In Box


Five places saying "yes, in my backyard" to the nasty stuff that no one else wants.

The Dump: Nuclear waste
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has ambitious plans for Russia's nuclear energy sector, and they go beyond his bid to become a global supplier for countries that can't enrich their own uranium. In 2001, then-President Putin signed a package of laws allowing Russia to import spent nuclear fuel, opening the door to a trade estimated at $20 billion over the last decade in reprocessing and storing irradiated waste. The country has imported spent fuel from research reactors in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Libya, Romania, Serbia, and Uzbekistan, as well as tens of thousands of tons of depleted uranium from power plants in France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Russia is legally required to ensure that the re-enriched fuel and reprocessed waste is returned or properly disposed of, but only a small percentage of the original material gets sent back. What happens to the rest? An estimated 700,000 tons of radioactive uranium tailings (including waste from Russia's domestic reactors) are being kept in Siberian cold storage, some outdoors in rusting steel canisters at Mayak, Russia's only reprocessing facility and site of a horrific nuclear accident in the 1950s. For environmentalists, Mayak is one of the world's longest-running ecological disasters. For Putin, it's also big business.


The Dump: Offshore drilling
U.S. President Barack Obama may be rethinking offshore oil drilling in the wake of the BP blowout, but Mexican President Felipe Calderón's main concern is that his country isn't drilling enough. With Mexico's proven oil reserves declining -- daily production has decreased by roughly 1 million* barrels since 2004 -- Pemex, the state oil monopoly, is anxiously drilling new exploratory and development wells, mostly off the country's northeastern coast. That should make the Gulf of Mexico's pelicans and sea turtles nervous, given the company's environmental safety record -- more than 1,000 Pemex workers have died in industrial accidents over the last two decades, and Pemex holds the previous record for history's largest peacetime oil spill, the 1979 Ixtoc disaster.


The Dump: Trash
For years, the Ghanaian government has sought to make treasure out of its enormous supply of trash, even touting the slogan, "Solid Waste: Big Problem! Big Opportunity!" The opportunity is waste-to-energy, a process for capturing gases from waste and converting them to fuel. Ghana hopes that garbage alone can generate 50 megawatts of electricity over the next 15 years. But though the country has some of the worst sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa, its landfills are so picked over that there's not enough "good" waste to turn into electric power. So, in 2008, the government proposed a $250 million scheme to import and incinerate garbage from Western Europe and Canada. Although the plan is still in development, Ghana is already a dumping ground for Europe's electronic waste, with containers full of broken cell phones, computer hard drives, and TVs arriving each month in the port of Tema, near Accra. European laws prohibit the export of this dangerous waste, but labeling the trash as a "charitable donation" offers a loophole. In the enormous Agbogbloshie dump, children smash keyboards and burn circuit boards to salvage scraps of iron and copper for sale, sending up black plumes of smoke over the acrid city.


The Dump: Prisoners
Peaceful, prosperous, and friendly to pot and prostitutes, the Netherlands has so few criminals that it has been forced to close eight prisons and cut more than 1,000 jobs in the national corrections system. Neighboring Belgium faces the opposite problem: serious prison overcrowding, with around 10,400 prisoners, more than 2,000 over capacity. In a shining moment of European integration, the countries have found a fitting solution: The Belgian government is planning to rent 500 Dutch jail cells for $38 million a year and send prisoners to the largely uninhabited Tilburg jail in the southern Netherlands. The prisoners will still fall under the jurisdiction of Belgian courts but may find a bit more elbow room in their new accommodations.


The Dump: Opium
Although morphine produced from opium is legally prescribed around the world as a pain reliever, most countries are hesitant to grow opium-producing poppies for fear that it will lead to an increase in organized crime, drug addiction, or even terrorism. That reluctance has provided an opportunity for the rugged island of Tasmania, which began producing opium in 1970 and currently accounts for about half the world's legal crop. The only state in Australia where opium cultivation is legal, Tasmania rakes in more than $60 million per year from the trade. The island's remote location off the southeastern coast of Australia has worked to its advantage, making it harder for smugglers to divert the crop to the heroin business. Aside from some stoned tourists and the occasional hallucinating wallaby -- yes, really -- Tasmania has seen few ill effects from its flourishing cash crop.

John Moore/Getty Images

*Correction: Daily production dropped by roughly 1 million barrels, not 1 billion, as originally stated.

In Box

Strange Brew

Does the Tea Party have a foreign policy?

When tens of thousands of Tea Party activists gathered for a rally on the National Mall in Washington this spring, they loudly cheered the economic populism of their hero, Ron Paul, the Texas congressman who fell short in his quixotic 2008 presidential bid while inspiring a movement that outlived his candidacy. But then he shifted to international affairs, speaking against foreign aid and policies that make America the world's policeman.

By the time he began complaining about the many U.S. military bases overseas and arguing for bringing the troops home from places such as Japan and South Korea, some in the crowd were growing agitated. As journalist Kate Zernike recounts in her forthcoming book, Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America, people toward the back objected. "God bless the military!" some hollered. Paul quickly moved on to a pitch for keeping the U.S. military strong -- and the hecklers began cheering again.

It was a revealing moment for a movement born at a time of two overseas wars, a continuing terrorist threat, and a looming confrontation with Iran. For though the Tea Party may have captured the energy and imagination of this American political season, it very decidedly owes its campaign appeal to domestic politics, tapping into economic anxiety and visceral antipathy to what it considers President Barack Obama's big-government program. When it comes to foreign policy, the unity of the Tea Party stops at the water's edge.

Its leaders are hopelessly divided over everything from the war in Afghanistan and counterterrorism policies to free trade and the promotion of democracy abroad. And with the Tea Party increasingly serving as the Republican Party's driving force, the schism underscores the emerging foreign-policy debate on the American right. So recently united behind President George W. Bush's war on terror, Republicans now find themselves splintering into familiar interventionist and isolationist factions, the Dick Cheney side of the party eager to reshape the world versus the economic populists more concerned about cutting taxes at home than spending them on adventures abroad.

"If the Tea Party movement expanded into that area, you'd find a multitude of opinions," says Frank Anderson, co-founder of the Independence Caucus, an anti-incumbent group that endorses congressional challengers who promise to respect its credo of limited government. "If you ask any 20 people, you would get 25 opinions."

If there's one thing Tea Party activists can agree on foreign-policy-wise, it's their aversion to international organizations. Of 80 questions posed to candidates by Anderson's Independence Caucus, only four relate to foreign policy, and all those are about ceding sovereignty to the United Nations or international treaties. Question 16, for instance, asks candidates to oppose efforts "to recognize or implement any United Nations actions, decrees, or programs that would interfere with or supersede our sovereign national government." No wonder once-and-future presidential candidate Mitt Romney denounced Obama's arms-control treaty with Russia.

The two most famous Tea Partiers, in fact, are at the opposite ends of the foreign-policy spectrum. Where Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice-presidential candidate with her eye on 2012 and her muscular talk of a movement of "Mama Grizzlies," embraces Bush's assertive foreign policy, Rand Paul, the son of the Texas congressman, extends his dad's don't-tread-on-me philosophy at home to mean don't tread on others abroad.

Palin has argued against extending Tea Party enthusiasm for budget cuts to the military, and another movement favorite, Marco Rubio, the Republican senatorial candidate from Florida, has ripped Obama for not being tough enough. "Today, our nation's foreign policy appears to be based on abandoning our friends, appeasing our enemies, and retreating from our responsibilities," Rubio said in one speech. Paul, on the other hand, crushed the establishment favorite in Kentucky's GOP primary after a campaign in which he called the Bush-era Patriot Act "a mistake" and issued a statement promising to "oppose reckless 'nation building' or burdening our troops by making them the world's police force."

The Tea Party, in other words, is stumbling over a familiar divide on the American right. Nearly a century ago, the big-stick foreign policy of Theodore Roosevelt turned inward when Henry Cabot Lodge blocked U.S. entry into the League of Nations, and isolationists held sway until World War II. At the end of the Cold War, the most internationalist of modern presidents, George H.W. Bush, had to beat back Patrick J. Buchanan's neo-isolationist insurgency. In the 1990s, resurgent congressional conservatives were just as divided over President Bill Clinton's embrace of humanitarian interventionism. When Clinton waged war in Kosovo in 1999, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay complained that he "was involving the U.S. military in a civil war in a sovereign nation," but other Republicans rushed to Clinton's defense.

That schism might be reopening now in a way that threatens to fracture the Republican Party just as it regains political traction. In July, when Michael Steele, the party's gaffe-prone chairman, derided the Afghanistan conflict as "a war of Obama's choosing" that might be unwinnable, he drew instant condemnation from figures like Sen. John McCain, Liz Cheney, and William Kristol. Steele quickly retreated, which seemed to show just how thoroughly the hawks have come to dominate the modern GOP.

Yet perhaps the reaction was so swift out of fear that the old fissures would crack the party. After all, Steele's apostasy resonated with some on the right who are not sure why the United States should be investing American treasure and lives in dusty, far-off lands. A handful of Republican congressmen, led by Jason Chaffetz of Utah, an early Tea Party hero, voted with Democrats this summer in an unsuccessful attempt to limit the Afghan mission.

The broad mass of Tea Party voters might even be up for grabs in this debate. Consider Mike Lee, the Tea Party darling who toppled Sen. Bob Bennett at Utah's Republican convention. In an interview, Lee acknowledged he was more "halting" on foreign than domestic affairs. He criticized Obama for his Middle East policy ("they're meddling too much in the internal affairs of Israel") and his arms-control treaty with Russia ("I don't think we ought to be handcuffing ourselves"). But he also repudiated Bush's ambition to spread democracy abroad. "Sometimes our military efforts outside the United States can have that effect, and that's great," he said, "but I don't think that ought to be the focus. It's too broad."

In identifying a guiding philosophy on international affairs, Lee, like other Tea Party figures, points to Thomas Jefferson's warning against "entangling alliances." The question for the movement is whether it can maintain its own uneasy coalition. And for now, at least, that means steadfastly ignoring foreign-policy declarations of any sort. When nearly half a million Tea Party supporters voted online to define their campaign agenda, not a single one of the 10 planks they agreed on had anything to do with the world beyond America's borders. 

Illustration by Stephen Kroninger for FP