Home > News > News in Brief: 18 February 2009

News in Brief: 18 February 2009

A brief list of news clippings for the day:

Burning Questions. Recently, climatologist David Battisti and Rosamond Naylor, director of Stanford University’s Program on Food Security and the Environment, published a study in Science magazine on the effect of extreme heat on crops. They concluded, based on recent climate models and a study of past extreme heat waves, that there was “a 90% chance that, by the end of the century, the coolest temperatures in the tropics during the crop growing season would exceed the hottest temperatures recorded between 1900 and 2006.” According to the British Guardian, under such circumstances Battisti and Naylor believe “[h]alf of the world’s population could face severe food shortages by the end of the century as rising temperatures take their toll on farmers’ crops… Harvests of staple food crops such as rice and maize could fall by between 20% and 40% as a result of higher temperatures during the growing season in the tropics and subtropics.” (TomDispatch)

Israel “covert” operation in Iran. Israel has launched an “elaborate” covert operation against Iran that includes plans to assassinate scientists closely involved with the country’s controversial nuclear programme, The Daily Telegraph reported on Tuesday quoting U.S. and other western intelligence sources. (The Hindu)

Obama Orders 17,000 US Troops to Afghanistan. President Barack Obama has decided to send 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, on the grounds that “the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent attention”. Civilian deaths from political violence increased about 40% in 2008 over 2007, reaching over 2000. They will be sent to the Pushtun south and east of the country, where guerrilla fighting is expected to pick up with the advent of warm weather. (Informed Comment)

The Taliban get their first wish. The guns are silent in the Swat Valley in the Malakand division of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province following Monday’s peace agreement between the government and militants. Islamic law will also be implemented. This is a significant victory for the Pakistan Taliban and their al-Qaeda colleagues after two years of fighting, and an extremely ominous development for the United States-led troops just across the border in Afghanistan. (Asia Times)

US-AFGHANISTAN: Civilian Casualties May Surge As Well. U.S. President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that he is sending two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan, marking the start of what many believe will be an escalation that will ultimately see the U.S. forces there double. (IPS)

Afghan Civilian Deaths Rose 40 Percent in 2008. The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan leapt by nearly 40 percent last year, according to a survey released Tuesday by the United Nations, the latest measure of how the intensifying violence between the Taliban and American-led forces is ravaging that country. (New York Times)

Israel links Gaza deal to soldier’s release. The unanimous decision by outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s security cabinet raised the stakes in delicate negotiations over Hamas demands that Israel free up to 1,400 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the soldier, Gilad Shalit. (The Independent/Reuters)

China seeks road back to growth. The double impact of government efforts to cool China’s economy from 2007 and now the global downturn is forcing out of work millions who are not caught by official statistics. Add in 6 million new graduates seeking jobs this year, and pressure is mounting on Beijing to renew growth. Protectionism is the last thing the country wants or needs. (Asia Times)

Soft Power Politics in the Asia Pacific: Chinese and Japanese Quests for Regional Leadership. Regional leadership matters. It can facilitate cooperation among states and bring about a prosperous common future. Nevertheless, the struggle for leadership may lead to serious rivalry and regional instability. In East Asia, the quest for leadership has been controversial. (Japan Focus)

Deciphering the Sino-Africa saga. Rather than over-analyze China’s geo-economic posturing in the wake of President Hu Jintao’s Africa visit, a better approach to unscrambling the driving currents of Beijing’s grand designs would be to focus on the incentives of some of the individuals involved. A look at Hu’s dining companions would be a good start. (Asia Times)

The Somalia Multilateral Anti-Piracy Approach: Caveats on Vigilantism. Mark J. Valencia and Nazery Khalid of the Maritime Institute of Malaysia write that the “vigilante” approach inherent in unilateral and multilateral initiatives to deal with piracy in the Gulf of Aden region has “provided an opportunity for naval powers to demonstrate their prowess, feel each other out, and establish the precedent of unilateral individual and group intervention in such situations. (Japan Focus)

Much at stake for Lebanon in US opening to Syria. This week, two high-level US Congressional delegations are setting out for Syria to meet with President Bashar Assad. The trips are seen as a precursor for engagement with Syria, but the extent of possible diplomatic deal-making is still in question. (The Daily Star/IPS)

Russia holding back on Iran missile contract. Iran’s Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar arrived in Moscow on Tuesday to try and persuade Russia to supply sophisticated air defence missiles to Tehran. (The Hindu)

Appeals court blocks release of Guantanamo detainees into U.S. A federal appeals court on Wednesday blocked an order by a district judge that required the U.S. government to release 17 Chinese Muslims held at Guantanamo Bay prison into the United States. (McClatchy)

Al-Qaeda says it’s holding Canadians. Al-Qaeda’s North African branch claimed Wednesday it is holding two missing Canadian diplomats hostage. (Globe and Mail/AP)

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