Longform's Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform's new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.


The Chinese Military Machine's Secret to Success: European Engineering, by David Lague, Reuters

German diesel engines now power China's stealthy submarines -- among the many weapons and parts Beijing has sourced from America's European allies.

Emulating the rising powers of last century -- Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union -- China is building a powerful submarine fleet, including domestically built Song and Yuan-class boats. The beating hearts of these subs are state-of-the-art diesel engines designed by MTU Friedrichshafen GmbH of Friedrichshafen, Germany. Alongside 12 advanced Kilo-class submarines imported from Russia, these 21 German-powered boats are the workhorses of China's modern conventional submarine force.

With Beijing flexing its muscles around disputed territory in the East China Sea and South China Sea, China's diesel-electric submarines are potentially the PLA's most serious threat to its American and Japanese rivals. This deadly capability has been built around robust and reliable engine technology from Germany, a core member of the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization.


Cows Might Fly, by Veronique Greenwood, Aeon

When the land is all filled up, it's time to get creative with it, as small countries like Switzerland already know

The sheer difference in national size means that US farms, though enormous -- the average Swiss farm is between 40 and 50 acres, the average US farm around 10 times as large -- are not much encountered by the average grocery store customer. Swiss cities are smaller and more permeable. It is not hard to see farms and cows. In fact, it is unavoidable, once you are a negligible number of minutes from a city's center. And the herds themselves are far smaller, thanks in part to the paucity of land.

This closeness between city and farm means that the culture is less comfortable with treating animals inhumanely, suggests Moser. 'The bigger the farms are, the less individually animals can be treated,' he said. 'This creates a distance between yourself and the other.' In the 19th century, Swiss agronomists travelling to the US were floored by what the inhabitants were doing with the enormous amount of land available to them, and at the same time shocked by the way animals were treated, Moser said.

In modern Switzerland, those old feelings have translated into strong animal protection laws and direct payments to farmers for treating animals well, along with those for maintaining the landscape -- for instance, for taking their cows out into the fresh air.


Who Am I to Judge?, by James Carroll, the New Yorker

A radical Pope's first year.

"Who am I to judge?" With those five words, spoken in late July in reply to a reporter's question about the status of gay priests in the Church, Pope Francis stepped away from the disapproving tone, the explicit moralizing typical of Popes and bishops. This gesture of openness, which startled the Catholic world, would prove not to be an isolated event. In a series of interviews and speeches in the first few months after his election, in March, the Pope unilaterally declared a kind of truce in the culture wars that have divided the Vatican and much of the world. Repeatedly, he argued that the Church's purpose was more to proclaim God's merciful love for all people than to condemn sinners for having fallen short of strictures, especially those having to do with gender and sexual orientation. His break from his immediate predecessors -- John Paul II, who died in 2005, and Benedict XVI, the traditionalist German theologian who stepped down from the papacy in February -- is less ideological than intuitive, an inclusive vision of the Church centered on an identification with the poor. From this vision, theological and organizational innovations flow. The move from rule by non-negotiable imperatives to leadership by invitation and welcome is as fundamental to the meaning of the faith as any dogma.


Hunting the Lynx with the Old Believers, by Ben Judah, Standpoint

The Old Believers rejected Peter the Great's reforms to the Russian Orthodox Church. Ben Judah travels to southern Siberia to lift a veil on this untouched-by-time community.

They were Old Believers. Their fore-fathers had first come to Tuva in search of Belovode. This was the first Russian utopia: a mythical land the peasants believed existed out in Siberia down the rivers in the farthest east; a magical kingdom of plenty where the white Tsar ruled with true justice. Whole migrations went in search of it in the 1840s. Peasants believed Tolstoy had been there. It was as late as 1898 that the last Cossack expedition set out to find it. 

The Old Believers are the remains of Russia's great schism. While Peter the Great was building St Petersburg, his Patriarch Nikon set out to reform the Russian Orthodox Church, to purge it of paganism and inconsistency with Greek Orthodoxy. Rituals and the spelling of Christ were modified. The way men crossed themselves was changed. 

... On the eve of the revolution the Old Believers made up maybe 20 per cent of Russia's population. It was said that if the anathemas on them were ever lifted, half the peasantry would convert to this anarchic, priestless village faith which ruled itself through meeting halls. Today there are only about two million -- mostly in exile. And of the priestless a few tens of thousands live out in the most remote forests of Siberia. 


Stuck on a U.S. Government Blacklist?, by Jamila Trindle, Foreign Policy

Call Erich Ferrari, the lawyer who makes a living defending alleged drug kingpins and arms dealers.

The U.S. government's financial sanctions programs have been credited with bringing Iran to the negotiating table by decimating its economy and driving the value of its currency to record lows. But they're not just used against Tehran. Alleged drug kingpins, associates of deposed war criminals, and supporters of various dictatorships also find themselves on the Treasury Department's target list. The key innovation in these modern sanctions is the ability to target individuals and companies and make it illegal for U.S. banks and companies to interact with them. Putting trade embargoes into place against countries like Cuba hasn't worked, but pressuring specific individuals and companies has. Ferrari is one of a small group of lawyers making a good living relieving that pressure.

Guang Niu/AFP/Getty Images; SEBASTIEN FEVAL/AFP/Getty Images; Franco Origlia/Getty Images; JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN/AFP/Getty Images; Courtesy of Erich Ferrari


Longform's Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform's new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.


State of Deception, by Ryan Lizza, the New Yorker

Why won't the President rein in the intelligence community?

Wyden, who said that he has had "several spirited discussions" with Obama, is not optimistic. "It really seems like General Clapper, the intelligence leadership, and the lawyers drive this in terms of how decisions get made at the White House," he told me. It is evident from the Snowden leaks that Obama inherited a regime of dragnet surveillance that often operated outside the law and raised serious constitutional questions. Instead of shutting down or scaling back the programs, Obama has worked to bring them into narrow compliance with rules-set forth by a court that operates in secret-that often contradict the views on surveillance that he strongly expressed when he was a senator and a Presidential candidate.

"These are profoundly different visions," Wyden said, referring to his disagreements with Obama, Feinstein, and senior intelligence officials. "I start with the proposition that security and liberty are not mutually exclusive." He noted that General Alexander had an "exceptionally expansive vision" of what the N.S.A. should collect. I asked Wyden for his opinion of the members of the review panel, most of whom are officials with ties to the intelligence establishment. He smiled and raised his eyebrows. An aide said, "Hope springs eternal."


Turkey: ‘Surreal, Menacing, Pompous...,' by Christopher de Bellaigue, the New York Review of Books

The closest model to what might be called a viable Islamic democracy -- the Turkish model -- is collapsing before our eyes.

On May 27, small numbers of environmentalists occupied Gezi Park, in Istanbul's Taksim Square, protesting against plans to replace the park with a shopping center inspired by the design of an old Ottoman barracks. Over the next few days they were joined by others expressing dissatisfaction with what they regard as the government's meddlesome Islamist agenda. The police responded violently and the agitation grew; by the time of the brutal eviction of a huge crowd from Taksim Square, more than two weeks later, some 3.5 million people (from a population of 80 million) had taken part in almost five thousand demonstrations across Turkey, five had lost their lives, and more than eight thousand had been injured. Clearly, the "Gezi events" were about more than trees.

The unrest of this summer divided Turks on the same issues that have caused civil strife elsewhere in the region: among them political Islam, ethnic and sectarian divisions (involving the Kurdish and Alevi minorities), and authoritarian rule. Although a meltdown on Egyptian lines is implausible, a transition to Islamic authoritarianism is not. That would do further injury to the idea that Islam and democracy can share the public sphere. It would also be the end of an experiment of which Turks are justifiably proud.

‘A Graveyard for Homosexuals,' by Katie J.M. Baker, Newsweek

Spurred by zealous American missionaries, Ethiopia has declared war on gay men.

But, while Ethiopia prohibits foreign LGBT-related activism, it welcomes international religious groups that preach homophobia. Thus, "religion is used as proxy for discrimination," explains Ty Cobb, director of Global Engagement at the Human Rights Campaign, by groups who "couch hateful rhetoric in faith-based terms."

Last year's anti-gay conference and others like it are organized and funded by United for Life, a Western Evangelical Christian organization that receives funding from the U.K. and U.S. In May 2013, United for Life hosted a workshop during which police told government officials, religious leaders and health professionals that "homosexual family members and neighbors" were likely to sexually abuse children. A representative from the Ethiopian Inter-Religious Council Against Homosexuality announced that the council was making "promising" progress in convincing the government to introduce the death penalty to punish "homosexual acts." United for Life's president, Seyoum Antonius, has made it clear that he won't quit anti-gay advocacy until Ethiopia adopts the death penalty. One of his rallying cries is, "Africa will become a graveyard for homosexuality!"

Missing American in Iran was on Unapproved Mission, by Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, AP

An investigation has revealed that Bob Levinson, an American who went missing in Iran in 2007 was working for the CIA.

In March 2007, retired FBI agent Robert Levinson flew to Kish Island, an Iranian resort awash with tourists, smugglers and organized crime figures. Days later, after an arranged meeting with an admitted killer, he checked out of his hotel, slipped into a taxi and vanished. For years, the U.S. has publicly described him as a private citizen who traveled to the tiny Persian Gulf island on private business.

But that was just a cover story. An Associated Press investigation reveals that Levinson was working for the CIA. In an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules, a team of analysts - with no authority to run spy operations - paid Levinson to gather intelligence from some of the world's darkest corners. He vanished while investigating the Iranian government for the U.S.


Back in the USSR, by Michael Weiss, Foreign Policy

The Ukraine protests aren't about the dream of Europe, but the fear of a Belarusian nightmare.

Try finding a cohesive working cultural definition of Europe and see where that gets you. No one's ever spoken seriously of the "great European novel," except maybe Susan Sontag. "Lie back and think of Europe" is a phrase that's probably only ever uttered by right-wing commentators terrified of supposed Muslim demographic trends on the continent. Even the apocryphal comment often attributed to Henry Kissinger -- "Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?" -- was meant to inspire titters about the prospect of getting nations that used to love to go to war with one another to act as collective decision-makers on matters of foreign policy. 

And yet, Ukraine is now entering its third week of protests in thermometer-shattering cold, and risking a nasty state crackdown, all because President Viktor Yanukovych put the kibosh on an association agreement that would have given Ukraine greater trade opportunities with the European Union. That this is an event both intelligible and singular for a former Soviet satellite that lies on the fault line between East and West was best captured by Timothy Snyder, that great historian of fault-line nations (and fault-line national tragedies), in a short essay in the New York Review of Books: "Would anyone anywhere in the world be willing to take a truncheon in the head for the sake of a trade agreement with the United States?" Implicit in the question is an acknowledgement that for the countries of the former Soviet Union, identity is shaped as much by what one does not aspire to be as by what one does.