Posts Tagged history

China unmoved on Iran sanctions (BBC)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the UN General Assembly, New York (23 Sept 2009)

Mr Ahmadinejad said Iran was ready to shake “honestly extended” hands

China says placing sanctions on Iran is not the right way to resolve the controversy over its nuclear plans.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu called on all sides to “redouble diplomatic efforts” to persuade Iran to end its nuclear programme.

Her remarks came after Russia indicated it could soften its longstanding opposition to further sanctions.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions are set to lead Thursday’s nuclear proliferation debate at the UN General Assembly.

Tehran says its nuclear programme is for civilian use only but many Western states believe it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Speaking in Beijing, Ms Jiang said: “We believe that sanctions and exerting pressure are not the way to solve problems and are not conducive for the current diplomatic efforts on the Iran nuclear issue.”

Correspondents says Iran’s oil and gas industries are likely to be affected if sanctions are strengthened, which could explain China’s reluctance to back further restrictions.

Wide focus

Russia has already agreed to limited sanctions on Iran but has so far opposed any additions.

ANALYSIS
Quentin Sommerville
Quentin Sommerville, BBC News, Beijing

When Jiang Yu said that sanctions and pressure would not solve the Iranian nuclear issue, she was simply repeating China’s stated policy of non-interference in another country’s sovereignty.

China rarely votes “no” in the Security Council, but often abstains. However, Beijing has backed a number of resolutions that would open the way to sanctions against Iran, but did so with its nose firmly held. Sanctions don’t work says China, they only victimise ordinary citizens. But is this sound principle or just smart business?

Trade between China and Iran is booming – it jumped by a third between 2007 and 2008. The United States and others accuse China of sanctions-busting and helping Tehran’s weapons programme, something that Beijing has consistently denied.

On Wednesday, however, President Dmitry Medvedev said although they were rarely productive, sanctions were in some cases “inevitable”.

“We need to help Iran to [make] the right decisions,” he said, following a meeting with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the UN meeting in New York.

The move was welcomed by the White House. Spokesman Robert Gibbs said Russia’s “willingness to play a constructive role is extremely important”.

The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, Paul Reynolds, says Russia’s apparent change of direction could have been influenced by the US announcement last week that it was dropping plans for an anti-missile defence shield close to Russian borders.

But exactly how far Russia might go is not yet clear, our correspondent says.

In his address to the General Assembly on Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not refer directly to the nuclear stand-off, but said Iran was ready to shake all hands “that are honestly extended to us”.

US officials have stressed that Thursday’s talks at the UN aim to create a “framework” for dealing with nuclear issues rather than focusing specifically on Iran.

Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama 23.9.09

“There is a deliberate effort here to focus on this issue comprehensively, and not use this meeting to focus on any specific country or problem,” said the US deputy permanent representative to the UN, Alex Wolff.

However, Iran is expected to dominate the agenda.

Six world powers are preparing to hold talks with Iranian officials on 1 October that are expected to cover global nuclear disarmament.

Mr Obama is hoping for a united position among the group but analysts say that if the talks yield nothing, he wants to pursue tougher sanctions against Tehran.

On Wednesday, British Foreign Minister David Miliband said the six powers had agreed Iran must give a “serious response” to accusations against it.

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Putin condemns Nazi-Soviet pact (BBC)

Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov signs the Nazi-Soviet pact as his German counterpart Joachim Von Ribbentrop (left), and Stalin look on, Moscow, 23 August 1939

The pact led to the carving-up of Poland and eastern Europe

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has condemned the Nazi-Soviet pact signed a week before Germany’s 1939 invasion of Poland as “immoral”.

In a piece for the Polish paper Gazeta Wyborcza, he also expressed sorrow over the massacre of Polish army officers by Soviet forces at Katyn in 1940.

His words are seen as a bid to ease tensions with Poland over World War II.

But he also argued the Munich agreement signed by France and Britain wrecked efforts to build an anti-Nazi alliance.

A year earlier France and England signed a well-known agreement with Hitler in Munich, destroying all hope for the creation of a joint front for the fight against fascism
Vladimir Putin
Russian prime minister

Mr Putin is among several statesmen attending a service in the Polish port city of Gdansk on Tuesday to mark the 70th anniversary of Poland’s invasion.

“Our duty is to remove the burden of distrust and prejudice left from the past in Polish-Russian relations,” said Mr Putin in the article, which was also published on the Russian government website.

“Our duty… is to turn the page and start to write a new one.”

Katyn regret

Memories of the 1939 pact – in which the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany essentially agreed to carve up Poland and the Baltic States between them – have long soured Moscow’s relations with Poland and other east European states.

Joachim von Ribbentrop signing the ratification of the Nazi-Soviet pact in Berlin, 28 September 1939

Within a month of the pact being signed, Soviet troops had invaded and occupied parts of eastern Poland.

“It is possible to condemn – and with good reason – the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact concluded in August 1939,” wrote Mr Putin, referring to the two foreign ministers who signed the pact at the Kremlin.

It was clear today, he said, that any form of agreement with the Nazi regime was “unacceptable from the moral point of view and had no chance of being realised”.

“But after all,” he added, “a year earlier France and England signed a well-known agreement with Hitler in Munich, destroying all hope for the creation of a joint front for the fight against fascism.”

The Munich Agreement of September 1938, widely seen as the low point of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement, allowed Germany to annex Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland region.

Mr Putin added that Russian people understood “all too well the acute emotions of Poles in connection with Katyn”.

In 1940 Soviet secret police massacred more than 21,000 army officers and intellectuals on Stalin’s direct orders in the Katyn forest near the city of Smolensk.

Moscow only took responsibility for the killings in 1990, having previously blamed the massacre on the Nazis.

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40 years of Unix (BBC)

By Mark Ward
Technology Correspondent, BBC News

Network cables, BBC

Unix had computer networking built in from the start

The computer world is notorious for its obsession with what is new – largely thanks to the relentless engine of Moore’s Law that endlessly presents programmers with more powerful machines.

Given such permanent change, anything that survives for more than one generation of processors deserves a nod.

Think then what the Unix operating system deserves because in August 2009, it celebrates its 40th anniversary. And it has been in use every year of those four decades and today is getting more attention than ever before.

Work on Unix began at Bell Labs after AT&T, (which owned the lab), MIT and GE pulled the plug on an ambitious project to create an operating system called Multics.

The idea was to make better use of the resources of mainframe computers and have them serve many people at the same time.

“With Multics they tried to have a much more versatile and flexible operating system, and it failed miserably,” said Dr Peter Salus, author of the definitive history of Unix’s early years.

Time well spent

The cancellation meant that two of the researchers assigned to the project, Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, had a lot of time on their hands. Frustrated by the size and complexity of Multics but not its aims of making computers more flexible and interactive, they decided to try and finish the work – albeit on a much smaller scale.

The commitment was helped by the fact that in August 1969, Ken Thompson’s wife took their new baby to see relatives on the West Coast. She was due to be gone for a month and Thompson decided to use his time constructively – by writing the core of what became Unix.

He allocated one week each to the four core components of operating system, shell, editor and assembler. It was during that time and after as the growing team got the operating system running on a DEC computer known as a PDP-7 that Unix came into being.

It got us away from the total control that businesses like IBM and DEC had over us
Peter Salus, author

By the early 1970s, five people were working on Unix. Thompson and Ritchie had been joined by Brian Kernighan, Doug McIlroy and Joe Ossanna.

The name was reportedly coined by Brian Kernighan – a lover of puns who wanted Unics to stand in contrast to its forebear Multics.

The team got Unix running well on the PDP7 and soon it had a long list of commands it could carry out. The syntax of many of those commands, such as chdir and cat, are still in use 40 years on. Along with it came the C programming language.

But, said Dr Salus, it wasn’t just the programming that was important about Unix – the philosophy behind it was vital too.

“Unix was created to solve a few problems,” said Dr Salus, “the most important of which was to have something that was much more compact than the operating systems that were current at that time which ran on the dinosaurs of the computer age.”

Net benefits

Back in the early 1970s, computers were still huge and typically overseen by men in white coats who jealously guarded access to the machines. The idea of users directly interacting with the machine was downright revolutionary.

“It got us away from the total control that businesses like IBM and DEC had over us,” said Dr Salus.

Word about Unix spread and people liked what they heard.

“Once it had jumped out of the lab and out of AT&T it caught fire among the academic community,” Dr Salus told the BBC. What helped this grassroots movement was AT&T’s willingness to give the software away for free.

DEC PDP-1 computer

DEC’s early computers were for many years restricted to laboratories

That it ran on cheap hardware and was easy to move to different machines helped too.

“The fact that its code was adaptable to other types of machinery, in large and small versions meant that it could become an operating system that did more than just run on your proprietary machine,” said Dr Salus.

In May 1975 it got another boost by becoming the chosen operating system for the internet. The decision to back it is laid out in the then-nascent Internet Engineering Task Force’s document RFC 681, which notes that Unix “presents several interesting capabilities” for those looking to use it on the net.

It didn’t stop there. Unix was adapted for use on any and every computer from mainframes to desktops. While it is true that it did languish in the 1980s and 90s as corporations scrapped over whose version was definitive, the rise of the web has given it new life.

The wars are over and the Unix specification is looked after by the Open Group – an industry body set up to police what is done in the operating system’s name.

Now Unix, in a variety of guises, is everywhere. Most of the net runs on Unix-based servers and the Unix philosophy heavily influenced the open source software movements and the creation of the Linux desktop OS. Windows runs the communication stack created for Unix. Apple’s OS X is broadly based on Unix and it is possible to dig into that software and find text remarkably similar to that first written by Dennis Ritchie in 1971.

“The really nice part is the flexibility and adaptability,” said Dr Salus, explaining why it is so widespread and how its ethic fits with a world at home with the web.

“Unix is the best screwdriver ever built,” said Dr Salus.

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How vital were Cold War spies? (BBC)

By Gordon Corera
BBC Security Correspondent

Kim Philby

British spy Kim Philby handed over secrets to the Soviets

The world of espionage lies at the heart of the mythology of the Cold War.

Along with nuclear weapons, spies were the emblems of the conflict.

But while the tales of adventure, betrayal and mole hunts have proved a source of rich inspiration for thriller writers, did they actually make a difference to the outcome?

Did intelligence make the Cold War hotter or colder?

It is difficult to know the answer.

“There were secrets that were important to keep secret and there was intelligence which it would be very helpful to have known,” argues former British Foreign Secretary David Owen.

“But my own instinct is that we didn’t really – with a few exceptions and a few important exceptions – really know exactly what was going on.”

One reason it is hard to make a judgement is that much of the intelligence collected was military or tactical in nature, and would only have proven useful if the Cold War had gone hot.

Much effort was expended in stealing secrets like the Soviet order of battle or the design of new Soviet tanks which would have been invaluable in case of war.

Intelligence during the Cold War had a very big impact on the shape and size of the British defence programme
Sir David Omand
Former UK Intelligence and Security Coordinator

This type of intelligence was collected by electronic means and satellite reconnaissance, as well as by human spies. It was used to work out how to best equip and prepare the military.

Sir David Omand, the former UK Intelligence and Security Coordinator, says: “Intelligence during the Cold War had a very big impact on the shape and size of the British defence programme, on the kinds of equipment we bought and very specifically the actual capabilities that were built into that equipment to be able to encounter whatever intelligence showed was the capability of Warsaw Pact forces.”

During times of “hot war”, intelligence plays an important but ultimately secondary role in supporting military operations.

But, during periods of tension short of full-scale military action like the Cold War, intelligence takes on a more central position.

In the absence of traditional warfare, intelligence becomes itself the primary battleground as each side tries to understand the enemy’s capabilities and intentions, as it seeks to undermine their position using covert action, psychological operations and forms of subversion.

Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6) had a troubled beginning to the Cold War, not least because it was penetrated by its Soviet counterpart, with men like Kim Philby and George Blake handing over secrets.

But slowly it became more professional, recruiting and running agents who could provide information on the activities of the Soviet bloc.

Intelligence sceptic

Some former diplomats query the record of intelligence in providing insight into political trends.

Rodric Braithwaite, a former ambassador to Russia at the end of the Cold War and later Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, is something of an intelligence sceptic.

Margaret Thatcher with Ronald Reagan in 1987

A Soviet spy’s insights changed Thatcher and Reagan’s approach

“I was always rather encouraged by the Joint Intelligence Committee, who used to send us drafts of their assessments on Soviet affairs with the secret bits cut out because they didn’t want to have them sloshing about in Moscow.

“With the secret bits out, the conclusions they were coming to were exactly the same ones that we were coming to in Moscow because the information that mattered was available at both ends and it was mostly either conversations with people, which were not particularly secret, or what was in the newspapers.”

But Sir Gerry Warner, a former deputy chief of MI6, believes intelligence helped ensure politicians had a realistic understanding of what the Soviet Union was up to.

“It is always a temptation if somebody is saying ‘I am a friend of yours and I don’t mean any harm’ to accept that.

“But if you are being told all the time by a microphone in your ear that it is totally untrue and that he’s holding a knife behind his back, he’s about to kick you where it hurts, the temptation is less to trust him.”

Running agents behind the Iron Curtain involved risk – risk to the life of an agent but also politically in terms of raising the temperature.

“The main concern was always balancing the value of possible intelligence against the risk,” explains Sir Gerry Warner.

“If an espionage operation was uncovered it was always an important public event – the media got into it, the other side would play it up – and therefore there was a political risk clearly.”

Understanding intentions

Spy rows flared periodically. In the early 1970s, the UK expelled more than 100 Soviet diplomats from its embassy in London.

So did these kind of operations and activities fuel distrust and paranoia?

The identity of most agents remains secret but a few have become public and one or two of those can be claimed to have made a real impact.

One was Oleg Penkovsky, a colonel in Soviet military intelligence.

Knowing your enemy is very important indeed
Baroness Daphne Park
Former MI6 controller

His information – passed to MI6 and the CIA in the early 1960s – helped President Kennedy manage the Cuban missile crisis successfully by identifying the extent of Soviet missile capability and how far the Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev was likely to push events.

The most useful strategic intelligence comes from penetrating the leadership of your enemy so that you understand not just their military capability but their intentions.

That was something MI6 only managed late in the Cold War largely thanks to KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky, who spent a decade towards the end of the Cold War supplying intelligence to MI6 which revealed how paranoid the Soviet leadership was of a first nuclear strike by Nato.

“The British service could not believe it but because I proved it very well they eventually believed it,” he said.

“Knowing your enemy is very important indeed,” argues Baroness Daphne Park, a former MI6 controller.

“It was very important that we should know that they were as paranoid as that. I don’t see how we would have known it any other way.”

Col Gordievsky’s insights had a profound effect on both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in rethinking how they approached the Soviet Union, which in turn helped them manage the end of the Cold War.

“What nobody wanted was to be surprised,” Sir John Scarlett, the chief of MI6, told me in his office.

“And that intelligence knowledge, intelligence base if you like, gave knowledge which greatly reduced that fear of a surprise attack.

“And, as the Cold War developed, more confidence developed that the other side was understood, and that helped manage the situation and was a key reason why we got to the end without a blowout.”

The one thing the spies failed to predict, along with everyone else, was of course the end of the Cold War itself.


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