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segunda-feira, 24 de setembro de 2007
By Brian Urquhart
The New York Review of Books, Volume 54, Number 15 · October 11, 2007
Independent Diplomat: Dispatches from an Unaccountable Elite
by Carne Ross
Cornell University Press, 243 pp., $25.00
Diplomacy is one of the world's oldest professions, although diplomatic practice as we know it is a relatively recent development. Using ambassadors and envoys, often distinguished personalities of the time (Dante, Machiavelli, Peter Paul Rubens), was an accepted practice throughout recorded history. It was also regarded, in Europe at least, as "a kind of activity morally somewhat suspect and incapable of being brought under any system."
The establishment of the international rules of diplomacy, including the immunity of diplomats, began with the Congresses of Vienna (1815) and Aix-la-Chapelle (1818). The rules were a European creation gradually adopted in the rest of the world. Further international conventions update them from time to time. Diplomats have enjoyed a surprising degree of immunity from criticism for the often violent and disorderly state of international affairs.
The history of diplomacy abounds with double-edged bons mots on the nature of ambassadors and diplomacy: "honorable spy"; "splendide mendax"; "a process of haggling, conducted with an utter disregard of the ordinary standards of morality, but with the most exquisite politeness"; and the sixteenth-century Sir Henry Wotton's famous comment, allegedly in jest, that "an ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country."In Independent Diplomat, Carne Ross has little patience with the qualified admiration and curiosity with which ambassadors have traditionally been regarded. He tells the story of the disillusionment and rebirth—also in diplomacy—of a fifteen-year veteran of one of the most internationally respected diplomatic establishments, the British Foreign Service.
HUP/A Secular Age
Many Englishmen, particularly of my generation, have an ingrained distrust, mixed with reluctant admiration, for the British Foreign Office, now the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We remember the disastrous 1930s, the failure to impose preventive sanctions on Mussolini's Italy when it invaded Abyssinia, or to oppose Hitler's occupation of the Rhineland, and the nonintervention policy in Spain. We recall the lack of response to members of the German General Staff who desperately sought British and French support in deposing Hitler while he was still relatively weak. My lifelong dislike of the word "unrealistic," often used to discredit bold ideas, dates from that time. Perhaps equally unfairly, we criticize the Foreign Office for failing to head off hopelessly misconceived plans like the 1956 Suez expedition or the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Carne Ross's book has a firsthand quality that deserves attention. Many of his criticisms and suggestions are by no means new, but his growing disaffection with diplomacy and diplomats should stimulate serious critical thinking about the conduct of international affairs. On the other hand, his use of generalized stereotypes does not inspire confidence.
To take one small instance, describing a coldhearted, hierarchical desert of diplomats and Secretariat members at the UN headquarters in New York, he writes that "to meet...an Under-Secretary of the UN, you must yourself enjoy an equivalent rank in diplomacy or politics...." I strongly doubt this. During the time of my mentor and predecessor, Ralph Bunche, and in the fourteen years that I was a UN undersecretary-general, we actively encouraged outsiders and junior officials to visit us, not least because they were much more stimulating and informative than most ambassadors or ministers. I know of subsequent under- secretaries who have done the same.
In the same paragraph Ross writes, "Like Versailles' inner sanctum, the Secretary-General's suite lies in the most remote and inaccessible part of the Secretariat building." This is the purest flapdoodle. The UN headquarters building bears no resemblance whatsoever to Versailles. The secretary-general's office is on the thirty-eighth floor of a modern thirty-eight-story structure, and is accessible by no fewer than six elevators that also serve the rest of the building. It is true that the secretary-general's inhumanly busy program makes scheduling appointments very tight, but that is hardly a personal choice of the secretary-general.
Ross's account of the quirks, attitudes, conceits, and habits of British diplomats and the Foreign Office echoes a favorite minor theme of twentieth-century British novelists— the use of diplomatic language to soften disagreeable truths: the "us" and "them" view of the outside world; the pervasive complacency that comes from the sense of "the Office's" wisdom and superior judgment; the ritual significance attached to the drafting of telegrams; the carefully constructed barriers against confronting harsh realities; and the cherished illusion of a rational and essentially orderly world controlled by governments. Certainly diplomatic habit often blocks a forth-right approach to international crises. In times of violence and acute human suffering, diplomatic niceties and hy-pocrisies in the UN Security Council can be enraging and can lead to inexcusable inaction or delay. But in a world organization still based on sovereign nations, what is a better alternative?
Ross's attempt to describe the stereotypical "ambassador" is the ironic climax of his indictment of his former profession:
His demeanour is friendly but grave. His expression says that he is a man to be taken seriously: he has much on his mind. He may frown but he will never grimace. He may raise his voice, but he will never shout. Measure is his mien. In all things, measure.
The quintessential quality of these paladins of their profession is, apparently, "balance," "not going too far," and not transgressing the borders of the state system and approved "facts." The ambassador must be a "realist," skeptical of moral enthusiasm or strong measures; he must also appear to be dedicated, in principle at least, to international law and human rights.
Ross describes his "slow descent from illusion to disillusionment." His final British posting was in 1997 to the British UN delegation in New York and at the end of it, in late 2003, he was lent to the UN team in Kosovo. During the run-up to the 2003 inva-sion of Iraq he earned, he writes, a "Rottweiler-like reputation...as the most effective and aggressive defender of British-American Iraq policy, sanctions and all."
The Security Council negotiations leading up to the US invasion of Iraq were the catalyst for Ross's final disillusionment. He recalls the intensive discussions about the draconian sanctions imposed on Iraq in early 1991. There was a basic inability to agree on the facts of the case. Britain and the United States held continued sanctions to be essential for international security; France and Russia maintained that sanctions were causing unnecessary suffering, particularly shortages of food and medical supplies, to the inhabitants of Iraq. UNICEF had calculated that 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of sanctions.
Ross was in the group of mid-level diplomats appointed by the Security Council to work on this problem. With no Iraqi representatives present and no accurate sense of what was going on in Iraq, the group was reduced, in Ross's words, to the "absurd spectacle of each side quoting supposedly impartial UN reports at one another." "There is," he writes, "something very wrong about sitting around a table in New York arguing about how many children are dying in Iraq and whose fault it was." He does not, however, suggest a better method of resolving the conflicting political and humanitarian problems involved in sanctions.
Ross is not reticent about the fact that he was good at his job. He mentions that most ministers did not understand the fiendish complications of sanctions. One British minister, who was trying to sell a British proposal to the Russian foreign secretary, asked Ross for a written brief; Ross responded with twenty pages. "He read it that night and the next day deployed it to devastating effect. [Russian Foreign Minister] Ivanov appeared completely stunned."
Ross increasingly felt that "all of us were failing in our responsibility under the UN charter to maximise security and minimise suffering." "It is," he writes,
far too disconcerting a prospect for governments or the diplomats who represent them to analyse or talk about the world as it really is, one shaped and affected by multitudinous and complex forces, among which governments are but one group of many involved.
Can the UN Security Council, still largely controlled by the original five permanent members, be relied on to deal justly and expeditiously with really critical problems? On Iraq, and on many other questions, mutual trust, especially among the permanent members, tends to evaporate quickly. France and Russia, although they based their case on humanitarian grounds, also had strong economic motives for lifting the Iraq sanctions, and both soon concluded that the Bush administration would never allow that to happen.
In 1998 the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iraq had fulfilled all its obligations relating to nuclear weapons except for two minor issues. The United States and Britain refused to agree to any public statement on this important development. According to Ross, the Americans told the British that, for domestic political reasons, the administration could not agree to any public suggestion that Saddam Hussein was doing what he was supposed to do.
The Russian ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, felt that he had been lied to. Richard Butler, then head of the UN inspectors in Iraq (UNSCOM), had stated in Moscow that Saddam Hussein was cooperating with the UN inspectors, but in New York he had issued a report saying exactly the opposite. In 1998 the US and Britain insisted on yet another Security Council resolution demanding Iraq's full cooperation with UNSCOM. Lavrov asked the British if they regarded the resolution as authorizing the use of force if Iraq did not cooperate. The British replied that they did not, but when the UK and the US, in December 1998, launched Operation Desert Fox, an intensive aerial bombardment of targets in Iraq, the British quoted the resolution in legal justification of the bombing. The Chinese, French, and Russians, not unnaturally, saw such obfuscations as evidence of bad faith.
Carne Ross left the Foreign Service in September 2004. His account of this event is surprisingly meager. David Kelly, a British biological warfare expert who had been advising the British mission in New York, had told a British journalist that there were professional misgivings about Prime Minister Tony Blair's intelligence dossier on Iraq's alleged WMDs—the so-called "dodgy dossier." Confronted with an official investigation, Kelly committed suicide. Ross was "appalled and enraged" by this tragedy. In June 2004, he submitted, from Kosovo, secret testimony to a British commission of inquiry into the use of intelligence on Iraq's WMD :
I wrote down all that I thought about the war.... Once I had written it, I realised at last, after years of agonising, that I could no longer continue to work for the government.
It is puzzling that someone who felt so strongly did not reach this conclusion in March 2003, when the UK enthusiastically joined the US in invading Iraq. Ross sent the transcript of his testimony to the foreign secretary and the head of the Foreign Office; neither replied, and that, it seems, was that.
While working at the UN, Ross had been appalled by the disparity between the diplomatic resources of the rich and powerful countries—with their experienced officials and advisers, information, intelligence, and secure communications—and the hopelessly overstretched and inadequate resources of the poorer ones, particularly those, like Kosovo, which are trying to establish their claims to legitimacy through the UN. He also notes that groups who are ignored, or discriminated against, or cannot get a hearing often resort to violence. (The early treatment of the PLO, and its consequences, is an example of this tendency.) After leaving the British Foreign Service Ross set up a nonprofit advisory group, Independent Diplomat, to remedy this imbalance—"a diplomatic service for those who need it most." The only qualifications for receiving this group's assistance are respect for international law and human rights, and a democratic philosophy.
Ross obtained nongovernmental support for Independent Diplomat, although he was surprised to discover that large foundations, for whom human rights are a guiding principle, are skeptical of diplomats and question whether, driven by realpolitik to take inherently amoral positions on important questions, they do any good at all. Independent Diplomat's initial clients are Somaliland, Kosovo, whose claim to national independence is currently blocked in the Security Council by Russia, and Polisario, the exiled independence movement of Morocco-occupied Western Sahara. Ross's organization provides a much-needed service.
Ross's fundamental complaint about diplomacy and the United Nations, that they are not democratic, is, strictly speaking, true. At a time when democratization has proved far more difficult and unpredictable than even its strongest promoters had foreseen, trying to introduce it at this stage at the international level is not a practical proposition, as Ross acknowledges. The European Parliament is made possible by common political, cultural, and social traditions, and common economic interests. The EU's members consist entirely of democracies. A universal world organization has none of these advantages.
Certainly international organizations, starting with the UN Security Council, should be more representative of the world they are serving. It is also important to keep alive the objective, however distant, of a dem-ocratic world organization in a democratic world. In 1945, Ernest Bevin, the postwar foreign secretary of the United Kingdom—a personality by no means starry-eyed or "unrealistic"— spoke of this in the debate on the UN Charter in the House of Commons. "We need," he said,
a new study for the purpose of creating a world assembly elected directly from the people of the world, as a whole, to whom the Governments who form the United Nations are responsible.... In the meantime, there must be no weakening of the institution which my right hon. Friends built in San Francisco.
A world people's assembly would not, Bevin continued, be a substitute for the UN, "but rather a completion or a development of it." Not surprisingly, as the world split into two mutually hostile, nuclear-armed power blocs, this suggestion was not followed up, although in the intervening years, NGOs and others have kept the idea alive by suggesting various ways in which the UN might become more democratic.
In 1994 the late Erskine Childers and I wrote a short book with the self-explanatory title Renewing the United Nations System. In a chapter entitled "Towards a More Democratic United Nations," we revisited Bevin's idea and sketched out how, eventually, a world people's assembly might be elected, be connected with the United Nations, and what it might do. Many of our other ideas were discussed, and some were even included in later UN reforms. About a democratically elected world assembly, however, the silence was total. Fifty years after World War II, governments seemed to be even less willing to consider the democratizing of international institutions than they were in 1945.
Although it begins with the words "We the peoples of the United Nations," there is no mention of democracy in the UN Charter. The UN is a strictly intergovernmental organization, and a place where national sovereignty—almost an anachronism in many other spheres of human activity—is rigidly protected. This unquestionably limits the scope and spontaneity of the organization. Sensitivity to any erosion of national sovereignty is a fundamental obstacle to reforms that would obviously improve the UN. A genuinely international, standing UN rapid deployment force, for instance, would vastly improve both the speed and the quality of the UN's response to crises, but the idea of this badly needed addition is now kept alive only by nongovernmental groups. It seems likely that the aim of democratizing the UN, until it acquires determined and influential political advocates and worldwide popular support, will also have to survive through the efforts of nongovernmental organizations.
Carne Ross describes the lack of good faith and mutual confidence that often undermines negotiations within the Security Council. When the council works with a common purpose, its authority can be remarkably expeditious and effective, as it was, for example, in reacting to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Much of the time, however, national interests and differences easily outweigh a sense of international responsibility. In 1945 it seemed only logical that the five permanent members of the Security Council, the leaders of the alliance that had just won a long and desperate world war, would find it possible, even obligatory, to work together to secure the peace. In those early days many of us looked forward enthusiastically to the Security Council's first meetings, at which its five permanent members would rise above national differences and show the world a new model of international leadership and responsibility. The vitriolic public disputes that immediately erupted among the five in the Security Council were severely disillusioning. They persisted for over forty years.
Dag Hammarskjöld, who probably gave more thought than anyone to the future development of the United Nations, once spoke of "an opinion independent of partisan interests and dominated by the objectives indicated in the United Nations Charter." A sense of international solidarity has in fact emerged in the UN approach to humanitarian problems such as distributing food and other assistance in disasters and to threats such as global warming (but not, as yet, nuclear proliferation). In debates on controversial political matters, however, that sense of international responsibility is often absent. Pending a true democratization of the world organization, it would be a major step forward for the Security Council and the UN as a whole if more nations were willing to frame their foreign policies with regard to the larger international interest. There are already a number of countries—the Nordic and some European nations, Costa Rica, and Canada among them—that try to conduct foreign policy in this spirit.
Carne Ross complains that, despite the revolutionary changes of the past sixty years, diplomatic machinery and modes of thinking are much the same as they were in the early nineteenth century. The "new politics" needed for a globalizing world and its difficulties does not exist. Ross concludes that diplomacy must give up its elite status and be brought down to earth to participate in the world as it actually is. Diplomatic generalists should give way to experts in trade, WMDs, global warming, and other fields that are beyond the grasp of diplomats. (Governments now usually resolve this difficulty by assigning experts to diplomatic missions when the situation demands, as the British government employed the scientist David Kelly to advise the UK delegation about WMDs in Iraq.)
Ross deplores the obsession of diplomats with secrecy, which, in his view, is mostly a way to preserve the mystique that gives them prestige and protects them from criticism. The argument that publicity will ruin "real diplomacy" is an old one. In the nineteenth century George Canning represented the "new diplomat" who sought public support for foreign policy through parliament and the press. The "old diplomat" Metternich described Canning as a "malevolent meteor hurled by divine providence upon Europe."
Ross also deplores the statecentric, "realist" state of mind of his former colleagues and the resulting amoral and misleading view of a world over which governments are, in fact, steadily losing control. He claims that this way of thinking emphasizes differences by forcing negotiations to be conducted "in terms of nation-states and anachronistic and invented identities," which actually exacerbate conflict. An example was the debate on sanctions on Iraq in which diplomats seemed to have no hope of agreeing. However, the "control list" of items prohibited for export to Iraq was so technically complex that experts had to be called in. To the diplomats' amazement, the experts agreed quite easily on the list of what was potentially risky to export to Iraq.
Powerful embassies and plenipotentiary ambassadors were essential in a time when communication with the home capital could take weeks or months; they are less relevant in our world of instant communications. Ross suggests rather ungraciously that embassies are still needed "to organise ministers' visits and look after distressed travelers who lose their passports." On the other hand, it is hard to imagine how the United Nations would tackle its very wide agenda without the diplomatic missions that, for all the failings that Carne Ross describes, make up a skilled, permanent working group in New York. It was also diplomats who recently achieved a vital agreement with North Korea and, earlier, with Libya's Muammar Qaddafi. Who else could have done it?
In his closing pages Ross's argument unravels in a series of increasingly windy and confused propositions:
...For the ordinary public, the self-serving élitism and fake-omnipotence of the world's diplomats has created a comforting illusion: that they are in control, allowing the rest of us to get on with our lives.... The pact of irresponsibility must end. We must correspondingly take more responsibility for our own international affairs.... Every action, whether buying fruit, employing a cleaner, or choosing where to take your holiday is international, and is, in its way, a form of diplomacy. Everyone is a diplomat.
International business and commerce, according to Ross, have learned "this lesson." ExxonMobil has a large political department, and on his recent visit to the US, Chinese President Hu Jintao spent more time with Microsoft than on Capitol Hill. Ross admits that business and technology can "be as ambiguous in their effects as anything else." Politics will always interfere, as when Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft were all accused by Amnesty International of abetting censorship and repression in China. Those companies responded that they must abide by Chinese law.
"The solution," Ross writes,
is therefore obvious. These [private] forces must be pointed in the right direction if they are to be for the good. Effective foreign policy, whether in promoting labour rights or environmental standards, now requires coalitions of actors—the private sector, civil society and government—acting in concert to be effective. If foreign ministries are to be effective, even relevant, in the future, as propagators of policy and change they must consider how to organise such coalitions, and how to encompass, direct and inform these many different strands and effectors of policy.
How such an "obvious" policy could be successfully carried out by Western countries in China he does not say. A little later he writes:
The practice and process of diplomacy, then, needs to change into something much more diverse and eclectic, such that we perhaps shouldn't give it a collective name —such as diplomacy—at all.
What, I wonder, is the Independent Diplomat organization teaching its clients?
Ross's final pages deal in whirlwind succession with UN reform, NGOs, universal norms of behavior, diplomatic legitimacy, international law, a new "global politics," and global political parties, "elected in some way," which
can claim the fullest legitimacy to speak for people.... Only a global politics can lift us above the zero-sum games of governments shortsightedly arbitrating their "interests" in international forums.
He adds that he is not advocating the immediate establishment of a world parliament, and suggests advisory bodies of elected representatives to advise the General Assembly or the Security Council. Quite how such bodies would be elected and by whom is not clear.
The villain of Ross's polemic reemerges:
the unwarranted and unscrutinized power of unelected officials who deal—often badly—with ever more of our collective business. The only long-term answer is for elected representatives to take their place.
Again, how? And elected by whom? And are these putative elections, which will inevitably become politicized, likely to produce more able and public-spirited diplomats and international officials than a rigorous selection process conducted by responsible, nonpolitical, appointed senior officials? I very much doubt it. The longstanding principle that civil servants, national and international, are not elected by political bodies has decisively proved its importance. In my experience, the best diplomats already have a strong sense of global priorities, although that is not necessarily what their governments pay them for. Members of the UN Secretariat must have such a view. The leadership and independence of the secretary-general and the competence, discipline, and integrity of the Secretariat are vital to the functioning of the UN.
Diplomacy has a long and important history. Recently there was a sigh of relief around the world when the United States, after disastrous experiments with military confrontation, gave some sign that it was willing to return to diplomacy as a main instrument of foreign policy. Diplomacy and diplomats have often aroused suspicion, even ridicule, but they still serve an essential purpose. There is, at present, no obvious alternative.
 Walter Alison Phillips, of Merton and St. John's colleges, Oxford, in a lively contribution to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, eleventh edition (1910), Vol. 8, p. 294.
 On the need for this most vital of diplomatic rights, Phillips mentions in the Encyclopaedia Britannica "the habit of the Ottoman government of imprisoning in the Seven Towers the ambassador of a power with which it quarrelled," p. 299.
 See my article "Hidden Truths," The New York Review, March 25, 2004.
 Ross's testimony was published in December 2006 by The Independent, London.
 Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), Fifth Series, Vol. 416 (London: HMSO, 1946), p. 786.
 Published by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation with support from the Ford Foundation, 1994.
 For example, A United Nations Emergency Peace Service, published in 2006 with the support of Global Action to Prevent War, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and the World Federalist Movement.
 Speech in Copenhagen, SG/812, May 2, 1959.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, eleventh edition, Vol. 8, p. 295.
sexta-feira, 14 de setembro de 2007
Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky
Foreign Affairs, September/October 2007
Article preview: first 500 of 2,976 words total.
Summary: The Bush administration has adopted a misguided and dangerous nuclear posture. Instead of recycling antiquated doctrines and building a new generation of warheads, the United States should drastically reduce its nuclear arsenal, strengthen the international nonproliferation regime, and move toward the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.
Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky is a particle physicist and Director Emeritus of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. He worked on the Manhattan Project from 1943 to 1945 and served as a Science Policy Adviser to Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Jimmy Carter.
Since the demise of the Soviet Union, Washington's strategic thinking about nuclear weapons has evolved in dangerous and unwise directions. In January 2002, the Bush administration announced a new nuclear posture, which it reiterated in 2006. But instead of doing what it claimed it would do -- adapt American nuclear strategy to the realities of the twenty-first century -- the administration has focused on addressing threats that either no longer exist or never required a nuclear response. Rather than protecting the United States, this posture constitutes a danger to U.S. security.
The risks posed by nuclear weapons today are daunting, but rarely in the same ways that they used to be. As the nuclear club has expanded since the end of the Cold War, so have the dangers posed by the possibility of an inadvertent release of nuclear weapons, a regional nuclear conflict, nuclear proliferation, or the acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorists. At the same time, the military utility of nuclear weapons for the United States has decreased dramatically. Russia, the successor to the Soviet Union, is no longer an adversary, and the United States, now the world's unchallenged conventional military power, can address almost all its military objectives by nonnuclear means. The only valid residual mission of U.S. nuclear weapons today is thus to deter others from using nuclear weapons. Given all this, it does not make sense for the United States to maintain a nuclear weapons stockpile of close to 10,000 warheads -- many of them set on hair-trigger alert -- and to continue to deploy nuclear weapons overseas.
An effective nuclear policy would take into account the limited present-day need for a nuclear arsenal as well as the military and political dangers associated with maintaining a massive stockpile. Building a new generation of warheads, as the Bush administration has proposed, would only compound these risks further.
Nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented, but as former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Defense Secretary William Perry, former Senator Sam Nunn, and the outgoing British foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, have recently argued, a shift in U.S. policy could blaze the trail toward their eventual prohibition. Given that the risks posed by nuclear weapons far outweigh their benefits in today's world, the United States should lead a worldwide campaign to de-emphasize their role in international relations.
THAT WAS THEN
During the Cold War, the United States' policy of deterrence was designed to convince the Soviet Union's leaders that the assets they valued most highly, including their population, armed forces, and industrial centers, risked destruction if Moscow launched a major attack on the West. Estimates of the nuclear forces Washington needed to make such a threat credible -- that is, what forces it would need to be able to retaliate after withstanding a nuclear first strike -- differed widely. Some analysts were optimistic and thought a limited arsenal would suffice; others were pessimistic and sought to establish unchallengeable nuclear primacy. These debates, coupled with parochial bureaucratic pressures from the U.S. Air Force, led ...
(end of preview; para ler o resto, só pagando aos capitalistas da Foreign Affairs...)
sexta-feira, 7 de setembro de 2007
LIFE: WHAT A CONCEPT!
An Edge Special Event at Eastover Farm
Dimitar Sasselov, Max Brockman, Seth Lloyd, George Church,
J. Craig Venter, Freeman Dyson
In April, Dennis Overbye, writing in The New York Times "Science Times", broke the story of the discovery by Dimitar Sasselov and his colleagues of five earth-like exo-planets, one of which "might be the first habitable planet outside the solar system".
At the end of June, Craig Venter has announced the results of his lab's work on genome transplantation methods that allows for the transformation of one type of bacteria into another, dictated by the transplanted chromosome. In other words, one species becomes another. In talking to Edge about the research, Venter noted the following:
Now we know we can boot up a chromosome system. It doesn't matter if the DNA is chemically made in a cell or made in a test tube. Until this development, if you made a synthetic chomosome you had the question of what do you do with it. Replacing the chomosome with existing cells, if it works, seems the most effective to way to replace one already in an existing cell systems. We didn't know if it would work or not. Now we do. This is a major advance in the field of synthetic genomics. We now know we can create a synthetic organism. It's not a question of 'if', or 'how', but 'when', and in this regard, think weeks and months, not years.
In July, in an interesting and provocative essay in New York Review of Books entitled "Our Biotech Future", Freeman Dyson wrote:
The Darwinian interlude has lasted for two or three billion years. It probably slowed down the pace of evolution considerably. The basic biochemical machinery o life had evolved rapidly during the few hundreds of millions of years of the pre-Darwinian era, and changed very little in the next two billion years of microbial evolution. Darwinian evolution is slow because individual species, once established evolve very little. With rare exceptions, Darwinian evolution requires established species to become extinct so that new species can replace them.
Now, after three billion years, the Darwinian interlude is over. It was an interlude between two periods of horizontal gene transfer. The epoch of Darwinian evolution based on competition between species ended about ten thousand years ago, when a single species, Homo sapiens, began to dominate and reorganize the biosphere. Since that time, cultural evolution has replaced biological evolution as the main driving force of change. Cultural evolution is not Darwinian. Cultures spread by horizontal transfer of ideas more than by genetic inheritance. Cultural evolution is running a thousand times faster than Darwinian evolution, taking us into a new era of cultural interdependence which we call globalization. And now, as Homo sapiens domesticates the new biotechnology, we are reviving the ancient pre-Darwinian practice of horizontal gene transfer, moving genes easily from microbes to plants and animals, blurring the boundaries between species. We are moving rapidly into the post-Darwinian era, when species other than our own will no longer exist, and the rules of Open Source sharing will be extended from the exchange of software to the exchange of genes. Then the evolution of life will once again be communal, as it was in the good old days before separate species and intellectual property were invented.
It's clear from these developments as well as others, that we are at the end of one empirical road and ready for adventures that will lead us into new realms.
This year's Annual Edge Event took place at Eastover Farm in Bethlehem, CT on Monday, August 27th. Invited to address the topic "Life: What a Concept!" were Freeman Dyson, J. Craig Venter, George Church, Robert Shapiro, Dimitar Sasselov, and Seth Lloyd, who focused on their new, and in more than a few cases, startling research, and/or ideas in the biological sciences.
Physicist Freeman Dyson envisions a biotech future which supplants physics and notes that after three billion years, the Darwinian interlude is over. He refers to an interlude between two periods of horizontal gene transfer, a subject explored in his abovementioned essay.
Craig Venter, who decoded the human genome, surprised the world in late June by announcing the results of his lab's work on genome transplantation methods that allows for the transformation of one type of bacteria into another, dictated by the transplanted chromosome. In other words, one species becomes another.
George Church, the pioneer of the Synthetic Biology revolution, thinks of the cell as operating system, and engineers taking the place of traditional biologists in retooling stripped down components of cells (bio-bricks) in much the vein as in the late 70s when electrical engineers were working their way to the first personal computer by assembling circuit boards, hard drives, monitors, etc.
Biologist Robert Shapiro disagrees with scientists who believe that an extreme stroke of luck was needed to get life started in a non-living environment. He favors the idea that life arose through the normal operation of the laws of physics and chemistry. If he is right, then life may be widespread in the cosmos.
Dimitar Sasselov, Planetary Astrophysicist, and Director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative, has made recent discoveries of exo-planets ("Super-Earths"). He looks at new evidence to explore the question of how chemical systems become living systems.
Quantum engineer Seth Lloyd sees the universe as an information processing system in which simple systems such as atoms and molecules must necessarily give rise complex structures such as life, and life itself must give rise to even greater complexity, such as human beings, societies, and whatever comes next.
A small group of journalists interested in the kind of issues that are explored on Edge were present: Corey Powell, Discover, Jordan Mejias, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Heidi Ledford, Nature, Greg Huang, New Scientist, Deborah Treisman, New Yorker, Edward Rothstein, New York Times, Andrian Kreye, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Antonio Regalado, Wall Street Journal. Guests included Heather Kowalski, The J. Craig Venter Institute, Ting Wu, The Wu Lab, Harvard Medical School, and the artist Stephanie Rudloe. Attending for Edge: Katinka Matson, Russell Weinberger, Max Brockman, and Karla Taylor.
We are witnessing a point in which the empirical has intersected with the epistemological: everything becomes new, everything is up for grabs. Big questions are being asked, questions that affect the lives of everyone on the planet. And don't even try to talk about religion: the gods are gone.
Following the theme of new technologies=new perceptions, I asked the speakers to take a third culture slant in the proceedings and explore not only the science but the potential for changes in the intellectual landscape as well.
We are pleased to present streaming video clips from each of the talks (Freeman Dyson neste link). During the fall season Edge will publish features on each of the talks with complete texts and discussions.
Craig Venter neste link.
Em outra seção deste "número" de The Edge, há um:
RICHARD DAWKINS—FREEMAN DYSON: AN EXCHANGE
As part of this year's Edge Event at Eastover Farm in Bethlehem, CT, I invited three of the participants—Freeman Dyson, George Church, and Craig Venter—to come up a day early, which gave me an opportunity to talk to Dyson about his abovementioned essay in New York Review of Books entitled "Our Biotech Future".
I also sent the link to the essay to Richard Dawkins, and asked if he would would comment on what Dyson termed the end of "the Darwinian interlude".
Early the next morning, prior to the all-day discussion (which also included as participants Robert Shapiro, Dimitar Sasselov, and Seth Lloyd) Dawkins emailed his thoughts which I read to the group during the discussion following Dyson's talk. [NOTE: Dawkins asked me to make it clear that his email below "was written hastily as a letter to you, and was not designed for publication, or indeed to be read out at a meeting of biologists at your farm!"].
Now Dyson has responded and the exchange is below.
Primeiro, aos argumentos de Richard Dawkins, abaixo.
"By Darwinian evolution he [Woese] means evolution as Darwin understood it, based on the competition for survival of noninterbreeding species."
"With rare exceptions, Darwinian evolution requires established species to become extinct so that new species can replace them."
These two quotations from Dyson constitute a classic schoolboy howler, a catastrophic misunderstanding of Darwinian evolution. Darwinian evolution, both as Darwin understood it, and as we understand it today in rather different language, is NOT based on the competition for survival of species. It is based on competition for survival WITHIN species. Darwin would have said competition between individuals within every species. I would say competition between genes within gene pools. The difference between those two ways of putting it is small compared with Dyson's howler (shared by most laymen: it is the howler that I wrote The Selfish Gene partly to dispel, and I thought I had pretty much succeeded, but Dyson obviously hasn't read it!) that natural selection is about the differential survival or extinction of species. Of course the extinction of species is extremely important in the history of life, and there may very well be non-random aspects of it (some species are more likely to go extinct than others) but, although this may in some superficial sense resemble Darwinian selection, it is NOT the selection process that has driven evolution. Moreover, arms races between species constitute an important part of the competitive climate that drives Darwinian evolution. But in, for example, the arms race between predators and prey, or parasites and hosts, the competition that drives evolution is all going on within species. Individual foxes don't compete with rabbits, they compete with other individual foxes within their own species to be the ones that catch the rabbits (I would prefer to rephrase it as competition between genes within the fox gene pool).
The rest of Dyson's piece is interesting, as you'd expect, and there really is an interesting sense in which there is an interlude between two periods of horizontal transfer (and we mustn't forget that bacteria still practise horizontal transfer and have done throughout the time when eucaryotes have been in the 'Interlude'). But the interlude in the middle is not the Darwinian Interlude, it is the Meiosis / Sex / Gene-Pool / Species Interlude. Darwinian selection between genes still goes on during eras of horizontal transfer, just as it does during the Interlude. What happened during the 3-billion-year Interlude is that genes were confined to gene pools and limited to competing with other genes within the same species. Previously (and still in bacteria) they were free to compete with other genes more widely (there was no such thing as a species outside the 'Interlude'). If a new period of horizontal transfer is indeed now dawning through technology, genes may become free to compete with other genes more widely yet again.
As I said, there are fascinating ideas in Freeman Dyson's piece. But it is a huge pity it is marred by such an elementary mistake at the heart of it.
Agora, a réplica de Freeman Dyson, abaixo.
Dear Richard Dawkins,
Thank you for the E-mail that you sent to John Brockman, saying that I had made a "school-boy howler" when I said that Darwinian evolution was a competition between species rather than between individuals. You also said I obviously had not read The Selfish Gene. In fact I did read your book and disagreed with it for the following reasons.
Here are two replies to your E-mail. The first was a verbal response made immediately when Brockman read your E-mail aloud at a meeting of biologists at his farm. The second was written the following day after thinking more carefully about the question.
First response. What I wrote is not a howler and Dawkins is wrong. Species once established evolve very little, and the big steps in evolution mostly occur at speciation events when new species appear with new adaptations. The reason for this is that the rate of evolution of a population is roughly proportional to the inverse square root of the population size. So big steps are most likely when populations are small, giving rise to the ``punctuated equilibrium'' that is seen in the fossil record. The competition is between the new species with a small population adapting fast to new conditions and the old species with a big population adapting slowly.
Second response. It is absurd to think that group selection is less important than individual selection. Consider for example Dodo A and Dodo B, competing for mates and progeny in the dodo population on Mauritius. Dodo A competes much better and
has greater fitness, as measured by individual selection. Dodo A mates more often and has many more grandchildren than Dodo B. A hundred years later, the species is extinct and the fitness of A and B are both reduced to zero. Selection operating at the species level trumps selection at the individual level. Selection at the species level wiped out both A and B because the species neglected to maintain the ability to fly, which was essential to survival when human predators appeared on the island. This situation is not peculiar to dodos. It arises throughout the course of evolution, whenever environmental changes cause species to become extinct.
In my opinion, both these responses are valid, but the second one goes more directly to the issue that divides us. Yours sincerely, Freeman Dyson.
quarta-feira, 5 de setembro de 2007
Foreign Policy, September/October 2007
One of the most perplexing trends of our time is that free-trade negotiations are crashing while free trade itself is booming. For more than a decade, attempts by governments to get a global agreement to lower trade barriers have gone nowhere. These trade talks are routinely described as "acrimonious," "gridlocked," and "stagnant." In contrast, international trade is commonly described as "thriving" or "surging," and almost every year, its growth is lauded as "record breaking." It's no surprise that trade negotiators feel as despondent as international traders are cheerful.
The last time official trade negotiators had reason to celebrate was in 1994, when 125 nations agreed to a significant drop in trade barriers and the creation of a new institution charged with supervising and liberalizing international trade, the World Trade Organization (WTO). Since then, efforts to liberalize global trade through negotiations have stalled. In many countries, free trade agreements are now politically radioactive, with imports routinely blamed for job losses, lower salaries, heightened inequality, and more recently, even poisoned toothpaste and deadly medicines. The domestic politics of trade reforms are inherently skewed against trade deals. While the benefits of freer trade exist as future promises, the costs can be real, tangible, and immediate. And while the benefits of trade liberalization are widely distributed throughout the entire population, the costs are borne by highly concentrated groups. Cutting agricultural tariffs, for example, may benefit society at large by reducing what we pay for the food we eat. But it will immediately reduce the income of farmers, who will therefore have a strong incentive to organize to derail trade deals. The same is true of workers in factories forced to compete against far cheaper imports. These social and political realities go a long way in explaining why enthusiasm for reaching trade agreements has dried up in many countries.
It started in 1999, when the attempt to launch a new round of trade negotiations crashed in Seattle. Those botched meetings are now remembered more for the violent clashes between the police and anti-trade activists than for the fact that negotiators went home without even agreeing to start the negotiations. Ironically, the activists were protesting against a deal that wouldn't have happened anyway. Two years later, the trade ministers met again in Doha, Qatar, and decided to initiate a new round that, they agreed, would be concluded in four years. It was not to be. That deadline--and others--came and went. This past June, after six years of talks, negotiators left the meetings on the Doha Round and denounced each other as uncooperative.
Meanwhile, world trade continued to grow at its usual breakneck pace. In 2006, the volume of global merchandise exports grew 15 percent, while the world economy grew roughly 4 percent. In 2007, the growth in world trade is again expected to outstrip the growth rate of the global economy. This sustained, rapid pace of trade growth has led to a more than fivefold increase in world merchandise exports between 1980 and 2005. An unprecedented number of countries, rich and poor alike, are seeing their overall economic performance boosted by strong export growth.
So, what explains the paradox of gridlocked trade agreements and surging trade flows? The short answer is technology and politics. In the past quarter century, technological innovations--from the Internet to cargo containers--lowered the costs of trading. And, in the same period, an international political environment more tolerant of openness created opportunities to lower barriers to imports and exports. China, India, the former Soviet Union, and many other countries launched major reforms that deepened their integration into the world's economy. In developing countries alone, import tariffs dropped from an average of around 30 percent in the 1980s to less than 10 percent today. Indeed, one of the surprises of the past 20 or so years is how much governments have lowered obstacles to trade--unilaterally. Between 1983 and 2003, 66 percent of tariff reductions in the world took place because governments decided it was in their own interests to lower their import duties, 25 percent as a result of agreements reached in multilateral trade negotiations, and 10 percent through regional trade agreements with neighboring countries.
So, who needs free trade agreements if international trade is doing just fine without them?
We all do. Although trade may be booming, giving up on lowering the substantial trade barriers that still exist--in agriculture, in services, or in manufactured goods traded among poor countries--would be a historic mistake. Even the more pessimistic projections show that the adoption of reforms like those included in the Doha Round would yield substantial economic gains, anywhere from $50 billion to several hundred billion. Moreover, according to the World Bank, by 2015 as many as 32 million people could be lifted out of poverty if the Doha Round were successful.
But it isn't just the money. As the volume of trade continues to grow, the need for clearer and more effective rules becomes more critical. In this century, the quality of what is traded will be as important as the need to lower tariffs was in the last. The recent cases of deadly dog food and toxic toothpaste coming out of China prove as much. No country acting alone stands as good a chance of monitoring and curtailing such lethal goods as does the WTO working in concert with governments across the globe.
Moreover, a rules-based system accepted by a majority of nations can protect smaller countries and companies from the abusive practices of bigger nations or large conglomerates. The rule of law is always better than the law of the jungle, even in resolving trade conflicts.
But perhaps what is most important to keep in mind is that, despite all the misgivings about international trade, the fact remains that countries in which the share of economic activity related to exports is rising grow 1.5 times faster than those with more stagnant exports. And though we know that economic growth alone may not be sufficient to alleviate poverty, we have also learned that without growth, all other efforts will fall short. That argument alone should be enough to make us root for the trade negotiators, and not just the trade.
Moisés Naím is editor in chief of Foreign Policy.
segunda-feira, 3 de setembro de 2007
Produtividade cai e Brasil fica mais longe de desenvolvidos
Valor Economico, 03/09/2007
A produtividade por empregado no Brasil caiu abaixo do nível verificado em 1980, na contramão da tendência global. A capacidade de produção do trabalhador brasileiro é três vezes menor do a que a de trabalhadores de economias industrializadas e está ameaçada pela China e outros concorrentes emergentes. Os dados são da Organização Internacional do Trabalho (OIT), em relatório que mostra a crescente diferença entre a produtividade do país e das principais economias.
O nível de vida num país depende também da produtividade, que mede quanto um trabalhador produz por hora. Os lucros das empresas crescem quando os empregados produzem mais por hora do que antes. A renda adicional pode ser repartida entre lucro extra e aumento salarial, alimentando gastos e investimentos, criando mais empregos e expandindo a economia. Para a OIT, a produtividade é mais alta quando a empresa combina melhor capital, trabalho e tecnologia. Falta de investimento na formação e qualificação e em equipamentos e tecnologias provoca subutilização do potencial da mão-de-obra.
No relatório "Principais indicadores do mercado de trabalho" (KILM, em inglês), a entidade mostra que a produtividade aumentou no mundo inteiro nos últimos dez anos, mas as disparidades persistem entre nações industrializadas e os demais países. No caso da América Latina, o ritmo de crescimento da produtividade foi o menor entre 1996-2006, período em que parte da Asia e da Europa do Leste ex-socialista começou a reduzir seu atraso.
No Brasil, a diferença no valor agregado por trabalhador cresceu especialmente em comparação com os Estados Unidos, o campeão global da produtividade, segundo a OIT. A produção por trabalhador foi de US$ 14,7 mil em 2005, abaixo dos US$ 15,1 mil de 1980. É várias vezes menor que os US$ 63,8 mil por empregado nos EUA em 2006 (e era de US$ 41,6 mil em 1980).
Na China, a produtividade dobrou em dez anos. Pulou de US$ 6,3 mil para US$ 12,5 mil por empregado entre 1996 e 2006, a mais forte alta no mundo. A produtividade chinesa era oito vezes menor que a dos industrializados, e agora passou a cinco vezes menos. O Leste da Europa registrou alta de 50%.
A produção brasileira, em comparação com os EUA, sofreu queda ainda maior. O valor agregado por empregado no país era equivalente a 36,5% do atingido pelos americanos em 1980, e caiu para 23,5% em 2005. Na direção oposta, a produtividade da Coréia do Sul pulou de 28% para 68% em relação à dos EUA no período.
No setor industrial, a diferença cresce. A produção por empregado industrial no Brasil representava 19% daquela dos EUA em 1980. Agora, declinou para 5% em 2005. O valor agregado na indústria brasileira foi de US$ 7.142 para US$ 5.966 por empregado entre 1980 e 2005. Já a China aumentou o valor agregado industrial em 7,9%. Com isso, reduziu a diferença com os EUA, e a produtividade passou a ser o equivalente a 12% da americana, e não mais 5%.
A produtividade brasileira só cresceu no setor agrícola, florestas e pesqueiro, ficando em média em 3,6%, mas esse ritmo foi inferior ao da China e de alguns países que subsidiam altamente suas agriculturas, como Noruega e Coréia. Com a alta de 3,6% ao ano, o valor por trabalhador brasileiro no setor aumentou de US$ 2.356, em 1980, para US$ 5.700 em 2005. Em contrapartida, os chineses, ao iniciarem a reforma agrícola, com menor coletivização das terras, registraram alta de 4% por ano de produtividade agrícola, triplicando de US$ 330 para US$ 910 por pessoa entre 1980 e 2006. No comércio, onde é maior o uso de tecnologia da informação e de novos modelos de negócios, a produtividade brasileira por trabalhador declinou no período de US$ 3,945 para US$ 4 1.726.
A carga de trabalho dos americanos foi calculada em 1.804 horas em 2006, bem acima da média dos países desenvolvidos, como França (1.540 horas, ou 300 a menos com a carga de 35 horas semanais), Alemanha (1.436 horas) e Japão (1.784 horas). Em boa parte dos emergentes, a carga de trabalho fica bem acima de 1.800 horas. O dado sobre o Brasil é ainda de 1999, quando era estimada em pouco mais de 1.600 horas por ano.
Quando a OIT mede o valor por hora trabalhada, o Brasil também está lá embaixo. A produtividade por hora trabalhada fica em torno de US$ 7,50, valor quase idêntico ao de 1980. Não há dados sobre a China, mas aí é a Noruega, e não os EUA, que tem a mais alta produtividade, de US$ 38 por hora, seguido pelos americanos, com US$ 35,60. A França é o terceiro país com maior nível de valor agregado por hora, de US$ 35.
Para o diretor-executivo do setor de emprego da OIT, José Maria Salazar, dentro de três anos a China pode superar a produtividade da América Latina, que no momento é um terço maior (US$ 18,9 mil) que a chinesa. Mas o assessor nota que no Brasil e no resto da América Latina, em cada dez empregos, sete são criados no setor informal, sem proteção social e com pouca qualificação.
Para reforçar a tendência do perigo chinês, o relatório mostra que só na América Latina subiu a "'vulnerabilidade do emprego"', com menor redução no número de pobres. Já a China é tomada como exemplo de país com amplo aumento de produtividade, que consegue baixar o número de pessoas vivendo com menos de US$ 2 por dia.
"O incremento de produtividade é enorme na agricultura da China, com grande transformação ao deixar a agricultura coletivizada, mas o maior incremento é na manufatura, graças à taxa de investimento anual muito alta, de cerca de 30%", afirma. "Há muita inovação tecnológica, investimentos fortíssimos na educação e uma reserva de mão-de-obra barata."