How Do China and Russia Think of Iran?

The United States media often - and for good reason - portrays China and Russia as reluctant to implement sanctions on Iran. Rarely (too rarely), however, does it attempt to view the issue through a Chinese or Russian lens. Americans nearly never try to understand the complex motivations behind Chinese and Russian lukewarmness.

I will attempt to do that now. How do China and Russia think of Iran?

Probably in the same way we think of Honduras. The lukewarm American opposition to the coup strikingly parallels China and Russia's stances on Iran.

If forced to state a position, most American officials probably would consider Micheletti in the wrong. By ousting Zelaya in his pajamas, Honduras revived a terrible tradition. Central America has a long history of destabilizing coups; they do terrible damage to a nation's future prospects. While Zelaya's actions may have been wrong, the army's action was unquestionably unconstitutional.

But that's exactly it. Zelaya wasn't exactly an innocent victim in all this. As conservatives have pointed out again and again, the situation isn't so clear-cut. The president, a widely unpopular figure, was pushing a poll of uncertain constitutionality. He attempted to align Honduras with Hugo Chavez's anti-American alliance and was entertaining a (constitutionally forbidden) term extension.

Thus, the United States has been decidedly lukewarm in its criticism of the coup - analogous to Chinese and Russian moderation regarding Iran. Honduras has mounted a lobbying campaign in Congress; it appears to be yielding fruit. Several Republican congressmen visited Honduras; the administration"is not talking about imposing new sanctions for now."

The truth is, if the United States fully committed itself against the government - if it suddenly suspended all foreign aid and threatened military action - it would fall in a matter of days. It doesn't however, because it's rightly sympathetic to Micheletti, just as China and Russia are sympathetic to Iran.

So the next time you bemoan Chinese or Russian foot-dragging on Iran, consider American foot-dragging in Honduras. The United States has legitimate arguments against taking too militant a stance in Honduras. China and Russia may have reasonable concerns, too.

After all, they were right regarding Iraq.

-- Inoljt,

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U.S. Falling Behind in Green Jobs Growth

Throughout the 2008 election season, we were told that the green-energy economy would put our economy back on the road to recovery by creating tens of thousands of new jobs in wind, solar and other non-polluting energy sectors.

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Some Good News in Climate Change Negotiations

The past few days have not been kind for those who would combat climate change. On Sunday, it was announced that the goal of an international treaty is being postponed from next month's Copenhagen conference to maybe next year's Mexico City summit, never mind the looming scientific tipping point. Monday, Senator John Kerry announced that the Senate probably won't take up energy legislation until March 2010, never mind the looming midterms. Yesterday, our own desmoinesdem wrote that the Kerry-Boxer bill has been so watered down that we would be better off abandoning the legislative process altogether in favor of EPA regulations. I somewhat explained why I don't share that pessimistic view in the comment section, but she made compelling points and I certainly understand the reasoning.

Yet for all that, it's not all bleak. There is one bright spot in climate news this week (two, counting Charles' post on the Alexander-Webb nuclear energy bill): President Obama and Chinese President Hu have announced an agreement to work together on various clean energy. I think Time Magazine has the most succinct summary:

"As the two largest consumers and producers of energy, there can be no solution to this challenge without the efforts of both China and the United States," said Obama in Beijing. "That is why we've agreed to a series of important new initiatives in this area."

There were no agreements for specific numbers or emissions cuts at Obama and Hu's meeting. The White House has made clear that the Senate must take the lead on setting emissions levels, and China has been loath to name numbers for its own emissions. But the two Presidents did agree to establish a joint clean-energy research center, supported by at least $150 million in funding over five years, a partnership on developing electric vehicles, a renewable-energy road map and an action plan on energy efficiency....

The only bothersome thing here is the discussion of "clean coal" innovation. Fact: at present, clean coal does not exist. End of story. That does not mean, however, that it can't exist in the future. I have no problem researching that potential - as long as no new coal reactors are built before the technology is perfected, which I don't think is the case here.

Overall, though, this story is welcome news. Writing at Dr. Joe Romm's Climate Progress blog, Andrew Light and Julian L. Wong of the Center for American Progress detail the nine areas where China and the U.S. have agreed to work together, including nuclear power and shale gas. The two see this as very exciting news:

The overall plan is much more ambitious in scope and depth than we had anticipated and contains directives to create various institutions and programs addressing a wide array of cooperation on clean-energy technologies and capacity building, including very important efforts on helping China build a robust, transparent and accurate inventory of their greenhouse gas emissions...

Taken together, these commitments and statements represent an important step forward towards agreeing on a protocol for accurate accounting and verification of China's policies for achieving the necessary emissions reductions that science requires. They will also hopefully start to satisfy those skeptical that China will agree to a protocol for accurate accounting and verification of its impressive array of policies for achieving emissions reductions.

The announcements also suggest that the United States and China are on the same page when it comes to both the necessity of aggressively moving forward on an affirmative agenda to reduce carbon pollution and create millions of new clean energy jobs. The agreement contains concrete measures for sustained and meaningful collaboration and demonstrates that the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases are prepared to move beyond the tired narrative of developed versus developing country responsibilities on climate action toward a more "positive, cooperative, and comprehensive" relationship on clean energy and climate change.

What does this mean for domestic politics? Perhaps nothing - it's hardly a true treaty, and diplo-speak often amounts to empty words. On the other hand, this is not the first strong statement from China on the subject of global warming, so perhaps it will help take the rug out from under those "moderate" and conservative politicians who insist that the US cannot lead until China and India have done so.

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The Alexander-Webb Nuclear Initiative

GOP Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia unveiled bipartisan legislation aimed at doubling nuclear power in 20 years and increasing funding for research into low carbon sources of energy. Their bill, introduced on Monday, would provide $100 billion in loan guarantees for carbon-free electricity projects, adding to the existing $47 billion loan guarantee program. Although the additional loan guarantees would not be limited to nuclear power, the nuclear industry would likely be the major recipient of the extra money because it is one of the most established low carbon energy sources.

More from Reuters:

The legislation comes as Senate Democrats work to draw more support for controversial climate legislation by crafting measures that would increase support for nuclear power and offshore drilling.

This bill is separate from the climate legislation currently making its way through the Senate, said Alexander and Webb.

Alexander said senators working to advance the climate bill may try to incorporate some provisions from his legislation, but that was not his intention.

Alexander does not support establishing an economy-wide, cap-and-trade system to lower carbon emissions.

"I do believe that climate change is an issue and we need to deal with carbon in the air," Alexander told reporters at an American Nuclear Society conference.

"I think the most effective way to do it is to double nuclear production and to do heavy (research and development) on alternative energy," he added.

The lawmakers' energy bill would cost up to $20 billion over 10 years.

In addition to the loan guarantees, the bill would provide $750 million annually for 10 years to research and development of: carbon capture and storage, advanced biofuels, batteries for electric cars, solar power and recycling used nuclear fuel.

Comprehensive climate legislation that would limit greenhouse gas emissions has run into opposition in the Senate even from some moderate Democrats including Senator Webb who does not back the Senate bill in its current form.

"I have a lot of reservations about cap and trade as a concept," Webb said. "And I have very strong reservations about the notion that we should apply different standards to ourselves in terms of global warming than other countries such as China."

Nuclear energy has two main benefits: it does not emit greenhouse gases and it can be used to produce a great amount of energy. The drawbacks are plentiful. It is expensive; mining and processing uranium is costly, as is the building and operation of the power plants. The average lead time for building a nuclear power is ten years. Though nuclear fission does not release harmful greenhouse gases, the nuclear cycle does produce radioactive waste byproducts that need to be stored for thousands of years. Nuclear power plants also require immense amounts of water to cool the reactors and the industry suffers from a not in my backyard syndrome. Uranium itself is a non-renewable resource whose production is finite and subject to peak theory. In this sense, nuclear is at best a bridge technology, one that buys us time while we figure out and deploy other technologies. Lastly, nuclear power only generates electricity. Thus, it cannot solve all of our energy needs alone though if we concurrently reorient our transportation system off hydrocarbons and onto the electrical grid, nuclear might have a substantial impact in curbing greenhouse gases.

World-wide, nuclear power accounts for 16 percent of electricity. In the United States, nuclear energy provides 19 percent of our electrical needs though the last US nuclear plant was begun in the 1970s and completed in 1996. In the European Union, about a third of all electricity is from nuclear. The most reliant on nuclear energy is France which derives a whopping 78 percent of its electricity from nuclear power. China currently has plans to build more than a 100 nuclear plants.

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The U.S. and China - The Defining Issue of Our Day

Cross-posted at River Twice Research.

In his current Asian trip, President Obama visits Japan, then addresses a forum of leaders in Singapore, and eventually ends up in Seoul to discuss nukes and North Korea. But make no mistake, the axis of this week is the time Obama will spend in China, which has catapulted to the forefront of international affairs and is on its way to joining the United States as the alpha and omega of the global economic system.

That China has emerged is secret to no one, but the consequences haven't been fully integrated - either by the United States or by China. The level of intertwinement between the two economies has reached the point where they have effectively merged, forming what I've called an economic "superfusion." But that fusion hasn't yet altered political and cultural mindsets.

The ministers of the world still beseech the United States to "do something" about a weakening dollar, and U.S representatives on the eve of this trip announced that after the financial morass of the past 15 months, the United States "is back." Yes, the United States remains the world's largest economy - though technically the combined income of the European Union is greater. But size isn't everything - just look at Japan, which is still the world's second largest economy but whose influence and impact are substantially less. China may be poor on a per capita basis (perhaps $5000 per person relative to nearly $50,000 in the United States), but it is changing more rapidly and consuming more hungrily that any other society in the world. It is the change factor in the global system.

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