“Trump urges NATO members to double military funding target”

BBC news story “Trump urges NATO members to double military funding target” – Link.

Currently, NATO members are required to give 2% of the entire country’s Gross Domestic Product to the arms industry, with the non-democratic body NATO dictating what they have to spend it on.  This is so NATO can defend Western Europe from a Soviet invasion by the Warsaw Pact.  That’s the Warsaw pact that was dissolved in 1991, some 27 years ago.

That means the arms industry is given, each year, the entire productivity of much of Europe and the USA and other countries for one week.  We don’t do this for education, health, homelessness or all manner of socially good things – just the means to kill people.

But now President Trump wants that doubled – doubled! – to 4%.  He says one 25th of all production in every sector of society should be given to the arms industry.

The Cold War ended over half my life ago.  Why are we still funding it at all?

Why should we cut health provision, housing, education, social welfare or anything else to pay for the tools and means to kill people?  It is insane.

Unless he’s a puppet of the arms industry.  Happy to take their money and doesn’t care what the cost will be to the world.

It was this kind of uplifting of military expenditure prior to the Great War that, arguably, helped lead to it occur.

 

An email to my MP: “Please do what you can to prevent escalation in Syria”

Subject: Please do what you can to prevent escalation in Syria

Dear Cat Smith MP,

You are my MP as I live at <my home address>.

Please do all you can to prevent the government escalating the situation in Syria.

The news this morning suggests the Prime Minister intends to carry out a military response to an alleged chemical attack which has not yet even been investigated.

  • After the recent embarrassment to Britain over the poisoning of the Russian agent and his daughter, I would have hoped the government would be more circumspect over this event.
  • The Syrian conflict is already a proxy war, where external agents are major players. The intervention by us now when the Syrian government appears to be winning is classic proxy war participant behaviour to attack the leading side to prolong the war. Even if this is not the case, it is how it is interpreted, and puts Britain in a very bad light.
  • A weak government is often perceived as being keen to go to war as a way to bolster support. Although that is a government fault, it reflects badly on us as a country reinforcing the impression that killing people overseas gets popular support from the British people.
  • Following the USA’s knee-jerk reaction an to international incident always makes Britain look weak, rather than making a powerful statement as claimed.
  • Following Donald Trump’s Twittered reaction to anything makes us look utterly ridiculous.
  • War should always be the last resort in diplomacy, not the first.
  • The poisoning, tit-for-tat diplomat expulsions, the misinformation over international events and accusations of false-flag actions are all very similar to activities in the Cold War. A military response at this time feels to me, as someone who remembers the tail end of the Cold War, a very dangerous escalation. The world still has nuclear weapons, I should dread for more generations to grow up under the fear of nuclear super-powers in a perpetual stand-off like that under which I grew up. It is crushing to ambition and hope for the future to know your life can be snuffed out by the whim of one’s own government or by an error in the nuclear command control. Please don’t let this government slide us back into the previous century.

I expect better arguments for not carrying out this strike will become apparent through the day.

As my elected representative, should the government bother to ask your opinion, please do all you can to communicate the foolishness of a violent escalation to the situation in Syria.

 

Talk: Russian-Ukrainian conflict: An ‘unexpected’ crisis

Today I attended a presentation at Liverpool Hope University’s Desmond Tutu Centre for War and Peace Studies entitled ‘Russian-Ukrainian conflict: An ‘unexpected’ crisis‘.  One guest and two staff speakers for about an hour then 20 minutes of Q&As.

The main talk was by guest Dr Vsevolod Samokhvalov (university lecturer, research fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies, policy analyst and journalist).  He told us about the two main narratives: the Russians invaded or it was the West’s fault.  Both are reductionist; he said the real situation is messier than messy.  He went on to explain the cultural history, how the Ukraine, Belorussia and Russia are closely related – “One nation divided by history” to use Putin’s words.  Sevastopol is culturally important to Russia as part of the Black Sea Region going back to ancient Greek times.  The region is ethnoculturally nationalistic Russki.  What the Russians really want is recognition by Western Europe.  The revolution in Ukraine was inevitable; the invasion of Crimea was an opportunity albeit “worse than a crime – a political mistake“.  Vsevolod gave us reasons for why this occurred, but this is a summary, not an essay.  Buy his book.

Next was Dr Natalia Vibla (Lecturer in Criminology at Liverpool Hope University).  She spoke of the human rights tragedies: over 10,000 killed (a quarter of them civilians) and 25,000 injured since 2014.  Some 25,000 people have been displaced.  There are hundreds in captivity and torture is being used by both sides.  Potential objectors are being accused of terrorist plots and typically get 20-year sentences.

Finally was Dr Taras Khomych (Lecturer in Theology at Liverpool Hope University).  He gave us the history and structure of the Orthodox church in Ukraine and the reaction of the various sections: unity, with the exception of the Orthodox Russian Church.  It has been a strongly religious country since post-Stalin.  The churches supported the protesters, as did the Jewish and Moslem leadership.  Protesting was seen as a pilgrimage from Russian fear to Christian dignity.  Many Russian Orthodox Church members left, and a number of Russian Orthodox Church parishes changed to other sections of the Eastern church.  Tartar Moslems offered the use of their mosque to Orthodox Christians, which was accepted.

Much of the following Q&A was about Russian fears and intentions.  Also questions about whether this was a new or continuing Cold War.  I think the consensus was Putin saw the opportunity to re-unite Russkis as part of his right wing ethnocultural nationalistic agenda and no further expansion was likely.

This morning there was a report on the radio about the armed forces needing more money to face the Russian threat.  BBC: “Army chief calls for investment to keep up with Russia“.  Telegraph: “Britain cannot keep up with Russian military advances, head of Army to warn as he makes case for more funding“.  In the context of today’s talk, that seems to me either the armed forces or NATO asking for funding for themselves.  Scaremongering to supplement the arms industry and their own ends.

The Guardian seems to agree in their analysis: “Does the UK really need to increase its defence spending?” – no.

Bombing for Peace. This time: Syria.

1.  Cameron loses Commons vote on Syria action

“It is clear to me that the British parliament…does not want to see British military action”

“”David Cameron, Prime Minister, 20th August 2013

BBC: “MPs have rejected possible UK military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government to deter the use of chemical weapons.  David Cameron said he would respect the defeat of a government motion by 285-272, ruling out joining US-led strikes.”

Had that very close vote gone the other way, we would be attacking Syria’s government, troops, infrastructure and, inevitably, civilians as “collateral damage”.


2.  MPs support UK air strikes against IS in Iraq

Intervention at the request of the Iraqi government was “morally justified” to combat a “brutal terrorist organisation” and was clearly lawful.  Britain has a clear “duty” to join the campaign, and IS is a direct threat to the UK and I am not prepared to “subcontract” the protection of British streets from terrorism to other countries’ air forces.

Paraphrasing of David Cameron, Prime Minister, 26th September 2014

BBC: “The UK Parliament has backed British participation in air strikes against Islamic State extremists in Iraq.  After a seven-hour debate, MPs voted for military action by 524 votes to 43.  Some MPs expressed concerns about the prospect of future engagement in Syria.”


3.   David Cameron believes ‘there ​i​s a case to do more’ in Syria

“British MPs need to think again about what else British forces can do to help moderate forces in Syria.”

David Cameron, Prime Minister, 2nd July 2015 via Downing Street

Guardian: “No 10 stressed it would be better if military action, likely to be air strikes, only went ahead if there was a consensus in the Commons.  Michael Fallon, defence secretary, said Isis was directed and led from northern Syria.  He vowed that if there was any decision to include air strikes in Syria as part of a full spectrum response (spot the weasel words), the government would seek the approval of parliament. “Our position remains that we would return to this house for approval before air strikes in Syria.  We are clear any action we take must not provide any succour to Assad’s regime.”  The prime minister’s spokeswoman stressed that British military assets were already flying over Syria, and British forces were helping to train members of the Syrian Free Army outside Syria itself.”

So we’re training ‘freedom fighters’ / ‘insurgents’ / future terrorists?  Isn’t that the classic mistake the CIA has been making for decades?


4.   Syria air strikes conducted by UK military pilots

” ”  ← (i.e. nothing so far)

David Cameron, Prime Minister, 17th July 2015

BBC: “UK pilots embedded with coalition allies’ forces have been conducting air strikes over Syria against the Islamic State group, it has emerged.  Crispin Blunt, Conservative MP and Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, said the 2013 vote on action in Syria was a “totally different decision” to the question of strikes on IS and that that decision had not been undermined.  Labour has indicated it would not oppose military action in Syria. Acting leader Harriet Harman has said the case for air strikes was now different to the situation in 2013, when Labour voted against UK military action in Syria.”

When was this discussed and arranged?  Apparently a couple of days ago when the Greece crisis was all over the news.  What a good day that was to bury bad news.

Both sides of the Commons are all for this.  Politicians are odd creatures: opposition in everything, everything, as a matter of principal, regardless of the logic, yet unity in wanting to extend violence.  There is something about the desire for power that results in a mind-set of wanting to see others hurt.  [ note to self – there’s a psychology essay to be written based on that last sentence. ]


It seems there are three sides in Syria:

  1. Assad’s regime which is being attacked by the US and allies.  UK troops may or may not be embedded and supporting these attacks.
  2. The revolutionaries trying to bring down Assad’s regime (sorry, who are these people exactly?) who are being trained by the UK.
  3. IS / ISIS / ISIL / whatever we are to call-them this week are being attacked by the US and allies and (covertly) the UK.

This is like the proxy wars of the Cold War in the1900s where NATO and the Warsaw Pact tested and demonstrated their weapons’ capabilities in other countries by supporting opposing sides.  At least then the West and East could pretend we/they were on opposite sides.  Now the West seems to be supporting the fighting on all sides.

Had the 2013 vote gone the other way (requiring a difference of just 7 MPs’ votes), we would be openly bombing all of Syria.  No wonder Moslems think there is a Holy War going on.

As for training the rebels (the next generation of elite mercenaries and terrorists) trying to bring down and take over Assad’s government, how many of them are now fighting for, leading, arming or training the IS / ISIS / ISIL forces?

Presumably, if and when IS / ISIS / ISIL have been defeated, the airstrikes will continue but against the Syrian government.  Therein lies the inevitable argument of the next few days: “We may as well start bombing Assad now to prevent his resources falling into IS / ISIS / ISIL hands“.  Yep, I predict a scorched earth policy, although it will not be called that.

Here we are in 2015, still bringing peace with bombs.  And how well has that been working since 2003?

There is no pax Americana

Bringing down stable governments of countries and failing to put something in its place is the principal cause of the terrorism and conflict going on in the world at the moment.

When the Romans invaded, they took control, dictating foreign policy, providing defence in exchange for a promise to not rebel and pay tribune.  In so doing peace reigned over the Roman Empire at the cost of freedoms at a national level. This was the pax Romana.

The Islamic Golden Age, inspired by the philosophy that “the ink of a scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr“, in which huge advances were made in medicine, mathematics, culture and science, was also a period of peace, sometimes called the pax Islamica.

A thousand years later the Mongols conquered much of Asia and held it to produce the Pax Mongolica.

The Ottoman Empire in turn provided peace to its citizens in the pax Ottomana.

A similar arrangement to the Roman Empire was achieved by the British Empire to produce the pax Britanicca.

Chinese empires have come and gone and provided their own periods of internal peace, as have many other cultures.

The concept of “empire” has come to be seen as purely a bad thing since the mid 20th century as countries gained their independence, partly through economic consequences of the World War 2, partly through improved communication and education and partly through the disruptive influences of the Cold War.  In place of an imposed external governing body, freedom for those of a territory has been granted, often with disastrous consequences.  The lesson that could and should have been learned from those experiences are that independence should be done slowly, replacing institutions and structures with new ones, a part at a time.  It is frustrating, but far more stable. [Note to self: specific examples needed.]  A clean break leaves a county with no stable government and civil war and decades of turmoil is the usual result.

But the desire to ignore the beneficial benefits of a benign empire has resulted in much chaos, death, suffering and desire for revenge of late years.  The removal of stable governments from countries like Iraq and Libya without replacing it with something else that works has been far worse than what most empires have done in the past.

It would have been cheaper and less destructive (but probably no more productive in the long term) to simply assassinate those leaders that were considered undesirable.  At least there would not be hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed civilians and a world-wide problem with revenge terrorism.

The idea the USA has been the global policeman producing a pax Americana is a fallacy.  They are not spreading peace: just fear and hate, chaos and disorder.

Instead of toppling a regime, take it over and change it from within, fools.  Learn from thousands of years of history.

Nuclear deterrent – Lord Gilbert

Lord Gilbert spoke a few months ago in the House of Lords on how the nuclear deterrent is effective in preventing wars.  At some point I’ll put his argument up here.  Meanwhile, a subset of his words were used in a number of articles online to say he was claiming we should “nuke the Taliban”.  It is ironic he was advocating a solution for maintaining peace to prevent the deaths of huge numbers of civilians and got attacked for it.

Anyway, you’ve gotta love the outraged headlines it produced.  Examples are:

As for what he said, this is taken from Hansard’s proceedings for 22nd November, 2012:

Lord Gilbert: … I draw your Lordships’ attention to what used to be called the neutron bomb.  The main thing was that it was not a standard nuclear warhead.  Its full title was the ERRB: Enhanced Radiation Reduced Blast weapon.  I can think of many uses for it in this day and age. … you could use an ERRB warhead to create cordons sanitaire along various borders where people are causing trouble.

I will give an example.  … nobody lives up in the mountains on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan except for a few goats and a handful of people herding them.  If you told them that some ERRB warheads were going to be dropped there and that it would be a very unpleasant place to go, they would not go there.  You would greatly reduce your problem of protecting those borders from infiltration from one side or another. These things are not talked about, but they should be, because there are great possibilities for deterrence in using the weapons that we already have.

© Parliamentary Copyright

He did not say we should nuke the Taliban.  He was saying there are options for deterrence that are not being considered because the subject is taboo.  The media reaction proved him right.  If you want to read it in context, which is about how deterrence is preferable to war, he started speaking at 3.42 pm.

One has to be very careful what one says when advocating peace methods other than going to outright war.  Many people don’t like it.  Weird, innit?

As H used to say:

If things don’t change, they’ll stay the same.

Proxy Wars

(Originally written 05/11/2012.)

During the Cold War, because of fear of escalation between NATO and the Soviet Union, proxy wars were undertaken in third party locations.

Massive economies; substantial training and arming of civilians to produce armed militia from otherwise unarmed civilians; a legacy of weapons and gun-culture; little or no risk to the sponsors of damage; vast amounts of matériel could be deployed upon the citizens of the target country.

End-of-life or redundant weapons and date-expired ammunition and explosives can be disposed of en masse quickly and cheaply without the cost of safe disposal nor any fear of the consequences of their failure.

Consequently, huge amounts of damage are done to the victim country where the proxy war is played out.

Used as a way of striking at an opponent through a third party, at great cost in life and suffering to the third party.  The damage to the third party is far greater than to the opponent.

They also function as weapons testing grounds, thereby ensuring the newest, most unpleasant and yet-to-be-banned weapons can be tested on the people of the proxy country, without risk to the user or even the opponent.  Hence the effects can be far worse.

This is what providing arms and air support in the Arab Spring is all about.

Children of The Bomb

(Originally written 19/10/2012.)

There was a common acceptance when I was at school that

“There’s not much point getting O Levels or A Levels.  We’ll be dead before we start work anyway”.

This was because we were growing up in the Cold War, after the Cuban Missile Crisis / October Crisis / Caribbean Crisis / Kарибский кризис had occurred, when it was clear the USA really would consider use of a first-strike with nuclear weapons, and knowing there were Mutually Assured Destruction policies in place on both sides.  That is, one small error or political crisis would result in the destruction of missile sites in the UK, and the death of most everyone in Europe and certainly us children before we’d had a chance to grow up.

This made it hard to find the motivation to plan for the future, as there was little point.  There were many of us who had poor grades as a consequence of this, including some who gave up althogether.

And we all knew how we were going to spend our last 7 minutes when the sirens went off.  We certainly talked about it often enough.

Growing up in such a climate cannot be healthy.  Off the top of my head, our cultural exposure included:

1979 – the Protect and Survive films like Casualties
1983 – 99 Red Balloons – Lena
1983 – WarGames
1984 – Two Tribes – Frankie Goes to Hollywood (“War!  What is it good for?” *)
1984 – Threads
1985 – The War Game
1986 – When the Wind Blows

All manner of cheerfulness: www.atomica.co.uk/culture.

Perhaps it is no surprise that my generation, born in the 1960s, have such a strong “think of the children” and “children must be allowed freedom” and “children must be protected from fear” mindset.

My mother, who lived through the second World War, said the Cold War was a huge improvement over the hot sort.

 

* Record sales, apparently.