological gradients. The threat conjured in China is quite explicit: inadequate productive capacity projected into the future. Against this threat is posed a promise: technical change in plant breeding. Genetic engineering – the possibility of rearranging DNA in plants to produce traits that are not in the genome of the plant itself, such as insect resistance, virus resistance, enhanced nutrient content, and on the horizon drought and salinity resistance – has long been official policy of the Chinese government. The controversy implied by the Nature article rests on two changes in the context of biotechnology: first, rice would be the first food crop authorized officially in China, and secondly, rice as a plant raises questions of agro-ecology not presented by cotton, China’s first transgenic. But the same recombinant DNA technology that the state constructs as promise has been constructed as threat in a very powerful global discourse.[3]

What exactly is the threat that China may or may not be ready for? “GM” is a political label, but it is one that sticks: it has political effects. All plants in agriculture are genetically modified. We no longer live in the world of Gregor Mendel puttering with peas: rather, plant genomes have been for decades radically altered and re-assembled in order to get phenotypic variation that plant breeders and farmers want. Transgenic techniques came later, and may indeed cause less disruption of gene networks than alternative [non “GM”] techniques [Batista et al 2008], but are socially constructed as something one must be ready for. No other kind of plant is subjected to the level of scrutiny of a plant bred by recombinant DNA techniques. Nor do transgenic pharmaceuticals constitute a special object of regulation, surveillance and control. Recombinant DNA techniques are constructed as threats only in agriculture.

The thing China may or may not be “ready” for is the global governance regime that sets transgenic plants apart. “GM” rice constitutes a plant that must be plugged into international norms of bio-safety as laid out in the Cartagena Protocol. The Protocol itself is the product of transnational advocacy networks and EU politics; it was resisted by major transgenic crop exporters such as the United States and Argentina. The protocol reflects the fact that half the globe holds “GMOs” to require special surveillance, monitoring, and governance.[4] To be ready is to have institutions that can promise effective rural governmentality ; in this sense the question is rhetorical: China lacks that kind of state, as do most nations.

A global rift divides the planet into places that see special needs for bio-safety regulation of “GMOs” – except pharmaceuticals – and those that express no more concern with transgenic plants than with agricultural plants in general. The world is divided between an American construction of “GM” plants as “substantially equivalent” to their non-“GM” equivalents – because no difference can be found by scientific measurement – and a European view privileging the “precautionary principle” – that something truly terrible may be lurking in the new gene networks created by DNA splicing. Prince Charles refers to rDNA work on plants – but not pharmaceuticals – as “playing God,” entering “realms that belong to God and God alone.” Hubris is the culprit; genetic engineering, in this view, involves a "gigantic experiment I think with nature and the whole of humanity which has gone seriously wrong. Why else are we facing all these challenges, climate change and everything?" An empty vessel has been created into which multiple anxieties may be bundled, and its name is GM.

The European discourse of playing God does not play well in Asia; it presupposes the God of Genesis, a creator with a plan, a garden, absolute control and a stable equilibrium of species. And in general the Apocalyptic vision of European political activism has not penetrated beyond small numbers of urban professionals in Asia, where grounds of objection of transgenics have to do with consumer preference and resistance to corporate globalization. China is the case that confounds the discourse; not MNCs, but Chinese scientists have been the drivers of transgenic research and development. China showed how public sector investments in transgenics could traget specific problems in agriculture without signing away the farm.

China was the leader among non-OECD nations in responding to biotechnology as a potential growth sector. Recombinant DNA techniques first became viable in laboratories in 1973; by 1980, patents on transgenic organisms became possible in the United States, as always the first-mover in creating and strengthening property in novel fields. With potential property to be made, and valuable discoveries in medicine and pharmaceuticals, a de facto global race began. In India, which established a Department of Biotechnology early, one heard the refrain “we missed the industrial revolution, we cannot afford to miss out on the information revolution.” Much of Asia responded in similar ways, with grand plans for state backing of biotechnology in the mode of developmental statism, but China was the clear leader and only success story. Though much of the political discourse is about MNCs and patents, China represents a now-common alternative dynamic: public funding of transgenic crops by developmental states.[5]

China’s early efforts in biotechnology began with strong state backing in the 1970s, focused on both food crops and cotton. Standard techniques of tissue culture and cell fusion were involved to modify plants before the advent of advanced recombinant DNA techniques in the early 1980s. The so-called 863 plan for advancing biotechnology research started in 1986.[6] The Ministry of Agriculture reported in 1996 that more than 190 genes had been transferred to more than 100 organisms, including plants, micro-organisms and animals. Investment levels were high, and addressed an indigenous sense of the most serious agricultural problems. The Bt cotton developed in China enables insect resistance from within the plant. It was a priority not only because of the massive land investment China had in cotton, but also because of the widely recognized externalities of heavy pesticide use: deleterious environmental and health consequences. China’s Bt cotton is now growing both legally and illegally in far-flung Asian locations.

Southeast Asian states feared that that China would become hegemonic in this new information-intensive sector, and ramped up plans for autonomous development defensively [Barboza 2003]. But plans in Southeast Asia were cut back after a profound European U-turn on genetic engineering in agriculture. Like commercial firms in the United States, European states initially saw the genomics revolution in biology as a potential source of profit and national development; European firms were early leaders; they were backed, especially in France, by governments. The turn away from biotechnology came as a result of transnational social movements joining hands across the Atlantic in opposing corporate environmental irresponsibility. By the end of the 1990s, Europe had crossed over, from support for genetic engineering to attempts to protect its economy from American transgenic imports.[7] Whereas American policy moved to the USFDA conclusion of “substantial equivalence” and society followed in train, Europe moved to a “precautionary principle,” led by social activists.

But not all opposition targeted all biotechnology: food was the crux of the anti-GM campaign in Europe. “White” biotechnologies, such as biodegradable plastics and other industrial applications, as well as “red” biotechnologies in medicine and pharmaceuticals remained strongly supported in Europe [EB 64.3 2006]. In these applications of rDNA technologies, there are large human utilities, such as avoiding death. Food is different. There being no benefit to consumers in GM-food – with a few caveats about reduction of pesticide residues and externalities – European consumers were free to support campaigns to restrict agricultural biotechnology not only in Europe, but all over the world. The most successful efforts were in Africa, as Robert Paarlberg’s new book Starved for Science documents. The WTO has ruled that the European standards are contradicted by EU science, but the EU U-turn remains both politically sticky in Europe and consequential internationally. The EU declaration on “GMOs” structurally segregated world markets: GM or GM-free. It became quite clear in the late 1990s where the smart money would go in poor countries hoping to export to Europe.

China’s current interest in regulation of transgenic rice derives directly from this global regulatory rift. An early leader in state-led biotechnology development, China slowed its approach after the EU U-turn. Cotton is one thing, food another. Bt cotton from China’s public sector not only performed well, and reduced pesticide poisoning of farmers and farm workers, but was smuggled out of China and thrives as stealth seeds in other parts of Asia.[8] Bt cotton is of no concern to powerful players in the international system; national governments such as Vietnam and Pakistan prefer to look the other way in order to avoid a confrontation with both farmers as political agents and their own incapacity to build viable Cartagena-friendly bio-safety regimes. Rice is food, and thus another kettle of fish.

What China is not ready for is another assault on the integrity of its export products; that assault derives from EU regulations as to what food is acceptable and what is not. Spot checks carried out by several EU countries, including Germany, the UK, and France, have, since 2006, found Chinese shipments of rice and rice products to contain evidence of a genetically-engineered rice, specifically Bt 63. Bt63 is not authorized for commercial cultivation either in China or in the EU; its import into the EU is banned. The formal resolution of the China-EU conflict was to require all rice and rice products from China to have a certificate that there is no transgenic Bt 63 content; one predicts a strong market for certificates over time. Japan and New Zealand, which have similar EU-like restrictions, reported similar findings.[9]

The Cartagena Protocol requires that “Living Modified Organisms” be clearly identified in international trade; the criterion for an LMO is essentially the same as the GMO. This is not surprising: EU support of transnational opponents of biotechnology succeeded in crafting soft law stigmatizing transgenics and their downstream products, whether or not any DNA or trans-gene protein survives processing. Surveillance is to be “from farm to fork.” Though the reality of food systems would seem to make this level of control a dream only bureaucrats could conjure, the consequences are serious. Failure of the Chinese government to enforce the protocol indicates not only non-compliance with international soft law, but inability of the state to control transgenic organisms within its own boundaries or in its exports. China is hardly alone in failure to regulate crops -- – seed police are hard to find – but China does face strong international pressure for tighter regulation of safety in exports in general. Bt proteins have not been shown to kill pets or people, but the net effect is to undermine confidence in Chinese exports to nations with strict regulations.

Though this threat to export products is the main objective risk of growing transgenics in China – the Bt itself has not been shown to be unsafe for humans or animals, and many Bt crops are regularly consumed – the Nature article is more concerned about environmental effects. Given China’s disturbing record on environmental protection, how serious a risk is transgenic rice? In general, Bt crops present a difficult question for environmental policy: if we compare the Bt plants to traditional cultivars, cultivated in traditional ways, the transgenics reduce pesticide use and therefore seem environmentally friendly. Nevertheless, one seldom finds transgenic crops discussed in the frame of biodiversity preservation or sustainability. Rather, the environmental risk assessment of transgenic crops typically poses questions about the potential for gene flow in the environment.

Here the Chinese official caution regarding Bt rice raises the importance of disaggregating transgenic crops. Bt rice raises more and more serious questions of agro-ecology than does Bt cotton, China’s most successful biotechnology venture. Gene flow from Bt cotton presents little if any potential risk; like many cultivated crops, cotton is highly specialized, with no evidence of crossing with wild relatives. Without crossing, there is no gene flow. If genes flow, there is a question of fitness: will the wild and weedy relatives of the cultivated plant now gain an advantage in fitness in the environment from addition of the trait from the transgene [eg insect resistance]? Will this fitness advantage be such that they begin to dominate, thus upsetting agro-ecologies in new ways? This is the “super-weed” scenario stressed by opponents of rDNA technology: FrankenPlants. With cotton, the answer to these questions is almost certainly not; with rice, there is a much greater possibility of agro-ecological risk. Rice is first of all a grass – a more promiscuous kind of plant than cotton – and secondly has wild and weedy relatives in and around cultivated fields.

The bureaucratically sensible resolution would seem to be to test the crops under Chinese conditions. But testing itself comes under attack when the object is “GM.” Uncertainties abound: how long a testing period is long enough to determine safety? For proponents of the precautionary principle, the answer is “forever.” For the US FDA, the answer is “not much”: if composition tests show the same range of variation in transgenic plants as in comparable non-transgenic cultivars [i.e. comparing apples to apples, rather than to oranges], there is no reason for special regulation or labels. The American position risks riding on the side of hubris: we know what we know. The European position imposes nearly impossible[10] standards: how can you prove that something will not happen? Do you check your brakes every time you take your car out to drive? Do you avoid any airplane that could conceivably crash and burn? Do you demand demonstration that your cell phone safe cannot cause cancer?

Of course we all – Europeans and middle-class activists of transnational advocacy networks in poorer countries – dismiss as alarmist “risks” from cell phones. But there has been a recent upsurge in caution concerning cell phones in regard to brain damage from a presumably authoritative source: the Director of the University of Pittsburgh’s University Medical Center Cancer Center.[11] Why do we disregard such warnings – and seldom check our car’s brakes or inquire into the maintenance record of our next flight’s plane? Because the disutility of ascertaining certainty far outweighs a subjective assessment of risk. Moreover, negatives are impossible to prove: how could there be even in principle decisive proof that no critical system on any given 747 will fail? No one can live with the precautionary principle; not only are there innumerable known unknowns, but – and here Donald Rumsfeld for once got something right – the sheer number of unknown unknowns is everywhere daunting. Farmers in China, like those in India, Pakistan, Brazil, Vietnam and much of the world grow Bt transgenics because they make life marginally easier, slightly more profitable, and slightly less destructive of their very local environments. If there are distal and uncertain risks, they pale by comparison to the real risks of pesticide poisoning and crop failure. Farmers make this calculation whether governments approve or not, just as desperate Americans try remedies not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Do farmers then worry about biodiversity, as the Nature article clearly thinks they should? Yes and no: they worry about destruction of helpful predators on the pests of their crops, but they recognize that spraying poisons across the fields kills friends and foes alike, including some farmers and farm workers. Bt plants, in contrast, are targeted to a class of pests, and contained in the plant tissues. Bt plants represent a kind of poetic justice: if a pest leaves the plant alone, it will not be harmed; if it attacks the plant, it will die. The advantage to the farmer is that the pro-toxin stays in plant tissues, instead of rivers, soils, lungs, birds, toads, ladybugs.

In this one incidence of conflicting pressures on the state in China is contained the global cognitive rift around transgenic organisms, much as the history of imperialism can be drawn from a single cup of tea. The discourse is one of threat and promise, of state responsibilities and international norms. The dichotomous—threat/promise—construction of technical change in agriculture resonates with previous attempts to promote or stop technical change; the “green revolution” of nitrogen-responsive grain varieties still launches many pages of paper. Agriculture is symbolic terrain on which much larger conflicts are joined.

The lessons from China’s consideration of Bt rice then illustrate larger points about transnational politics of “GMOs.”First, disaggregation is necessary to make sense. China’s development and deployment of an indigenous Bt cotton raised no real controversy; rice is a food crop, and the politics around food differ fundamentally from those around purely utilitarian technologies, whether cotton or insulin. Second, rice is not cotton in terms of gene flow: careful science is necessary to sort out risks and benefits to farmers; risks to farmers and agro-ecological systems are much greater in rice than cotton. Third, there is no reason to assume, as is often done instrumentally, that biotechnology entails corporate dominance of either farmers or national governments. China is the giant exception, but not the only one. Finally, nothing in the battle for the formal-legal high ground makes much difference on the real ground. Though the EU battles the US and WTO over whether or not transgenic crops should be allowed, the decision will ultimately be made by farmers.[12] It is the agency of people close to the seeds that will settle the question; in China, that decision leans toward transgenic rice, just as it previously did to transgenic cotton. It is hard to conjure the kind of state that could regulate the seed choices of millions of farmers across dozens of crops; but even if such surveillance and control could be imagined, it is hard not to think that there are better things to do.

Ron Herring teaches political economy and political ecology in the political science department at Cornell. He is the author most recently of Transgenics and the Poor: Biotechnology in Development Studies and coeditor with Rina Agarwal of Whatever Happened to Class?: Reflections from South Asia.

Full article w/notes and references here.

WSJ Editorial Page: Obama's Antiterror Progress

Obama's Antiterror Progress. WSJ Editorial
He embraces Bush policies on secrecy, rendition.
WSJ, Feb 13, 2009

President Obama has done a masterful job disguising his Administration's growing antiterror maturity, but this week produced further evidence that he is erring on the side of keeping the country safe rather than appeasing the political left. The Justice Department filed to dismiss a federal appeals case involving rendition, embracing an argument developed by . . . the Bush Administration.

In other words, the anti-antiterror lobby is being exposed as more radical than its putative banner carrier. As Mr. Obama is learning, the left's exertions to disarm the country's counterterrorism arsenal are as dangerous now as they were prior to his election.

In this closely watched case, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the flight-logistics outfit Jeppesen DataPlan in 2007 on behalf of Binyam Mohamed and four other Guantanamo detainees. The argument was that the Boeing subsidiary was complicit in arranging flights for rendition, a policy that transfers certain terror prisoners seized abroad to other countries for interrogation. Mohamed and his compatriots claim they are the victims of torture overseas.

The Bush Administration argued the case should be dismissed because open proceedings could damage national security by disclosing state secrets. A lower court agreed. Most everyone expected the Obama Justice Department to dump the secrecy line when the case came up for review before the left-leaning Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday, apparently including the Ninth Circuit.

Judge Mary Schroeder asked leadingly, "Is there anything that might have happened" to cause Justice to shift its views? "No, your honor," the Justice attorney, Douglas Letter, replied. A startled Judge Schroeder tried again. "The change in Administration has no bearing?" Mr. Letter reiterated that his positions had been "authorized" and "thoroughly vetted with the appropriate officials within the new Administration."

The Obama Administration says it will invoke the state secrets privilege more sparingly than its predecessor. But it is really admitting that lifting the hood on classified intelligence-gathering would let terrorists know what to expect, and to shift their operations to avoid detection. Perhaps the Obama team has also stumbled upon the larger game behind lawsuits like the one against Jeppesen -- which is to intimidate private companies into refusing to cooperate with the government on national security.

The left has failed to achieve its policy ambitions through Congress or by directly challenging the government in court. So the latest tactic is suing third parties such as Jeppesen -- note that the ACLU is not suing here to win Mohamed's release -- to hamstring the executive branch via the courts. These companies thought they were doing their patriotic duty by lending a hand.

But the anti-antiterror trial bar uses lawsuits to raise the costs for these private actors of cooperating with the intelligence community, and the legal exposure makes it that much more difficult for the feds to gain private cooperation. Sometimes the suits shut down such cooperation altogether. The telecom companies, faced with multibillion-dollar civil complaints over warrantless wiretapping, refused to proceed without legal immunity, and the 2007-2008 political dispute nearly ended the program. The FISA appeals court revealed last month that one (still anonymous) telecom even sued the government to opt out.

The larger story here is that the anti-antiterror lobby is losing the man it thought was its strongest ally. During his campaign, Mr. Obama talked as if he really believed that the Bush Administration was uniquely wicked on national security. Joe Biden cosponsored Senate legislation that would have prevented the executive branch from making state-secrets claims to shelve lawsuits, rather than shielding individual evidence from judicial (and public) scrutiny.

Now it seems that the Bush Administration's antiterror architecture is gaining new legitimacy, just as Eisenhower validated Truman's Cold War framework. Mr. Obama claims to have banned coercive interrogation techniques, except in those cases where more extreme measures are necessary to save lives. He says he'll shut down Gitmo in a year or so, but his subordinates -- including Elena Kagan during her confirmation hearings for Solicitor General this week -- admit that indefinite detention will still be necessary for some terrorists. He walked back his wiretap absolutism even before he was elected. Now the Administration has endorsed the same secrecy posture that he once found so offensive, merely saying that it will be used less frequently. We'll see.

These are all laudable signs of Mr. Obama's antiterror progress. Perhaps some day he'll acknowledge his debt to his predecessor.