Monday, February 27, 2006

Only the finest in non-lethal weapons ...

Rabbits appear to have been troubling the gardeners where I live. The answer? These cute little (and, after one week, seemingly entirely ineffective) non-lethal rabbit traps.

The idea is that the rabbit is lured in by the tasty carrot, stands on the elevated ramp to get at it, the ramp then falls, in turn pulling the the pin holing the door open - and voila, caged bunny.

Shame the rabbits don't seem to like 'em and that the wind seems able to blow the doors shut ... I re-set one of them myself for this photo.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Rap, rap, rapping the gavel of justice

Perhaps one of the finer moments of US Judicial humour in a footnote arrived in the my e-mail inbox in the form of the appeals judgment in US v Murphy (4 May 2005, 7th Circuit).

The case was about witness intimidation in – of course – a crack-smoking trailer park:
“On the evening of May 29, 2003, Hayden was smoking crack with three other folks at a trailer park home on Chain of Rocks Road in Granite City, Illinois. Murphy, Sr., who had sold drugs to Hayden several years earlier, showed up later that night. He was friendly at first, but he soon called Hayden a “snitch bitch hoe”(1) and hit her in the head with the back of his hand. He said he saw her name in discovery materials from his son’s criminal case and that she was responsible for putting him in jail. …”

The footnote at (1) reads:
The trial transcript quotes Ms. Hayden as saying Murphy called her a snitch bitch “hoe.” A “hoe,” of course, is a tool used for weeding and gardening. We think the court reporter, unfamiliar with rap music (perhaps thankfully so), misunderstood Hayden’s response. We have taken the liberty of changing “hoe” to “ho,” a staple of rap music vernacular as, for example, when Ludacris raps “You doin’ ho activities with ho tendencies.”


Friday, February 17, 2006

Iran’s nuclear programme: what’s going on?

Okay, so we’ve all heard the phrases: Iran has resumed uranium enrichment, it’s torn UN seals off research installations, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) might refer it to the Security Council.

Indeed, Iran’s chief hope of stalling UN action appeared to be negotiating with the E3 (France, the UK, Germany) and Russia. Now France’s foreign minister has said that as no civilian program could explain the Iranian nuclear program the situation is simple: it’s a clandestine military program.

What the hell is going on? Here’s my effort at an idiot’s guide. (My apologies that this has become a very long post).

(1) Isn’t Iran obliged not to pursue nuclear research under the Non-Proliferation Treaty?

No. Iran is a party to the NPT, but it only prohibits the non-nuclear weapons States (everyone but the US, UK, France, Russia and China) from having nuclear weapons. There is nothing wrong with a civilian nuclear power program, indeed Article 4 of the NPT preserves the right “to develop research, production and use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes.”

The other problem with the NPT is there’s really not anything much wrong with enriching uranium to weapons grade. There’s also no prohibition on a parallel weapon program that could be used to deliver a conventional explosive or nuclear bomb by missile. A State could do both legally, pull out of the NPT on three months notice, and then put them together.

It’s this lack of a safety margin that explains why everyone is so concerned about IAEA inspections, it’s the only guarantee of good faith that States are not moving to a weapons program (see below). It’s also a requirement under Article 3 of the NPT that all States sign up to an inspection program.

(2) What does it mean to “resume uranium enrichment”?

There’s a great diagram over at Le Monde. It’s pretty comprehensible even if you don’t read French.

The basics are these. Like most things dug out of the ground, unrefined uranium is not very useful. Refinement turns it into “yellowcake” powder, which is 75% uranium. Heated in the right conditions the yellowcake becomes uranium hexaflouride gas (or UF6). The UF6 can be refined into the seriously useful type of uranium (U-235) by spinning it in a centrifuge. As the Guardian puts it:
“Uranium is enriched by spinning it at supersonic speeds in centrifuges. Hundreds of the machines are needed to obtain enough material for a bomb.

Diplomats said in September that Iran could have serious technical difficulties in enriching uranium on an industrial scale, which requires getting the centrifuges to work in cascades.”
If you’ve got enough cascades of centrifuges to refine it, or “enrich it”, improving the concentration of U-235 to 3-5% you can run a power plant; refine it to a concentration of 90% you have weapons-grade material. The other possible problem is that a civilian nuclear power program may itself produce material useful in weapons.

(Scientists, correct me if I’m wrong, please.)

So, Iran is “resuming” this process because in 2002-3 it had its first go at it. When they were caught out by US spy satellites and agreed to let the IAEA in, the IAEA found uranium enriched to a level well beyond what was needed for a civilian program. In 2004 the IAEA accused Iran of being less than fully frank with it, and Iran agreed to a voluntary suspension of enrichment activity. This is where the talk of “UN seals” comes in: Iran let the IAEA secure the facilities.

There’s a useful timeline, again at Le Monde.

(3) What’s the fuss about IAEA inspections?

Put simply, the NPT requires parties to enter inspection arrangements with the IAEA but does not provide a lot of detail. In practice the IAEA has negotiated “safeguards” agreements, also called Additional Protocols, allowing strengthened inspection measures (such as visiting on short notice) with most parties to the NPT (there’s a table of them here).

The point of such inspections is to give the world confidence that nuclear material is not being diverted for military purposes. However, States commonly have concerns that IAEA inspections might allow commercially sensitive information to leak to other countries (essentially, a fear some inspectors might engage in industrial espionage). The tension between inspectors, hopefully acting for the global good, and State’s legitimate fears about sensitive information is reflected in Article 7 of the IAEA’s own Model Protocol on inspections, providing that the State and the IAEA:

“shall make arrangements for managed access under this Protocol in order to prevent the dissemination of proliferation sensitive information, to meet safety or physical protection requirements, or to protect proprietary or commercially sensitive information. Such arrangements shall not preclude the Agency from conducting activities necessary to provide credible assurance of the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities at the location in question …”

Inspections in Iran have been carried out in accordance with such a Protocol.

The catch is Iran isn’t strictly bound by an Additional Protocol. One was negotiated between Iran and the IAEA in late 2003. It was signed, but it never entered into force.

It is quite common in international law for agreements not to be binding upon signature but only upon later “ratification”. This usually means taking the treaty back home and complying with any national law requirements before depositing an instrument of ratification, at which point the treaty may enter into force for the ratifying State.

Iran, however, has never taken the step of bringing it into force but rather has pledged to apply its Additional Protocol pending entry into force. So they can thus call their co-operation with the IAEA voluntary, and claim a right to stop it at any moment. It’s really a very clever legal strategy.

(4) So where to now?

The UN Security Council does not have to wait for the IAEA, legally speaking, before it declares that a State is pursuing a nuclear program that constitutes a threat to international peace and security. Once it has found such a threat, it can impose sanctions that UN members are obliged to implement.

The SC’s powers to protect international peace and security are sweeping. Even if Iran is doing nothing illegal under the NPT per se, or even if it withdraws from the NPT and is no longer legally bound by it – that’s irrelevant if the SC considers that it poses a threat to peace and security. So Iran's argument that it's not presently in legal or technical breach of NPT commitments may be - in a very narrow sense - correct; but that's hardly the point, especially given its history of trying to conceal part of its program from the IAEA.

What the IAEA process provides is a mechanism for diplomacy and a forum for Iran to build confidence that its nuclear program is intended only for civilian purposes. So why is it playing at diplomatic brinkmanship?

My guess is not that they necessarily want nuclear weapons, they want to pose a credible threat that they have the capacity to build nuclear weapons. When you’re sitting in a highly unstable region, and the US is busy redecorating in your next-door neighbours and has branded you part of an “axis of evil” – it’s not perhaps entirely unreasonable to want to possess your own nuclear deterrent.

It’s just a really high-risk strategy if what you’re after is security.

Update on Iran (20/02/06)

According to Reuters Iran now appears to have poured cold water on Russia's offer to enrich Iranian uranium within Russian territory (thus preventing Tehran from diverting it for weapons, but allowing a peaceful power program). While they may accept it, they will not abandon research into further enrichment.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

(Image from BBC online)

Crossing the road safely with Dr Who: 70s style!

This is very odd, rather than "stop, look and listen!" we have Jon Pertwee explaining to ice-cream hungry youngsters how to "SPLINK!" - the most bizarre safety (non-)mnemonic imaginable.

Still, his suit and final facial expression are quite amusing.

Props to the BBC for digging out such archival treasures and putting them online. Shame about the picture quality, though.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Clearly not fearsome enough: students and food

A student back from Singapore gave me these tasty apricot filled baked treats after the Christmas break.

In addition, I've been invited to the annual law students' dinner at one of the colleges for which I supervise students (provide tutorials) in international law.

I'm guessing a college student law society is only going to ask you to attend one of these shin-digs if you're either: (a) important; or (b) regarded as alright/potentially fun to have around.

So, as I clearly wield no power at all, I'm guessing I'm doing OK on the whole fair-minded and dillgently prepared supervisor thing. Yay me.

I've also managed to lose my fear that my supervisees will find this blog (hi guys!).

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

"Picked by" ... wow, He's working at the video store?

So, I subscribe to a DVD rent-by-mail service. It's a fantastic idea, I pay them 8 pounds a month and get four DVDs in the mail. No late fees, two at any one time, I post one back they post one out. I get to update my rental selections on line.

It's genius.

But there's still a human element. Someone, and I do mean Someone, has to pack the mail bag.

(Look closely at the "Your item was picked by line" above the address, if you haven't already.)

It does indeed look as though my increased attendance at evensong choral services in Cambridge has not gone un-noticed upstairs.

Yes, I know I should be blogging about Iran's nuclear program; or cartoons, free speech and religious respect - but this is too darn funny.

PS The DVD that arrived in this packet? "Monty Python: Quest for the Holy Grail." 100% fact.

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Big, ugly and very valuable: patagonian toothfish

People might remember the embarrassment for the Australian government, when the crew of the Viarsa 1 went free in November 2005 after being acquitted by a jury in Perth of illegal fishing in the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone off the Heard and MacDonald Islands north of Antarctica. It was the crew’s second trial, the first being abandoned when the jury failed to return a verdict. In the meantime they’d spent two years living in seaman’s hostel in Perth.

So, what’s all the fuss about fishing in Australian Antarctic waters?

Well, for a start the toothfish are supposed to be managed under the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources 1980 (CCAMLR). While not being endangered, they do take 10 years to mature and over-fishing risks taking juveniles before they can breed.

Secondly, it’s big business. These are big fish (they can grow to over 2 metres) and the meat is worth a lot in US ( where it is sold as “Chilean sea bass”) and Japanese markets. The economics of their over-exploitation is remarkable.

Treves has succinctly describes the “common pattern” of IUU (illegal, unregulated and unreported) fishing for Patagonian toothfish in the CCAMLR area:
Fishing vessels flying various flags and most often involving Spanish interests … engage in long-term fishing cruises in the waters of the Southern Ocean. The wealth of the fish – especially Patagonian toothfish – in the vast expanses of the Southern Ocean, and the relatively remote chance of being caught while fishing in the economic zones of France (Kerguelen and Crozet Islands) and Australia (Heard and McDonald Islands), are the main attraction for such expeditions. The financial stakes are considerable, given that a full cargo of Patagonian toothfish can equal or exceed the value of the fishing vessel involved.

In two cases before ITLOS (the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea) this proposition has been starkly demonstrated. When the Monte Confuco was seized by France the evidence before the Tribunal was that the vessel was worth $US 345,000 while its cargo of toothfish was worth approximately $US 1.5 million. When the Volga was seized by Australia the vessel was valued at $AU 1.8 million, and its cargo of toothfish was sold at tender for $AU 1.9 million. (See Tullio Treves, “Flags of Convenience before the Law of the Sea Tribunal”, 6 San Diego Int’l L.J. 181 (2004-2005), 181-2).

However, law enforcement in this part of the world is hard. It’s extremely remote and inhospitable environment with weather conditions often making boarding vessels dangerous, if not impossible. It’s no coincidence that most Australian boardings of vessels found fishing illegally have usually required military assistance and boarding by fast rope from Navy helicopters.

Some of these cases often involved lenthy hot pursuits in difficult and dangerous conditions: the South Tomi was pursued for 15 days across 3,300 nautical miles, while the Viarsa pursuit lasted 21 days and covered 3,900 nautical miles. Third States provided military assistance the eventual boarding of both the South Tomi (South Africa) and Viarsa (South Africa and the United Kingdom).

Thus, Australian experience suggests IUU fishing vessels are willing to go to significant and dangerous lengths to evade capture and are often under instruction not to surrender to law-enforcement vessels unless absolutely necessary. The risk-taking appears to be related to the potential economic gain.

It has been said that the profits to be made, given that only one or two voyages may be needed for a significant return on the cost of the vessel, make IUU fishing for toothfish potentially more profitable than drug or people smuggling (see Baird, “Coastal State Fisheries Management”, (2004) 9 Deakin Law Review 91).

This has driven Australia to described the practice before the CCAMLR annual meetings as “a highly organised form of transnational crime”.

Indeed, when Australia stopped the Lena and the Volga on the same day, it appeared that the two vessels were in communication and Australia led evidence before ITLOS that suggested these two Russian-flagged vessels were part of a larger IUU fishing fleet owned by one family through a company in Jakarta (see the Volga Case transcript, ITLOS/PV.02/02, p. 28 at ITLOS).

It just goes to show if there's enough money in it, there's nothing disorganised about crime.