Category Archives: Arms trade

Was the meeting of UN’s Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems cancelled to delay action affecting UK and US investment?

In 2015 Max Tegmark (professor, MITT) reported, in the Future of Life Institute, that Artificial Intelligence & Robotics researchers warned in an open letter:

“Autonomous weapons select and engage targets without human intervention. They might include, for example, armed quadcopters that can search for and eliminate people meeting certain pre-defined criteria, but do not include cruise missiles or remotely piloted drones for which humans make all targeting decisions. Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has reached a point where the deployment of such systems is—practically if not legally—feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high: autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.”

Today (Aug. 21), Quartz reports that in a second open letter a group of specialists from 26 nations, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman, as well as other leaders in robotics and artificial-intelligence companies, called for the United Nations to ban the development and use of autonomous weapons.

In recent years Musk has repeatedly warned against the dangers of AI, donating millions to fund research that ensures artificial intelligence will be used for good, not evil. He joined other tech luminaries in establishing OpenAI, a nonprofit with the same goal in mind and part of his donation went to create the Future of Life Institute.

“As companies building the technologies in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics that may be repurposed to develop autonomous weapons, we feel especially responsible in raising this alarm. We warmly welcome the decision of the UN’s Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) to establish a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems. Many of our researchers and engineers are eager to offer technical advice to your deliberations . . .

“Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways. We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”

The first meeting for the UN’s recently established Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems is now planned for November. It was to be held today, but was cancelled, the letter notes, “due to a small number of states failing to pay their financial contributions to the UN.”

Critics have argued for years that UN action on autonomous weapons is taking too long.

The UK and the US have increased investment on robotic and autonomous systems by committing to a joint programme (announced by UK Defence Minister Philip Dunne and US Under Secretary of Defense Frank Kendall, right).

Observers say the UK and US are seeking to protect their heavy investment in these technologies – some directly harmful and others servicing  military operations – by ‘watering down’ an agreement so that it only includes emerging technology, meaning that any weapons put into practice while discussions continue are beyond the reach of a ban.

 

 

 

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A Times reader emphasises the growing awareness of the imperative to eradicate ‘the frankly corrupt, hypocritical behaviour some British MPs have indulged in for decades’

Oliver Wright, policy editor for The Times, focusses only on the tip of the iceberg – the ‘revolving door’. He reports a recommendation by the public administration select committee (PASC) that ministers and civil servants should be banned from taking up lucrative private sector jobs for two years when they leave office. (The article may be read here – possible paywall.) They said that more than 600 former ministers and senior civil servants had been appointed to 1,000 business roles. The committee wants the government to impose a two-year ban on taking up jobs that relate “directly to their previous areas of policy and responsibility”.

From many instances Mr Wright singled out:

  • Lord Hague of Richmond, who now advises Teneo, an international business consultancy,
  • Sir Ed Davey, the former energy secretary, who advises a PR and lobbying company that lists EDF Energy as a client.
  • Mark Britnell (though un-named in the article), a former director-general of commissioning at the Department of Health who became global head of healthcare at KPMG, which bids for government health contracts.

There is no reference to extra ‘jobs’ done whilst MPs are in office – except from one of The Times readers who bluntly writes: “Any MP should not be able to hold any extra job outside the House of Parliament”. Constituency work and special responsibilities – if properly attended to – would occupy an MP full time.

The parliamentary decision-making process is sometimes shown, with hindsight, to have been affected by MPs’ connections with the armaments, healthcare and tobacco  industry and many companies based in tax havens.

Property interests are less well covered, but itemised two months ago in Property Week:

 

Social Investigations reports that their research into Lords’ and MPs’ connections to private healthcare through the register of interests is complete.

Below are listed a few of the key findings. Research into the Health and Social Care bill is ongoing and more facts will be added as and when they arise.

  • 225 parliamentarians have recent or present financial private healthcare connections
  • 145 Lords have recent or present financial connections to companies or individuals involved in healthcare
  • 1 in 4 Conservative Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies or individuals involved in healthcare
  • 1 in 6 Labour Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies or individuals involved in healthcare
  • 1 in 6 Crossbench Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies or individuals involved in healthcare
  • 1 in 10 Liberal Democrat Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies or individuals involved in healthcare
  • 75 MPs have recent or present financial links to companies or individuals involved in private healthcare
  • 81% of these are  Conservative
  • 4 Key members of the Associate Parliamentary Health Group have parliamentarians with financial connections to companies or individuals involved in healthcare.

Endnote: a Times reader comments: “When I was growing up British MPs would sneer at the corrupt goings on by politicians from various pejoratively termed ‘banana republics’ and declare that such behaviour would never be tolerated in the UK. Well, it soon became obvious that this was nonsense and the issues outlined in this June article illustrate the frankly corrupt, hypocritical behaviour our British MPs have indulged in for decades, and the higher the office they occupied the more hypocritical the behaviour – proving time and again the accuracy of the saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 3: ‘strong and stable government’: by the rich, for the rich, at the expense of the rest

Government for Britain’s rich: strong and stable; for its 99%: a crumbling NHS and farming sector, expensive public transport, vanishing libraries and cuts for the young, the poor and the frail .

Those who are ‘just about managing’ live in the only ‘big advanced economy’ in which wages contracted (2007-2015) while the economy expanded, the cost of living rose and multinational profits rocketed.

Pett lists the end goals which would benefit the 99% and the wreckers

As Eisenhower said, we need a humane government which would focus on the well-being of all, not the profits of the few and stop being complicit in slaughter . . .

 

and we should strengthen local/regional economies.

 

Close the global casino and the revolving door between big business and government

and offer all, especially superfluous managers and young commodity traders, socially beneficial work

 

 

 

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Elite stranglehold on Britain – unbreakable?

As Steve Beauchampé writes in the Birmingham Press and Political Concern, generations of an elite have ruled this nation (with a few intermissions) for as long as anyone can remember, due to a rigged electoral system.

Their dual achievements:

  • comfortable tax arrangements for the few, a political/corporate nexus which ensures highly paid and nominal duties for all in the inner circle
  • vast military expenditure bestowed on the arms industry, as rising numbers of the population survive in relative poverty, wait in hospital corridors, receive a sub-standard education and depend on handouts to eke out their existence.

Direction of travel

Beauchampé:(The) economy is increasingly kept afloat by the economic support of China . . . The modern high-rise residential blocks that have sprung up throughout the capital may give the impression of a modern, flourishing economy, but look closely and you will see that many are all but empty, whilst homelessness and a reliance on subsistence level housing grows . . . “He notes that surveillance is at an historic high with spy cameras, and even microphones installed in many public places -describing the state’s ability to track the population and follow their activities and conversations as ‘frightening’. . .

The elite stranglehold could be broken

OB’s editor agrees with many that electoral reform is a priority for beneficial change – but even under the rigged ‘first past the post’ system, if the weary mass of people (Brenda of Bristol)  saw the true situation they would vote for the candidate with a credible track record who would be most likely to work for the common good.

 

 

 

 

North Korea focus? Britain in the dock

As tensions rise over North Korea, Steve Beauchampé writes in the Birmingham Press about the parallels between Britain and North Korea 

Extracts

Generations of an elite have ruled this nation for as long as anyone can remember. Such is their power that if there is dissent it is effectively hidden from us, denied the oxygen of publicity. The Dear Leader and ministers live in numerous large, extravagantly furnished, decorative palaces, enjoying the trappings of vast wealth. Walk the streets of the capital and you will soon see monuments, statues and other references to the Dear Leader, their family and the country’s most heroic military endeavours adorning public squares, streets and buildings.

In recent years the country has taken an increasingly bellicose and belligerent tone, threatening to launch unprovoked attacks on other sovereign states, driving them back into the middle ages and forcing their governments from power in the process. it has been busy developing increasingly sophisticated long range missiles and a nuclear weapons capability designed to strike fear into its enemies and anyone else whom it perceives as a threat, vast military expenditure whilst rising numbers of the population survive in poverty, dependent on daily food handouts to eek out an existence

Its economy is increasingly kept afloat by the economic support of China. The modern high-rise residential blocks that have sprung up throughout the capital may give the impression of a modern, flourishing economy, but look closely and you will see that many are all but empty, whilst homelessness and a reliance on subsistence level housing grows.

Surveillance is at an historic high with spy cameras, and increasingly even microphones, installed in nearly all public places and with the state’s ability to track the population and follow their activities and conversations now at frighteningly sophisticated levels.

Tensions are rising across the border, where the neighbouring government has been pursuing a much more internationalist direction. Indeed, heightened divisions have been evident with most neighbouring countries since last summer, and talk of war with one of them over a territorial dispute briefly surfaced as recently as a fortnight ago.

Yes, welcome to Britain.

 

 

 

 

Murdoch press lists corporate spending on political and lobbying activities

Times journalists Alex Ralph, and Harry Wilson present and comment on material collected by the Times Data Team: Tom Wills, Ryan Watts, Kira Schacht. Links have been added by PCU’s editor to enable readers to learn more if they wish to do so.

“FTSE 100 groups, including banks, defence contractors, tobacco manufacturers and telecoms companies, have spent more than £24 million on lobbying in Brussels and about £335,000 funding all-party parliamentary groups in Westminster”.

They add: “There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing or rule-breaking by companies”.

FTSE 100 political spending (over the last two years)

The Times first focusses on All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs)

APPGs are run by and for Members of the Commons and Lords who join together to pursue a particular topic or interest. Many involve individuals and organisations from outside Parliament in their administration and activities – or as the journalists put it, “help to push industry agendas in parliament”. Read more here.

Unsurprisingly, BAE Systems, which spent £37,000 on a group “to promote better understanding of the Her Majesty’s armed forces in parliament”, is among the biggest backers of the parliamentary groups.

The writers comment that parliamentary groups have proved contentious because of the large amounts spent on reports that often support the views of industry and which grant access to parliament for companies and lobbyists.

BT’s £53,000 included backing the parliamentary internet, communications and technology forum, known as Pictfor, whose members include Tom Watson, the Labour deputy leader and Lord Birt, former Blair adviser and director-general of the BBC. A list of funders may be seen here.

Note: ’Donations to APPGs’ shows spending between Jan 2015 and Mar 2017 as declared on the Register of APPGs. ’Spend on EU lobbying’ shows companies’ minimum estimates for the most recent financial year declared on the EU Transparency Register at the time of research. Here is a snapshot taken from one of 10 pages listing donations/other spending and the companies’ rationales for these sums being given.

The Times’ second focus is on the denial of information to shareholders

Less than £10,000 of identified political and lobbying spending in the EU was disclosed to shareholders in the companies’ recent annual reports. ompanies are not required to disclose details to shareholders and little information on corporate political and lobbying activities is revealed in annual reports, which are published before shareholder meetings. The tens of millions of euros spent each year in the EU go largely undeclared to shareholders.

Corporate Europe, which campaigns for greater transparency in EU decision making, has spent years tracking how the business world moulds policy.

Vicky Cann, the group’s UK representative, said that the banking and energy industries were the most active lobbyists. “The financial services industry is a huge spender and even then we think the real scope of their spending is probably bigger than we can currently see,” she said. Her colleague gave the example of recent emissions legislation that was the subject of intense lobbying by BP and Shell.

As Peter van Veen, director of business integrity at Transparency International, said, “Corporate transparency over political activities is important to ensure the public can have the confidence that their politicians and industry leaders are conducting business ethically . . . If companies are not voluntarily willing to disclose their political activities and funding of these, then stronger legislation should be considered and a possible starting point may be to broaden the definition of political activities and expenditure in the Companies Act 2006.”

 

 

 

 

Why try to oust Assad? A tale of gas and oil pipelines?

A brief reference on Radio 4’s Today programme (12.04.17) led to an online search. The most prosaic and well-referenced account was found in the Guardian:

In 2009 – the same year former French foreign minister Dumas alleges the British began planning operations in Syria – Assad refused to sign a proposed agreement with Qatar that would run a pipeline from the latter’s North field, contiguous with Iran’s South Pars field, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey, with a view to supply European markets – albeit crucially bypassing Russia.

(Ed: It was also reported in Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News that Moscow rejected a Saudi proposal to abandon Syria’s president in return for a huge arms deal and a pledge to boost Russian influence in the Arab world, diplomats told AFP.Turkey’s desire for Qatari gas was recorded in 2009 in an article in United Arab Emirates’ National News. Saudi pipeline above right)

An Agence France-Presse report claimed Assad’s rationale was “to protect the interests of [his] Russian ally, which is Europe’s top supplier of natural gas”. Instead, the following year, Assad pursued negotiations for an alternative $10 billion pipeline plan with Iran, across Iraq to Syria, that would also potentially allow Iran to supply gas to Europe from its South Pars field shared with Qatar. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the project was signed in July 2012 – just as Syria’s civil war was spreading to Damascus and Aleppo – and earlier this year Iraq signed a framework agreement for construction of the gas pipelines.  The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline plan was a “direct slap in the face” to Qatar’s plans. No wonder Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, in a failed attempt to bribe Russia to switch sides, told President Vladimir Putin* that “whatever regime comes after” Assad, it will be “completely” in Saudi Arabia’s hands and will “not sign any agreement allowing any Gulf country to transport its gas across Syria to Europe and compete with Russian gas exports”, according to diplomatic sources. When Putin refused, the Prince vowed military action

It is alleged that the U.S., the Saudis and Qataris are using Al Qaeda and other groups to conquer a strip through Syria so that U.S. companies such as Halliburton will be able to place pipelines there, to convey Saudi oil and Qatari gas to be marketed in Europe by U.S. firms such as Exxon.

Is this the real reason for wholesale slaughter and destruction?

*Guardian link failed- alternative source inserted.

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“Our ‘noble’ cause? Dropping bombs on behalf of Al Qaeda”

This is the title of Peter Hitchens’ latest article found after hearing a reference on Radio 4.

He asks readers to:

  • consider first that early on Friday morning the United States Navy launched 59 cruise missiles on behalf of Al Qaeda;
  • note that the President of the United States did not even bother to pretend that he was seeking United Nations cover for what he did;.
  • note next that in the same week our Prime Minister, Theresa May, made a duty visit to pay homage to the medieval despots of Saudi Arabia, who kindly buy our warplanes and bombs and are currently using them to savage effect in Yemen
  • and that President Trump was playing host at the White House to the head of Egypt’s military junta, General el-Sisi, whose security forces undoubtedly massacred at least 600 protesters (probably many more) in the streets of Cairo in August 2013.
  • Then mark that the pretext for this bizarre rocket attack was an unproven claim that President Assad of Syria had used poison gas.

Yes, an unproven claim. No independent western diplomat or journalist can gain access to the scene of the alleged atrocity, and what information we have is controlled by Al Nusra.

Another question from Hitchens (left): “Is the gassing of children (undoubtedly a horror) so *much* worse than the other atrocities which the USA knowingly tolerates among its clients in the Middle East, or indeed excuses as collateral damage in such places as Mosul and Ramadi?” The brutality of Sisi and the Saudis is beyond doubt. They didn’t use gas, but our leaders’ outrage at Assad’s alleged gas attack looks a little contrived if they keep such company.

What happened to the rules of evidence? Many people have written, spoken – and now acted – as if the charge was proven. Why the hurry?

Assad is currently winning his war against Islamist fanatics, with conventional weapons. He had finally got the USA to stop demanding his dismissal: “Five days before the alleged attack – five days! – America’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, announced: ‘Our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out’ . . . He knows that the use of poison gas is the one thing that will make the USA intervene against him. They have said so.

So why would he do such a thing, and throw away all his victories in a few minutes? It makes no sense of any kind”.

Hitchens points out that the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, alias the Al-Nusra Front, the Syrian ‘opposition’ which we in the West have been supporting for several years . . . is the local franchise of ‘Al Qaeda’.

Al-Nusra is the Saudi-backed group which seeks the removal of Assad as leader of Syria controls the area where the alleged gas attack took place, and controls all the information coming out of that area. He describes atrocities they have committed and continues. “This is the group whose aims the USA is now supporting, and backing with cruise missiles”.

The only big difference he can see between Al Qaeda and Islamic State is that we drop bombs on Islamic State. And that therefore, in effect, we are dropping these bombs on behalf of Al-Nusra/Al Qaeda. 

Hitchens believes, “The once-wealthy and powerful West is bankrupt and increasingly at the mercy of people who have begun to demand something in return for their trade and their loans. It is all very sordid, and bodes ill for the future”. He ends:

“I would mind it less if we admitted what we were doing, rather than pretending these wretched events were some sort of noble act”.

 

 

 

 

British politicians: stop shouting adjectives, banging drums and dropping bombs (Jenkins) and exert unrelenting international pressure for a negotiated settlement (Corbyn)

Paul Ingram, executive director of BASIC*, commented on Simon Jenkins’ statement quoted in today’s article on another website:

“It is a war crime to disable, maim or poison a victim by chemical or biological means, yet it is permissible to blow them to bits. Dropping chlorine evokes howls of horror. Dropping bunker busters does not. Cluster munitions, the most horrible of delayed action weapons, remain in the arsenals of NATO armies”.

Paul (left) wrote: “Fair enough, and of course I agree that the war mongering these last two days, particularly by the BBC, is shocking indeed. But to equate CW with other munitions is to miss the point that they are expressly illegal, and we have to be building up stronger humanitarian law piece by piece and defending strongly those pieces already in place”.

The editor replied: “Yes, I think Jenkins could have made a valid point just by referring to conventional bombs”. After checking on the illegality of cluster bombs she asked Paul, “Did US ever sign this?”

He replied, “No, I don’t think the US is a signatory. It certainly hasn’t ratified” and continued:

“I was on Russia Today yesterday saying that the best response for the Russians now would be to strengthen their call for a UN Security Council meeting and present all the evidence they have that the chemical weapons attack was not a Syrian air force one … or to come up with further evidence for their current explanation.

“The worst aspect of the cruise missile attack was the way it by-passed the UN Security Council and was illegal and is a major step in the direction of unilateralism and flagrant use of force.

“There are plenty of conspiracy theories going around, but the consequences are that Russia will no longer tolerate US aircraft over Syria and will strengthen the S300-400 systems that appear to have shot a majority of the 59 cruise missiles out of the sky.

“… and I see that Russia is sending its own missile destroyer into the Med today”.

 

 

Will parliament stand firm again?

*The British American Security Information Council (BASIC) works to address security challenges by building confidence in a shared, sustainable security agenda. We work in both nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states, with a specific expert focus on the UK, US, Europe and the Middle East.

 

 

 

Introducing Political Barb: “Chocolate, Weapons and War”

It’s that time of year again, or more accurately one of those two times of year. The time when the right-wing media works itself into a frenzy over perceived slights against Christianity.

Steve Beauchampé points out that the Daily Telegraph, in a move made to bolster profits, forces many of its staff to work producing a paper on Easter Sunday (and Christmas Day), just as it expects newsagents to open on Easter Sunday to sell that day’s version of the Telegraph and help to raise those profits and the remuneration paid to its senior staff.

Despite this it feels able to ‘froth at the mouth’, claiming that the National Trust was ‘airbrushing’ Easter’. He highlights the ‘faux anger’ generated by a joint National Trust/Cadbury event called the Great Egg Hunt (omitting the word Easter) –  the National Trust website, though it uses the word Easter 13,000 times, and because one of Cadburys best-selling products is called a creme egg – not a creme Easter egg.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Theresa May finds time in her busy schedule of hawking arms and British military expertise to the tyrannical rulers of Oman, Jordan and the daddy of all despots, Saudi Arabia, to call the absence of the word Easter in the NT/Cadbury promotion “absolutely ridiculous”.

 

This, as she should be saying: “the United Kingdom is in danger of fracturing apart and Sturgeon’s running rings around me, I’ve got a generally weak hand to play in the Brexit negotiations whatever Duncan-Smith tells you and I daren’t lose Gibraltar because it’s a British military base and one of our numerous off-shore tax havens, particularly attractive to casinos …and you’re bothering me with this!!?”

The Daily Telegraph is bothered about the word Easter being missed off the title of a children’s hunt for chocolate eggs:

  • one week after the UK served notification of its intention to leave the EU,
  • a senior Tory has suggested that we might go to war with Spain,
  • our Trade Secretary is in the Philippines meeting the self-confessed killer President Duterte and speaking of the two nations’ shared values’,
  • the Chancellor is offering India access to our potentially low tax, low regulation banking sector
  • and Theresa May is off selling yet more weapons to middle east dictators (she must be on commission with BAE Systems!).

Beauchampé’s final comment: “Nice to see the pro-government wing of the Third Estate getting their priorities right”.  

First published in the BirminghamPress.com: http://thebirminghampress.com/2017/04/chocolate-weapons-and-war/ . Republished in https://politicalcleanup.wordpress.com/political-barbs/chocolate-weapons-and-war/