Friday, October 15, 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Article: Cleo Paskal on commodities versus strategic assets (or how to win friends and influence countries -- with wheat)

Cleo Paskal analyses Canada's position as a global 'commodities' larder for the latest issue of Canadian Geographic. An excerpt (for the whole article, click here): 

Around the world, nations concerned about existing and worsening resource scarcity are making moves to secure supply. Populations facing hardship may be looking for new places to move, as refugees either after an extreme event or because of gradual erosion of stability in their home countries. And that is sure to affect the way they look at Canada.Some have been planning for scarcity for a long time. 
China’s one-child policy, implemented in 1979, followed a series of famines and was, at least in part, designed to reduce demand on resources. China’s willingness to implement such an emotionally, socially and politically difficult policy is a small indication of the seriousness with which it is also trying to secure supply. For example, along with other countries concerned about food supply, such as Saudi Arabia and South Korea, China is investing heavily in farmland in places like Africa. Often, the farms are run by Chinese nationals and the produce is destined for Chinese markets. And what scarce resources China does have, such as rare earth metals, are being kept in the country by the imposition of export quotas and high export tariffs.
The crux of it is that many of the things we currently view as commodities — say wheat and metals — are already seen as strategic assets by less fortunate nations. When something is considered a strategic asset, different economics and politics apply. A bushel of wheat isn’t viewed just as a bushel of wheat but as an essential component for keeping people from rising up against the government. During the food price spike of 2008, for instance, China was very quick to increase food subsidies to that most restive group, students. And in August, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced a temporary ban on grain exports because of a severe drought that is expected to reduce the harvest by more than 20 million tonnes.
Canada may think of itself as a commodities nation, but others see us as a strategic-assets storehouse.
The question is, Will the Canadian government incorporate the increasing strategic value of our commodities into the way we engage with the rest of the world? Will we continue to sell off our storehouse to the spot-price highest bidder? Or will we try to plan for the longer term, develop a strategy and perhaps use our relative abundance to help allies get through the coming scarcities — in effect using our resources to increase our own security?
Parts of the Canadian government, including Public Safety Canada, have been considering these issues, and in certain sectors — in particular water — NGOs are raising strategic concerns. But we have a long way to go. What other nations already understand is that in an increasingly unstable world, Canada’s wheat, livestock, water, oil and land aren’t just commodities — they are stability. And that may soon become the rarest commodity of all.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Interview: Cleo Paskal on Tonga in the Matangi Tonga

Cleo Paskal spent much of August and September in the South Pacific nation of the Kingdom of Tonga, learning as much as she could in the lead up to its elections on November 25th. Mary Lyn Fonua of the Matangi Tonga interviewed Cleo about her visit. An excerpt (for the full interview, click here):

What was interesting for me was this very unique situation of having to think through many of the fundamentals of an electoral process from scratch. What do you do about term limits? What do you do about term lengths? What do you do about campaign financing? These are all critical, extremely important issues that other countries are still struggling with and they were all being dealt with at the same time; and on top of that it's fundamentally a foreign system. There are traditional government structures that have worked for a very long time, at the village level, at the church level. So the whole question of not only good governance but appropriate governance is all coming to a head here, now, and there are questions that are of universal importance anywhere human society has to govern itself. This is a unique place, and a unique time, and a unique set of circumstances for thinking about those sorts of issues.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Video: Visit to EastWest Institute in New York City

Cleo Paskal visited with the fine folks at the EastWest Institute in New York City for bagels and a most interesting discussion. A write-up of the visit can be seen here. A video interview she recorded while there is below. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Review of Global Warring by Malta's Shadow Minister for the Environment, Sustainable Development & Climate Change

Leo Brincat, Shadow Minister for the Environment, Sustainable Development & Climate Change, wrote in The Malta Independent Online, that Global Warring is: 

one of the most intriguing books that came my way this year. [...] In her easily readable but technical and well researched book Paskal sets out to identify how environmental, economic and political crises will redraw the world map. [...] She makes the fine point that in military circles the importance of weather and climate is well-known. Quoting the classic Chinese text The Art of War by Sun Tzu she explains that there are five factors that must be considered before any military action: weather, terrain, discipline (including supply lines), politics and leadership… climate change can as she argued, directly affect: weather, terrain and supply lines, discipline and politics! She shows deep concern too about the Mediterranean claiming that no one is certain what will happen to marine biology in the Med – a biosphere weakened by over fishing and pollution.

For more, click here.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Foreign language mentions of Global Warring

Global Warring rated a write-up in an Arabic-language blog and a Scandinavian one. Though the Scandinavian one seems to mostly be about comedian Doug Stanhope trying to lighten his luggage by the weight of exactly one book (allegedly Doug's main complaint about Global Warring is that it doesn't mention the critical role Mothra might play in geopolitics).