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October 14, 2013

Wikinews interviews meteorological experts on Cyclone Phalin

Wikinews interviews meteorological experts on Cyclone Phalin

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Cyclone Phailin over the Bay of Bengal on October 11.
Image: NASA.

Half-a-million people have fled their homes in and around the Indian state of Orissa after Cyclone Phailin made landfall.

Wikinews interviewed specialists in meteorology about the devastation the cyclone has caused.


Wikinews interviewed:

  • Michael Richman, Professor in the School of Meteorology at the University of Oklahoma in the United States
  • John Snow, Regents’ Professor of Meteorology and Dean Emeritus of the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Services at the University of Oklahoma
  • Ramalingam Saravanan, Professor of Atmospheric Science at Texas A&M University
  • Fuqing Zhang, Professor in the Department of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University
  • David Titley, a Senior Scientist and founding Director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Pennsylvania State University
  • Paul Knight, a Senior Lecturer in Meteorology at the Pennsylvania State University
  • Mark Morrissey, Professor of Meteorology at the University of Oklahoma

Wikinews Q&A

File photo of interviewee Mark Morrissey.
Image: Mark Morrissey.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What is your job role?

Richman: Professor in the School of Meteorology [at the University of Oklahoma].
Snow: I am a Regents’ Professor of Meteorology and Dean Emeritus of the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences [at the University of Oklahoma].
Saravanan:I am a professor of atmospheric science at Texas A&M University, specializing in computer modeling of climate and weather phenomena, including hurricanes.
Zhang: I am a Professor in the Department of Meteorology with a courtesy joint appointment in the Department of Statistics [at Pennsylvania State University]. My current research focuses on the dynamics, prediction and predictability of tropical cyclones.
Titley: I am a Senior Scientist and founding Director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State. I was awarded my Ph.D. in Meteorology from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California for work in tropical cyclone intensification.
Knight: I am a senior lecturer in Meteorology [at Pennsylvania State University] and the Pennsylvania State Climatologist.
Morrissey: I’m a professor of Meteorology at the Univ of Oklahoma. I specialize in tropical meteorology (and teach courses in that too).

File photo of interviewee David Titley.
Image: David Titley.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Cyclone Phailin has winds that have been measured at 200km/h, as it surges over land will it begin to lose strength?

Richman: Yes, all tropical cyclones are driven by high heat content waters. Once a storm moves over any appreciably sized piece of land, the moisture source is removed and the storm begins to dissipate. As of the last advisory, TC Phailin has winds of 190 kilometers per hour and has moved inland, headed on a northwest track. That is a Category 3 storm. The forecast is for a continued decline in strength to a tropical storm within 24 hours and a tropical depression within 36 hours. However, there will be very heavy rains and flooding along its path.
Snow: Yes, it will loose strength steadily as more and more of this swirling system moves from being over ocean to being over land. This occurs for two reasons:
1) As it moves over land, it is cut off from the source of energy driving the storm [which is] the evaporation of water from the warm sea surface;
2) Increased friction — the ocean surface is much, much smoother than the land surface.
Saravanan: Tropical cyclones are sustained by a form of energy called latent heat, which is released by moisture evaporated from the ocean that condenses to form rain. As tropical cyclones make landfall, this energy source is cut-off and they rapidly lose strength as they move over land.
Zhang: Yes, the Cyclone is almost certain to lose strength as it surges over land. Cyclones gather their strength through scraping moisture and heat from warm ocean water that it is not the case over land. In the mean time, much stronger friction over land quickly reduces their strength.
Titley: Yes. All tropical cyclones lose strength once they make landfall. However, they can remain dangerous storms due to very heavy rains and subsequent landslides, and river flooding.
Knight: Phailin’s winds will rapidly weaken as it pushes inland.
Morrissey: Once Cyclone Phailin comes on shore it will immediately begin to lose strength. However, and this is important, it still will contain lots of rainfall making flooding an almost certainty.

File photo of interviewee R Saravanan.
Image: R Saravanan.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png A previous cyclone in 1999 in the Bay of Bengal area of India left 10,000 people dead. Is the Indian government well prepared to deal with this cyclone?

Richman: I have not followed that aspect of the societal response for the present storm. However, historically, there have been several events that should cause a societal response. Hopefully, we all learn from past mistakes. The history of strong cyclones and death in the region is notable, with at least 5 large cyclone events in the past 35 years with 10,000 and as many as 300,000 people killed, millions left homeless and estimated damages as high as US$10 billion.
Snow: I don’t have enough information to answer this question, one way or the other.
Saravanan: From all the press reports that I have read, the Indian government appears to have taken the threat of Cyclone Phailin very seriously indeed. The government has been much more pro-active in preparing for this cyclone than in the past. The forecasts of cyclone track and intensity have been fairly accurate. Mandatory mass evacuations have been carried out, which is essential to minimize loss of life in these situations. Unfortunately, extensive property damage is bound to occur even with the best preparation.
Zhang: My knowledge of the responsiveness of the Indian government to this storm is purely from the cyber space. I heard that they orchestrated the largest people evacuation to a natural disaster in Indian history. This shall be applauded given the size and strength of Phailin. I visited the damaged area of the 1999 storm near Bhubaneshwar in the summer of 2012 for an invited symposium and summer school on tropical cyclones […] sponsored by the Indian government. Given the living standard and residence of people living near the coastal areas in this region, the evacuation is certainly necessary and essential to save lives.
Titley: I cannot comment directly on how the Indian government was prepared for this cyclone. However, the news reports (BBC etc.) were very encouraging in that the authorities were reportedly making strenuous efforts to evacuate the population from near the coast and areas that are prone to flooding. Water is the main killer in these storms.
Knight: From all reports that I have seen, the government was well prepared for this cyclone.
Morrissey: For this question I don’t know the ‘preparedness’ of the Indian gov’t to deal with this.

File photo of interviewee Michael Richman.
Image: Michael Richman.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Despite it being the Monsoon season in India, are cyclones of this power and magnitude unusual in India?

Richman: Since the Bay of Bengal is very warm, and the environmental conditions associated with the storm along most of its recent track were conducive to strengthening, it was an expected and well-forecast outcome. In general, the Indian Ocean has been undergoing a gradual warming over the past two decades […] and, the warmer the water, the higher the heat content and the higher the potential is for a very strong tropical cyclone. Phailin intensified rapidly when moving into a low wind-shear environment. It became a Category 5 cyclone, which is rare. However, if the Indian Ocean continues to warm, it may become less rare to see high-end cyclones. The only caveat I have is that takes only one of several factors detrimental to storms to prevent a tropical cyclone from intensifying this way. Wind shear or ingesting dry air are two, for example. We saw this in 2013 with the Atlantic hurricane season. There were waves of Saharan dust and dry air that damped the season, despite warm sea surface temperatures. Everything has to line up just right to get a category 5 cyclone. That is what makes prediction of tropical cyclone frequency and strength so difficult under global warming projections. However, the data […] suggest that the Indian Ocean is warming.
Snow: I am basing my answer on reports I have seen in the popular news media. Taking what was reported at face value, this is a super-typhoon/cyclone. Cyclones of this level of intensity (as measured by top wind speed and central pressure value) are very, very rare. Everywhere, including near India.
Saravanan: In terms of average numbers, major cyclones are less frequent in the Indian Ocean than some other regions of the world, such as the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico. However, Cyclone Phailin cannot be considered unusual because storms of similar power have occurred in the past. In fact, many of the deadliest cyclones in the world have occurred in the Indian Ocean region. The high death tolls have more to do with high population density and poor infrastructure than with the actual strength of the storms.
Zhang: It is the strongest in 14 years so in this sense it is certainly rare in India. Also, there are indications that in recent years cyclone activities in the Bay of Bengal have been in a decline.
Titley: Cyclones of this power and magnitude, while infrequent, are by no means unprecedented in the Bay of Bengal. They are most common in the transition seasons between the Winter and Summer Monsoon seasons, like now.
Knight: This is a very strong cyclone, but not unprecedented.
Morrissey: Actually cyclones are more prevalent during the onset and retreat of the monsoon. So, in the Bay of Bengal a tropical cyclone at this time is not unusual.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Some forecasters have likened Cyclone Phailin’s size and intensity to Hurricane Katrina which devastated the US Gulf Coast in 2005, would you agree?

Richman: Yes. See above. Katrina was also in a low shear environment over high heat content waters passing over a loop current in the Gulf of Mexico and responded by intensifying to a category 5 hurricane. Also, a second similarity is that Katrina encountered some shear and slightly cooler water before making landfall and crossed the Louisiana coast as a category 3 hurricane, similar to Phailin.

File photo of interviewee John Snow.
Image: John Snow.

Snow: From what I have seen and heard on the popular media, in terms of winds Phalin will be a much more intense storm than Katrina at landfall. Katrina was actually weakening rapidly as it came ashore. Phalin looks to be at a much higher intensity as it approach[es] land. The last few hours will tell.
Where a comparison with Katrina may be [of] value is with respect to the magnitude of the storm surge. Katrina’s winds drove an enormous surge of water (10+ meters above high tide) ashore to the east of New Orleans. My understanding from media reports is that Phalin may produce a surge of similar magnitude over a long stretch of coast.
Saravanan: The size and the intensity of Cyclone Phailin are roughly comparable to Hurricane Katrina, although Phailin may be somewhat weaker overall. The actual intensity of Phailin at landfall is still uncertain, because it is difficult to measure cyclone intensity accurately using only satellite information. One of the problems with the response to Katrina in the United States was that some residents in the vulnerable regions failed to heed the warnings and evacuations were not well coordinated. The sheer scale of the damage caused by Katrina was also not anticipated very well. Hopefully, the response to Phailin would have benefited from the lessons learned from Katrina.
Zhang: It certainly has some similarity in that regard though Katrina was still stronger with a longer history over the ocean.
Titley: Each Hurricane, or Cyclone, is unique and the impacts depend not only on the cyclone itself but also upon the specific area of the coast where it makes landfall. But in the sense that Phailin was a large and potentially dangerous storm, then yes there are similarities with Katrina. Perhaps a better analogy is the hurricane that struck Charleston, South Carolina in 1989: Hurricane Hugo also had winds around 200 km/h and was a large storm when it made landfall.
Knight: Phailin and Katrina have some similarities, especially in their size.
Morrissey: Since Cyclone Phailin has already hit one can easily say ‘oh it wasn’t as bad as Katrina’. However, the amount of damage has a lot to do with the coastline shape, height, whether rivers are nearby,etc. For example, Bangladesh has the Ganges which floods due to heavy rain at the same time as the cyclone-induced storm surge, so it is very prone to heavy damage.

File photo of interviewee Paul Knight.
Image: Paul Knight.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The evacuation is one of the biggest exercises in India’s history. Do you think that this as well as the clear-up to follow will cost a lost of money?

Richman: Any action costs money. In 1995, in the US, we had Katrina, with an inadequate evacuation and then the levees were breached. That had a huge cost in terms of thousands of lives lost and billions of dollars in damage. Later in that same season, hurricane Rita was forecast to cross the Texas coast and hit Houston. A massive evacuation took place and then the storm missed Houston. However, there were deaths and loss of money because of the evacuation. What needs to evaluate is the relative cost of the a good forecast versus those of a missed forecast versus the costs of a false alarm forecast. There is no free lunch when you move millions of people.
Snow: While I don’t know any particulars re India, the clean-up and fix-up after any great disaster anywhere is always expensive, e.g., Haiti after the most recent earthquake.
Saravanan: Yes, the evacuations and the follow-up relocations will cost a lot of money, but it will certainly be worth it in terms of the number of lives saved. This was one of the lessons learned from Katrina in the U.S. I moved to my present job in Texas in July 2005, just before Katrina struck the near-by Louisiana coast in August 2005. As I mentioned earlier, the evacuations for Katrina were carried out poorly. After Katrina, when another powerful hurricane called Rita approached the same region in September 2005, evacuation warnings were taken very seriously. Many people returned after the evacuations with little damage to their homes, but felt that it was better to be safe than sorry, despite the cost and inconvenience of the evacuation.
Zhang: Yes, it has and it will but the evacuation is certainly necessary and the clear-up is unavoidable.
Titley: No doubt the evacuation and subsequent clean up will cost a lot of money. Hopefully as communities rebuild they can take into account the lessons learned from such powerful cyclones and make their communities and infrastructure increasingly resilient to these types of storms. Because you either “pay me now or pay me later” when fixing and repairing the damage.
Knight: All strong cyclones require an immense effort to help people get out of harm’s way and then to clean up its path of destruction, and Phailin will be no exception.
Morrissey: I’m sure that the evacuation was costly, but it probably saved many lives. The cyclone was a category 4, very strong.

File photo of interviewee Fuqing Zhang.
Image: Fuqing Zhang.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Would you expect the death toll to continue to rise?

Richman: No doubt this will be the case. If you use either Hurricane Katrina or Sandy as a template, some people do not evacuate in time and then the two leading causes of death are storm surge or floods. As the storm moved inland, flooding can continue for several days and all the water will flood river until it enters the Bay of Bengal.
Snow: Again, I don’t know particulars, but if people failed to evacuate or were unable to get far enough inland and/or to higher ground, then yes, one would expect additional casualties.
Saravanan: I am not an expert on the human impacts of landfalling tropical cyclones, but I am hoping that the evacuations were largely successful and the inevitable increase in death toll noted as rescue workers return to the affected regions will not be too high.
Zhang: Yes, certainly but hope the preparation by the people and the government will considerably reduce the death toll by orders of magnitude compared to 1999.
Titley: I hope not. So far the numbers of fatalities reported in the press have been very low. I hope these numbers do not rise further, but the authorities are busy returning to the hardest-hit areas so we will see. The very preliminary numbers of low fatalities gives hope though that many citizens heeded their authorities’ pleas for action and evacuation. I hope that turns out to be the real story and lesson from Phailin — strong cyclones do not have to be killer cyclones.
Knight: Unfortunately, inland flooding will likely add to the death toll.
Morrissey: Yes. Unfortunately, the death toll for Katrina continued to rise as searchers went house to house. But the early news for Cyclone Phailin is encouraging.


This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article is a featured article. It is considered one of the best works of the Wikinews community. See Wikinews:Featured articles for more information.


This text comes from Wikinews. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 licence. For a complete list of contributors for this article, visit the corresponding history entry on Wikinews.

October 6, 2013

Wikinews interviews specialists on South Korea military parade

Wikinews interviews specialists on South Korea military parade

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

File photo of South Korean military troops.
Image: US Military.

On Tuesday, South Korea staged a huge military parade to mark its armed forces’ 65th anniversary in a display of long-range missiles considered a direct threat to North Korea. 11,000 troops and 190 different weapons systems were on display in the parade. Wikinews interviewed several specialists about the parade’s possible significance.


Wikinews interviewed:

  • Robert Kelly, Associate Professor of International Relations Pusan National University (PNU) in South Korea
  • Margaret Kosal, Assistant Professor at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia
  • Gari Ledyard, Professor Emeritus of Korean Studies at Columbia University, New York
  • Sue Mi Terry, Senior Research Scholar at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University in New York
  • Young-hae Chi, Instructor in Korean at the University of Oxford, England
  • Seungkwon You, Associate Teaching Professor of Korean Studies at the University of Missouri

Wikinews Q&A

File:Robert Kelly File Photo.JPG

File photo of interviewee Robert Kelly.
Image: Robert Kelly.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What is your job role?

Kelly: I am a Professor of International Relations at PNU.
Kosal: I am an Assistant Professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology, more commonly known as “Georgia Tech.” I also direct the Emerging Technology and Security Program and the Biological and Chemical Nonproliferation and Counterterrorism Program.
Ledyard: I retired from my professorship at Columbia thirteen years ago; since then I’ve had no role. When I was active there since 1964, I taught Korean history and culture, emphasizing the traditional periods of Korea’s earlier history. In those years I wrote a few articles on contemporary political issues but my research has been almost all in Korea’s past.
Terry: I am a Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University’s Weatherhead East Asian Institute.
Chi: I have been teaching Korean studies at Oxford University. I am specialized in international relations of the Far East and particularly North Korean human rights and refugee issues. I worked as an analyst of security issues at the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses in Seoul between 1983 and 1988 authoring a number of policy papers for the South Korean Government.
You: Associate Teaching Professor of Korean Studies teaching Korean Unification, Korean film, Korean society [at the University of Missouri].

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Is the display of cruise missiles and other weapons in a military parade by South Korea in direct response to repeated similar North Korean parades?

Kelly: Yes. I don’t actually think these sorts of demonstrations are proper in a democracy. Liberal states should not really be flashing their hardware in a strutting, provocative way like this. This is the sort of thing Putin would do. But SK’s [South Korea’s] case is rather exceptional. NK [North Korea] tries pretty regularly to bully SK, and as its nuclear and missile programs advance, SK deterrence become ever more important. So parades like this are a way of SK saying ‘don’t mess with us even though you have nukes.’

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye with United States President Barack Obama.
Image: White House.

Kosal: The “display” was multi-functional. It shows the modern, indigenous conventional military capabilities of the South Korean forces. It was also to credibly communicate — literally show to the North — possession of an adequate deterrent force, a force that is both capable and credible. The underlying capacity supports the newly announced bilateral tailored deterrence strategy between South Korea and the United States. The military parade served to transparently show, in a largely passive/non-offensive/non-reactionary way, the capacity to follow through on that strategy that is directed at North Korea’s offensive nuclear weapons, offensive chemical weapons, and offensive biological weapons programs rather than a more general deterrence strategy. There is much more to a tailored deterrence strategy, but that is one part of it. The specific declaratory policy highlights South Korea’s responsibility to “continue to build reliable inter-operable response capabilities and to develop the Korean Air and Missile Defense system.” These are largely passive defense measures to minimize the effects of a North Korean offensive attack and to reduce vulnerability of South Korean forces and civilians. It’s part of the overall strategic defense posture.
While not commonly observed in the US, parades like this are not atypical for East Asia, particularly in conjunction with significant anniversaries. In this case, the parade also marked the 65th anniversary of the Republic of Korea [South Korea] Armed Forces. In addition to the international visibility, it also serves South Korean domestic politics and advances South Korean President Park Geun-hye‘s own strong national security policies.
Ledyard: It could very well be, but I have no knowledge regarding it. It has long been routine for both Koreas to compete in the headlines.
Terry: President Park is trying to make it clear to the North that this time, under her watch, Seoul is now serious about responding to future provocations by the North. South Korea’s display of its missiles is meant to deter the North, to show the North that any provocation in the future would be met with strong retaliation.
Chi: The institution of the military parade has been a regular feature of the Armed Forces’ Day celebration in South Korea. Yet the display of the cruise missiles in the recent parade is designed to achieve specific purposes. One is obviously targeting at the North Korean regime as a warning for possible pre-emptive strikes on their conventional and nuclear missile sites. The other target is South Korean citizens who have been increasingly agitated about the possession of WMDs by its Northern counterpart and want to see some guarantee from their own government. Hence the parade is not only for displaying its military capabilities to its enemies but it is also playing a psychological game with its own people. Yet, Hyunmoo-3c, one of the cruise missiles displayed in the event, signals that the South Korean government’s perspective is no longer limited to the Korean peninsula. Hyunmoo-3c’s range of 1,500 km indicates that the Korean military oversees the entire Northeast Asian region as its strategic theatre. Such a wide strategic thinking is also behind the planned construction of the naval base in Jeju Island.
You: Not direct response. However, this parade has not been done for many years and resumed this year indicating [the] Park government would not tolerate any hostile action by North Korea.

File photo of interviewee Young-hae Chi.
Image: Young-hae Chi.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png South Korea’s President, Park Geun-hye, has warned of a “very grave” threat posed by North Korea. Would a military parade like this be more likely to encourage hostile behaviour?

Kelly: Not really, because NK already engages in so much hostile behavior it is hard to know how much more restraint SK show. My own sense is that SK demonstrates remarkable forbearance in the face of NK threats. If one thinks of how, e.g., the US or Israel would respond to such threats, SK looks downright gentle. So SK needs to signal both that it does not seek escalation, but also that it cannot be bullied. It’s a tough balancing act, and this parade is to send that second message.
Kosal: Not necessarily. North Korean behavior is difficult to predict with any fidelity. The military parade, while it shows potential capacity, is a fundamentally passive (rather than active or reactive) form of behavior. Reinforces a consistent posture by the South Koreans and the US.
Ledyard: There is a sixty-year history of such back-and-forth with an impressive absence of active military conflict. It’s tit for tat, and both sides either maintain the balance or one or the other loses face. It would take much more than a parade for actual conflict to erupt.
Terry: No, not in the long run although this kind of a military parade might provoke temporary, short-term hostile behavior by the North. The North has never been ideological or suicidal. Its chief goal always has been regime survival. It knows if a war were to break out, it will definitively lose to South Korea.
Chi: The South Korean government has been implementing military parades since 1956, and as such it is unlikely to encourage or discourage hostile behaviour.
You: Could be. North Korea already criticized [the] Park government about the recent parade and very bold move by the Park Government in negotiating family reunion and resuming of Diamond Mountains. However, I do not believe that North Korea will take any hostile action since the US Secretary of State, Kerry, is proposing North Korea a peaceful dialogue.

File photo of interviewee Margaret Kosal.
Image: Margaret Kosal.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Does the presence of US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel to this military parade show a further strengthening in the US–South Korea alliance?

Kelly: It does, but the Secretary’s presence is more for the optics than substance. The US–Korean alliance was substantially strengthened about 4 years ago by the previous SK president. This is just a refresher that looks good on TV.
Kosal: Secretary of Defense Hagel’s presence, along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, shows the commitment of the United States to support its ally. The United States remains committed to the transfer of operational control (OPCON) to the South Koreans for general defense of South Korea. The US is also strongly committed to limiting proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Their presence reinforces that to the North Koreans as well as to the international community.
Ledyard: It is simple routine in the USA–ROK alliance. South Koreans depend on it and the US takes care to show support.
Terry: Yes, it further showcases the depth of Washington‘s support for South Korea against any provocation from Pyongyang.
Chi: Certainly he is there to add symbolic strength to the alliance which tended to be weakened until recently. Behind his presence is the recent agreement to reconsider the planed transfer of the war-time operation control from the UN/US to the Korean army.
You: US–South Korea alliance is strong but it is a bit more complicated since [the] US is supporting Japan in arming in naval forces to check China, which is a great concern for South Korea and [the] South Korean people. This might cause some issues in US–South Korea alliance.

File photo of interviewee Gari Ledyard.
Image: Gari Ledyard.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png North Korea’s rhetoric vows the repeated bolstering of its nuclear arsenal to what it calls US military threats. Do you think a military parade of this type backed by the US is likely to influence further hostility?

Kelly: No, because NK must be permanently hostile toward the US and SK anyway. NK has no reason to exist as a separate, poorer Korean state, just as the GDR [East Germany] had no post-cold war reason to exist, unless SK and the US can be regularly described as the enemy. So NK doesn’t want a war, but they certainly don’t want a warm peace, as then NK then loses its raison d’etre.
Kosal: No, North Korea and its leadership are responsible for its choices, which are the primary source of instability on the Korean peninsula with potential regional effects.
Ledyard: The “military threats” are more a reflection of North Korea’s fears than any concrete threats. They are more for internal DPRK [North Korea] efforts to keep its own population in tune with government policies.
Terry: No. I think it’s important to remember Pyongyang’s periodic provocations and its pursuit of nuclear arsenal are not reactions or self-defense measures against a threatening Seoul or Washington. Incapable of competing with economically flourishing South Korea, the North relies on bolstering its nuclear arsenal and on military and political brinkmanship to make up ground.
Chi: The two Koreas do the military parade almost routinely. South Korea will have a similar parade again when there is a new government in five years. It is unlikely the kind of parade to influence further hostility.
You: No, this is just symbolic. As a matter of fact, North Korea is very anxious to escape from the current gridlock and [the] US and South Korea do not give them plenty of reasons to go to the negotiating table.

File photo of interviewee Sue Mi Terry.
Image: Sue Mi Terry.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you think it is likely that North and South Korea may at some point in the near future be engaged in direct military action with each other?

Kelly: Minor skirmishes are possible, indeed likely, given the border confusion in the Yellow Sea. But a major conflict is highly unlikely, no matter what bluster comes from NK. The NKs would lose such a war, decisively in fact, and the NK elite would face the hangman in the South afterward. NK is much too far behind to win. So full-scale conflict is very unlikely.
Kosal: I hope not.
Ledyard: No. A year or two ago there was a naval incident that occurred in the West Sea, but both sides separated quickly, although the North shelled an island claimed by both the DPRK and the ROK. Neither side has anything to gain from any such incident.
Terry: The North’s latest tactic — to return to diplomacy after provoking Seoul and Washington earlier this year — does not mean that the North has abandoned its timeworn brinkmanship strategy nor that it has shifted its nuclear policy. The North is likely to pursue more aggressive action down the road, attempting to ratchet up another sense of crisis, if it determines that its current peace ploy is not getting the concessions it seeks from Seoul. But while the North may provoke Seoul again with border skirmishes, or another missile or nuclear test, I think it will avoid direct military action with Seoul that will escalate to an all-out conflict. Again, Pyongyang will not risk outright hostilities that will lead to an all-out war.
Chi: You can never exclude possible exchanges of military actions within a limited range. At the time of North Korean attack on Yeonpyeong Island in November 2011, the South Korean Government made an official pledge to retaliate against any future military actions by North Korea. The government will face grave political consequences if it fails to live up to its own words. There is always a possibility of direct military actions but they will be more or less contained to a local level.
You: No, I would not think so. North Korea is more desperate to engage in a dialogue with South Korea and [the] US but they look for justification to go to the table. However, [the] Park government and US would not be simply welcoming them to the negotiating table. When they negotiate, they would be not generous or lenient to take all the North Korean offers.

A KPAF Ilyushin Il-76MD strategic airlifter in the mid-2000s, in Air Koryo markings.
Image: Regis Sibille.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png This parade has been described as an Anti-North deterrence, do you think this will act as such?

Kelly: Yes. NK is moving more rapidly toward nuclearization and missilization than many had expected. NK pretty clearly has no intention of de-nuclearizing. That is simply not going to happen no matter how many SK and US political figures demand it. So now, SK must show that it can keep up and match, if not outrace, the NKs. This is why there is so much focus now on SK missile and BMD capabilities.
Kosal: Yes.
Ledyard: Again, nearly sixty years of history supports the view that neither side has any interest in actual military conflict.
Terry: To some degree, yes. It’s good to remind the North of Seoul’s capabilities, although as I said before, Kim Jong-un, like his father and grandfather before him, already knows any all-out conflict would result in the destruction of his regime.
Chi: South Korea’s possession of cruise missiles and other advanced technology such as drones had been an open secret. There is nothing new about this parade, hence little deterrence effect added to the existing military posture.
You: No, it would not act as such. Rather, it has domestic purpose to draw [the] South Korean public to concern more about South Korean military and national security in general. For the past decade, [the] South Korean public have been very critical of the role of military in society. Certainly, the Park government wants to rectify it.


This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.


This text comes from Wikinews. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 licence. For a complete list of contributors for this article, visit the corresponding history entry on Wikinews.

September 23, 2013

Wikinews interviews specialists on China, Iran, Russia support for al-Assad

Wikinews interviews specialists on China, Iran, Russia support for al-Assad

From Wikinews, the free news source you can write!
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Monday, September 23, 2013

Over the past week, diplomatic actions have averted — or, at least delayed — military strikes on Syria by the United States. Wikinews sought input from a range of international experts on the situation; and, the tensions caused by Russia’s support for the al-Assad regime despite its apparent use of chemical weapons.

File:Ghouta chemical attack map.svg

Map of areas affected by chemical weapons in Ghouta, Syria.
Image: FutureTrillionaire.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

Tensions in the country increased dramatically, late August when it was reported between 100 and 1,300 people were killed in an alleged chemical attack. Many of those killed appeared to be children, with some of the pictures and video coming out of the country showing — according to witnesses — those who died from apparent suffocation; some foaming at the mouth, others having convulsions.

Amongst Syria’s few remaining allies, Iran, China, and Russia continue to oppose calls for military intervention. In an effort to provide a better-understanding of the reasoning behind their ongoing support, the following people were posed a range of questions.


  • Stephen Blank, Senior Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, D.C.
  • Kerry Brown, Professor of Chinese Politics from the University of Sydney, Australia
  • Farideh Farhi, an Affiliate with the Graduate Faculty of Political Science, and lecturer, at the ̣̣University of Hawai’i, Honolulu
  • Mehran Kamrava, Professor and Director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.
  • William Martel, Professor of International Security Studies at Tufts University near Boston, Massachusetts
  • Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford, England
  • Walter Posch, an Iran expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, Germany; and,
  • Sam Roggeveen, a fellow of the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, Australia

Wikinews Q&A

Iran, China, and Russia have remained as allies to the al-Assad government despite the alleged use of chemical weapons in Ghouta on August 21, 2013. Wikinews queried the listed subject-matter experts regarding the diplomatic relations between these nations, and the reasoning behind such.


File photo of United Nations Security Council Chamber in New York.
Image: Patrick Gruban.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png There are suggestions China wants to maintain its financial ties with Syria as its third largest importer in 2010. Would you agree with this?

  • Brown: I don’t think that is China’s key priority. China has a massive economy, and Syria is a very minor player in this. It has some, but not much, energy from Syria. Its real concerns in the current conflict are for stability, and geopolitical.
  • Farhi: China’s conduct in Syria has been similar to its conduct elsewhere. It has given support to Russia in international forum such as the UNSC [United Nations Security Council] and has acted opportunistically wherever its economic interest could be pursued. But, Syria is really not an area of interest for China. Its actions and support for the Russian position is derived from its general concerns regarding American imperialism and unilateralism.
  • Mitter: China will want, in general, to maintain financial ties with Syria as it does with many countries. China’s general position is that internal politics of countries should not interfere with economic ties.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you think China is talking from experience when it says that foreign countries shouldn’t get involved with Syria’s internal affairs?

File photo of interviewee Sam Roggeveen.
Image: Sam Roggeveen.

  • Roggeveen: That stance reflects China’s history as a weak, developing country with a host of territorial disputes with its neighbours. Beijing does not want to set international precedents that will allow third parties to interfere with, for example, the Taiwan issue, Tibet, the East China Sea or the South China Sea.
But increasingly, China’s stance will conflict with its growing strength and growing responsibilities on the world stage. China is already the world’s second biggest economy and a major strategic power in the Asia Pacific [region]; and, it will increasingly be expected to take up responsibilities that come with such power. Also, as we saw in the case of Libya — where China sent a fleet of ships and aircraft to evacuate its nationals — China has interests and citizens all over the world, both of which need to be protected.
  • Brown: It [China] has always stood by non interference of other counties in the internal affairs of sovereign states; though, this position has changed over time since it was formulated on the back of China’s experience of colonisation in the early part of the twentieth-century. Its main priority now is to not see the escalation of issues, as was seen in Iraq and Afghanistan; where it runs the risk of being sucked into lengthy conflicts with no real gameplan, and no clear outcome that is relevant to it. It does not see the Syria[n] conflict [as] one where there is a an easy, viable, alternative option waiting to govern the country. And, it is very sceptical about US and others’ claims that they can control this problem.
  • Farhi: Yes, rejection of interference in the internal affairs of other countries — particularly of a military kind — is a principled Chinese position in areas where China doesn’t have an over-riding interest.
  • Mitter: China has been a hardline advocate of strong territorial sovereignty for decades. This is, in part, a product of its own history of being invaded and occupied by other countries.

File photo of interviewee Rana Mitter.
Image: Rana Mitter.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png China abstained from a UN Security Council resolution on Libya — do you think they are trying to reprise what happened in Libya in terms of regime change?

  • Roggeveen: China and Russia suspect the ‘responsibility to protect’ doctrine, which was used by Western powers to justify the Libya intervention, was a smokescreen for regime change. So, they are wary of seeing something similar happen in Syria. China also prefers not to be on its own in the Security Council; so, if the Russians come down against a Libya-like resolution, [the] chances are that China will join them.
  • Brown: They felt there was clear mission-creep with Libya. What, however, has most emboldened them in opposing action in Syria is the position of Russia; which they have been able to stand behind. Diplomatically they dislike isolation, so this has proved the issue they have taken cover from.
  • Farhi: Libya has set a bad precedent for many countries who supported, or did not object to, NATO action. So, yes, the Libya example is a precedent; but, in any case, the Syrian dynamics are much more complex than Libya and both Russia and China — as well as Iran — genuinely see the attempt to resolve the imbroglio in Syria through military means as truly dangerous. In other words, they see the conduct of Western powers in the past two years as spawning policies that are tactically geared to weaken the Assad regime without a clear sense or strategy regarding what the end game should be. Particularly since at least part of the opposition to Assad has also elicited support from Islamic radicals.
  • Mitter: In general China is reluctant to take decisive action in international society, and [at] the UN. It prefers its partners, such as Russia, to take on confrontational roles while it tries to remain more neutral and passive.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you think a political solution is the only realistic means to resolve the Syrian issue?

File photo of interviewee Kerry Brown.
Image: Kerry Brown.

  • Roggeveen: At the moment, both sides [in Syria] evidently feel they can still obtain their objectives through force. Perhaps one of them will be proved right; or, perhaps there will be a long-term stalemate with Syria split between regime and opposition forces.
One important change is the chemical weapons agreement; which now makes it much more difficult for the US or Israel to intervene militarily. The deal also gives the regime some degree of status as a legal authority with which outside powers must negotiate. That weakens the hand of the opposition; but, it could open a door for an international diplomatic intervention to achieve — firstly — a cease fire. and perhaps then something more substantive.
  • Brown: There is no appetite for the kinds of expensive and very hard interventions [undertaken] in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, in any case, the US and its allies don’t have the money to fund this, and their publics evidently feel no case has been made yet for getting involved. People are weary of the endless arguments in the Middle-East, and feel that they should now be left to deal with their own issues. China, in particular, has tried to maintain as strong a […] network of benign support in the region as possible, while avoiding getting sucked into problems. There is no viable opposition in Syria that would make it easier to justify intervention; and, no easy way of seeing how this tragic civil war is going to be easily ended.
  • Farhi: Syria has become the arena for a proxy war among regional and extra-regional players and yes its civil war will not end until all key players and their external supporters develop a political will to end the conflict. For the conflict to end, the bankers feeding the conflict should agree to stop funding it.
  • Mitter: Yes. But, it will depend on Russia, China, and the US, being able to come up with a compromise solution. That looks [to be] a long way off.


Free Syrian Army soldiers involved in the civil war.
Image: Voice of America.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png For many years, Syria has been considered Iran’s “closest ally”. What vested interest does the Iranian government have in keeping Bashar al-Assad in power?

  • Kamrava: These interests are primarily strategic, with both countries sharing common interests in relation to Lebanon — particularly the Hezbollah group — and [as] deterrence against Israel[i intervention].
  • Martel: Iran’s interests align very closely with that of Russia in supporting Syria and opposing the United States. Further, during this last week, President Putin offered to help Iran build a second nuclear reactor. The policies of Russia, Iran, and Syria align quite closely; thus leading some — such as myself — to argue that we are seeing the rise of an “authoritarian axis” of states, whose policies are coordinated.
  • Posch: First, Syria was Iran’s only ally against Saddam Hussein and [an] indispensable partner in Lebanon since the early 1980s.

Kurdish supporters of Syria’s Democratic Union Party in Afrin.
Image: Scott Bobb.

Even before the fall of Saddam in 2003, Iran reinterpreted the basically pragmatic cooperation in the field of intelligence and security. Ever since Syria was part of a so called “axis of resistance” consisting of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the sole common strategic denominator of these different actors is hostility against Israel, which is always depicted as an aggressor against whom the Muslims should resist — hence, the [designation as an] “axis of resistance”. Of course, forming an alliance ‘officially against Israel’ serves another purpose too: to take a stand against Saudi Arabia without naming it. Much of the current crisis in Syria has to do with this scheme.
  • Farhi: Syria supported Iran during the Iran–Iraq war; and, that dynamic forged a long-standing relationship between the two countries that includes economic, political, and military cooperation. In more recent years, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah have self-identified as [an] axis of resistance against Israeli–American involvement in the region. Despite this, Iran initially mostly followed the Russian lead in the Syria. However as other regional players — such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as extra-regional players such as the United States — began to see, and articulate the weakening of, the Assad regime as a first step to the weakening of Iran, this enhanced Iran’s threat perception, and gave it [an] incentive for further involvement in support of Assad.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Do you think Iranian support for the Syrian government is a way of standing up against UN sanctions imposed on them, and opposing American imperialism?

  • Kamrava: No. Iranian–Syrian relations are rooted in common strategic interests rather than in assumptions about US imperialism, or the role of the UN sanctions.
  • Martel: Both Iran and Syria share a strategic interest in undermining the influence of the US and the West.
  • Posch: Definitely not. The sanctions track is a different one, checking American “imperialism” — as you call it — is, of course. one aim.
  • Farhi: As has become evident in the past few weeks, the primary interactive dynamic regarding the Syrian imbroglio is being played out mostly in terms of US–Russian rivalry; and, Iran is following the Russian lead.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png The UN has “overwhelmingly” confirmed use of chemical weapons in Syria. Do you think both sides have used chemical weapons?

File photo of interviewee Mehran Kamrava.
Image: Mehran Kamrava.

  • Kamrava: It is undeniable that chemical weapons were used in Syria. But, I have not yet seen conclusive evidence for the responsibility of the use of chemical gas by one side or another. Until valid evidence is made available — proving who used chemical weapons — affixing blame to either the government forces, or to one of the fractious rebel groups, is only a matter of speculation.
  • Martel: I remain skeptical that anyone other than the Syrian government used chemical weapons. It is widely accepted that the Syrian government was behind the use of chemical weapons.
  • Posch: I think the Report is quite clear on that.
  • Farhi: I —as an academic, with no access to on the ground information — am in no position to know whether both sides have used chemical weapons.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Would you agree that part of Iran’s vested interest in Syria remaining under al-Assad is bound to two factors: religion and strategy?

Former President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmedinejad who stepped down earlier this year.
Image: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office.

  • Kamrava: No, I do not agree. Iran’s “vested interest in Syria remaining under al-Assad” is [a] product only of Iran’s strategic calculations.
While foreign policies anywhere may be expressed — and justified — through slogans and ideological rhetoric, they are based on strategic considerations and calculations. Despite common, journalistic misconceptions, religion has not played a role in Iranian foreign policy; whether in relation to Syria or anywhere else.
  • Martel: Iran’s vested interest in Syria is entirely geo-strategic. Iran’s support [for] Syria is designed to undermine US power and influence. For Iran, no policy objective is more important than to possess nuclear weapons. When the U.S. declared a “redline” if Syria “used or moved” chemical weapons, and then backed away from that redline, it is likely that Iran’s leadership drew one principal conclusion:
the US redline on Iran’s nuclear program is in doubt, the US commitment to preventing Iran from possessing nuclear weapons is in doubt,
and that Iran likely will test US resolve.
In strategic terms, doubts about the credibility of the US redline on Iran dwarfs any concerns about Syria’s chemical weapons.
The belief in Iran — that the US may not be willing to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons — could lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It is difficult to exaggerate just how dangerous a nuclear-armed Iran is for regional and global security.
  • Posch: No, it is strategy, and perhaps ideology. Religion doesn’t play too much [of] a role, even though the conflict has been thoroughly “sectarianised”. This happened a few years back when the Saudis baptised (if that term is appropriate) the “axis of resistance” to “shiite crescent”. The domination of the Syrian Baath Party by members of one sect plays no role in Iran’s security equation. Attempts to convert Syrian Alevites to Mainstream Shiites are initiatives of some individual Ayatollahs. I have already mentioned the strategic aspect, [an] axis of resistance against Israel and Saudi Arabia simultaneously; to this I would add Iranian concern over the Kurdish issue.
  • Farhi: The Assad government is a secular government, and Iran’s relationship with it has nothing to do with religion or religious affinities. The relationship is a complex one — and, as mentioned before — forged as a strategic bond during the Iran–Iraq War, when Saddam’s regime was deemed aggressively expansionist by both regimes.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Iran is home to the world’s most populous Shiite Muslim nation. The Syrian rebels are Sunni. Could this be a Sunni vs. Shiite alignment in the Middle East?

File photo of interviewee Farideh Farhi.
Image: Farideh Farhi.

  • Kamrava: No. While sectarianism may be the lens through which some of the Syrian rebels see their fight against the government, ultimately the contest is over state power and capitalizing on opportunities created by the Arab uprisings in general; and, the Syrian civil war in particular. Sunni–Shia ‘alignments’ have nothing to do with it.
  • Posch: Usually, the Sunni–Shia divide is something Iranians and Saudis play up in order to put pressure on one another; usually, they were also able to deescalate. Syria, however, is the game-changer — for the simple reason that nobody believes the Saudis would control the post Al-Qaeda Networks in Syria. What Iran fears is an increase of the most-radical Sunni anti-shiism, the so called takfiris, spilling over onto Iranian territory.
  • Farhi: The Sunni governments in the region are working hard to use sectarian tensions as an instrument to fan popular resentments, in the region, towards Shi’ite Iran. But, the rivalry is actually political; and, has to do with the fears rivals have of what they consider — I think wrongly — to be Iran’s hegemonic aspirations in the region.
Sectarianism is an instrument for shaping regional rivalries, and not the source of problems, in the region.


Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, meeting Syrianan president Bashar al-Assad, on a visit to Syria in 2010.
Image: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Russia is one of Syria’s biggest arms suppliers. Do you think this means Russia’s interest lies in economic benefit, as opposed to the humanitarian crisis?

  • Blank: Although Russia sells Syria weapons, Russia’s main interest has nothing to do with humanitarianism or economics.
Rather, its main interests are to force the US to accept Russia as an equal — so that Moscow has an effective veto power over any further American actions of a strategic nature there and elsewhere — and second, to restore Russia’s standing as an indispensable great power in the Middle East without whom nothing strategic can be resolved.
It should be noted that in neither case is Russia actively interested in finding solutions to existing problems. Rather, it seeks to create a bloc of pro-Russian, anti-American states and maintain simmering conflicts at their present level while weakening US power.

File photo of interviewee William Martel.
Image: William Martel.

  • Martel: Russia’s principal interests in Syria are twofold. First, Moscow’s support is geopolitical in design. It is designed precisely to undermine and weaken American influence in the Middle East and globally. The extent to which Russia can undermine American influence directly helps to bolster Russia’s influence. For now, Russia is such a vastly diminished power — both politically, economically, militarily, and technologically — that Russian policymakers are pursuing policies they believe will help to reverse Russia’s strategic decline.
Second, Syria is Russia’s strongest ally in the region, if not the world, while Syria is the home to Russia’s only foreign naval base.
  • Farhi: Syria is Russia’s only solid strategic ally in the Middle East. Syria, in effect, is a Russian client. Russia’s interests lie in maintaining that foothold, and perhaps extending it.
It also has a concern regarding the civil war in Syria spawning what it considers to be extremist Islamist activities, which it has had to contend with within its own borders.

File photo of interviewee Stephen Blank.
Image: Stephen Blank.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you believe Russia distrusts US intentions in the region — in the sense of countering the West on regime change?

  • Blank: It is clear that Russia not only does not trust US interests and judgment in the Middle East, it regards Washington as too-ready to use force to unseat regimes it does not like and believes these could lead to wars; more importantly, to the attempt to overthrow the present Russian government. That is critical to understanding Moscow’s staunch support for Assad.
  • Martel: Russia’s policymakers understand that American and Russia interests directly diverge. Russia seeks to undermine US geopolitical influence, and increase its own. It is using its support of the Syrian regime to accomplish that objective. American interests, by contrast, are largely to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons.
Appallingly, Russia is supporting Syria despite the fact that all evidence points to Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
One would think that American policymakers would be more critical of Russia; which is directly supporting a regime that used poison gas to slaughter its own men, women, and children.
  • Farhi: It is less about trust and more about protection of geopolitical interests and prevention of even more dire consequences if Assad goes. It is true that Russia feels that the United States and NATO went beyond the mandate afforded to them by the UN Security Council in going after regime change in Libya.
However, Russia’s geopolitical, and economic, interests in Syria are much more important; and, the relationship between the two countries [is] much deeper.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The Russian Government accepts that chemical weapons have been used in Syria. How does it come to claim that the rebels are behind the attacks even though it is widely accepted that the al-Assad government has stocks of weapons?

A BM-14 multiple rocket launcher, similar to the type likely to have launched the M-14 munitions found by UN Inspectors on August 26.
Image: Vlad.

  • Blank: It [Russia] simply intends to defend Assad to the hilt; and is hardly unwilling to lie — especially as its intelligence service is notorious for fabricating mendacious and biased threat assessments, and is not under any form of effective democratic control.
  • Martel: Russia’s claims that Syrian rebels were behind the chemical weapon attacks is, frankly, inexplicable. Worse, Russia’s basic credibility is undermined by such statements.
  • Farhi: Russia claims Syria has presented it [with] evidence that the rebels have used chemical weapons; and Russia, in turn, has given the evidence to the UNSC. It has also called the UN report one-sided and biased. The bottom line is — the claim that the opposition to the Assad regime is at least as culpable in the violence being committed in Syria, opens the path for Russia to continue calling for a political solution [which] brings to the table all parties to the conflict in Syria, including Assad and his supporters; something the multi-voiced opposition has so far refused.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Would you agree that Russia’s vested interest in Syria remaining under al-Assad is bound to two factors: economics and ideology?

  • Blank: As I said above, Russia’s interest in Assad is bound to two geopolitical factors: maintaining the security of its regime; and, equally important, weakening America in the Middle-East — if not globally — and ensuring that Russia’s great power status is thereby ensured.
  • Martel: Russia’s vested interest in protecting Syria’s al-Assad is driven by geopolitics.
To support Assad, is to counter US policy and influence; which is precisely what Putin’s government seeks to accomplish. In many senses, Russia’s support for Syria is entirely secondary to Russia’s strategy of reversing its two-decade long decline in every measure of power. With its weak economy, dependence on petroleum for half of its national income, and increasingly authoritarian government, Russia has relatively little to offer the world — other than to oppose the United States as part of its strategy of reversing its decline.
While Russia’s geopolitical influence clearly increased as a result of its support for Syria, its long-term economic prospects remain quite dim.
  • Farhi: It is economic as well as political.
Syria is a customer of Russian arms and goods; hosting a naval supply base in Tartus. But, as mentioned above, Russia has serious concerns regarding what comes after Assad. For Russia, the current regime is better than chaos or control by Islamists.
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September 8, 2013

Wikinews interviews Dr. Robert Kelly and Dr. Jim Gill regarding joint scientific venture in North Korea

Wikinews interviews Dr. Robert Kelly and Dr. Jim Gill regarding joint scientific venture in North Korea

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

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A group of volcanologists from the UK and USA have traveled to North Korea to assist them with conducting scientific investigations and installing equipment near the volcano Mount Paektu.

Wikinews interviewed Dr. Robert Kelly of Pusan National University (PNU) in South Korea, who specialises in security and diplomacy and Dr. Jim Gill from the University of California who has visited the Chinese side of Mount Paektu.

Dr. Robert Kelly

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Given that the UK, USA have strained political relations with North Korea, what is the purpose of these scientists working together?

Dr. Robert Kelly: Mt Paektu erupted massively about 1100 years ago and has been dormant since. Recently there has been seismic activity, and should it explode again, it could be gigantic — and devastating. It is everyone’s interest in East Asia to know about such a possibility, so this kind of cooperation can be above politics. But it is also always good to engage North Korea to try to draw them out. Such engagement can occur in nonpolitical, technical areas like this most easily.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Does North Korea understand that it needs the specialism of British and American scientists to plan for when the volcano erupts?

RK: It does. North Korea does actually engage in various track II programming, including student and administrative exchanges. This is not well-known due to the nuclear issue however. The North Korean government is aware of its technological backwardness, and they often dangle concessions to other states in exchange for tech transfers like this.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The North Korea underground nuclear test site is very close to the volcano, do you think this affected North–South Korean relations?

RK: Not very much. It does upset South Koreans somewhat, because Mt. Paektu is actually [a] national landmark. It is the mythological birthplace of the Korean people. And there is some scientific concern that major seismic activity could impact nuclear facilities.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you think that the field work being carried out by the scientists, being near a militarised border is very difficult?

RK: No, because it is in the interest of all local parties — NK, Chinese, even Russian — that Mt. Paektu is properly monitored. Indeed, I could imagine that, behind the scenes, the Chinese pushed North Korea toward this cooperation, as this is somewhat unusual for NK.

A file photo of Mount Paektu.
Image: Bdpmax.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png May the North Koreans be wary and suspicious of their British and American counterparts, given the secretiveness of the state?

RK: Absolutely. I have been to NK, and I can say positively that the scientists will be monitored and accompanied at all times they are away from their hotels. They will also be isolated from the NK wider population. They will only interact with specially chosen minders who speak excellent English and have proven their loyalty to the state. And there will be security personnel with them at all times outside their hotels too.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you think that Western scientists collaborating together with the North Koreans could set as an example of political things to see in the future?

RK: Not really. I hope so, but North Korean[sic] has a tendency to pretend to open itself, and then to re-close after it gets what it wants. All sorts of interaction with North Korea gets hyped as ‘a new beginning’ or a ‘historic opening,’ only to come to naught. That does not mean it could not happen, just that I am skeptical. Instead, NK is likely to continue to interact when and where it has certain specific needs, as in this case. And that interaction will be tightly monitored. Fifteen years [ago], at the start of the Sunshine Policy by SK, there was hope that increased interaction would grow organically and slowly open up NK. That was the spirit behind the Kaesong industrial zone. But in fact, the North Koreans tightly controlled Kaesong to capture its gains and limit spillovers. I imagine the same will happen here.

Dr. Jim Gill

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do natural hazards pay attention to international political differences?

Dr. Jim Gill: Of course not.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Is there a high risk and increased seismic activity in relation to Mount Paektu?

JG: Not currently. There was unrest at the volcano during 2002–05 but it has returned to normalcy.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Would an eruption of Mount Paektu have consequences for multiple countries?

JG: Yes. The most likely widespread consequence will be an interuption of air traffic between North Asia and North America and Europe. More locally, the tourist industry on the Chinese side of the border will be very impacted. Most ash fall will be in the DPRK.
For perspective, there was an extremely large eruption of the volcano at about 940 AD — one of the largest historical eruptions anywhere on Earth. It is uncertain how often it has erupted since, and how large the eruptions were, but nothing has been big enough to cause serious problems scores of kilometers away. So yes there is risk — it is large mountain with a long history of eruptions — but nothing indicates a high level of concern now.


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Wikinews interviews Scott Lucas, Eyal Zisser, Majid Rafizadeh about risks of US military intervention in Syria

Wikinews interviews Scott Lucas, Eyal Zisser, Majid Rafizadeh about risks of US military intervention in Syria

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Politics and conflicts
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The United States President Barack Obama announced last Saturday he was seeking Congressional authorisation for military intervention in Syria.

Looking for more-qualified input, Wikinews interviewed: professor Scott Lucas, an expert in American Studies, from the UK’s University of Birmingham; the President of the International American Council on the Middle East, Majid Rafizadeh; and, professor Eyal Zisser, a Syrian expert, from Tel Aviv University.

Discussing the risks involved with US military intervention in Syria, Wikinews posed a range of questions to these experts on the region’s political climate.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Is it possible for the US to take military action to deter further use of chemical weapons without getting dragged into the civil war?

  • Prof. Scott Lucas: The US is already involved in the civil war — the question is to what extent.
The US has given political support to the opposition and insurgency since late 2011, and from summer 2012, it has pursued covert support to the opposition fighters.
However, the Obama Administration has been hesitant about overt support for insurgents throughout the conflict, and that has affected co-ordination of covert efforts. In June, the Administration finally said it would provide overt military assistance, but then pulled back and failed to deliver any public aid.
Had it not been for the August, 21 chemical weapons attack, that position would have persisted.
  • Majid Rafizadeh: It depends on the scope of the military operation. If United States conducts limited military operation, as the adminstration argues, and if US only targets some of the Syrian government’s military installments, it is less likely that United States will be drawn into the Syria’s civil war. It would be a political suicide for Syria, Iran or Hezbollah to respond.
On the other hand, if Assad observes that the balance of power is tilting against him inside the country, he might use chemical weapons in the future despite US limited strikes.
  • Prof. Eyal Zisser: Yes, it[sic] the attack is limited. And If the Americans only use missiles. They can cause severe damage, but leave Assad in his palace, and not being dragged into the civil war.

The United States President Barack Obama with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this year.
Image: Pete Souza.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Will military intervention from the US affect long term relations between the United States and Russia?

  • SL: Of course, significant military intervention by Washington will affect relations between the US and Russia, but the long-term effect cannot be predicted.
It is dependent on Russia’s reaction — so far, Moscow has been able to pressure the US into caution, but a decision for intervention by the US might call Russia’s bluff, so to speak, and force some caution by the Russians. Already, Moscow has said it will not join a fight against any US military action.
And, of course, the long-term relationship is dependent on the political and military success of any US intervention.
  • MR: Military intervention, in the classic sense of putting troops on the ground, will definitely affect US-Russian long term political relationships. It might heighten the diplomatic tensions. However, the limited military operation is less likely [to] change US-Russian long term economic, geopolitical, and political relationships.
  • EZ: No. They need each other in many other places of the world. Russia knows that the US is a super power and will not be interested in a real conflict with Washington.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The British Parliament voted against military intervention in Syria, do you think this has affected their relations with the United States?

  • SL: No — had the Obama Administration been united and decisive for intervention, there might have been some effect. But the Obama Administration’s divisions mean its first priority is getting some coherence in Washington, rather than blaming London.
  • MR: I don’t think so. I believe that [the] UK has been [the] staunchest ally of the United States for decades. One instance of opposing parliamentary vote will not have impact on US-UK relations.
  • EZ: Maybe. But Britain is not an important power any more, so the affect will be only in the symbolic field.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Russia could back Syrian intervention if there was conclusive proof of regime guilt. What sort of evidence would be needed and can this level of assurance be given?

  • SL: This is not a scientific question — we already have extensive evidence establishing the near-certainty of major regime attacks with chemical weapons on 7 towns on August 21.
Putin’s statement was a political move: it ostensibly re-confirmed the Russian opposition to US intervention while giving Moscow a way to step back if the UN inspectors return a damning report.
  • MR: It is difficult, if not impossible, to provide Moscow with the evidence that they are looking for. In order to provide that specific information several criterions should be met. First of all, the soil of the location where the alleged chemical weapons are used, should immediately be examined after the incident. The Syrian government has not allowed immediate access to these places and usually reports come out days after. Second, and more fundamentally, a concrete and observable evidence is needed for Russia showing that Assad’s government has used it as opposed to the rebels.
  • EZ: No the Russians are not after the truth but after their interests even if Assad admits that he used such weapon the Russians will be against any intervention.

Bombed out vehicles in Aleppo during the Syrian civil war.
Image: Voice of America.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Would US military intervention on Syria be a violation of International law?

  • SL: This is a grey area, especially as there will not be an endorsement by the United Nations Security Council. Supporters of the action say it can be justified under the recent doctrine of humanitarian intervention, but that is more a political rather than legal judgement.
  • MR: Legally speaking, it is [in] violation of [the] United Nations Charter. According to [the] UN Charter, use of force is permitted only in case of self-defense or UNSC’s [United Nations Security Council] approval. Neither of these two cases apply for US use of military force against Syria. However, this does not mean that our current international law is devoid of any shortcomings. The International system has some shortcomings because of the structure of the UNSC, where one member can veto a resolution and block actions.
  • EZ: Technically — yes because they did not get an approval from the UN.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Does the United States seem to be wanting to engage in regime change in Syria as opposed to preventing further chemical attacks?

  • SL: No, the Obama Administration has been uncertain about — and many of its members opposed to — regime change, and that is still the situation. The military, in particular, is opposed to significant, long-term intervention because of its concerns over a fragmented, diverse opposition and what happens if Assad falls.
  • MR: If there was an efficient alternative to Assad, US would have seen the regime change to its political benefits and interests. However, United States does not seem to have articulated any precise agenda towards Syria yet. The policy is more ” Wait and See” policy; observing and reacting as things unfold in Syria and the region.
  • EZ: No Obama does not want it, he finds himself being dragged into a war he has no interest in.
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September 4, 2013

Wikinews interviews Dr Thomas Scotto and Dr Steve Hewitt about potential US military intervention in Syria

Wikinews interviews Dr Thomas Scotto and Dr Steve Hewitt about potential US military intervention in Syria

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

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File photo of Dr. Thomas Scotto.
Image: Tom Scotto.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

The United States President, Barack Obama, announced on Saturday he was seeking Congressional authorisation for military intervention in Syria.

Wikinews interviewed Professor of Government Dr. Thomas Scotto from the UK‘s University of Essex and Senior Lecturer in American and Canadian Studies Dr. Steve Hewitt from the UK’s University of Birmingham about the proposed military intervention by the USA in Syria.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What is your job role?

Dr. Thomas Scotto: I am a Professor of Government, teaching courses in quantitative methods, public opinion, political behaviour, and American Politics. I have been at Essex since January, 2007. I am the Principal Investigator of a major ESRC grant on public opinion on foreign policy attitudes in five nations (Great Britain, United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy).
Dr. Steve Hewitt: Dr. Steve Hewitt, Senior Lecturer in American and Canadian Studies [at the University of Birmingham].

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The Republican speaker John Boehner is endorsing Barack Obama’s strategy, do you think this will lead to Congress authorising military intervention?

TS: Ultimately, I believe that the President will succeed, but I doubt it will be a neat voter — there will be a significant number of Democrats and Republicans who do not fall into line and vote against intervention.
I think the real story is that in the past two weeks, we have seen an amazing shift in how the Executives of the United States (President Obama) and the United Kingdom (Prime Minister Cameron) execute foreign policy. In the post-War period, committing the nation to take military action was seen as the prerogative of the President and Prime Minister, with the legislatures of both countries providing, at best, weak oversight.
In the United States, there is the War Powers Act and the authorisation of the first Gulf War, but the President’s authority was rarely challenged nor was it really believed that the President needed to consult Congress. In the UK, you would have to go back to the late 1700s to find the last time a Prime Minister was truly rebuffed on a matter of military intervention.
Why is that? I think it’s war fatigue on the part of the public and the average member of the UK Parliament and the US Congress. A significant number of those sitting on the backbenches of Parliament and in the Congress are thinking of balancing their nations’ budgets in times of fiscal austerity, and they have ties to constituencies, which don’t want to see their country shed blood and treasure in another prolonged conflict in the Middle East where the backgrounds of the rebel groups the US and UK are supporting is not well defined and the end goals are uncertain.
SH: Not necessarily. Boehner has not been able to carry Republicans in the past. His being onside increases the chances of authorization but it doesn’t make it inevitable.

US State Department map of Damascus areas of influence and areas reportedly affected by by chemical attack on August 21.
Image: US State Department.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Is the US general public in support of taking military intervention in Syria?

TS: No, not at all. We’ve polled a representative sample of the American public in June of 2012, February of 2013, and this summer. Support for intervention in Syria has not moved. In our surveys fewer than 1 [in] 5 respondents were open to the idea of sending American ground troops into Syria. This was true regardless whether their aim was to provide humanitarian assistance or topple al-Assad. There are also low levels of support for arming the rebels. What is amazing is that, despite the reported use of chemical weapons and the deaths and displacement of 100,000s of Syrians, there has been little change in support levels over the time period we’ve been in the field with our surveys.
SH: No, clearly the American public is not in favour of intervening in Syria. About 60% are opposed in the latest poll.

A file photo of Barack Obama.
Image: The White House.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The British Parliament voted against military intervention in Syria, do you think this has led Obama to put a vote to Congress?

TS: I think Obama wants Congress to own this. Some in Congress believe that the United States would be doing too little if it only carried out limited missile strikes to punish al-Assad. Other Members are dead set against intervention of any type. The President was finding it impossible to please everyone, and instead, basically said sort out what you want me to do. It is an amazing turn of events where the President might be constraining himself in terms of the response he could take. Obama’s decision may have ramifications for Executive-Legislative relations in the US for years to come.
SH:That may have played a role but it is still not clear why President Obama has taken this course. It may also be the case that he is looking to share the political risk that goes with attacking with Republicans and Congress in general.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png After more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, does the US general public feel disillusioned in taking military action?

TS: Yes, definitely. Less than half of the American public believes the Iraq war was a success, and we have found that those who believe that the previous conflicts in the Middle East were a failure are likely to be those opposing action against Syria. So many people think the Iraq and Afghanistan interventions cost too much and did little good — it’s really weighing on the public’s mood at this time.
SH: Yes, there clearly is fatigue in relation to interventions and the lack of clear resolutions of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you think military intervention in Syria will affect Russia–United States relations?

TS: It is hard to say — in the short term, yes. In the long term, it really depends on how Putin sees the long term interests of himself and his nation vis-à-vis the United States and America’s western allies.
SH: Yes, although relations are already tense. How extensive any attack by the US on Syria will determine the full impact on US–Russia relations.
This article is a featured article. It is considered one of the best works of the Wikinews community. See Wikinews:Featured articles for more information.
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This text comes from Wikinews. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 licence. For a complete list of contributors for this article, visit the corresponding history entry on Wikinews.

July 8, 2013

Cricket: Northamptonshire defeat Warwickshire by 27 runs in Twenty20 match

Cricket: Northamptonshire defeat Warwickshire by 27 runs in Twenty20 match

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Monday, July 8, 2013

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On Friday, Northamptonshire played Warwickshire in a Twenty20 cricket match, consisting of twenty overs per team, at the County Cricket Ground in Northampton, United Kingdom. Northamptonshire defeated Warwickshire by 27 runs.

Northamptonshire won the toss, and chose to bat first.

The Northamptonshire batsman Kyle Coetzer hit 71 runs. He made a first-wicket partnership of 63 with Richard Levi and batted through the innings helping Northamptonshire to post a score of 161 for 2 from 20 overs.

Mohammad Azharullah of Northamptonshire took 4 wickets for 25 runs as Warwickshire fell short of its target with Ateeq Javid providing some resistance for Warwickshire hitting 41 off 34 balls. Azharullah was named Player of the Match.

Northamptonshire now has two consecutive Friends Life t20 cricket league wins.

A selection of clips from the match.
Image: Computron.

Sunny weather resulted in a large turnout.
Image: Computron.

Jeetan Patel bowls to Kyle Coetzer.
Image: Computron.

Jeetan Patel bowls to Cameron White.
Image: Computron.

Kyle Coetzer facing the bowling of Chris Woakes.
Image: Computron.

The Northamptonshire team celebrate after Azharullah bowled out Darren Maddy.
Image: Computron.

The floodlights were on for the day/night Twenty20 match.
Image: Computron.

The Northamptonshire team have a group talk.
Image: Computron.

Northamptonshire players celebrate the wicket of Darren Maddy.
Image: Computron.

The bails have been dislodged from the wickets.
Image: Computron.

Cameron White bowls out Laurie Evans.
Image: Computron.

Chris Woakes bowls to Kyle Coetzer.
Image: Computron.

Chris Woakes warming up before his first over of bowling.
Image: Computron.

Jeetan Patel bowls to Richard Levi.
Image: Computron.


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April 1, 2013

Wikinews interviews British scientist Dr Sally Williamson about effect of neonicotinoid pesticides on bee brains

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Monday, April 1, 2013

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File photo of honeybee collecting nectar and pollen from a flower.
Image: Bob Peterson.

Scientists at the UK’s Newcastle University have published their research into the effect of neonicotinoid chemicals on the brains of honeybees in the Journal of Expirimental Biology. The findings determined that chemicals such as imidacloprid and coumaphos did impair bee learning and memory.

Wikinews interviewed Dr. Sally Williamson, who co-authored the findings with Dr. Geraldine Wright, about how they went about confirming their hypothesis regarding the effects of different pesticides on honeybees and their learning abilities.

The Wikinews Q&A can be read below:


Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What is your role at the Newcastle University? And are you the lead study? When and where did you publish your findings?

Dr. Sally Williamson: I am a research associate in the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University, working in the laboratory of Dr. Geraldine Wright. The paper was co-authored by myself and Dr. Wright, and was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology last month.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What did your research involve?

DSW: The research involved feeding the pesticide imidacloprid, and the mite treatment coumaphos, to honeybees, then carrying out a learning and memory experiment. The learning experiment relies on a phenomenon called the Proboscis Extension Reflex (PER) whereby the bee extends its proboscis (sticks out its tongue) to receive a meal when the antennae are touched with sugar solution. In the lab, we can blow a floral scent at the bee at the same time as delivering the sugar solution- soon, the bee learns to extend its proboscis in response to the scent, having learned that this particular scent indicates a sugar reward. We then tested the bees’ memory, by comparing the PER response to both the trained scent, and a different novel scent.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What prompted your research into the effect of chemicals such as neonicotinoids and coumaphos with regards to the interference of insect’s ability to learn?

DSW: The target of the pesticide imidacloprid is an acetylcholine receptor which is found in brain regions associated with learning and remembering olfactory information. Coumaphos inhibits the breakdown of acetylcholine at these same synapses. Therefore, we predicted that both compounds would affect olfactory learning, and that the effects of both compounds delivered together would be additive.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What conditions did you test your hypothesis under?

DSW: We had a control group of bees fed sugar solution alone, then we had a group fed sugar solution containing low levels of imidacloprid, a group fed sugar solution containing coumaphos, and a group of bees fed sugar solution containing both imidacloprid and coumaphos. The pesticides were present at very low levels, similar to those which might be present in the nectar of flowers treated with imidacloprid, or to the levels of coumaphos which might be in the pollen and honey stores of a coumaphos-treated hive.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png For how long have you been conducting your investigation?

DSW: The investigation was mainly carried out from June-September 2011, then the data analysis and interpretation was carried out during the winter. In bee research, most of the lab work is carried out in a summer season when the bees are flying, then we spend the winter doing statistical analysis and writing up our results.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Was the outcome as you expected?

DSW: We found that imidacloprid and coumaphos both impaired learning, and that they did indeed have an additive effect on learning impairment when administered together. A rather surprising finding on the memory test results was, that the bees could not tell the training odour, and a novel odour, apart- they responded to both equally, not preferring the odour associated with the sugar reward over the other odour which should have no rewarding associations.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Did you work alongside anyone else in your research? Was any part of the investigation most difficult?

DSW: I worked alongside Dr. Wright who is the head of our research group, and also alongside students and staff performing different bee experiments focused on bee nutrition. We also had close links with our collaborators Dr Chris Connelly and Dr Mary Palmer at Dundee University, who have recently published a study on actual bee brains, supplying data about what the same pesticides do to the neurons when actually applied directly to the brain areas of the bee involved in learning and memory. The main difficulty involved in our study was that it involved a 6-day experimental protocol, performed every week for several months, so it was quite intensive! Another difficulty of bee work is, it is very weather dependant- if it rains or is cold, the bees aren’t out foraging and the experiment has to be postponed until the weather improves.


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March 24, 2013

Flooding and heavy snow cause widespread disruption across the United Kingdom

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

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A video of the cold weather on Thursday as temperatures dropped to -10°C and left a hoar frost, March 21, 2013.

The United Kingdom was hit Friday by heavy snow, rain and floods which brought widespread disruption. In Northern Ireland, thousands of people are still without power today.

Many homes and businesses across Scotland are still without power after heavy snow downed power lines.

Initially on Friday, in Northern Ireland, as many as over 200,000 people had lost power after heavy snow and wind and at least 82 schools had closed. Wind and snow also resulted in a precautionary power plant closure in Cumbria, Northern England, of the Sellafield nuclear plant, although it later re-opened.

The severe weather conditions were also initially accompanied by floods. Heavy rain had caused flooding Thursday across the Devon and Cornwall areas, with Newlyn and Penzance areas amongst the hardest hit. A spokesperson for the Cornwall Council, Dave Owens, had said: “The main problem still appears to be surface water flooding which is continuing to affect a number of areas across Cornwall. There are reports of around eight properties flooded so far, although there are concerns at the rising water levels in Newlyn where the water is edging towards some commercial properties”.

A landscape photo of snow on a field in Hinckley, Leicestershire, March 22, 2013.
Image: Computron.

A field covered with snow in the chaotic weather, March 23, 2013.
Image: Computron.

Approximately 20 centimeters of snow fell in Hinckley, March 23, 2013.
Image: Computron.

A panoramic view of a roundabout in the snow, March 23, 2013.
Image: Computron.

A wide-angle shot of the snow on the field and the road, March 23, 2013.
Image: Computron.


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March 20, 2013

British Chancellor George Osborne downgrades growth forecast in annual budget

British Chancellor George Osborne downgrades growth forecast in annual budget

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

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Image: HM Treasury.

The British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne delivered the budget today, an annually-held audit of the country’s finances deciding how taxpayers’ money should be spent. He set out plans to boost the housing market in his fourth budget, as well as stating the economy will grow by 0.6% — half his prediction four months ago.

George Osborne revealed plans to improve the housing market, including a “Help to Buy” shared equity scheme which would offer buyers who can place a 5% deposit on a new house, a 20% loan to buy it. He said: “This is a budget for those who aspire to own their own home”. He also offered a new Mortgage Guarantee, created in conjunction with mortgage lenders — the scheme would allow them to offer loans to homeowners without the need for a large deposit and offer guarantees to support up to £130bn of lending for three years beginning in 2014.

As a measure to attract investment to the British economy, he announced to reduce corporation tax from 21% to 20% taking effect from April 2015. The rate of corporation tax has fallen from 28% in 2010 to the current level of 21%. The United Kingdom is to have lower rates of corporation tax than the USA at 40%, France at 33%, and Germany at 29%.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) stated the government debt reduction programme to reduce the budget deficit will miss its targets. The government has forecast the total public sector debt will begin to fall by the financial year 2015/2016, while OBR says national debt will reach a high of 85.6% of GDP, £1.58 trillion, in 2016/17. Osborne defended the government efforts to reduce the deficit and said: “Our judgement has since been supported by the IMF, the OECD and the Governor of the Bank of England.”

In response to the Budget speech, the Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband said: “At the worst possible time for the country. It’s a downgraded budget from a downgraded Chancellor […] Debt is higher in every year of this Parliament than he forecast at the last Budget. He is going to borrow £200 billion more than he planned.”

The Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls said to The Independent, “They are borrowing £245bn more in this Parliament, we said all along …said this two years ago, if they had moved more quickly with a sensible, targeted package of measures to kick-start the economy, which would have meant at that time more borrowing for a VAT [Value Added Tax] cut to bring forward housing investment, then we would have got the economy growing and the deficit coming down.”

The Business Secretary Vince Cable told the BBC in an interview, the “age of austerity” would probably end within the current decade, but made no more definite forecast.

The head of the British Federation of Small Businesses, John Walker, said: “The Budget opens the door for small businesses to grow and create jobs. The Chancellor has pulled out all the stops with a wide ranging package of measures to support small business. […] [W]e are pleased to see the scrapping of the 3p fuel duty due in September”.

Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of Unite the Union, criticized the budget for not helping working families. He said: “This is a Budget for the few by the few that attacks the many. Millionaires are days away from getting a £40,000 tax cut from the Tories, but George Osborne is using the budget to attack hard-working public sector workers. The worst chancellor in British history has gone further by giving big business another tax cut while staff caring for the sick get pay cuts. […] [H]e should have raised the national minimum wage by £1 and drop the senseless plan to give millionaires a tax break in a few days’ time”.

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