Massenbach-Letter: NEWS 25/04/14


Udo von Massenbach

Guten Morgen.


· See :

· DEBKAFILE: Syrian rebels get SA-16 anti-aircraft missiles after receiving advanced anti-tank weapons( )

· Putin warns of US navy threat ( )

· UAW suddenly retreats from fight at Tennessee VW plant ( )

Massenbach* Asia Times: Putin warns of US navy threat

MOSCOW – On Thursday President Vladimir Putin described NATO missile batteries aimed at Russia’s Black Sea coastline as threatening the nuclear defences of southwestern Russia. It was the first time the president or Russian defence officials have put Crimea into Russian strategic survival doctrine.

US Navy deployment in the Black Sea of ships armed with Aegis missiles is one of the concrete threats Putin was referring to. This has made the current Black Sea cruise of the USS Donald Cook, an Aegis-armed destroyer, of special importance. It is the reason a Russian military aircraft buzzed the Cook as it steamed towards Constanta port, in Romania.

It is also the reason why, as Putin was speaking in Moscow, the Cook pulled away from the Constanta dock, setting a course to the southeast from Constanta towards Georgia and Turkey, and not a northward course towards Odessa. In that Ukrainian port, public demonstrations against a port call by the Cook have been under way for several days.

US Navy deployments inside the Black Sea are now consecutive, one vessel arriving as another leaves, since February 2, when the USS Mount Whitney passed through the Bosphorus, the Turkish straits, guarded by the frigate, the USS Taylor. The Mount Whitney is a floating headquarters for NATO strike forces aimed at Russia from Romania to Hungary and Poland. It had sailed into the Georgian port of Poti in September of 2008 as Russian air, ground and naval forces surrounded the port.

The BBC reported the mission as the delivery of humanitarian aid. In July of 2011 the Mount Whitney was off the Libyan coast to coordinate US and NATO operations to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi. The Mount Whitney is also a signals intelligence station for listening in on Russian command communications.


The story of the Mount Whitney’s cruise — off the port of Sochi and purportedly to assist Russian security for the Olympic Games — was told here. According to European military observers, the American idea was to monitor how far Putin’s attention was distracted by the Olympics, while the US worked to transform the situation in Kiev, overthrowing the government of President Victor Yanukovich, if it could.

Putin was distracted, the Europeans believe, and so he was taken by surprise by the February 21 coup in Kiev.

A Russian version of the sequence of events is that the Mount Whitney was a provocation to follow much of the same — a year-long campaign of propaganda and pressure aimed at a boycott of the Games, undermining the spectacle, damaging the positive advertising this gave Russian interests, as well as Putin personally. The Kremlin understood they were facing unrelenting regime-change tactics from Washington. They thought they had been effective in absorbing, containing or deflecting them. The Sochi Games came off without a hitch, they thought. The Mount Whitney, they calculated, was part-insult, part-feint, part-eavesdrop.

Did the Mount Whitney operation allow the Americans to predict in February what Putin has admitted to in April – that he was taken by surprise by the coup against Yanukovich, and by what happened next in Crimea? Did the Obama Administration believe their strike hand was free while Putin’s eye was off the ball? “This had not been pre-planned or prepared,” Putin said in his television presentation last week. “It was done on the spot, and we had to play it by ear based on the situation and the demands at hand.” Was Washington as surprised by Putin’s Crimean move as Putin had been by Obama’s Kiev move?

Last Thursday Putin said cryptically: “As for me, you know that the decisions we take in a critical situation depend on our experience and values. You know that I worked for the Soviet Union’s KGB, or, more precisely, foreign intelligence, where we were trained in a specific manner that boils down to absolute loyalty to people and the country.”

This is a hint that until February 22 Putin hadn’t accepted the black scenarios he had received from the intelligence agencies. Perhaps he thought he could count on European support to manoeuvre around Obama’s scheming. Maybe he even believed Obama’s telephone call on February 21, promising to stick to the agreement signed that day between Yanukovich and the European Union (EU) foreign ministers.

According to Putin, “when Yanukovich signed the agreement on February 21, which was guaranteed by three European foreign ministers from Poland, France and Germany, he believed that this agreement would be honoured.” That’s Putin’s acknowledgement that he believed the same thing.

But once Yanukovich had been ousted over the following night and day, and the Kremlin accepted there was no going back for him, Putin adopted a long-prepared plan of action. In this plan, Crimea was a direct Russian security interest in a way the rest of eastern Ukraine is not. “We also followed certain logic: If we don’t do anything, Ukraine will be drawn into NATO sometime in the future. We’ll be told: ‘This doesn’t concern you,’ and NATO ships will dock in Sevastopol, the city of Russia’s naval glory.”

“But it isn’t even the emotional side of the issue. The point is that Crimea protrudes into the Black Sea, being in its centre, as it were. However, in military terms, it doesn’t have the importance it used to have in the 18th and 19th centuries – I’m referring to modern strike forces, including coastal ones. But if NATO troops walk in, they will immediately deploy these forces there. Such a move would be geopolitically sensitive for us because, in this case, Russia would be practically ousted from the Black Sea area. We’d be left with just a small coastline of 450 or 600km, and that’s it!”

Putin continued: “In this way, Russia may be really ousted from this region that is extremely important for us… This is a serious thing. So we shouldn’t fear anything but we must consider these circumstances and react accordingly. As I’ve just said, the same is happening with our talks on the deployment of US missile defence elements. This is not a defensive system, but part of the offensive potential deployed far away from home. Again we’re being told: ‘This is not against you.’

“However, at the expert level, everyone understands very well that if these systems are deployed closer to our borders, our ground-based strategic missiles will be within their striking range. Everyone is well aware of this, but we’re being told: ‘Please believe us, this is not against you.’ Our American partners have turned down our proposal to sign even some trifling legal paper that would say that these systems are not directed against us. Surprising as it is, but this is a fact. Naturally, we are bound to ask: ‘And why do you refuse to sign anything if you believe this is not directed against us?’ ”

For the first time Putin is talking in public, in detail, and at length in the language of military defence and geostrategic security. He is also talking directly at the US. “Look at what they did with Yugoslavia: they cut it into small pieces and are now manipulating everything that can be manipulated there, which is almost anything. Apparently, someone would like to do the same with us, and if you look at what’s happening, you’ll be able to answer your own question about who is doing what.”

This is the frame of mind in which the movement of the USS Donald Cook into the Black Sea, starting on April 10, and heading north, was interpreted in Moscow.

The US Defense Department’s announcement of the deployment claimed the purpose was “to reassure NATO allies and Black Sea partners of America’s commitment to strengthen and improve interoperability while working towards mutual goals in the region… It demonstrates our commitment to our … allies to enhance security, readiness and capabilities.”

From the Russian point of view, it was a new, more menacing round of gunboat diplomacy. The Whitney had been an espionage operation, and its escort, the Taylor (pictured below), had embarrassed the Pentagon by running aground at Samsun, Turkey, knocking itself out of action, and getting its captain dismissed.

Still damaged, the Taylor reportedly left Samsun on March 7 for further repairs at Souda Bay, Crete.

The USS Truxtun followed in the Black Sea between March 7 and 21. Its mission, according to US Navy announcements, was a training operation with the Romanian and Bulgarian navies “unrelated to Russia’s recent incursion into Ukraine. ‘Truxtun’s operations in the Black Sea were scheduled well in advance of her departure from the U.S.’” The Truxtun’s main armament is Tomahawk cruise missiles for attacking land targets, as well as surface ships, and ASROC missiles for use against submarines.

USS Truxtun leaves Souda Bay, Crete, on March 6, heading for the Black Sea

Thus armed, the Truxtun was not considered the level of threat represented by the Cook’s Aegis missiles. These have been described by the US here. The Aegis missile system is an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) weapon — aimed at intercepting in flight and destroying long-range nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. It is thus understood in Moscow as a threat to the nuclear arms balance between the Soviet Union, now Russia, and the US; and thus to the doctrine of nuclear deterrence accepted on both sides.

The US claim that it wants to install such ABM systems on land in Romania and Poland, and on the water, to defend against Iran is not believed in Moscow, nor anywhere else. This is part of what Putin meant in his remarks. Putin was also raising the level of Russia’s objection to the first stage of the American ABM plan – deploying the Aegis system on board warships, based at Rota in Spain, and moved as far forward towards Russia as the USS Donald Cook was sailing on Saturday, April 12.

On that day two Russian Sukhoi-24 attack aircraft, as well as a Black Sea fleet warship, were shadowing the Cook, when one of the planes made what the Pentagon later claimed to have been 12 low-altitude passes at the Cook. According to the US Navy account, the Russian aircraft flew within a thousand yards of the Cook and as low as 500 feet. At the time both Su-24 and destroyer were in international waters. From the Cook the Russian aircraft was visually confirmed to be unarmed.

The Pentagon spokesman declared: “This provocative and unprofessional Russian action is inconsistent with international protocols and previous agreements on the professional interaction between our militaries.”

Note that the incident occurred on the Saturday, but no Pentagon-release report appeared until the following Monday, US time. The US reports, all based on the same Pentagon release, mix the days so that even in a single press report, the incident has been made to appear to have occurred on Monday, but also two days earlier. This Washington newspaper version makes the US F-15s (armed) above the Cook appear to be the Russian Su-24s (unarmed).

For the US and European press reporting the incident, the message was that the Russians were threatening a routine American naval operation in international waters. For the Russian side, the buzzing was intended as a warning that nothing an Aegis-armed missile battery does within range of Russia can be routine at any time. In the context of the Ukraine crisis, the Russian and Ukrainian media also reported, the Cook was intending to demonstrate this force capability by making a portcall at Odessa.

An explicit Russian warning along these lines appeared in Itar-TASS on April 9. “ ‘It isn’t known yet if the ship will call into the port of Odessa to demonstrate the US support for the incumbent illegitimate authorities in Kiev, which owe so much to the Americans for arrival at power,’ the source said. He indicated that the Russian Defense Ministry officials sized up the sending of a US warship equipped with a ballistic missile system to the Black Sea as Washington’s willingness to bring the sea-based component at a closest possible distance to the Russian territory. ‘Given the time-consuming character of installation of the land-surface-based elements of the system in the countries like Romania, the Americans have taken the line at an extreme intensification of visits of their warships fitted out with the antimissile system to the Black Sea. ‘Beginning with February, US ships are found in the Black Sea practically on a regular basis,’ the source said. ‘As soon as one ship leaves, a new ship — or sometimes a detachment of ships — arrives. It’s not ruled out the same practice will be applied to the destroyers carrying the Aegis antimissile missile system,’ he said.”

A more elaborate version of the same warning was broadcast by Russia Today Television (RT) on April 10, along with film footage of the Cook moving through the Bosphorus.

Two months earlier, RT had broadcast a general warning that forward deployment of the sea-based Aegis ABM system was potential cause for Russia to revoke its agreement to the strategic arms reduction treaty (START), signed on April 10, 2010, by Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama. That treaty can be read in full here.

In retrospect of the four years since START was signed, Putin’s remarks last week suggest there is now serious Russian doubt in US commitments to honour the treaty; particularly these two parts of the preamble: “to forge a new strategic relationship based on mutual trust, openness, predictability, and cooperation”; and to “recogniz[e] the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties.”

Aegis weapons on board the Cook in the northern sector of the Black Sea, Putin intends now to be understood, undermine the START agreement. If pressed by the US, they would amount to an “extraordinary event”, as the treaty defines it in Article XIV. That provides each side’s “right to withdraw from this Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests.”

If the Su-24 buzzing the Cook on April 12 had dropped leaflets with a reprint of Article XIV, the message could not have been clearer. It didn’t, so Putin did: “Our American partners have turned down our proposal to sign even some trifling legal paper that would say that these systems are not directed against us. Surprising as it is, but this is a fact. Naturally, we are bound to ask: “And why do you refuse to sign anything if you believe this is not directed against us?”

“It would seem a trifle,” Putin said in his television presentation, “a piece of paper that could be signed today and thrown away tomorrow – but they are reluctant to do even that. If they deploy these elements in Europe, we’ll have to do something in response, as we’ve said so many times. But this means an escalation of the arms race! Why do this? It would be much better to look at this issue and determine if there are missile threats from some directions and decide how this system should be controlled or accessed. It would be sensible to do it together, but no, they don’t want that. Naturally, we’ll continue these talks with patience and persistence, but in any event, we’ll do everything to guarantee the security of the Russian people, and I’m sure we’ll succeed.”

The US destroyer survived the buzzing, and made port at Constanta on April 14 (image above). The welcoming ceremony was led by the Romanian President, Traian Basescu. In Basescu’s statement, he said the Cook would be replaced by a US frigate “ensuring thus a continuous presence in the area and increase interoperability between the Romanian and the American fleet.”

Constanta port sources say the warship left the port in the afternoon of April 17. They said they did not know what direction it was taking. Twenty-four hours later a US Navy source confirmed the vessel was under way in the Black Sea. Apparently, it did not head north to Odessa. Nor did it sail south to Bulgaria, or to the Bosphorus. The US Navy does not disclose future ship portcalls.

As US Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to land in Kiev on April 21, the Cook remains in the Black Sea, location undisclosed by the US Navy. For refueling it is obliged to make port again by Thursday, April 24.

Source: Distances in nautical miles (nm). The Cook can operate at speeds of more than 30 knots (30 nm per hour), with a maximum range before refueling of 4,400 nm at 20 k/h (9 days). Its range at 30 k/h is about 6 days.

The Alizé transits the Bosphorus
on March 26, northbound

At the same time, Russian Navy and Defence Ministry reports appearing in the local press reveal the operation of a flotilla of French warships in the Black Sea. These include the Dupuy de Lome, a signals intelligence vessel; the Alizé, a tender for deep-sea rescue; and the anti-submarine frigate Dupleix.

The state Turkish news agency Anadolu has reported the first Russian Navy vessel in several weeks to move through the Turkish straits. On April 18 the Black Sea Fleet repair vessel PM-56 was under way in the direction of the Black Sea, apparently returning to its Sevastopol base from the Syrian port of Tartous. The Turkish media have regularly reported the PM-56’s movements to and from Tartous, where it services units of the Russian fleet docking there.



DEBKAFILE: Syrian rebels get SA-16 anti-aircraft missiles after receiving advanced anti-tank weapons

Syrian rebels have been sighted wielding anti-aircraft weapons in various combat sectors including the Damascus region in the last few days. Just as on April 6, debkafile was the first publication to disclose the arming of Syrian opposition forces with their first US weapons, BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles, our military sources now reveal that they have also acquired – and are using – Russian-made 9K310 Igla-1 aka SA-16 anti-tank rockets, which have an operational range of 5.2 km.

The SA-16 is not new, but it is effective and has been widely used for the past 30 years by various armies in several world conflicts.

According to our sources, the very US-Saudi suppliers, who brought the TOW missiles to certain Syrian rebel units through Jordan and Turkey, are now consigning the anti-tank weapons through the same route.
But although the rebels are now armed for the first time in the more than three-year conflict with a weapon for combating Bashar Assad’s air force, it has come too late to reverse the tide of war. As the Syrian air force drops barrel bombs and chlorine gas canisters on indiscriminate targets, the rebel side continues to be in retreat against the Syrian army’s pumped-up momentum.

The newly-armed rebels have gained not much more than the capacity to hold on to their present lines for a while longer. But ultimately, they cannot prevent the combined weight of the Syria army, Hizballah and Iraqi Shiite Iraqis, who continue to stream into Syria, breaking through those lines.

Had the Obama administration seriously meant the rebel side to win the war – even at this late date – it would have laid on a commensurate supply of 10,000 BGM-71 TOW and 5,000 SA-16 missiles. This hardware is available on international black markets. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies would have been ready to foot the bill and get the weapons smuggled through to their destination.

But Washington shows no inclination to give the Syrian opposition the upper hand against Assad’s radical military coalition. At best, only a few hundred missiles are being made available, enough to send the war into standoff with neither side able to finally rout the other.
Since the removal of Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the Saudi Intelligence Director who opposed this half-and-half US policy, Riyadh is going along with the Washington line on Syria.

This plays straight into Bashar Assad’s hands. After completing their takeover of the strategic Qalamoun mountain range on the Lebanese border, the Syrian army and Hizballah have finally achieved control of the Old City of Homs at the end of two years of vicious fighting.

Saturday, April 19, they launched themselves on rebel positions in eastern Damascus, starting with Jobar and Douma so as to push the rebels out of the center of the Syrian capital and loosen their grip on the main roads to Damascus International Airport.

To support this effort, Assad’s emissaries have entered into secret negotiation with three rebel militias holding the southern outskirts of Damascus in a bid to persuade them to pull back.
Having done his intelligence homework, the Syrian ruler sent agents to approach the leaders of the Syrian Liberation Army or Brigade, the Brigade of Beloved Mustafa and the Imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman Brigades for a deal.

They were offered immunity from attack if they turned coat and agreed to withdraw their fighting men as far south as Daraa and regroup in the area between that town and Quneitra on the Golan, i.e. along the Syrian-Israeli border.
By this gambit, Assad plans to keep his own army at a safe distance from the anti-tank and anti-aircraft rockets newly supplied by US and Saudi Arabia to the rebels in the south. At the same time, he intends to insert the three militias into the security pockets US- Jordanian- and Israel-backed rebels are carving out in southern Syria.
Two of those militias are made up of radical Islamist fighters who maintain ties with al Qaeda.
The Syrian ruler’s plan is to transplant the jihadist threat they pose to his forces in the Damascus area over to his southern borders where they will be ranged face to face with Israel and Jordan.



Policy= res publica

Freudenberg-Pilster* GALLUP: Retirement Remains Americans‘ Top Financial Worry *

*Middle-aged Americans most concerned about retirement*

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A firm majority of Americans, 59%, are worried about not having enough money for retirement, surpassing eight other financial matters. A majority of Americans have reported being "very" or "moderately" worried about retirement savings every year since 2001, illustrating that saving for retirement disquiets Americans in both good and bad economic times.

These results are from Gallup’s annual Economy and Personal Finance poll, conducted April 3-6 this year.

The next top concern, not being able to pay medical costs in the event of a serious illness or accident, worries 53% of Americans. This is down from a record high of 62% in 2012.

Third on the list of Americans‘ top financial worries is not being able to maintain the standard of living they enjoy, with nearly half of the country’s adults citing this concern. Together, retirement savings, unexpected medical costs, and maintaining one’s standard of living typically top the list of the eight financial items that Gallup has tracked annually since 2001. Concerns about all three are down modestly from two years ago, but are still higher than they were before the Great Recession.

Notably, four in 10 American adults say they are very or moderately worried about not having enough money to pay off their debt. This is the first time Gallup has included this financial issue. With as much as $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt circulating in the U.S. today — not to mention other prevalent types of debt such as credit cards — debt concerns are clearly weighing on a significant proportion of the country.

Of the nine concerns tested, the bottom two concerns — not being able to pay one’s rent or mortgage, and not being able to make minimum payments on credit card bills — are those most likely to indicate immediate insolvency. This finding suggests that most common financial problems are related more to savings and future expenditures than day-to-day living.

Middle-Aged Americans Most Worried About Retirement

Personal financial concerns vary significantly across age groups. The top problem for the broadly defined group of middle-aged Americans — those aged 30 to 64 — is not having enough money for retirement, in line with previous findings. For this group, about seven in 10 worry about not having enough money for retirement.

Young Americans aged 18 to 29 worry most about paying medical costs in the event of a serious illness or accident (52%), perhaps a result of the comparatively high uninsured rate for younger Americans or the lack of savings typically characterizing that age group. An equal share of 18- to 29-year-olds (52%) say they are worried about being able to maintain their standard of living. And nearly half of 18- to 29-year-olds worry about being able to pay off debt, perhaps a consequence of the massive amount of student loan debt that many young adults carry. Possibly befitting their youth and their longer distance in years from retirement, this group is least concerned about having enough money when they retire compared with other age groups — despite dire predictions about the future of Medicare and Social Security.

Older Americans, those aged 65 or older, also worry most about being able to pay medical costs in the event of a serious illness or accident, though few in this age group lack health insurance. However, given the formidable cost of protracted, continual medical care that often characterizes older Americans‘ later years, many senior citizens may feel their health insurance alone cannot handle such a financial burden. Generally speaking, though, senior citizens are much less concerned about most of these financial problems than are their younger counterparts. The majority of older Americans appear to have retirement financing under control; 37% worry about having enough money in their retirement, by far the lowest percentage of any age group. Senior citizens are least concerned about not having enough money to pay for their children’s college education (8%) — presumably because older Americans already faced that challenge.

For Americans across all age groups, the ability to make minimum payments on credit card bills does not generate much concern.

Bottom Line

Retirement may be a time that many working adults look forward to, but it is paradoxically a source of stress in the here and now. A strong majority of Americans, particularly those aged 30 to 64, worry about having enough money for retirement, and this concern has regularly topped the list of Americans‘ top financial problems. The only other personal financial concern that a majority of Americans are very or moderately worried about is the ability to pay medical costs in the event of a serious accident or illness.

For a country that now has a life expectancy at birth of 78.7 years, retirement savings for post-work years is considered a matter of national importance. These concerns led President Barack Obama to propose a retirement savings account for working adults — MyRA — during this year’s State of the Union address. It remains to be seen whether this new type of savings plan, which will be available in late 2014, will ultimately alleviate some Americans‘ concerns about retirement.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 3-6, 2014, with a random sample of 1,026 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.



Politics: From Vision to Action

Barandat* U.S. Army War College : Augmenting Our Influence: Alliance Revitalization and Partner Development *

Brief Synopsis

View the Executive Summary

As the United States and its allies prepare to withdraw most of their military forces from Afghanistan and following the end of the war in Iraq, fundamental questions have arisen over the future of American Landpower. Among them are the role of allies and partners in terms of contributing to the safeguarding of shared global interests, the implications of the Pacific rebalancing for American alliances worldwide, and the role of Landpower in identifying, developing, and maintaining critical alliances, partnerships, and other relationships. To examine these and other questions, as well as to formulate potential solutions to the challenges facing U.S. national security in the coming decade, the U.S. Army War College gathered a panel of experts on alliances and partnerships for the 24th Annual Strategy Conference in Carlisle, PA. Conducted on April 9-11, 2013, the conference explored American Landpower implications associated with an evolving national security strategy. Chaired by the Strategic Studies Institute’s Dr. John R. Deni, the panel devoted to alliances and partnerships featured expert presentations based on the papers in this edited volume by Dr. Sean Kay, Dr. Carol Atkinson, and Dr. William Tow. Their analyses provided the U.S. Army and the U.S. Department of Defense with invaluable strategic assessments and insights.



Suter* Knowing that you matter, matters: the luck of having a meaningful job*

What if somebody told you that your job was completely irrelevant and useless? Would you still work with the same effort? Probably not. But what if you got more money or became “employee of the month”?

In a new IZA discussion paper Michael Kosfeld, Susanne Neckermann and Xiaolan Yang analyze these questions. In a field experiment, they recruited more than 400 students at a Chinese University to help them enter a dataset into the computer. They told half of the students that their work is very important for their research project. The rest of the helpers were told that the data has already been entered, but some weird professor is not satisfied and wants the process to be repeated. So basically their work is useless.

The researchers discovered that students who thought they do something very meaningful, performed much better. They entered about 15 percent more questionnaires into the computer. Both groups responded similarly to monetary incentives: when promised one Yuan extra to the 50 Yuan fixed pay, both “high-meaning”and “low-meaning” helpers entered about eight percent more questionnaires.

In contrast, the response of the students to a special form of recognition was quite different between the two groups of students. In both groups some participants were told that the one with the most completed questionnaires would be awarded a smiley button in front of all other helpers.

The students who thought their work was irrelevant showed 19 percent more effort to get this prize. In contrast, assistants who believed their work was important did not care about this award at all. The authors conclude that meaning and recognition affect workers through the same channel, so that the influence on effort and performance is substitutive, not additive.

Read abstract or download discussion paper.



Middle East

Paying for giant Nile dam itself, Ethiopia thwarts Egypt but takes risks

A general view shows construction activity on the Grand Renaissance dam in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz region in this March 16, 2014 file photo.

Reuters) – Ethiopia’s bold decision to pay for a huge dam itself has overturned generations of Egyptian control over the Nile’s waters, and may help transform one of the world’s poorest countries into a regional hydropower hub.

By spurning an offer from Cairo for help financing the project, Addis Ababa has ensured it controls the construction of the Renaissance Dam on a Nile tributary. The electricity it will generate – enough to power a giant rich-world city like New York – can be exported across a power-hungry region.

But the decision to fund the huge project itself also carries the risk of stifling private sector investment and restricting economic growth, and may jeopardize Ethiopia’s dream of becoming a middle income country by 2025.

The dam is now a quarter built and Ethiopia says it will start producing its first 750 megawatts of electricity by the end of this year. In the sandy floor of the Guba valley, near the Sudanese border, engineers are laying compacted concrete to the foundations of the barrage that will tower 145 meters high and whose turbines will throw out 6,000 megawatts – more than any other hydropower project in Africa.

So far, Ethiopia has paid 27 billion birr ($1.5 billion) out of a total projected cost of 77 billion birr for the dam, which will create a lake 246 km (153 miles) long.

It is the biggest part of a massive program of public spending on power, roads and railways in one of Africa’s fastest growing economies. Ethiopia’s output has risen at near double digit rates for a decade, luring investors from Sweden to China.

But economists warn that squeezing the private sector to pay for the public infrastructure could hurt future prospects. Growth is already showing signs of slowing.

Even so, Addis Ababa says the price is worth paying to guarantee Egypt has no veto over the dam, the centerpiece of a 25-year project to profit from East Africa’s accelerating economic growth by exporting electricity across the region.

"We did not want this dam to suffer from external pressures, particularly with respect to financing," said Fekahmed Negash, a director within Ethiopia’s Ministry of Water and Energy.


Ethiopia’s transformation from an economic disaster barely able to feed its people into an emerging regional leader capable of self-financing mega-projects has recast diplomacy over the Nile, northeast Africa’s most important resource.

Egypt, which has claimed exclusive right to control the river’s waters for generations, is fuming. Cairo worries the dam will reduce the flow on which it has depended for drinking water and irrigation for thousands of years.

It has demanded building be halted pending negotiations between the countries, and had offered to take on joint ownership of the project, an offer Addis Ababa dismissed.

Cairo no longer wields the same leverage it once did when upriver sub-Saharan countries were too poor to build such huge projects themselves.

Still, the dam’s cost of more than $4 billion is roughly 12 percent of the annual output of Ethiopia, a steep price to pay for a country spurning outside help.

Ethiopia has resorted to measures like forcing banks that lend to private borrowers to lend the equivalent of 27 percent of their loan books to the government at a low return, effectively a tax on private lending.

Along with other projects, the dam is draining so much financing from the economy that private investors‘ access to credit and foreign exchange is being jeopardized, hurting growth, the International Monetary Fund says.

The IMF forecast in November that output growth would slow to 7.5 percent this fiscal year from 8.5 percent in 2011/12, and said the economy needed restructuring to encourage private sector investment now crowded out by huge public projects.

Ethiopia needs high growth to fulfill plans to lift its population out of deep poverty. Per capita income was still just $410 in 2012, the World Bank says.

The government disputes the view that lavish public spending is hurting overall economic performance, and forecasts a higher growth rate than the IMF.

Italy’s biggest construction firm, Salini Impregilo, which is building the dam, says all payments have been made on time so far and it has no worries about Addis Ababa continuing to come up with the needed billions.

"We have full confidence in the government of Ethiopia," the firm said in an e-mail to Reuters.

And the dam is just the start for Ethiopia’s ambition of becoming a regional power hub. A government plan seen by Reuters would see Africa’s second most populous nation target installed capacity of 37,000 MW within 25 years – far more than the World Bank’s estimate of just 28,000 MW for the entire current output of sub-Saharan Africa excluding South Africa.

More dams are being built and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn is fast securing deals to sell power abroad.

In the Ministry of Energy, a building whose stark design is a throwback to when communists ran Ethiopia’s economy into the ground, a poster maps Ethiopia’s energy goals.

From a dot on the Nile, lines run north through Sudan and across the Sahara desert as far as Morocco while extending southwards to South Africa, linking Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and other power-hungry economies.

Djibouti, Kenya and Sudan already take 180 MW, which, though a small amount so far, is already changing the economics of electricity in the region, Ethiopian officials say.

"Before it started getting power from Ethiopia, Djibouti’s tariff was 30 U.S. cents per kilowatt hour. We are selling to them at 6 cents," said Mekuria Lemma, corporate planning chief at Ethiopia’s state-run power corporation, EEPCO.

Kenya has signed an agreement to buy about 400 MW. Rwanda too inked a deal in March to take 400 MW by 2018 and a similar arrangement with Tanzania is expected. Beyond Africa, talks are expected over supplying 900 MW to Yemen via an undersea cable.


As long as Ethiopia spurns outside funding, there seems to be little an angry Cairo can now do to stop the dam.

The sparkling streams at the foot of Ethiopia’s Mount Gish spill into Lake Tana from where the Blue Nile meanders gently towards Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, where it joins the White Nile and flows north through Egypt and drains into the Mediterranean.

Among Cairo’s worries is concern that years of filling the new dam’s 74 billion cubic meter reservoir will temporarily cut the river’s flow, and that surface water evaporation from the huge new lake will then reduce it permanently.

"Water problems even without this dam are sky high," said water expert Klaus Lanz in reference to Egypt’s shortage.

Egypt leans on a 1959 treaty with Sudan which hands Cairo the lion’s share of water. Some Egyptian politicians even urged military action last year against Ethiopia, raising concerns of a "water war".

The public political bluster has died down, but Egyptian officials still refer to safeguarding their nation’s quota of the Nile’s flow as a matter of national security.

In a government white paper, Cairo calls the construction of the dam a "violation" of international legal principles, in particular the duty to prevent harm to other riparian nations.

"We have no other resources," Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty told Reuters. "So it’s not a joke. We will not allow our national interests, our national security … to be endangered."


"We are still for cooperation, negotiation, but only serious negotiations, not to waste time," Abdellaty added.

But distracted by militant violence and political turmoil at home, Cairo appears to have few levers with which to force Addis Ababa to halt the project. Ethiopian officials say the dam could be completed as early as 2016.

Ethiopia denies Egypt will suffer and complains that its northern neighbor has flexed its political muscle to deter financiers from backing other Ethiopian power projects.

Fekahmed of the water ministry said Cairo had influenced a decision by China’s Electric Power Equipment and Technology Co. to pull out of a $1 billion deal to connect the dam to the grid.

"The authorities in Egypt made a noise," Fekahmed said, adding that another Chinese group was now lined up to fund the high voltage lines. Egypt’s Abdelatty did not comment on the specific case but confirmed that Cairo was trying to use its influence to push foreigners away from backing the project.

"We have contacts with everybody," said Abdelatty. "(The minister) raised it with Russia, with China, you name it."

In a diplomatic coup for Ethiopia, and a political blow to Egypt, the other major down river country, Sudan, has slowly warmed to the dam project and lifted its own earlier objections. Sudan may benefit from cheap power and irrigation water.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy told Sky News Arabic this month he rejected a military solution and dismissed referring the dispute to the International Court of Justice, which would require the agreement of both sides.

Instead, Egypt continues to push hard for further studies on the dam’s design and impact on downstream countries. All the while, Ethiopia shows no sign of ordering the downing of tools.

"We will finish it whether they like it or not," said a senior Ethiopian official who requested anonymity. "But of course, we will continue negotiating in the meantime."





UAW suddenly retreats from fight at Tennessee VW plant

(Reuters) – The United Auto Workers, surprising even its supporters, on Monday abruptly withdrew its legal challenge to a union organizing vote that it lost at a Volkswagen AG plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee in February.

Just an hour before the start of a National Labor Relations Board hearing on the challenge, the union dropped its case, casting a cloud over its long and still unsuccessful push to organize foreign-owned auto plants in the U.S. South.

VW workers due to testify at the hearing were already at the courthouse in downtown Chattanooga when they heard the news, which left lawyers in the hearing room wondering how to proceed.

The union did not explain why it waited until the 11th hour to drop the case, but UAW official Gary Casteel said the decision not to go ahead was made last week.

That was when Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, U.S. Senator Bob Corker from Tennessee, and Washington small government activist Grover Norquist said they would ignore subpoenas to attend the hearing, which was to have focused partly on their conduct in the days leading up to the plant workers vote.

"It became obvious to us that they were going to become objectionists and not allow the process to go forward in a transparent way. When that happens, these things can drag on for years," Casteel said in an interview.

UAW President Bob King, whose term expires in June, had vowed four years ago to successfully bring the union into a foreign-owned Southern plant. Three years ago, he said that if the union was unable to do so, its future was in jeopardy.

"The UAW is ready to put February’s tainted election in the rearview mirror and instead focus on advocating for new jobs and economic investment in Chattanooga," King said in a statement on Monday.


Labor experts said the union’s move would allow it to devote more energy to trying to win representation at other Southern plants: the Nissan Motor Co plant near Jackson, Mississippi where the UAW has sought worker support for more than two years; or the Daimler AG Mercedes-Benz plant near Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

The UAW could also now work for a new election in Chattanooga. But they will have to wait at least until 2015. NLRB rules prohibit the same group of workers from voting again in the 12 months following a valid election.

"It’s a significant setback for the UAW," said Dennis Cuneo, a pro-management attorney with long auto industry experience. "Losing the election, then pursuing an appeal only to withdraw it at the last minute. It has to be seen as a huge setback."

Casteel said the UAW was still committed to representing workers at Chattanooga. "This should not be construed as any type of surrender. It’s just another page in the journey."

Some 15 to 20 pro-UAW workers handed out leaflets explaining the union’s move during both shifts, said worker Devin Gore, 25. For some workers, the leaflet they received when leaving the plant was the first they had heard about the UAW’s withdrawal.

The leaflet included the line, "The UAW is here to stay."

After decades of declining membership and no success in recruiting workers at foreign-owned auto assembly plants in the U.S. South, the Volkswagen plant last year seemed to be the best chance for the UAW.

VW officials agreed not to fight the UAW and allowed the union direct access to workers at the plant during work hours, which the union hoped would increase its chances of victory.

But in the February 12-14 election, workers voted 712-626 against allowing the UAW to represent them.

The UAW asked the NLRB to invalidate the vote and hold a new one, alleging that workers were improperly influenced by anti-union statements made by Tennessee Republican politicians and outside interest groups in the days leading up to the election.

The election results were certified on Monday after the UAW objection was withdrawn.

Volkswagen officials at the automaker’s German headquarters want Chattanooga workers to be represented by a works council that would include both blue- and white-collar employees. But most legal and labor experts say that to do so in accordance with U.S. labor law, an American union would have to represent workers on issues of wages and benefits.

"We welcome the decision by the UAW," Volkswagen said in a statement. "It provides an important gesture for a constructive dialogue in Chattanooga."

In his statement, the UAW’s King said, "The unprecedented political interference by Gov. Haslam, Sen. Corker and others was a distraction for Volkswagen employees and a detour from achieving Tennessee’s economic priorities."

During the election campaign, Haslam and other Tennessee politicians threatened to cut off financial incentives for Volkswagen to expand the plant if the UAW succeeded in organizing the workers there.







PolicyWatch 2241
April 21, 2014

Featuring David Miliband and Robert Ford

Watch video or read this summary on our website:


On April 17, 2014, David Miliband and Robert Ford addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. Miliband is president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee and former foreign secretary of the United Kingdom. Ford is a former U.S. diplomat who recently retired after completing four years‘ service as ambassador to Syria. The following is a rapporteur’s summary of their remarks.



The Syrian emergency has become the defining humanitarian crisis of our time. The international community’s failure to effectively deal with it has helped create an explosive cocktail of brutal dictatorship, communal sectarianism, and global and regional power plays. Because the country’s political and humanitarian challenges are interdependent, the failure to adequately address the latter has dangerous consequences for international law — not only for the Syrian conflict, but for future conflicts as well. The war’s fiercely sectarian nature has blurred the line between civilian and combatant, setting a potentially disastrous precedent.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), which currently dedicates 20 percent of its budget to the Syrian crisis, was expelled from the country in 2009. Although it is not officially recognized by the Assad regime, it still conducts 60 percent of its work inside Syria via cross-border efforts from Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. Thus far, the IRC has supplied 1.2 million Syrians inside the country with medical aid, and an additional half million with other forms of assistance.

Yet much like the rest of the humanitarian enterprise, the IRC’s campaign suffers from a mismatch between needs on the ground and help provided. Around 9.5 million people are displaced, and 3.5 million live in besieged areas that are completely cut off from aid — an increase of 1 million over the past two to three months. Moreover, many of the refugees who have flooded neighboring countries are expecting children. This is particularly alarming in light of the fact that 300,000 children have already gone without schooling for three years, and the figure is expected to rise to half a million this year. The arrival of spring and summer bodes even more disaster: the transmission of diseases, including polio and measles, and droughts that threaten to exacerbate food shortages.

Despite all this, the political will needed to sufficiently address the humanitarian situation continues to falter. Western governments have been overly cautious about getting involved in Syria, arguing that intervention would only complicate the crisis. But many of the things they fear would result from direct involvement have happened anyway. For example, the "Afghanization" of Syria’s center and east has already transformed areas of the country into cradles for al-Qaeda, while the World Bank recently warned of the war’s economic toll on neighboring countries, including an estimated $7.5 billion in Lebanon and $6 billion in Jordan.

Going forward, the West should start addressing the crisis by clearly defining a political transition. In the absence of a vision that articulates an endpoint for the conflict, getting both sides to begin developing the underpinnings of a functioning state will remain infeasible.

Moreover, despite the conflict’s increasingly violent character, the funding constraint on the humanitarian enterprise is far bigger than the security constraint. The international community continues to place the blame on "humanitarian access," but in reality it can take several more steps to mitigate the suffering. For one, the permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) and interested parties in the region should appoint a humanitarian envoy to Syria. With the support of host governments, this envoy could engage at the international level by increasing scrutiny of abuses on both sides, and at the local level by brokering ceasefires. Second, rather than waiting on UNSC resolutions to facilitate cross-border aid transfers, the international community should instead call on individual governments to ensure access. Finally, various players have not been held accountable for actions that violate UNSC resolutions and the Geneva Conventions, and this must change. In February, the UNSC appeared to achieve a breakthrough on the question of humanitarian aid, but that development failed to produce actual improvement on the ground. The regime continues to obstruct aid delivery in at least twelve of Syria’s fourteen governorates, in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions.


The United States, as the single largest donor to Syrian relief efforts, has demonstrated grave concern for the humanitarian crisis. Approximately $1.7 billion in aid, largely distributed through UN channels, has been used to assist refugees, internally displaced persons, and local communities where the Syrian regime has lost control, especially Idlib and north-central Aleppo. This aid has helped provide food, rescue equipment, and salaries for police and teachers, among other things. Despite all this assistance, however, the crisis is only getting worse. Today, the Syrians who suffer the most are not refugees, but civilians living in the Damascus suburbs, Homs, and other areas blockaded by the regime in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

The difficulty the regime has faced in recapturing these blockaded areas is mainly the result of a manpower shortage, forcing it to become increasingly reliant on Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite militias. In many such areas, the only way the opposition has been able to prevent the mass starvation of civilians is to turn over weaponry to the regime. Even then, most agreements between the opposition and regime to let in vital supplies have quickly fallen apart.

The regime will continue to use the deprivation of aid as a war tactic so long as it is fighting for its life. Negotiating with Damascus on humanitarian matters — a tactic that failed to yield results in the former Yugoslavia — sets a bad precedent. It should not be up to Bashar al-Assad to decide whether or not to implement the legally binding terms of the Geneva Conventions. Although the opposition has likewise besieged regime-controlled areas in Aleppo (e.g., Zahra and Nubol), its blockades are by no means as complete or brutal as Assad’s.

The United States can take several concrete steps to address the crisis. The first is to bring the opposition together and consolidate its ranks. Washington should also make clear that Assad is the root cause of the crisis and a magnet for foreign fighters, and that his upcoming "reelection" campaign will enormously complicate efforts to set up a transitional government. In particular, this means convincing Russia and Iran that Assad’s continuation of the war does not serve their national security interests. For example, more Chechen fighters are learning tricks of the trade in Syria, and the war is giving al-Qaeda space to operate on Iran’s doorstep. Washington should also find a way to include Tehran in future discussions in a constructive manner. Iran did not have a seat at the most recent talks because it would not accept the Geneva Communique of 2012.

In addition, the Syrian opposition must provide assurances to regime supporters who fear mass retaliation in the event that Assad loses. Such assurances would be more credible if they came from armed rebel groups rather than the unarmed opposition coalition. This makes it especially important to bring the political and armed opposition together during the transitional period. Accordingly, greater efforts should be made to persuade the Syrian Islamic Front to support negotiations.

Without decisive action, the cantonization of Syria will continue. More cities will come to resemble Abu Kamal, an area near the Iraqi border where six opposition groups currently compete for control. The war of attrition will persist inside the country and among various regional players. For its part, the regime will continue to blockade civilian areas while refusing to shell the Raqqa headquarters of al-Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). This in turn will continue to wear down the moderate opposition, which is now fighting a war on two fronts, against ISIS and Assad.



see our letter on:

Wir wünschen Ihnen ein angenehmes Wochenende. Ihr Team.

Udo von Massenbach – Bärbel Freudenberg-Pilster – Jörg Barandat – Edith Suter




Amerika_ Autogewerkschaft UAW kann in VW-Werk nicht Fu fassen – Unternehmen.pdf