Category Archives: Defence
All those with an interest in Italy’s Fincantieri, Spain’s Navantia, Japan Marine United Corporation, and Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering of South Korea – and their British shareholders – will rejoice as the Ministry of Defence decided to put the £1bn contract for the building of fleet solid support ships out to international tender in February.
France and Italy build their own solid support ships, ensuring that the work remains within national borders. Rodney Reid (Financial Times) responds to the news by describing Britain’s approach as ‘muddled’. He recommends that vessels required for use by the Royal Navy should be built in Britain, preserving jobs and skills in this country. A month later Mr Reid reported that Fincantieri and Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering had withdrawn due to the ‘significant’ advance funding required.
Unions and shipbuilders have urged that the vessels to be built under this contract with flight decks, advanced weapons systems and extensive dry storage, to carry supplies needed by the carrier fleet when on mission, should – as in France and Italy – be classed as complex warships. This would enable them to be built in the UK, exempted from EU laws preventing protectionism.
Reid asks: “With the Appledore shipyard in Devon, which has built ships for the Royal Navy for well over a century, likely to close at the end of March without any new orders, is it too much to expect joined-up thinking at the MoD to keep valued jobs in the UK and save a valuable shipbuilding asset?”
Admiral Lord West of Spithead points out a few of the advantages of building these ships in Britain:
- the benefits to the exchequer of tax receipts from the firms involved and their workers,
- the lack of exchange rate problems,
- maintenance of highly skilled workers
- versus redundancy and retraining to be shelf-stackers or something similar.
A false economy?
In an earlier FT article, co-authors David Bond, Henry Mance and Peggy Hollinger assert that the MoD wants to cut costs by using the subsidised shipyards of other countries but defence experts say that might be a false economy. Francis Tusa of Defence Analysis said a report commissioned by the unions will show next week that 25% of the spending on the vessels would return to the government in direct taxes.
Admiral West agrees: “The Treasury is deluding itself if it thinks it is cheaper building them abroad. The fleet solid support ships should be built in the UK.”
Obviously horrifying is the news of the death and destruction caused by airstrikes carried out by countries including America, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Britain and Israel.
Recent news in the American press included a June report by VOA, part of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, a government funded agency that oversees all non-military, U.S. international broadcasting, that at least 160 civilians have been killed and hundreds more wounded in fighting over recent weeks between Syrian forces and armed Saudi-backed ISIL rebels.
The United Nations is demanding an immediate end to indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure in northwest Syria, warning the warring parties their actions might amount to war crimes.
Friendly fire kills in two incidents in Afghanistan
In March, a US-Afghan convoy came under fire from friendly forces positioned near an Afghan National Army check point in the Uruzgan province, US and coalition officials read more here. American forces launched two “self-defense” airstrikes near the checkpoint, mistakenly killing five Afghan soldiers and wounding 10 more, according to the Afghan government and coalition.
CNN also reported that Afghan security forces personnel were also killed by US airstrikes in the middle of May – read more here.
The American and Israeli press publish such news- rarely seen in British papers, unless Russia is involved. Searching for news about Britain’s activities, the writer looked at the government website which has given information about the RAF’s airstrikes in Iraq and Syria since 2015
28,670 people have now signed the following petition:
The Ministry of Defence has not updated its monthly list with information on RAF airstrikes this year – see snapshot from its site. We are therefore no longer aware of the damage done to human beings, their hospitals homes and schools by the RAF in Iraq and Syria.
Is this the Secret State in action – or incompetence – or indifference?
Deliberately down-played? Belatedly, MSM publishes limited accounts of a government-funded thinktank’s dubious activities
On the 2nd December the Daily Record revealed that Gateshead Mills in Fife, which ‘presents’ as a small ‘design and creativity charity’ operating from an old Victorian mill in Fife, has been revealed in leaked documents passed to the Sunday Mail – the sister paper of the Daily Record – as the base for The Institute for Statecraft, whose Integrity Initiative is run by military intelligence specialists and receives £2million from the Foreign Office.
Spokesman Stephen Dalziel said: “It (the IFS) was set up 14 years ago and the Integrity Initiative programme was started three years ago to look at disinformation and malign influence on democratic societies and it just so happens it’s the Russians who are doing most of that at the moment . . . What we have done is to set up this network across Europe of people who understand what the problem is”.
The Integrity Initiative claims to have built a network of networks of people who operate to counter Russia’s ‘disinformation’. The UK cluster has staff from the Institute for Statecraft, people representing hedge fund interests, think tanks like DEMOS, RUSI, Henry Jackson Society, European Council on Foreign Relations, and Chatham House, as well as from the Ministry of Defence (including EU Joint Headquarters at Northwood), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and several journalists.
The link to the Daily Record article is no longer accessible but one dated a week later – and far less revealing – may be read here. Another article, first seen in NY Herald Tribune, reproduced with permission from the UK Column, presents a fully illustrated and even more revealing information and – to date – its link works.
Back to the currently inaccessible Daily Record. The leaks detail Government grant applications and the Foreign Office has now confirmed that they provided substantial funding to the Integrity Initiative. In response to a parliamentary question, Europe Minister Alan Duncan said: “In financial year 2017-18, the FCO funded the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative £296,500. This financial year, the FCO are funding a further £1,961,000. Both have been funded through grant agreements.” A Foreign & Commonwealth Office spokesperson said: “The Integrity Initiative is a programme already in the public domain. Our funding helps ensure it can continue producing important work to counter disinformation and other malign influence.”
The investigation has found evidence that the programme’s official Twitter account has been used to attack Corbyn, his strategy and communications director Seumas Milne, the Labour Party and its officials.
Further leaked documents appear to indicate that the Integrity Initiative’s “Spanish cluster” swung into action on hearing that Pedro Banos was to be appointed director of the national security department. The papers detail how the Integrity Initiative alerted “key influencers” around Europe who launched an online campaign against the politician.
The manager of the Integrity Initiative ‘appears to be’ Christopher Donnelly.
A website biography states that he is a reserve officer in the British Army Intelligence Corps who previously headed the British Army’s Soviet Studies Research Centre at Sandhurst. Between 1989 and 2003, he was a special adviser to NATO Secretaries General and was involved in dealing with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and reform of newly emerging democracies in Central and Eastern Europe. He left NATO in 2003 to set up and run the UK Defence Academy’s Advanced Research and Assessment Group. In 2010, he became a director of IFS.
UK column adds many other staff names, including that of the active Andy Pryce.
Pryce had been making statements to the press about Russia (well worth reading in the light of this article), where he was described as ‘Head of Counter Disinformation and Media Development’ at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in September 2017. He is said to have taken part in:
- an event called ‘DEMOCRACY AND PROPAGANDA: Can independent media defend universal values?’, said to have been held in the Hilton Hotel in London, though the link advertises a Ukrainian location.. This was organised jointly by the European Endowment for Democracy and the EU Eastern Partnership, which, it turns out, is an FCO programme(link now not working) that “works to counter and reduce the effect of destabilising disinformation”.
- the first round of Ukrainian-British interagency consultationson countering cyber threats held in London in March this year,
- the 2018 EU DisinfoLab, in April and
- in October he took part in the Atlantic Council’s Global Forum on Strategic Communications and Digital Disinformationevent, held in Washington DC. Of note here is that this was a two-day event. Andy Pryce’s contribution came on day two, which has not been made available on video.
UK column journalist Mike Robinson made a FOI request for more information but this was refused on the basis of ‘national security’ – though he noted that the Freedom of Information act says that national security can only be used as grounds for refusal where intelligence services are involved. The FCO’s response is now under investigation by the Information Commissioner.
Some will want to read more about the Integrity Initiative, which appears to be acting in the way that western governments and media claim Russia is doing.
The UK Column adds other staff names, including:
- Ben Bradshaw MP, who has been promoting an anti-Russian outlook, including claiming that Russia “interfered” with the Brexit referendum,
- Sir Andrew Wood, former British ambassador to Russia, and one of the founders of Orbis Business Intelligence, the privatised British intelligence operation which features Christopher Steele, the author of the Trump ‘dodgy dossier’ and
- Oliver McTernan, a former Senior Adviser at the Club of Madrid and a Visiting Fellow, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University. In 2002, he initiated and participated in the first official high-level post conflict talks between NATO and the government in Belgrade. For 25 years he was Executive Committee Member, Pax Christi International, responsible for the movement’s East-West Dialogue programme during the Soviet period. He is the founder and a director of the St Sergius Trust Fund based in London and Moscow, and was earlier a Roman Catholic priest based in the diocese of Westminster.
David Miller, noted professor of Political Sociology in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol, says that serious questions need to be answered:
“It seems extraordinary that the Foreign Office would be funding a Scottish charity to counter Russian propaganda which, for example, ends up soft-pedalling far-right politicians in the Ukraine because they happen to oppose Putin. It must raise questions with OSCR, the Scottish charity regulator, about breaching charitable rules. It would appear this organisation could have received almost £2million from the FCO, so people have a right to know what’s happening with their money.”
Labour MSP Neil Findlay added: “It would appear that we have a charity registered in Scotland and overseen by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator that is funded by the UK Government and is spewing out political attacks on UK politicians, the Labour Party and the Labour movement. Such clear political attacks and propaganda shouldn’t be coming from any charity. We need to know why the Foreign Office have been funding it.”
Though Cammell Laird’s Birkenhead shipyard won two contracts this month, worth a total of £619 million, to provide spares, repairs and do maintenance work for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary over10 years, news of plans to axe about 40% of the workforce (290 jobs) by the end of March 2019, was given to union representatives and workers today (11th October).
The Unite union is demanding that Cammell Laird sets out the business case for cuts which will see the loss of vital skills and ‘backdoor casualisation’ of the workforce. It fears that the proposed job losses will undermine the shipyard’s ability to fulfil new contracts.
Unite’s assistant general secretary for shipbuilding, Steve Turner, said: “The loss of jobs at Cammell Laird would see skills gone for a generation and be a further blow to the UK’s shipbuilding industry . . . it is clear that the government must and can do more to support UK shipbuilding jobs. This must include the government stepping in and supporting the retention of skills and jobs while shipyards like Cammell Laird wait for new contracts to come on stream”.
Instead of ‘offshoring’, the government should be handing contracts to build the Royal Navy’s new fleet solid support vessels and a £1.25bn contract for Type 31e frigates (maritime security-focused platforms) to UK shipyards, using British made steel as part of an industrial strategy that supports jobs and communities across our four nations.
Yesterday it was reported that MPs had urged civil servants (defence officials) to pick a UK company for the £1billion contract for three Fleet Solid Support vessels for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Commons Defence Committee chairman and senior Tory MP Julian Lewis feared that foreign firms subsidised by their governments could undercut British rivals.
Penny-wise, pound foolish?
The MoD’s director general for finance told MPs the department’s biggest concern was “what will deliver the greatest value for money”- meaning the lowest bid – a narrow perspective. But as Labour MP John Spellar pointed out, the Treasury would benefit from tax revenue ploughed into public coffers if the work was carried out in the UK – “a significant return” – which would be multiplied by work given to British steel and component manufacturers.
Steve Turner said that a failure to have these ships made in Britain would be ‘a gross betrayal of UK ship workers and regional economies, putting at risk manufacturing skills vital to our country’.
At last, the case of people whose health has been seriously damaged caused by infected blood bought by a government agency is coming to the fore. But the plight of farmers, whose health suffered because government compelled them to use organophosphate sheep dips, is yet to be addressed – many affected veterans and farmers have died after long suffering.
OP-affected Richard Bruce writes: Dr Davis and Dr Ahmed wrote some informative papers on the subject. One may be read here: https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-functional-magnetic-resonance-imaging-fmri/
Allowed to sink into obscurity
In 1996 Defence minister Nicholas Soames confirmed that many of the soldiers returning from the Gulf War reporting fatigue, memory loss, weakness, joint and muscle pain and depression – a condition now known as Gulf War Syndrome, had been exposed to some sort of organophosphate pesticide.
From the archives:
1999: the US Government accepted that their veterans’ illnesses were mostly due to service in the Gulf. Of their 700,000-plus troops deployed there, 88% became eligible for benefits through their equivalent of the Veterans Agency and 45% had by then sought medical care. The US Government also accepted the extremely serious consequences of using organophosphates.
2000-2001: the UK government funded more research into the effects of organophosphate exposure and poisoning. The results of some studies provided support for the poisoning hypothesis but the research was delayed by the FMD outbreak and only completed in 2007.
2004: A study published in the British Medical Journal: ‘Overcoming apathy in research on organophosphate poisoning’, concluded that high rates of pesticide poisoning in developing countries and increasing risk of nerve gas attacks in the West mean effective antidotes for organophosphates should be a worldwide priority.
2008: the American government concluded an intensive study into the cause of “Gulf War Syndrome” Their $400,000 study found that OPs had causal responsibility for the harm inflicted. This finding was reported to the British Government by the Chief of Defence Staff [RAF].
Conflicts of interest: those campaigning for a ban on organophosphate pesticides have to face opposition from the agro-chemical industry, whose representatives sit on expert committees advising governments on pesticide safety.
As the Countess of Mar explained: There seems to be a nucleus of about 25 individuals who advise on a number of committees. The scientific community is very close-knit and because the numbers of individuals in specialties is small, they will all know one another. They are dependent upon one another for support, guidance, praise and recognition. If they wish to succeed, they must run with the prevailing ethos of their group, department or specialism Hansard 24 Jun 1997: Columns 1555-9
The Scotsman reported the findings of the 2004 independent inquiry into illnesses suffered by veterans of the first Gulf War which was headed by the former law lord Lord Lloyd of Berwick, called on the Ministry of Defence finally to recognise the existence of a “Gulf War syndrome”. It said that it was clear the cocktail of health problems suffered by an estimated 6,000 veterans were a direct result of their service in the 1991 conflict and urged the MoD to establish a special fund to make one-off compensation payments to those affected.
Is the long and inhumane delay due to the fact that the establishment of a link between Gulf War Syndrome and organophosphate poisoning would cost the MoD vast sums in compensation?
Which is worse: hybrid warfare said to challenge Euro-Atlantic security or drone warfare regularly slaughtering civilians?
Redbrick’s Comment Writer Tom Moran argues that NATO must display more willingness to act against hybrid warfare.
Wikipedia describes hybrid warfare as a military strategy that employs political warfare and blends conventional warfare, irregular warfare and cyberwarfare with other influencing methods, such as fake news, diplomacy and foreign electoral intervention.
In response to the 2014 conflict in Ukraine, NATO decided to develop ‘a set of tools to deter and defend against adversaries waging hybrid warfare’.
NATO Watch’s latest news on this subject is that US Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Thom Tillis (below) relaunched the Senate NATO Observer Group, a bipartisan group of lawmakers aiming to strengthen congressional ties with NATO, more than a decade after it was disbanded. Shaheen, a Democrat, said “Now more than ever, it’s imperative that the United States work closely with NATO to respond to the ever-evolving threats to Western democracies, particularly from the Kremlin.
The July Brussels Summit Declaration issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council included: “We face a dangerous, unpredictable, and fluid security environment, with enduring challenges and threats from all strategic directions; from state and non-state actors; from military forces; and from terrorist, cyber, and hybrid attacks . . . including disinformation campaigns and malicious cyber activities . . . Russia is also challenging Euro-Atlantic security and stability through hybrid actions, including attempted interference in the election processes’.
Trump’s relationship with NATO and Putin
Probably touching on the Shaheen-Tillis concerns, Tom Moran commented, “NATO’s Brussels summit was hardly short of controversy with Trump, unsurprisingly, at the centre of this; whether that be in his questionable commitment to the alliance, his questionable understanding of it, or shortly following this, his questionable off-the-records meeting with Putin”.
He continues: ‘Russia never really invaded the Crimea; instead they used special forces, cyber-attacks, their “little green men” (to stop political protests) and fake news. Similarly, in Syria there is the same level of confusion. Against whom have Russia carried out attacks? Does Assad still have chemical weapons? And, have they been used since he supposedly gave them up? The ambiguity makes the fake news indistinguishable from the truth and in turn the confusion is the weapon of war’.
Moran is aware that Russian goals have not changed significantly over the last three hundred years: “Imperial, Soviet and modern Russia have all searched to protect their western borders through some form of buffer between them and the rest of Europe . . . NATO expansion since the end of the Cold War has, rightfully, concerned Russia as they no longer have that buffer”.
Despite this awareness, he ends by expressing the belief that it is crucial for NATO to succeed in pursuing their interests (‘expansion’) and continue to curtail Russia gaining both a buffer and further expansion in Eastern Europe.
The only winners following that course of action will be pork-barrel politicians and the arms & ‘defence’ electronics industry.
Mark Shapiro, a reader living in California, draws attention to the work of Emily Knowles, leading the Oxford Research Group’s Remote Warfare Programme.
Yet RWP’s research suggests that there is a rising trend of secretive military commitments in areas where the UK is not considered to be at war.
- A precedent has been set for the use of armed drones to carry out targeted strikes in regions where parliament has not authorised military engagement.
- The use of Special Forces to carry out covert operations bypasses the need for parliamentary authorisation or notification.
- By providing behind-the-scenes support, UK troops can be involved in military combat without the government having to declare engagement in offensive missions.
Relying on such tactics to counter threats allows the government to avoid the usual parliamentary oversight required in the deployment of conventional troops.
“As modern concepts of warfare continue to evolve, I believe it’s vital that government policy keeps pace and is open to debate.
“That is why my team is working to promote greater transparency around remote warfare and uphold the scrutiny that is so pivotal to a healthy democracy”.
Remote Control’s 2017 report by Emily and Abigail Watson, ‘All quiet on the ISIS front: British secret warfare in an information age’ (Mar 2017), tracks the UK’s secretive but growing military commitments abroad by analysing the rise in the use of drones for targeted killing, the use of Special Forces, and the provision of capabilities such as intelligence and embedded troops to allied forces.
The deniability of these operations brings a flexibility, which can create opportunities when it comes to dealing with fluid and complex security threats.
However, it questions the notion that greater secrecy is always better strategy, in an age when leaks of information are seemingly inevitable, demand for political accountability is high, and trust in politicians and the wider expert community is low.
New Fleet Solid Support ships: cash-strapped MoD should look at the total cost-benefit of building in Britain
Jeremy Corbyn is in Glasgow today, where – reversing New Labour policy – he will call for Navy shipbuilding contracts to stay in the UK.
The contract could lead to over 6,500 jobs in the UK, 1,800 of those in shipyards: “Our proposal would both sustain existing shipbuilding and supply chain jobs and create new ones – right here in Scotland and also across the UK.”
The MOD, which is alleged to have ‘lost controls of costs’, hopes for a cheaper option. Its spokesman added: “We are launching a competition for three new Fleet Solid Support ships this year and strongly encourage British yards to take part”.
“Until the new Fleet Solid Support Ships (FSS) arrive, these hardy veterans must stagger on into the mid-2020s”
The three currently supporting ships supply ammunition, food and spares are “antiques built in the late 1970s and saw action in the Falklands War”. Corbyn warns:
“By refusing to help our industry thrive, the Conservatives are continuing their historic trend of hollowing out and closing down British industry. Over the course of the 1980s under the Tories, 75,000 jobs were lost in UK shipyards, leaving just 32,000 remaining.
“Our shipyards used to produce half of all new ships worldwide. Our current market share is now less than half a per cent. The Tories seem hell-bent on accelerating and deepening this industrial decline.”
SNP MSP for Glasgow Anniesland, Bill Kidd, is sceptical, saying: “Workers on the Clyde and people across Scotland haven’t forgotten Labour’s betrayal of the industry in 2014.