Friday, November 22, 2013

Four stumbling blocks for an Iran interim agreement in Geneva

According to DebkaFile the negotiations in Geneva are facing four stumbling blocks:

1) Iran will not shut down its underground enrichment plant at Fordo.
2) Work on building the Arak heavy water reactor will not be halted.
3) Iran will not allow the export of a single gram of its enriched uranium from the country.
4) Iran will not sign the Additional Protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty which expands international supervision of its nuclear program and permits snap inspections.

As I see it Iran is right in this in most of the points:
- this is about an interim agreement that should cover only six months. So asking Iran to do near irreversible things like signing the Additional Protocol shows bad faith.
- the same applies to forcing Iran to export enriched uranium. Iran uses that uranium in an experimental reactor to produce medical isotopes. Given time it would slowly consume its stock. Asking it to export it is a public statement that you don't trust Iran to keep its word. As such the demand is deliberate insult meant to sabotage the talks.
- Iran claims that the Arak reactor is just a replacement for another reactor to produce medical isotopes. Others claim its main purpose is to produce plutonium. That is a discussion that needs further exploration. So while it is fair to ask Iran to stop further construction, it should be done in such a way that if it would be decided later on to resume construction that can be done without much extra costs.
- the agreement is about stabilizing the expansion of Iran's nuclear abilities, not about abolishing them. The latter should be discussed for the definitive agreement. So rather than just shutting down Fordo the agreement should specify that Fordo should not be expanded or upgraded and should specify the amount of enriched uranium Iran is allowed to have. And Fordo should only be allowed to produce more when the stock falls below that limit.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A case of bad social engineering in China

In the 1960s many Western countries built large numbers of high flats. There was need for more housing and this was the cheapest way to provide that. Of course the houses had no gardens, but for the rest they were quite large and quite decently built. Yet soon these areas became problem areas and many still are. People who could afford it left and those remaining found themselves living in a high crime area. And as no one felt connected to them those quarters soon decayed - both the houses and the environment.

It was just one example of bad social engineering - people trying to design an environment for other people to live in.

Now the Chinese government has engaged in a similar experiment: it is building complete new cities and forcing people to live there. Predictably many people don't like this and employment fails to arrive. The result is once again desolate areas where no one likes to live.

It would be a much better policy if the Chinese government seduced some companies with subsidies and facilities to move to those areas. That would allow for a much more organic growth of those cities.

Postscript: The Chinese government has now announced a list of 60 reforms that it wants to introduce. Given how badly the Chinese government is implementing the urbanization I am rather pessimistic that it will do better on those other reforms.