Category Archives: Defence
Was the meeting of UN’s Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems cancelled to delay action affecting UK and US investment?
“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.
To avoid escalation, frontline troops in the area do not generally carry weapons
In June a column of Chinese troops accompanied construction vehicles and road-building equipment moving south into what Bhutan considers its territory. Bhutan requested assistance from Delhi.
The Chinese and Indian troops reportedly clashed by ritualised “jostling” captured on Indian TV: bumping chests, without punching or kicking, in order to force the other side backwards.
Yesterday, the FT highlighted another strategy as Chinese troops hold a banner reading ‘You’ve crossed the border, please go back’ in Ladakh, India
The Press Trust of India, India’s national news agency, reported that troops on both sides suffered minor injuries in a scuffle on the banks of Pangong Lake, on India’s Independence Day holiday.
It began when Chinese troops twice attempted to enter territory claimed by India. The news agency said that Indian border police formed a chain to block Chinese troops, who responded by throwing stones. Indian forces responded in kind, and the melee lasted about half an hour before both sides pulled back, the agency said.
An Indian foreign ministry spokesman said: “As there is no commonly delineated boundary on the line of actual control, such a situation arises from time to time, and these are dealt with at the local level”.
As Boris Johnson rattles his sabre and peddles unsettling fantasies, a Chinese minister refers to Britain’s track record: bringing chaos and humanitarian disaster
On Thursday there was a joint meeting between British and Australian foreign and defence ministers, who discussed closer defence and trade co-operation as the UK prepares to leave the EU.
Boris Johnson, Britain’s foreign secretary, said that Britain was stepping up its commitment to the Asia-Pacific region following its dispatch of Typhoon aircraft to Japan and South Korea last year and plans to sail two new ‘vast, colossal’ aircraft carriers through contested Asian waters at a time of rising tensions between China and the US.
Jamie Smyth in Melbourne (FT) reports that Mr Johnson repeated this claim later in Sydney: “One of the first things we will do with the two new colossal aircraft carriers that we have just built is send them on a freedom of navigation operation to this area,”
HMS Queen Elizabeth is due to come into service in 2020 but HMS Prince of Wales is not due until 2023. They are designed to support F-35 fighter jets, which the UK will not have until 2020, according to the National Audit Office.
Belief in selected tenets of the rules-based international system
Mr Johnson said the aim was to vindicate our belief in the rules-based international system – freely ignored by UK<USA and allies when bombing civilians in several regions – and the freedom of navigation through those waterways which are absolutely vital to world trade.
Will Boris be foreign secretary long enough to implement this – or will he be long gone?
Euan Graham, an analyst at the Lowy Institute think-tank, said Mr Johnson’s commitment to Asian waters was unlikely to take effect until the early 2020s when the carriers would be ready to sail to the region.
The (‘blond British wombat’) foreign secretary told The Australian newspaper that legal certainty in the South China Sea was important and that Britain had a role to play in the region that would be welcomed by many: “People want the involvement of a country that sticks up for the rules-based international system, that is prepared to deploy its military in the area”.
On Friday CNN reports that Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang said “certain outside countries are determined to stir up trouble” in the region. Whatever banners these countries or officials claim to uphold, and whatever excuses they claim to have, their track record of bringing chaos and humanitarian disasters through their so-called moral interventions in other parts of the world is enough to make nations and peoples in the region maintain high vigilance.”
As Jeremy Corbyn implied: “The West should reflect on its part in prolonging the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”
It is the 50th anniversary week of the Six-Day War of 1967 when Israel seized 1,200 square water-rich kilometres of the Golan Heights from Syria and later annexed it – though its right to this land has never been recognised by the international community.
Donald Macintyre, who lived in Jerusalem for many years and won the 2011 Next Century Foundation’s Peace Through Media Award, recalls in the Independent that fifty years ago Shlomo Gazit, head of the Israeli military intelligence’s assessment department, heard detailed reports of the destruction that morning of almost the entire Egyptian air force by Israeli jets – his 23-year-old nephew being among the few missing Israeli pilots. He then started work on a clear-sighted blueprint for the future of the territories Israel had occupied, arguing that “Israel should not humiliate its defeated enemies and their leaders.”
Jerusalem: an open city or UN headquarters?
There were then, as now, many leading Zionist Israelis who believed that occupation was a wholly wrong course. Gazit outlined plans for an independent, non-militarised Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip; the Old City of Jerusalem would become an “open city … with an international status resembling that of the Vatican”.
A British Quaker, Richard Rowntree, advocated moving the UN Headquarters from New York to Jerusalem and years later Sir Sydney Giffard, a former British Ambassador to Japan, presented the social and economic advantages to Israelis and Palestinians of moving the UN Headquarters to the vicinity of Jerusalem (Spectator link only accessible if account created). Whilst recognising difficulties and obstacles, Giffard felt that UN member states giving determined support to this project “could enable the UN to effect a transformation – both of its own and of the region’s character – of historic significance”.
But after 50 years the Palestinians, as Macintyre points out, “a resourceful and mainly well-educated population, are still imprisoned in a maze of checkpoints closures and military zones, deprived of civil and political rights and governed by martial law (denounced by Mehdi Hasan here, destruction of sewage system pictured above). And all this nearly three decades after Yasser Arafat agreed to end the conflict in return for a state on Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – 22% of historic Palestine (Even Hamas, so long one of many excuses for not reaching a deal, last month issued its qualified support for such an outcome)”.
“The West should reflect on its part in prolonging the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”
Under this heading, Macintyre points out that the US provides Israel with over $3bn (£2.3bn) a year in military aid and the EU implements trade agreements which exempt only the most flagrant economic activity in the settlements from its provisions, leading Benjamin Netanyahu to believe he can maintain the occupation with impunity.
He summarises the potential gains of a peace agreement for Israel: “full diplomatic and economic relations with the Arab world, an end to the growing perception of Israel as an apartheid state, the reduction of costs – moral and financial – to its own citizens of using a conscript army to enforce the occupation”.
Co-existence in Iran
In several Stirrer articles, opening with this one, Richard Lutz reports on his visits to Iran – as a Jew, albeit lapsed – and Roger Cohen’s account in the New York Times is not to be missed. He – like Lutz, “treated with such consistent warmth” in Iran, says, “It’s important to decide what’s more significant: the annihilationist anti-Israel ranting, the Holocaust denial and other Iranian provocations — or the fact of a Jewish community living, working and worshipping in relative tranquillity. Perhaps I have a bias toward facts over words, but I say the reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran — its sophistication and culture — than all the inflammatory rhetoric”.
As so many civilised Israelis and Palestinians work for peace, some details recorded here, and the settlement of Neve Shalom (above) shows what is possible, Macintyre ends by saying that it is not just the Israelis and the Palestinians who should be reflecting this week on the impact of what is surely the longest occupation in modern history:
“It is time for the Western powers to reflect on their part in prolonging a conflict which will never end of its own accord”.
People in Iraq, Libya and Yemen are desperate for strong and stable government. Theresa May is partly why they don’t have it, says Steve Beauchampé.
The General Election campaign has returned after last week’s brief hiatus and with it a volley of unedifying Conservative attacks on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s historic support for a united Ireland and the Palestinian people, highlighting the most tenuous of links and associations.
Yet serious examination of Jeremy Corbyn’s activism shows him to have been on the right side of history and ahead of mainstream public opinion time and again, standing up for anti-racist and anti-apartheid causes, refugees and asylum seekers, gender equality, the LGBT community, environmental issues, animal rights and the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination and self-expression long before such things gained widespread acceptance. Perhaps not surprising then that when you campaign in support of so many marginalised groups and outsider causes that you will from time to time encounter those whose frustrations and sense of powerlessness has led them to step outside of the law.
As regards Irish republicanism Corbyn’s attempts to achieve conflict resolution through dialogue may at times have been naive, but were his actions so dissimilar to the approach adopted around the same time by MI5 and later by John Major, both of whom ultimately realised that a decades-old conflict, whose death toll was inexorably rising, could not be won solely by military means?
But whilst Jeremy Corbyn’s peripheral rôle in the republican cause has been (and continues to be) pored over and examined by his opponents half a lifetime later, the record and judgement of Theresa May with regard to much more recent UK military interventions requires equally forensic scrutiny given her claims to be a fit and proper person to lead Britain.
And frankly, history’s judgement on this aspect of Theresa May is unlikely to be generous. After first being elected an MP in 1997, she voted in favour of the 2003 invasion of Iraq (having already supported the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in the frenzied post-9/11 atmosphere). Like so many of her colleagues on the opposition Conservative benches at the time, May failed to hold the Blair government to account despite the widely expressed caution of many experts over both the reasons for going to war and the lack of a post-conflict plan to stabilise Iraq. Instead, May limply and dutifully gave her support.
What followed for Iraqis has been almost fifteen years of societal breakdown throughout large parts of this once architectural, cultural and scholastic gem of a nation, with swathes of land occupied until recently by Islamic State and a fracturing of the country along religious, sectarian and tribal lines in a way that will be hard, if not impossible, to heal.
By 2011, and as the then Home Secretary in the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition government, Theresa May backed the Anglo/Franco-led military action in Libya, which despite its billing as merely creating a no-fly zone to protect civilians and rebel fighters, mainly located in the east of the country, quickly escalated into regime change, culminating in the overthrow and lynching of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Again, as a senior government minister Theresa May ignored warnings that historic tribal divisions, the absence of a strong and stable government or a long-term strategic plan would quickly fracture the country.
Six years on and Libya exists in little more than name only. There is no central government, armed militias and feudal warlords hold considerable power, whilst every international Islamist terror group of substance now boasts a flourishing branch office in the country from where they increasingly export their murderous ideologies. And every month, if not every week, scores of desperate migrants, people who long ago lost all control of their lives, drown off the Libyan coast whilst seeking something better than the hell that their lives have spiralled into.
Learning nothing from history and the consequences of her own actions, in August 2013 Theresa May supported Prime Minster David Cameron’s unsuccessful attempt to persuade MPs to back UK air strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The absence yet again of a coherent post-conflict strategy was sufficient for Labour leader Ed Miliband to refuse his party’s support to Cameron, who narrowly lost a House of Commons vote on the issue. The main beneficiaries of such an intervention, with its intention to downgrade Assad’s military capabilities (if not to remove him from power), would likely have been the plethora of extremist groups engaged in the Syrian civil war, principal amongst them the then nascent Islamic State.
Since becoming Prime Minister Theresa May has continued the supply of British made weapons and military expertise to Saudi Arabia for use in its war crime-strewn bombing campaign in Yemen, a campaign which has killed countless numbers of civilians and is fast creating yet another failed state in the region.
Iraq, Libya and increasingly Yemen: countries where British military interventions have created power vacuums swiftly filled by a combination of anarchy, lawlessness, violence and economic depravation, with catastrophic consequences and relentless, unending misery for millions of civilians.
Theresa May supported each and every one of these military interventions. Jeremy Corbyn opposed all of them. So whose judgement would you trust?
May 29th 2017
Written for The BirminghamPress.com
“Jeremy Corbyn is perfectly right to relate this week’s Manchester terrorist atrocity to British foreign policy in the Middle East.”
A Moseley reader draws attention to the thoughts of Simon Jenkins in the Guardian today. A summary:
Jenkins asserted that Jeremy Corbyn is perfectly right to relate this week’s Manchester terrorist atrocity to British foreign policy in the Middle East.
He reminded all that Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron clearly stated that they were spending soldiers’ lives toppling regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya at enormous expense in order to “to prevent terrorism in the streets of Britain”.
In the Andrew Neil programme this evening Corbyn added that Boris Johnson, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee – and MI5 had also expressed these views ‘on record’!
Their aim was to suppress militant Islam but Jenkins points out that when their intervention clearly led to an increase in Islamist terrorism, we are entitled to agree with Corbyn that it has “simply failed”.
We committed armed aggression against sovereign peoples who had not attacked us
Regimes were indeed toppled. Tens of thousands died, many of them civilians every bit as innocent as Manchester’s victims. Terrorism has not stopped.
Militant Islamists are indeed seeking to subvert the west’s sense of security and its liberal values. But the west used the language of “shock and awe” in bombing Baghdad in 2003, giving the current era of Islamist terrorism a cause, a reason, an excuse, however perverted.
Jenkins ends: “Islamist terrorism is related to foreign policy. However hateful it may seem to us, it is a means to a political end. Sometimes it is as well to call a spade a spade”.
Broken Britain 3: ‘strong and stable government’: by the rich, for the rich, at the expense of the rest
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
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.
In a recent post on this site, economist Martin Wolf (FT) was quoted, reminding readers of the words of Theresa May, the prime minister, in her speech to the Conservative party conference last year: “Our economy should work for everyone, but if your pay has stagnated for several years in a row and fixed items of spending keep going up, it doesn’t feel like it’s working for you.” She earnestly promised that this would change.
He continued: “Was Mrs May’s speech hypocritical? Yes”. (See MP Dawn Butler, 2nd paragraph)
In similar vein, Jenni Russell writes:
“The president’s actions are more important than his words, and they are a betrayal of his voters
“President Trump is brilliant at diversionary tactics, whether tweets, tantrums, or executive orders that may or may not mean anything in practical terms. His speech to Congress was another in his string of conjuror’s illusions.
“Breitbart and the Trump base adored it for its promises to put American workers first, improve their healthcare, incomes and education, cut their taxes, and protect them from danger abroad and immigrants at home. Trump’s liberal critics were momentarily dazzled to find that for at least an hour the president was capable of addressing the nation in a reasonable, conciliatory tone. But we now know that Trump’s public promises and assertions are so full of contradictions that they cannot be taken either literally or seriously.
“Instead we have to scrutinise the practical consequences of the policies his team is implementing. The effect of these won’t be to transform the lives of the people he swore to champion. They will make the rich much richer at the expense of the middle class and the poor”.
She notes that Trump’s tax plan is overwhelmingly skewed towards the wealthy:
- America’s Tax Policy Centre shows nearly half of the total tax cut will go to the top 1% of taxpayers.
- Almost a quarter will be spent on the richest 0.1%, households that earn above $3.7 million a year.
- The middle fifth of households, earning an average of $65,000, will gain just a thousand dollars.
- Less than 7% of the total cost of tax cuts will be spent on them.
- Because Trump intends to drop tax exemptions for children, some families earning less than $50,000 a year will actually see their taxes rise.
- The budgets for education, childcare and medical research will be slashed by at least 15% per cent.
- Trump proposes to end the state tax, which affects only the top 0.2 per cent of the population.
- His proposed cuts to corporation tax range from 35 to 20%
This surreptitious transfer cannot be what Trump supporters expected
Jenni continues: “Trump’s promise to create jobs through a vast infrastructure plan are equally tilted towards the rich. Investors will be offered tax breaks costing $137 billion to encourage them to invest a trillion dollars in projects that offer potential returns from fees or tolls. And far from bringing jobs to depressed regions, the projects will be skewed towards wealthier areas, because there will be no incentive to invest in areas where there’s no hope of a financial return, like the crumbling roads of the Appalachians”.
Still justified by demonstrably failed trickle down theory
Republicans defend this kind of unbalanced reward as they always have, arguing that the more money individuals keep, the more they will spend and the more everyone will benefit. These policies – in addition to the cuts Trump is demanding to pay for his boom in defence spending – will add huge sums to the deficit and drastically shrink the money available for public programmes. Jenni ends:
“Trump promised to protect his voters but the gulf between what he pledged and what he’s delivering is evident everywhere. His teams are busy dismantling consumer, financial and environmental regulations that prevented ordinary people being fleeced or having their land and water defiled. His supporters stubbornly believe in him but they are being betrayed. There can only be more fear and disillusion to come”.
Meanwhile Wall Street is soaring in anticipation, with the Dow Jones breaking the 21,000 barrier for the first time within hours of the speech. That extra money will overwhelmingly go into the bank accounts of those with the most shares – and the May government now turns from squeezing the disabled to the bereaved, successfully passing drastic cuts in payments for which national insurance contributions had been made and raising probate fees.
*Trumpton and Mayhem: first passing reference made on Our Birmingham website by architect David Heslop, moving towards employee ownership.