Category Archives: Foreign policy
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?
Venezuela: Murdoch press publishes Pompeo’s Corbyn slur while the FT sheds a positive light on events
As other papers headline the US secretary of state’s strictures on China, Iran and UK, the Times reports a remark made by Mike Pompeo about Jeremy Corbyn’s “disgusting” support for the Maduro regime – his refusal to denounce the president of Venezuela and his praise of the socialist regime’s “effective and serious” efforts to reduce poverty.
Mainstream media rarely refers to the US’ economic warfare, its imposition of sanctions on this oil-rich country, which are leading to food shortages and civil unrest and still less to the damaging IMF austerity regime.
The US and around 50 other countries say Mr Maduro is clinging to power on the basis of bogus elections – despite the reports of international observers – see Media Lens’ evidence. As Ian MacLeod, in Manufacturing Consent in Venezuela: Media Misreporting of a Country, 1998–2014, published in December, finds:
Alan MacLeod, a member of Glasgow University’s respected Media Group, documented the bias throughout the Chavez era in his book, Bad News from Venezuela: Twenty years of fake news and misreporting.
Fair, an American media bias watch group, published a February article by Mark Cook, Venezuela Coverage Takes Us Back to Golden Age of Lying About Latin America. Mark, writing from his home in Caracas, effectively and entertainingly debunks the allegations of shortages of food and painkillers.
As many countries predict the imminent bankruptcy of the regime, the FT – which notes Washington’s ‘relentless social media campaign against the Maduro government’ – alone in mainstream media presents (rather reluctantly) some evidence challenging the totally negative picture presented.
It reports today that some substantial debts are being paid and that the Venezuelan people are tired of the conflict – no longer responding to Mr Guaidó’s calls to demonstrate.
Venezuela is paying debts
- State-owned oil company PDVSA, is paying holders of PDVSA’s bonds, due in 2020, the $71m in interest payments owed from late April.
- In mid-April, Russia’s Finance Minister announced the Maduro government had paid more than $100m to cover an interest payment due in March
- In the first quarter of this year, ConocoPhillips disclosed that it had received $147m from PDVSA as part of a settlement awarded by an ICC tribunal.
Venezuelans are tired of the conflict and no longer responding to Mr Guaidó’s calls to demonstrate
In another FT article, planning a Saturday march to win over the military, Mr Guaidó urged his followers to march to military installations and hand over copies of a letter in which he urged the armed forces to support a “peaceful transition”. But few people heeded the call and even Mr Guaidó, who had been expected to lead one of the marches, did not turn up.
State of play (FT)
Mr Guaidó has acknowledged that he does not yet command enough support within the military to force regime change.
Mr Maduro has accepted that his administration needs to “rectify mistakes”. To that end, he authorised thousands of popular “assemblies” over the weekend to discuss what needs to be changed.
Many readers will have been shocked at the standard media responses following the death of George Bush Snr. Media Lens has spelt out the reasons for such reactions. After a summary of the gushing eulogies from Barack Obama and the Clintons, they move to review the British media’s coverage:
“ . . . [The] Guardian‘s ‘glowing’ obituary omitted many brutal facts, describing Bush Senior’s devastation of Iraq as ‘triumphant’; ‘the president did not put a foot wrong’; ‘his most impressive achievement’; ‘Bush’s masterly management of the first Iraq war’; and so on, in an elite-friendly script that was essentially a press release from the very centre of US power”.
“The cruel reality of Bush’s ‘most impressive achievement’, as we noted in a 2002 media alert, was that Iraq’s entire civilian infrastructure was targeted and largely destroyed under the rain of bombs. All of Iraq’s eleven major electrical power plants, as well as 119 substations, were destroyed. 90 per cent of electricity generation was out of service within hours; within days, all power generation in the country had ceased. Eight multi-purpose dams were repeatedly hit and destroyed, wrecking flood control, municipal and industrial water storage, irrigation and hydroelectric power. Four of Iraq’s seven major water pumping stations were destroyed. According to Eric Hoskins, a Canadian doctor and coordinator of a Harvard study team on Iraq, the allied bombardment: ‘effectively terminated everything vital to human survival in Iraq – electricity, water, sewage systems, agriculture, industry and health care’. (Quoted Mark Curtis, ‘The Ambiguities of Power’, Zed Books, 1995)”.
The article points out that the author, Simon Tisdall, made no reference to the tons of bombs – ‘the equivalent of seven Hiroshimas’ – that followed the launch of the air campaign on January 17, 1991, and the killing of 150,000 Iraqi troops and 50,000 civilians were killed and continued:
“In his Bush obituary, Nick Bryant, the New York-based BBC News correspondent, brushed all this away and stuck to the standard deception of ‘mistakes were made’ in Iraq”.
Readers with strong stomachs will continue to read about Bush’s work within the CIA and his ‘shared responsibility’ for earlier ‘bloodbaths’ in South America.
And the reason for the media’s whitewashed responses?
According to Media Lens, there are a few rules that journalists must follow if they are to be regarded as a safe pair of hands by editors and corporate media owners:
“One of these rules is that ‘we’ in the West are assumed to be ‘the good guys’. This seriously damaging narrative, flying in the face of historical evidence and endlessly crushing state policies, ensures that the public is kept ignorant and pacified. The consequences have been deadly for millions of the West’s victims around the world, and now mean climate catastrophe that could end human civilisation”.
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.”
Martin Wolf, former senior World Bank economist who left after becoming disillusioned with its policies, reminds readers that a goal of the Paris agreement of 2015 was to limit the global average temperature rise to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. He comments:
“Achieving it means drastic reductions in emissions from now. This is very unlikely to happen. That is no longer because it is technically impossible. It is because it is politically painful.
He refers to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the implications of warming of just 1.5C, making plain the risks the world runs if this limit is ignored and concluding that life will survive, but not life as we know it, continuing:
“We are the shapers of the planet now. This ought to transform how we think. Unfortunately, it has not”.
Wolf believes that the theoretical and empirical arguments for man-made climate change are overwhelming, supporting this and other points made with graphs in his recent Financial Times article. The rise in average temperatures above the pre-industrial average is already about 1C. That shows how hard it will be to keep the final increase below 1.5C, or even 2C. Under the “nationally determined contributions”, he adds, we are in fact on a track towards warming of 3-4C by 2100.
if we are to have a high chance of keeping the ultimate temperature rise to below 1.5C:
- net global CO2 emissions would need to fall to zero not long after 2040
- and other sources of climate change — emissions of methane and nitrous oxide, for example — would also need to fall from 2030.
Emissions from industry would need to fall by 75-90 per cent by 2050, relative to 2010. This would need a combination of electrification, hydrogen and product substitution. These options are technically proven, but their deployment on a planetary scale is another matter. Emissions reductions by efficiency improvement will be inadequate.
(Ed) One reservation: many will disagree with Wolf’s assertion that generating energy from bio-based feedstocks is necessary and that agriculture will need to shift to production of energy crops on a huge scale.
He calls for planning changes in urban infrastructure and carbon capture and storage on a large scale, shifting the world on to a different investment and growth path right now and commenting, “This is more technically possible than we used to think. But it is politically highly challenging”.
The natural tendencies are either to do nothing, while insisting there is no problem, or to agree there is a problem, while merely pretending to act. It is not clear which form of obfuscation is worse.
Wolf points out that to preserve our planet requires co-operative effort on a planetary scale – a challenge human beings have historically only met in times of war. Climate change involves huge distributional issues between countries that caused the problem and those that did not, and, not least, between people today, who make the decisions, and people tomorrow, who suffer the results.
He warns that the chances of co-operative action seem near zero in today’s nationalistic world . . . Donald Trump has already repudiated the US pledge – other countries may fail, too:
“It is five minutes to midnight on climate change. We will have to alter our trajectory very quickly but appear to be set on running an irreversible bet on our ability to manage the consequences of a far bigger rise even than 2C, risking a world of runaway — and unmanageable — climate chaos.
“Our progeny will see this as a crime”.
Media 93: MSM downplays Britain’s role in the latest Yemeni killing & the BBC omits UN experts’ charge
Today, the BBC reports that UN Group of Regional and International Eminent Experts on Yemen will present a report to the UN Human Rights Council next month. It says that the experts believe war crimes may have been committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen.
Yemeni government forces, the Saudi-led coalition backing them, and the rebel Houthi movement have made little effort to minimise civilian casualties and there have been attacks on residential areas in which thousands have died. The warring parties are also accused of arbitrary detentions, torture, enforced disappearances and recruiting children.
But the BBC failed to mention that the Group of Experts’ report notes that coalition air strikes have caused most direct civilian casualties. The airstrikes have hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities.
Yemenis dig graves for children in the wake of the latest air strike
Lest we forget, the remote-sounding Saudi-led coalition is supported by UK arms sales (including cluster bombs manufactured in the UK) and technical assistance. British military personnel are complicit – deployed in the command and control centre responsible for Saudi-led air strikes on Yemen, giving access to lists of targets.
The Saudi-led coalition struck last Wednesday and Thursday. Following the attacks on Wednesday, four families in northwestern Yemen, who had decided to leave their homes to avoid such danger, were in a vehicle when airstrikes hit again.
Though Britain’s mainstream media fully reported the killings of 9th August, a search finds no reference to those on the 24th.
CNN did full justice to this atrocity, recalling also that earlier this month, a Saudi-led airstrike hit a school bus carrying scores of boys in Yemen. The attack killed 51 people, including 40 children, according to the Health Ministry. CNN has established that the bomb used in that attack was a 500-pound (227 kilogram) MK 82 bomb made by Lockheed Martin, one of the top US defence contractors.
CNN adds: “There have been growing calls in the US Congress for Saudi Arabia, a key US ally in the Middle East, to do more to prevent civilian deaths in Yemen, where three years of conflict have taken a terrible toll”.
The latest news: yesterday, Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent, reports that the Pentagon has issued a warning to Saudi Arabia that it is prepared to reduce military and intelligence support for its campaign against rebels in neighbouring Yemen if the Saudis don’t demonstrate they are attempting to limit civilian deaths in airstrikes – adding “It is not clear if President Donald Trump, who views the Saudis as an essential ally, would agree to a reduction of support”.
But, like the proverbial three monkeys, the failing British government hears, sees and speaks no evil.
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.
Words in the latest bulletin from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Doctors Without Borders.
Their medical teams are working around the clock, providing surgical and postoperative care to men, women and children. In one of the hospitals where they are working, the chaotic situation is comparable to what they observed after the bombings of the 2014 war, with a colossal influx of injured people in a few hours, completely overwhelming medical staff.
Their facilities providing post-operative care in Gaza have received more than 800 patients with gunshot wounds between 1 April and 15 May. The events come nearly four years after Operation Protective Edge was launched in the Gaza Strip in 2014, leaving 2,286 Palestinians dead (25 percent were children), over 11,000 injured and 3,000 with permanent disabilities.
Jason Cone, executive director notes that, since 2016, their patients have been exposed to various critical events, including:
- Witnessing violence.
- Raids on their homes.
- Arrests (of themselves or family members).
- Deaths (of family members).
In consequence, many have developed mental health issues such as anxiety, stress and sleeping problems. MSF runs mental health programmes in Hebron, Nablus, Qalqilva, Bethlehem and Ramallah governorates – offering psychological and social support to victims of political violence. In 2016, 4,141 new patients benefited from individual and group mental health sessions (over 70% of which were in Hebron).
MSF has three burns and trauma centres in the Gaza Strip: Gaza City, Khan Younis and Bet Lahyia (which opened in July 2016). The majority of their patients had burns, usually the result of domestic accidents in conflict-damaged homes. Across their centres, MSF:
- Treated over 4,231 patients (mostly children).
- Dressed over 52,000 wounds.
- Conducted more than 36,000 physiotherapy sessions.
- Conducted over 1,000 occupational therapy sessions.
- Carried out a burns awareness campaign – reaching over 35,500 children in schools, kindergartens and nurseries.
In conjunction with the Ministry of Health, they run surgical programmes in Al Shifa and Nasser hospitals. They completed 275 surgical interventions (71% on children under 16). Read more in MSF’s International Activity Report.