Economist 4/30/15

  1. WITHIN the next few months, the biggest defence contract for what will probably be many years to come will be awarded by the US Air Force, to build a new long-range strike bomber. The B-3, as it is likely to be named, will be a nuclear-capable aircraft designed to penetrate the most sophisticated air defences. The contract itself will be worth $50 billion-plus in revenues to the successful bidder, and there will be many billions of dollars more for work on design, support and upgrades. The plan is to build at least 80-100 of the planes at a cost of more than $550m each. On one side is a team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin; on the other, Northrop Grumman. The result could lead to a shake-out in the defence industry, with one of the competitors having to give up making combat aircraft for good.After the B-3 contract is awarded, the next big deal for combat planes—for a sixth-generation “air-dominance fighter” to replace the F-22 and F-18 Super Hornet—will be more than a decade away. If Boeing were to lose, Mr Aboulafia thinks it may seek to buy Northrop’s aircraft-building business, to ensure it gets the job after all. If Northrop were to depart the field, that could leave Lockheed Martin as the only American company with the ability to design combat planes, and thus the biggest winner of the three.
  2. THE conference of the 191 signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) got under way at the UN headquarters in New York this week. The last such meeting, in 2010, produced agreement over a 64-point action plan. This time it is likely to be a much more divisive affair.Only three countries have never signed up—India, Pakistan and Israel. Only one, North Korea, has ever left.At least one bit of good news for the four-week conference was the announcement on April 2nd of a framework agreement to overcome the decade-long crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme. If a comprehensive deal can be reached by the end of June and then successfully implemented, it will go a long way towards vindicating the NPT and the tools it provides to bring those who violate its safeguards back into compliance.The aim of “RevCon”, as it is known, is to take stock of progress (or otherwise) over the previous five years in strengthening the three pillars on which the NPT’s “grand bargain” rests: the commitment to pursue disarmament by the five “official” nuclear weapons states—America, Russia, Britain, France and China, also known as the P5;
  3. Since late last year, as part of the most intense and sustained anti-corruption drive in the history of Communist-ruled China, officials have been stepping up efforts to persuade foreign countries to send back those who have fled with their ill-gotten gains. On April 22nd they released a wanted list, together with mugshots, of 100 such people, as part of a new operation called Sky Net. The list was compiled by a Communist Party body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), whose agents often hold suspects in secret detention and torture them.Among the wanted fugitives, for whom Interpol has issued arrest warrants, 48 were the most senior officials in their workplaces. But anti-corruption officials have a big problem: the 39 countries with which China has extradition treaties do not include America, Australia or Canada, which are among the favoured destinations of corrupt fugitives.
  4. IN NOVEMBER, after months of frantic land reclamation in the South China Sea aimed at boosting its vast territorial claim there, China tried a subtler approach. It opened a think-tank in Arlington, Virginia—an outpost of its National Institute for South China Sea Studies on Hainan.On April 16th the Institute for China-America Studies, as the Virginia-based centre is called, held a conference at a hotel in Washington. Its Chinese-government connections clearly had pull. Henry Kissinger, a former secretary of state whom Chinese leaders much revere, spoke in a pre-recorded video about the importance of ties between Beijing and Washington.China’s efforts to put a scholarly gloss on its claims (which, on its official maps, are represented by broken lines of striking crudity) are unlikely to convince many in America or in South-East Asia. China’s recent construction spree on more than half a dozen reefs has caused widespread alarm among the other claimants, which include Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as the Philippines, an American ally. On April 28th leaders of the ten-member Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) issued an unusually strong statement. They called the island-building effort, much of it near the Philippines, a potential threat to “peace, security and stability”.

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