Category Archives: Asia

German Ships in the Pacific, August 1914

From German Raiders of the South Seas, by Robin Bromby (Highgate, 2012), Kindle Loc. 52-108:

ON 31 JULY 1914 as the shadows of war rolled in, the German cruiser SMS Emden slipped its moorings at the port of Tsingtao in northern China. The previous day had seen Austria-Hungary declare war on Serbia following the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Germany followed with declarations against France and Russia, and Britain and its empire would join in on 4 August.

Emden’s captain, Karl von Müller, was anxious to avoid being bottled up in the harbour by the British naval squadron should war be declared. The Royal Navy was based not far away at Weihaiwei — the British territory on the North China coast which had been leased in 1898 for a coaling station (and would be returned to China in 1930). Although the Germans in China were aware that war was threatening, the timing of its declaration seems to have caught them by surprise; the main force of the East Asiatic Squadron was away on a three-month cruise of the Pacific to show the flag along the impressive string of German territories that spread as far as Samoa.

In 1884, the Emperor had proclaimed his sovereignty over the northern part of New Guinea. In 1897 the murder of two German missionaries in China had provided the pretext for the Germans to seize Kiaochow and extract a ninety-nine year lease on the bay at Tsingtao along with extensive railway and mining concessions in Shantung province from the beleaguered Chinese government. Kiaochow, while a German colony, was administered by the Reichsmarineamt and the governor of the territory was not a ministry official from Berlin but the commanding naval officer. Following the murder of the missionaries, Germany had sent a naval force and forced the weak Chinese government to accede to a 99-year lease on the territory; moreover, Germany was given the right to construct two railway lines into Chinese territory and have the rights to any minerals over a 30km-wide corridor through which those lines would run. The German victory set off another round of territorial claims for pieces of China: the Russians took over Port Arthur, France demand Kwangchow and Britain both expanded its land area at Hong Kong with a 99-year lease over what would be known as the New Territories and also took control at Weihaiwei in the north of China.

Meanwhile, in 1899 the Germans bought Marshall and Caroline Islands (now separately the countries of Palau and Federated States of Micronesia) from Spain and then Western Samoa was wrung from the British to complete the new and what would be a short-lived German empire in the east.

Nevertheless, the imperatives of the European situation were such that Germany could give only scant attention to its Pacific possessions. This may explain why the German fleet was scattered at the beginning of August. The armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, each of 11,832 tons and launched in 1907 and 1908 respectively, were on the flag-showing cruise and the Emden was in Tsingtao, along with the armed merchant cruiser Prinz Eitel Friedrich and several colliers. The light cruiser Nurnberg was steaming from North America and due to meet up with Scharnhorst and Gneisenau at Apia in Samoa, while the other light cruiser, Leipzig, was en route to Mexico.

([Photo caption:] When the Nürnberg was ordered to rejoin the East Asiatic Squadron at the outbreak of war, one of her first jobs was to cut the cable at Fanning Island, a relay station for the vital Pacific cable. On 7 September 1914 the cruiser landed a party of sailors, the Germans smashing the operating room, dynamiting the generating plant, dredging up the cable and cutting it. [Paul Schmalenbach Collection])

Impressive though it was, Germany’s naval squadron in the Pacific was dwarfed in size there by the country’s merchant fleet operating in that vast ocean. At this time, Germany was second only to Britain in merchant tonnage there. In the Pacific the presence of the German territories as well as the normal international trade meant that German merchant ships were frequent visitors to British empire ports; many of the supplies needed by the German settlers in New Guinea came from Australia, and it was the German shipping companies which provided the transport for those supplies. The merchant ships, at least those with radios, could keep in contact with Berlin. In the early years of the twentieth century the Germans installed a network of wireless stations to link their possessions and their ships, the main stations being at Yap, New Guinea and Samoa. In 1908 all German merchant captains had received instructions that in time of war they were to head immediately for a German possession or a neutral port. In February 1914 all German ships equipped with wireless were told to listen to German stations at 0700, 1300 and 2310 each day.

On 3 August 1914, literally the eve of war, there were many German merchant ships around the coast of Australia. The Seydlitz, a Norddeutscher-Lloyd (NDL) mail steamer, was berthed at Sydney’s Circular Quay. Also in Sydney that night were other NDL steamers: the Elsass at what was then the NDL wharf, the Melbourne at Garden Island and the Osnabruck at Woolloomooloo. The Sumatra had arrived from Hamburg the previous day, while the Germania was just in from the Caroline Islands. The Stolberg was docked at Fremantle and the Scharzfels and the Iserlohn had berthed at Adelaide, with the Cannstadt tieing up at Brisbane. The Pommern was at sea between Brisbane and Sydney.

From 3 August the Port of Sydney was closed at night. Three minutes after midnight on the previous day, at the other main port in New South Wales, Newcastle, the collier Luneberg had slipped out of that harbour with empty holds while the captain on the Ulm was so anxious to leave Newcastle he left two-thirds of his cargo on the wharf. The Australian authorities had already instructed the Navy to examine all ships entering or leaving defended ports.

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Filed under Asia, Australia, Britain, China, France, Germany, New Zealand, Pacific, Russia, war

Comparing the Russian and Turkish Revolutions

From The Sultans, by Noel Barber (Simon & Schuster, 1973), p. 284:

During all these years there were remarkable parallels between those two arch-enemies of the past, Turkey and Russia. The Russian revolution in 1905, the Young Turks in 1908, had both sprung from the same original passions – a deeply rooted desire for democratic government at a time when the equivalent of Britain’s Industrial Revolution was changing the face of the two empires, each half European, half Asian. Each had reached a moment of destiny after losing a succession of wars. The parallels went further. Both separated Church from State. And while Constantinople became Istanbul, and a new capital was built out of a primitive village on the steppes, St Petersburg became Petrograd, then Leningrad and the capital was moved to Moscow. In both cases the move was symbolic, the sign not only that each country wanted to blot out its tarnished history but wanted also to signalise to the world that it was making a fresh start.

There was, however, one vital difference between the two countries. A massive ideology underlay the tremendous events in Russia, often paralysing the Bolshevik attempts to introduce reforms, to get things done. By contrast Musatafa Kemal, as he Europeanised Turkey, unceremoniously nationalising banks, introducing rural electrification, was never hampered by mystical theories which had to be earnestly debated. Since the basis of Mustafa Kemal’s ideology was to produce a modern, Westernised Turkey, he could bulldoze any measures, however startling, through Parliament simply because reform was the only creed he preached.

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Just Another Imperial Expansion

From Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest, by Matthew Restall (Oxford, 2004), Kindle Loc. 3230-3243:

If we focus only on the century following Columbus’s voyages we see Mexica and Inca warriors as losers, West Africans as fighting slaves, and Spaniards as quite reasonably contemplating a world empire. But the age of expansion began with the rise of empires outside Europe, with the Mexica fanning out across Mesoamerica and the Inca dominating the Andes, and in West Africa with the rising of the Songhay empire from the ashes of that of Mali. In Europe, the Ottomans and the Muscovites began empire building before the Spaniards, as did the Portuguese—who beat their Iberian neighbors in the race for a sea route to East Asia. And after the sixteenth century the Spanish empire was gradually eclipsed by the trading and colonial networks of the Dutch, English, and French.

Looking at human history over thousands of years, the Spanish Conquest is a mere episode in the globalization of access to resources of food production. The plants and animals of certain Old World environments and regions have a greater potential as food, and the peoples of those regions have enjoyed advantages over others as a result. But eventually, through uneven encounters, those advantages have been introduced to the previously disadvantaged regions. In the case of Europeans introducing new foods to Native Americans, the parallel introduction of Old World diseases made the encounter especially uneven, while colonialism hindered native access to these new resources. This process is too broad and complex to be understood in terms of the alleged and simple “superiority” of one group of people over another. It is also a process that is incomplete. We are still living through the long period of uneven encounters and the gradual globalization of resources.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Datsu-A Nyuu-Ou vs. Datsu-Bei Nyuu-A

One of the frequent catch-phrases in Japanese foreign policy discussions these days is 脱米入亜 datsu-Bei nyuu-A ‘leave America join Asia’, one of many trial balloons floated by the new DPJ-led government. This phrase (r)evokes an older formulation attributed to one of the most avid Westernizers of the Meiji era, Fukuzawa Yukichi, who must hold the world record in Sinographic neologism. (One of the neologisms sometimes attributed to him is minshuushugi [people-master-ism] ‘democracy’.) His policy prescription for Japan in the late 19th century was 脱亜入欧 datsu-A nyuu-Ou ‘leave Asia join Europe’.

How feasible for Japan is 脱米入亜 datsu-Bei nyuu-A ‘leave America join Asia’? Kyushu-based blogger Ampontan is translating and hosting a series of columns by Shimojo Masao, one of Japan’s top specialists on Korea (whose second language is Korean), who weighs in on the issue. Here is Ampontan’s translation of Shimojo’s first column, in its entirety.

The Preconditions for an East Asian Entity

There has been a change of government in Japan for the first time in half a century, and a Democratic Party of Japan administration has taken power under the leadership of Hatoyama Yukio. Among his policy initiatives, the concept of an East Asian entity or community similar to the European Union is receiving widespread attention. The alliance with the United States has been the cornerstone of international relations for Japan since the Liberal Democratic Party came to power. People are discussing whether the change of government might mean Japan has chosen to turn away from the U.S. and place a greater emphasis on Asia.

A full understanding of the distinctive historical characteristics of East Asia is required before embarking on such a course, however. While Japan, the Korean Peninsula, and China on the continent are close geographically, the history of their social systems is different. They have less in common than the members of the European Union, which had shared Christian beliefs and intermarriage of the ruling classes.

In Japan’s case, a social system that incorporated regional authority was formed after the establishment of the Kamakura Shogunate in the 12th century, and the foundation of a market economy was created. That is why Japan, with a system closely resembling capitalism, was quickly receptive to Western civilization after the Opium War of 1840.

In contrast, a system of centralized authority was maintained in China and on the Korean Peninsula despite the arrival of modernization. For many years, they had what amounted to planned economies. The history of Japan vis-à-vis China and the Korean Peninsula is that of relationships similar to the one between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The achievement of an East Asian entity depends on whether Prime Minister Hatoyama is possessed of the awareness of those historical differences and the insight to perceive what is necessary to overcome them.

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WW2: National Armies vs. Imperial Armies

From The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West, by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press, 2006), pp. 516-518:

The Axis powers were fighting not only against the British, Russians and Americans; they were fighting against the combined forces of the British, Russian and American empires as well. The total numbers of men fielded by the various parts of the British Empire were immense. All told, the United Kingdom itself mobilized just under six million men and women. But an additional 5.1 million came from India, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Victories like El Alamein and even more so Imphal were victories for imperial forces as much as for British forces; the colonial commitment to the Empire proved every bit as strong as in the First World War. Especially remarkable was the fact that more than two and a half million Indians volunteered to serve in the British Indian Army during the war – more than sixty times the number who fought for the Japanese. The rapid expansion of the Indian officer corps provided a crucial source of loyalty, albeit loyalty that was conditional on post-war independence. The Red Army was also much more than just a Russian army. In January 1944 Russians accounted for 58 per cent of the 200 infantry divisions for which records are available, but Ukrainians accounted for 22 per cent, an order of magnitude more than fought on the German side, and a larger proportion than their share of the pre-war Soviet population. Half the soldiers of the Soviet 62nd Army at Stalingrad were not Russians. The American army, too, was ethnically diverse. Although they were generally kept in segregated units, African-Americans accounted for around 11 per cent of total US forces mobilized and fought in all the major campaigns from Operation Torch onwards. Norman Mailer’s reconnaissance platoon in The Naked and the Dead includes two Jews, a Pole, an Irishman, a Mexican and an Italian. Two of the six servicemen who raised the Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima were of foreign origin; one was a Pima Indian. More than 20,000 Japanese-Americans served in the US army during the war….

The Germans, as we have seen, had made some efforts to mobilize other peoples in occupied Europe, as had the Japanese in the Far East, but these were dwarfed by what the Allies achieved. Indeed, the abject failure of the Axis empires to win the loyalty of their new subjects ensured that Allied forces were reinforced by a plethora of exile forces, partisan bands and resistance organizations. Even excluding these auxiliaries, the combined armed forces of the principal Allies were already just under 30 per cent larger than those of the Axis in 1942. A year later the difference was more than 50 per cent. By the end of the war, including also Free French* and Polish forces, Yugoslav partisans and Romanians fighting on the Russian side, the Allies had more than twice as many men under arms. Fifty-two different nationalities were represented in the Jewish Brigade formed by the British in 1944. They followed an earlier wave of 9,000 or so refugees from Spain, Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia who had joined the so-called Alien Companies, nicely nicknamed the ‘King’s Own Loyal Enemy Aliens’.

The best measure of the Allied advantage was in terms of military hardware, however, since it was with capital rather than labour – with machinery rather than manpower – that the Germans and the Japanese were ultimately to be defeated. In every major category of weapon, the Axis powers fell steadily further behind with each passing month. Between 1942 and 1944, the Allies out-produced the Axis in terms of machine pistols by a factor of 16 to 1, in naval vessels, tanks and mortars by roughly 5 to 1, and in rifles, machine-guns, artillery and combat aircraft by roughly 3 to 1.

*It is seldom acknowledged that for most of the period from 1940 until D-Day, black Africans constituted the main elements of the rank and file in the Free French Army. Even as late as September 1944, they still accounted for 1 in 5 of de Gaulle’s force in North-West Europe.

I did not quote the immediately preceding section that compares the mismatch in purely economic terms, but I cannot resist quoting the footnote appended to the end of it (on p. 516):

‘We must at all costs advance into the plains of Mesopotamia and take the Mosul oilfields from the British,’ declared Hitler on August 5, 1942. ‘If we succeed here, the whole war will come to an end.’ But three-quarters of total world oil production in 1944 came from the United States, compared with just 7 per cent from the whole of North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf.

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Asian Roles in New Spain

My favorite article in the latest issue of Journal of World History (on Project MUSE) is by Edward R. Slack Jr. on “The Chinos in New Spain: A Corrective Lens for a Distorted Image.” Here are a few excerpts (footnotes and references omitted).

Spanish galleons transported Asian goods and travelers from Manila to colonial Mexico primarily through the port of Acapulco. During the two and a half centuries of contact between the Philippines and the Viceroyalty of New Spain, a minimum of 40,000 to 60,000 Asian immigrants would set foot in the “City of Kings,” while a figure double that amount (100,000) would be within the bounds of probability. From Acapulco they would gradually disperse to the far corners of the viceroyalty, from Loreto in Baja California to Mérida in Yucatan…. The majority, however, would eventually settle in two distinct zones: on the west coast in the districts of Guerrero, Jalisco, and Michoacán, and in the large, ethnically diverse municipalities of Mexico City and Puebla in the central valleys and the eastern port of Veracruz. The two zones were transversed by the most heavily traveled arteries that connected Acapulco to Mexico City (known colloquially as el camino de China) in the west; Veracruz with Puebla and Mexico City in the east; and several arterials linking the capital with Puerto Vallarta in the west and Guanajuato in the northwest.

For the most part, the chinos disembarked at Acapulco as sailors, slaves, and servants. Over the longue durée of Mexican-Asian cultural exchange, the largest contingent of Asians arrived as sailors on the galleons and smaller vessels (capitanas, pataches, and almirantes) that annually plied the long and perilous return voyage from Manila. The seamen were primarily Filipinos, Chinese mestizos (known in Manila as mestizos de Sangley), or ethnic Chinese from the fortified port of Cavite near Manila that served as the primary shipyard for Spaniards in the archipelago. In 1565, the first chino sailors from the islands of Cebu and Bohol arrived in Acapulco aboard Friar Andrés de Urdaneta’s trailblazing galleon, the San Pedro. During the late sixteenth century Iberian sailors constituted the majority of crewmen, but by the early 1600s Asians had surpassed them, accounting for 60–80 percent of the mariners from that time forward. A historical snapshot of galleon seafarers in the mid eighteenth century comes from a crew manifest of La Santissima Trinidad. In 1760, this vessel was manned by 370 sailors, consisting of 30 officers (Europeans or Mexican criollos), 40 artillerymen (27 chinos), 120 sailors (109 chinos), 100 “Spanish” cabin boys (96 chinos), and 80 “plain” cabin boys (78 chinos). In sum, 84 percent (310) of the crew were born and raised in Spain’s Asian colony, with 68 percent (250) hailing from the port of Cavite alone….

Along the Pacific coast, chino sojourners tended to congregate in the cities and pueblos of Acapulco, Coyuca, San Miguel, Zacatula, Tex pan, Zihuatenejo, Atoya, Navidad, and Colima. With the arrival of more ships from Manila, the number of sailors who either had no desire to return to the Philippines or were brought over as slaves married local Indian and mixed-race women increased. Consequently, a sizable population of chinos and their descendants made these cities and pueblos a popular destination for fellow Asians. Both freemen and slaves farmed rice (brought from the Philippines), corn, and cotton; tended cacao and coconut palm trees; fished in the seas and rivers; and transported people and goods to various ports along the coastline. Those who followed the royal highways to towns farther inland worked as muleteers or in the silver mines, haciendas, obrajes (textile workshops), or sugar mills….

Slaves and servants constituted the second largest group of Asian immigrants during the colonial era. Manila quickly became an important entrepôt for the commerce in human flesh during the first century of Spanish rule. The greater part were transported by Portuguese vessels from colonies and trading ports in Africa, India, the Malay peninsula, Japan, and China, although Chinese junks and Malay prahus also shipped large quantities to Manila. Non-Filipino slaves that fetched the highest price were from Timor, Ternate, Makassar, Burma, Ceylon, and India, because “the men are industrious and obliging, and many are good musicians; the women excellent seamstresses, cooks, and preparers of conserves, and are neat and clean in service.”…

The incorporation of Asian immigrants into the armed forces of New Spain represents another fascinating fragment of the chino mosaic from the colonial era. Similar to restrictions placed on other castas in Mexico, there were numerous prohibitions against Asians carrying weapons or riding horses….

The legion of similar antiweapons ordnances from the 1550s onward notwithstanding, from at least the 1590s free chinos not only were granted permission to carry weapons, but gradually incorporated into both the salaried companies of Españoles as well as local militias, especially those cities and towns along the Pacific coast. In several documents from the years 1591 and 1597, an “Indio Chino” from the silver mining town of Zultepec named Juan Alonzo, who earned his livelihood from buying and selling mules, was granted a license to ride a horse with a saddle and bridle and to carry a sword. A key determinant in this matter was his racial classification as a chino, since indios (unless they were elites) were forbidden such privileges….

Among the scores of Asian peoples that were widely defined as chinos, in the early decades of the 1600s Japanese converts were held in high esteem by Spaniards in the Philippines and New Spain for their bravery and loyalty. In 1603 and 1639 when Chinese residents in the Parián of Manila revolted against their Iberian overlords, Japanese swordsmen distinguished themselves in combat. Without their assistance, Sangleyes would surely have made the Philippines a colony of the Middle Kingdom. Thousands of Japanese converts, traders, and ronin made the Philippines their home prior to the closing of Cipango to Iberians in the 1630s. They lived in a suburb of Manila called Dilao, with a population estimated at 3,000 by 1624.

Thus it is not surprising that samurai converts were considered a more privileged subgroup of chinos in New Spain….

It is unclear exactly when chino militias were established on the west coast of New Spain. It is evident, however, that prior to 1729 Asian paramilitary units were routinely patrolling the regions adjacent to Acapulco. Tiburcio Anzalde, “captain of one of the militias of chinos and mulatos in the district of Atoya,” discussed the duties and obligations of militiamen in a 1746 document: repeated trips to Acapulco to deliver mail and other correspondences; to clear the roads (of bandits) while on patrol; and, most importantly, their heroic role in resisting the English pirate George Anson‘s invasion at the port of Zihuatenejo in 1741.

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Filed under Asia, China, economics, England, Japan, labor, Mexico, migration, Netherlands, Philippines, Portugal, Spain

From Tight Ethnotowns to Dispersed Ethnoburbs

The latest issue of Southeastern Geographer (on Project MUSE) has an article by Paul N. McDaniel and Anita I. Drever that examines Immigrant Businesses in a New South City (Birmingham, Alabama), asking: Do they form an Ethnic Enclave or International Corridor?

Here’s the abstract and a bit of the introduction that I found interesting. I have eliminated most of the in-text citations and cross-references in the extracts that follow.

Abstract: Immigration is changing the U.S. South in unprecedented ways. First and later generations of Latinos and Asians comprise increasing portions of the population in towns and cities across the region. Some of these newcomers have started entrepreneurial business ventures rather than going to work for someone else. This research examines the forces driving the spatial patterns of and civic leader response to immigrant-owned entrepreneurial establishments in Birmingham, Alabama, a middle-tier metropolitan area. The paper answers the following questions: (1) Why did immigrant businesses begin moving into Birmingham during the last decade and a half? (2) Where are ethnic entrepreneurs opening up retail shops and why? (3) What are the attitudes of city officials towards these multi-ethnic business enclaves? These questions are addressed using a mixed-method approach that includes census data analysis, archival research, personal observations and semi-structured open-ended interviews….

Historically, ethnic businesses have been spatially concentrated…. Ethnic neighborhoods in gateway cities developed at a time when city inhabitants traveled on foot or by streetcar. Ethnic businesses and residences therefore had to be located in close proximity. The ethnic businesses that have opened up in the U.S. South during the past ten to fifteen years largely cater to a clientele within driving rather than walking distance. Many of the recent arrivals to the South have also lived in other parts of the U.S. and are therefore less dependent on ethnic intermediaries to find employment or housing. Research on the residential settlement of new arrivals to the South reveals minimal spatial clustering…. Walcott (2002) did find that ethnic businesses were spatially concentrated along the Buford Highway international corridor between the northeast Atlanta suburbs of Chamblee and Doraville; however she saw minimal evidence of spatial clustering by nationality within this area.

Contrary to the findings in studies of several other southern cities (see Mohl 2003), Asians and Hispanics appear to be settling largely in white neighborhoods …. Dissimilarity index calculations by the authors based on data from the 2000 U.S. Census indicate that one-and-a-half times as many Asians and Hispanics would have to move to evenly distribute their population among blacks as among non-Hispanic whites.

What attracted these immigrants to Birmingham?

The shift in the locus of U.S. economic growth from the Rustbelt in the Northeast to the Sunbelt in the South brought biotechnology firms, large banks, and multinational corporation headquarters to the Birmingham metropolitan area. These global companies—along with Birmingham’s universities—recruited talent from around the United States and the rest of the world…. Like in other locales, Birmingham’s expanding well-paid, highly educated workforce has demanded better housing and more services. This has helped to fuel job growth in construction and basic services and the foreign-born have arrived to fill these jobs (Mohl 2003). And as a result, like in many parts of the country Birmingham has attracted a foreign-born population that is both more and less educated than the metropolitan area as a whole: 19 percent of immigrants have a graduate degree as compared to 9 percent of the total metro population and 27 percent of immigrants have less than a high school education compared to 16 percent of metro Birmingham’s population as a whole….

Where are they living and working?

First, although the residences of the foreign-born are fairly dispersed …, new immigrant businesses in Birmingham are clustered…. A second important characteristic of Birmingham’s ethnic business concentrations are that they are multiethnic in contrast to the Chinatowns, Little Tokyos, and Latino barrios that evolved before the automobile era in gateway cities…. Third, ethnic businesses in Birmingham are located along suburban corridors rather than in neighborhoods per se. In the walking cities of the past, ethnic businesses were located on contiguous neighborhood blocks to accommodate customers traveling on foot or by streetcar to do their shopping. In addition, immigrants often lived in the dwellings above the street level shops. By contrast, Birmingham’s ethnic businesses are moving into a suburban, automobile dominated landscape where zoning ordinances have purposely separated residential and commercial landscapes….

And what kinds of attitudes do they encounter?

The interviews with Hoover and Homewood city officials suggest immigrant business owners receive more verbal support from city officials in Homewood. The fact that the international corridor in Homewood is larger and more complex than in Hoover may in part be the result of the warmer welcome it received from the local government. It is also likely that city officials’ positive attitudes toward ethnic businesses make it easier for immigrant businesses to acquire permits and influence local ordinances.

The author of a key work cited in this article recently published a book titled Ethnoburb: The New Ethnic Community in Urban America, by Wei Li (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2008).

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Policing the Pirates of Puntland

The India-oriented blog, The Acorn, recently noted that the Indian navy is proposing to join the multinational effort to police the pirate-infested waters off the Horn of Africa, many of them operating out of Somalia’s “self-governing” region known as Puntland.

Among the tasks assigned to the Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150)—an international naval task force comprising, among others, of US, British, French, Pakistani and Bahraini ships—are maritime security operations in the Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. While its purpose is to deny the use of the seas to smugglers and terrorists the main problem in the area under its watch is piracy.

CTF-150 doesn’t have enough ships to secure one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. So it advises large, slower vessels to travel in convoys so that it can better watch over them. But since this is not always possible, around one in 500 ships fall victim to pirates. Since the monthly traffic is around 1500, pirates succeed in raiding three or four ships each month.

Now the Russian navy is sending a warship to the area after one group of the pirates may have bitten off more than they can chew.

SOMALI PIRATES who seized a Ukrainian ship carrying 33 T72 battle tanks – apparently bound for the autonomous government of South Sudan – yesterday warned against any attempt by Western navies to rescue the vessel’s weapons cargo or its crew.

Januna Ali Jama, a spokesman for the pirates in the breakaway north statelet of Puntland said the pirates would soon begin the routine Somali pirate tactic of negotiating the return of the cargo ship Faina to its Ukraine state owners in exchange for a ransom.

Jama told the BBC Somali Service that the pirates demand is £18 million from the Kiev government because apart from the Russian made tanks the Faina is carrying “weapons of all kinds”, including rocket-propelled grenades, anti-aircraft guns and many hundreds of thousands of ammunition….

The pirate syndicates – of which there at least five, each about 1000-strong – operate out of Puntland, far to the north, wrapped around the Horn of Africa where the Gulf of Aden meets the Indian Ocean, which declared itself separate from the Republic of Somalia 10 years ago. Puntland is to Mogadishu what Kurdistan, semi-autonomous and far off in the northern mountains of Iraq, is to Baghdad.

Unrecognised internationally – although the British Embassy in neighbouring Ethiopia maintains close contact with the Puntland government, which is allowing oil exploration by three Western companies – little diplomatic pressure can be put on Puntland, which says piracy grew after international “sea robber” fishing fleets plundered and wrecked its rich fishing grounds. The United Nations estimates that fish worth at least £50 million a year are plundered illegally from Somali waters by Spanish and other foreign boats.

The pirates are unlikely to be unable to unload the tanks because of a lack of specialist heavy-lifting gear in the tiny ports and innumerable coves of Puntland, a barren land three times the area of Scotland which historically depended on fishing and camel and goat-herding.

But that will hardly discourage the pirates. What they want is booty, in the form of on-board cash, cargo and, most importantly, ransom money, which owners are increasingly willing to pay, given the huge values of ships and their cargoes and the daily costs of maintaining them at sea. On the same day as the Faina was captured, another Puntland pirate syndicate released a Japanese ship and its 21-member crew after a £1 million ransom was paid. The 53,000-tonne bulk carrier Stella Maris had a valuable cargo of zinc and lead ingots. And as the Stella Maris was being freed, Somali pirates were hijacking a Greek chemical tanker with 19 crew on board as it sailed through the Gulf of Aden from Europe to the Middle East.

The Faina is believed to be heading to the pirate port of Eyl, the main destination of hijacked ships where Puntland entrepreneurs run special restaurants for the hundreds of seized crewmen and where the pirates’ accountants make calculations on laptops and drive state-of-the-art land cruisers….

Worldwide, pirates attacked a known 263 large vessels in 2007, up from a reported 239 in 2006, according to Choong’s piracy reporting centre. Southeast Asia, especially the shipping lanes of the Malacca Straits between Malaysia and the huge Indonesian Island of Sumatra, used to be the world’s busiest place for pirate attacks. Better co-operation between southeast Asian nations and the consequences of the 2004 tsunami have greatly reduced the number of attacks. Many pirates operated out of Aceh, the northern province of Sumatra, but the tsunami destroyed their ports, wrecked their boats and killed many of the pirates.

Somali piracy easily tops the world table, both in terms of the number of attacks and the money made. It is the Somali financiers sitting mainly in Dubai, Britain, Canada, Denmark and Kenya who make the big money by keeping the bulk of the ransom payments. Pirates based in Nigeria and Peru are also climbing the league table.

France is now circulating a draft resolution in the UN Security Council urging nations to contribute more warships and aircraft to the fight against piracy off Somalia. While the Foreign office has ordered the Royal Navy, to the incredulity of the nation’s maritime industry, not to detain Somali pirates from fear of human rights complications, the French are being pro-active.

UPDATE: On The Atlantic magazine’s blog The Current, Robert Kaplan describes a bit of the lifestyle of these pirates.

I spoke recently with several U.S. Navy officers who had been involved in anti-piracy operations off Somalia, and who had interviewed captured pirates. The officers told me that Somali pirate confederations consist of cells of ten men, with each cell distributed among three skiffs. The skiffs are usually old, ratty, and roach-infested, and made of unpainted, decaying wood or fiberglass. A typical pirate cell goes into the open ocean for three weeks at a time, navigating by the stars. The pirates come equipped with drinking water, gasoline for their single-engine outboards, grappling hooks, short ladders, knives, AK-47 assault rifles, and rocket-propelled grenades. They bring millet and qat (the local narcotic of choice), and they use lines and nets to catch fish, which they eat raw. One captured pirate skiff held a hunk of shark meat so tough it had teeth marks all over it. With no shade and only a limited amount of water, their existence on the high seas is painfully rugged.

The classic tactic of Somali pirates is to take over a slightly larger dhow, often a fishing boat manned by Indians, Taiwanese, or South Koreans, and then live on it, with the skiff attached. Once in possession of a dhow, they can seize an even bigger ship. As they leapfrog to yet bigger ships, they let the smaller ships go free. Because the sea is vast, only when a large ship issues a distress call do foreign navies even know where to look for pirates. If Somali pirates hunted only small boats, no warship in the international coalition would know about the piracy.

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Narratives of the Rise vs. Narratives of the Fall

From: Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, by Ted Nordhaus & Michael Shellenberger (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), pp. 150-151:

There is a very different story [than that in Jared Diamond's Collapse] that can be told about human history, one that embraces our agency, and that is the story of constant human overcoming. Whereas the tragic story imagines that humans have fallen, the narrative of overcoming imagines that we have risen.

Consider how much our ancestors – human and nonhuman – overcame for us to become what we are today. For beginners, they were prey. Given how quickly and efficiently humans are driving the extinction of nonhuman animal species, the notion that our ancestors were food seems preposterous. And yet, understanding that we evolved from being prey goes a long way toward understanding some of the feelings and motivations that drive us into suicidal wars and equally suicidal ecological collapses.

Against the happy accounts of harmonious premodern human societies at one with Nature, there is the reality that life was exceedingly short and difficult. Of course, life could also be wonderful and joyous. But it was hunger not obesity, oppression not depression, and violence not loneliness that were primary concerns.

Just as the past offers plenty of stories of humankind’s failure, it also offers plenty of stories of human overcoming. Indeed, we can only speak of past collapses because we have survived them. There are billions more people on earth than there were when the tiny societies of the Anasazi in the American Southwest and the Norse in Greenland collapsed in the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, respectively. That there are nearly seven billion of us alive today is a sign of our success, not failure.

Perhaps the most powerful indictment of environmentalism is that environmentalists so often consider our long life spans and large numbers terrible tragedies rather than extraordinary achievements. The narrative of overpopulation voiced almost entirely by some of the richest humans ever to roam the earth is utterly lacking in gratitude for the astonishing labors of our ancestors.

Of course, none of this is to say that human civilizations won’t collapse again in the future. They almost certainly will. Indeed, some already are collapsing. But to focus on these collapses is to miss the larger picture of rising prosperity and longer life spans. Not only have we survived, we’ve thrived. Today more and more of us are “free at last” – free to say what we want to say, love whom we want to love, and live within a far larger universe of possibilities than any other generation of humans on earth.

At the very moment that we humans are close to overcoming hunger and ancient diseases like polio and malaria, we face ecological crises of our own making, ones that could trigger drought, hunger, and the resurgence of ancient diseases.

The narrative of overcoming helps us to imagine and thus create a brighter future. Human societies will continue to stumble. Many will fall. But we have overcome starvation, disease, deprivation, oppression, and war. We can overcome ecological crises.

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Kissinger on Asia as the Next Europe

Henry Kissinger outlines Three Revolutions that present new challenges to the old model of state-based power politics.

These transformations take place against the backdrop of a third trend, a shift in the center of gravity of international affairs from the Atlantic to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Paradoxically, this redistribution of power is to a part of the world where nations still possess the characteristics of traditional European states. The major states of Asia — China, Japan, India and, in time, possibly Indonesia — view each other the way participants in the European balance of power did, as inherent competitors even when they occasionally participate in cooperative ventures.

In the past, such shifts in the structure of power generally led to war, as happened with the emergence of Germany in the late 19th century. Today the rise of China is assigned such a role in much alarmist commentary. True, the Sino-American relationship will inevitably contain classical geopolitical and competitive elements. These must not be neglected. But there are countervailing elements. Economic and financial globalization, environmental and energy imperatives, and the destructive power of modern weapons all impose a major effort at global cooperation, especially between the United States and China. An adversarial relationship would leave both countries in the position of Europe after the two world wars, when other societies achieved the preeminence the nations of Europe sought through self-destructive conflict with each other.

No previous generation has had to deal with different revolutions occurring simultaneously in separate parts of the world. The quest for a single, all-inclusive remedy is chimerical. In a world in which the sole superpower is a proponent of the prerogatives of the traditional nation-state, where Europe is stuck in halfway status, where the Middle East does not fit the nation-state model and faces a religiously motivated revolution, and where the nations of South and East Asia still practice the balance of power, what is the nature of the international order that can accommodate these different perspectives?

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