November 01, 2010

This Weekend's News: Misc. Natural Security Fun

Late last week, Japan concluded a successful international conference on the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, pledging $2 billion for conservation efforts and pulling through the new Nagoya Protocol. As Time's Bryan Walsh describes this new accord:

The negotiators agreed on a 20-point strategic plan to protect marine and land biodiversity while conserving larger areas of the planet. It's the last bit that contains hard numbers—or at least as hard numbers as we're likely to get at a U.N. summit. The signatories agreed to protect 17% of the planet's land and inland waters, and 10% of coastal and marine waters by 2020. (That's up from 13% of land and just 1% of marine areas right now.) There's also a broad "mission" to take action to halt the loss of biodiversity—nations will aim to halve the loss of habitats and will each draw up national biodiversity plans that will chart how each country is mean to halt overfishing, control invasive species and in general stop the rampant destruction of the natural world.

Even more noteworthy, however, is the fact that the diplomats in attendance managed to come up with a compromise on what was by far the most contentious issue on the table: the trade in biological and genetic resources.

To add to the success of this conference, the delegates also agreed on measures blocking geoengineering that could harm biodiversity (with a series of caveats, of course). We look forward to digging into this treaty more and letting you know what we think on its details. And Congrats to the Japanese on their leadership in this conference.

On to DOD fuels. If anyone out there is still unconvinced that our lack of fuel supplier diversity has meaningful effects, The Washington Post ran an extensive A1 story on Saturday on some of the shady aspects of the business of DOD procuring and transporting sufficient fuel into Afghanistan.To give you a hint at the content, the piece is called "Kyrgyzstan deals cloaked in mystery," and it includes sections titled "Contract flaws," "Lack of transparency," and "Elusive entrepreneur." As the Post reports:

The contracts have kept U.S. warplanes flying over Afghanistan and helped the Pentagon skirt increasingly hazardous supply routes through Pakistan. But nurtured by retired U.S. military and intelligence officers, the jet fuel deals have generated a thick fog of mystery that has flummoxed competitors, and the White House.

Congressional investigators have spent six months digging into single-source Pentagon contracts, the possibly illegal diversion of Russian fuel and Kyrgyz claims of backroom deals, which have soured ties with a crucial U.S. ally.

The below-the-radar rise of Mina Corp. and Red Star Enterprises - whose ownership, operations and even office locations are shrouded in secrecy - shows how nearly a decade of war has not only boosted the bottom line of corporate behemoths but also enriched unknown upstarts.

In just eight years, Mina and Red Star - both registered in Gibraltar and run by the same people - have come from nowhere to become a key link in the U.S. military's supply chain. They have beaten out established rivals to supply nearly a billion gallons of jet fuel to a U.S. Air Force base here in Kyrgyzstan, a vital staging post for the Afghan conflict, and also to American warplanes at Bagram air base in Afghanistan.

Finally, news broke last night that the Pentagon will soon release its Congressionally-mandated study on rare earth minerals in defense supply chains. It concludes that DOD does not have a rare earths crisis, and issues with these minerals do not affect naitonal security. This is smart, and along the lines of what we've discussed when we go around pontificating about minerals. Will and I visited a business earlier this year that depends on rare earths and is a supplier to DOD. Their stockpile could last them 6 months to a year if needed...and that stockpile is about the size of my office. The scale here is important - these minerals are critical in many applications, but often in small doses.

On a final note, I'd caution that this DOD report was to focus on defense supply chains. Minerals issues (especially lately) can quite definitely still form tough foreign policy problems.


The Week Ahead

At noon today at the Winston & Strawn LLP offices, the Women's Council on Energy and Environment is holding a discussion on "China's Climate and Energy Policy Since Copenhagen." SAIS is burning it up on natural security this week, including "The Political Dynamics of Conflict in the Great Lakes" today at 4:00, and "Russian Policy in the Arctic: Ambitions, Dreams and Strategies" at noon Wednesday, among several other cool events. On Friday, definitely go to the Wilson Center's event on "U.S.-China Climate Relations in the Run-Up to Cancun" at 9:30.

And tomorrow, if you haven't already, remember to vote!! Have a great week everyone.