Category Archives: Foreign policy
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.
Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, has admitted that on March 26th, a British airstrike killed a motorcyclist who rode into its path in Syria by chance. It is the first confirmation of a civilian casualty by UK forces in the fight against Islamic State.
The unintentional death, described by Williamson as “deeply regrettable”, was confirmed during post-strike analyses of drone footage and other imagery.
The official position of the Ministry of Defence until yesterday’s announcement had been that it had seen no evidence of UK airstrikes causing civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria.
A source within the US-led coalition against Isis, however, told the BBC that he had seen evidence that British airstrikes had caused civilian casualties “on several occasions”. “To suggest they have not, as has been done, is nonsense,” the source added.
The coalition has begun an investigation and will issue a report. The airstrike was by a Reaper drone, remotely operated by pilots in the UK or at an airbase in the United States.
The defence secretary admits that RAF jets and drones have conducted more than 1,600 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq and Airwars, a group that has been monitoring civilian casualties, claimed it was likely that between 1,066 and 1,579 civilians had died in the fighting in Mosul. The US and Australia have accepted responsibility for civilian casualties. The coalition has admitted causing just over 350 civilian deaths in Mosul.
The deaths, in particular those of women and children, have helped to turn local populations against coalition forces and fuel insurgencies.
A Wimbledon reader sends news that Amnesty International has cited another civilian death: 68-year-old Mamana Bibi was picking vegetables in the family’s fields with her
grandchildren in Waziristan, northwest Pakistan. ’Out of nowhere’, she was hit during a double drone strike led by the US. Mamana is one of hundreds of civilians accidentally killed by US drone strikes. Strikes that the UK has been playing a crucial part in.
Despite the lack of coverage in many newspapers and on TV bulletins, a petition has been set up, calling for the UK government to launch a full public inquiry into its role in the US’s expanding drones programme:
To join this call for a full public inquiry into Britain’s role in the US’s expanding drones programme, go to https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/uk-stop-helping-deadly-and-secret-us-drone-strikes
A Liverpool reader draws attention to the news that Philip May, husband of the UK prime minister, works for Capital Group, the largest shareholder in arms manufacturer, BAE Systems, whose share price has soared since the recent airstrikes in Syria, employs. It is also the second-largest shareholder in Lockheed Martin – a US military arms firm that supplies weapons systems, aircraft and logistical support. Its shares have also rocketed since the missile strikes last week.
Selected evidence of the revolving doors between Whitehall appointments, their family and friends and the ‘defence’ industry in our archives, in chronological order:
Michael Portillo, the secretary of state for defence from 1995 to 1997, became non-executive director of BAE Systems in 2002 before stepping down in 2006.
Lord Reid, secretary of state for defence from 2005 to 2006, said in 2008 that he had become group consultant to G4S, the security company that worked closely with the Ministry of Defence in Iraq.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy, the chief of staff from 2006-2009, retired from the RAF last year and will become senior military adviser to BAE Systems in January.
Sir Kevin Tebbit, under-secretary at the MoD, became chairman of Finmeccanica UK, owner of Westland helicopters in 2007 and has a variety of other defence related appointments.
Major-General Graham Binns left the military in 2010 and became chief executive of Aegis Defence Services, a leading security company.
David Gould, the former chief operating officer of the MoD’s procurement division, became chairman of Selex Systems, part of Finmeccanica in 2010.
Lady Taylor of Bolton was minister for defence equipment for a year until 2008 and became minister for international defence and security until Labour lost the general election in May.In 2010 she joined the arms contractor Thales, which is part of the consortium supplying two aircraft carriers that are £1.541bn over budget.
In 2010 Geoff Hoon, the ex-Defence Secretary caught attempting to sell his services to fake lobbyists back alongside Stephen Byers. When he was an MP, military helicopter company AgustaWestland were awarded a billion-pound order. Now out of Parliament, Hoon earns his way as the company’s Vice-President of international business.
Andrew Tyler (above, right), the British Defence Ministry’s former procurement chief, became chief operating officer of Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S), responsible for the procurement and support of all the equipment used by the British Armed Forces. Siemens’ Marine Current Turbines unit appointed Andrew Tyler as acting CEO in 2011 and in 2012 he became the chief executive of Northrop Grumman’s UK & European operations; NG is a large American global aerospace and defence technology company. Above, still from a video made at a 2015 Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair
Then Business Secretary Vince Cable was one of 40 MPs on the guest list for a £250-a-head gathering in 2015 at the Hilton hotel on Park Lane. he gave a speech at the event organised by trade organisation ADS, the trade body for UK Aerospace, Defence, Security and Space industries arms fair..
Ministers were wined-and-dined in 2015 by the arms trade at a £450-a-head banquet on Tuesday night just hours after parliament’s International Development Committee said the UK should suspend all arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
In 2017, some of the senior politicians or members of their families lobbying for the nuclear industry were listed on this site (Powerbase source):
Three former Labour Energy Ministers (John Hutton, Helen Liddell, Brian Wilson)
Gordon Brown’s brother worked as head lobbyist for EDF
Jack Cunningham chaired Transatlantic Nuclear Energy Forum
Labour Minister Yvette Cooper’s dad was chair of nuclear lobbyists The Nuclear Industry Association.
Ed Davey, Lib Dem energy minister’s brother worked for a nuclear lobbyist. When failed to be re-elected went to work for the same nuclear lobbying firm as his brother.
Lord Clement Jones who was Nick Clegg’s General Election Party Treasurer was a nuclear industry lobbyist.
Tory Peer Lady Maitland is board member of nuclear lobbyist Sovereign Strategy.
Bernard Ingham, Mrs Thatcher’s press spokesperson, has been nuclear lobbyist for over 25 years.
Lord Jenkin was a paid consultant to nuclear industry.
MEP Giles Chichester is president of nuclear lobbyists EEF.
Concerns about the ‘cosy relationship between the government and the arms trade’ are expressed well by CAAT:
A disturbing number of senior officials, military staff and ministers have passed through the ‘revolving door’ to join arms and security companies. This process has helped to create the current cosy relationship between the government and the arms trade – with politicians and civil servants often acting in the interests of companies, not the interests of the public.
When these ‘revolvers’ leave public service for the arms trade, they take with them extensive contacts and privileged access. As current government decision-makers are willing to meet and listen to former Defence Ministers and ex-Generals, particularly if they used to work with them, this increases the arms trade’s already excessive influence over our government’s actions.
On top of this, there is the risk that government decision-makers will be reluctant to displease arms companies as this could ruin their chances of landing a lucrative arms industry job in the future.
A patient explanation
ANDREW MARR SHOW, 15TH APRIL 2018 (starts 24 mins into the programme)
Extracts from BBC transcript
As a YouGov poll for The Times finds that only 22% support British airstrikes in Syria, with twice as many opposed, Andrew Marr says:
Can I put it to you there’s something slightly strange going on here.
AM: You are against the use of missiles against Syria under all circumstances, and out there public opinion is broadly speaking on your side.
You have a reputation for being a plain speaker in these subjects, can you not just say I’m against using missiles against Syria under all circumstances, it’s always wrong.
JC: I’ve made it very clear that the use of missiles anywhere has consequential effects. What is presented on media and is often fed in by defence departments all around the world is that it’s all surgical, clean all over.
Well, unfortunately the world isn’t quite like that. The longer term effects are of other people that are killed, are of other people that are affected by it, and of course ever since 2001 we’ve had all these wars.
We’ve had a growth of terrorism, we’ve had a growth of instability. Surely we’ve got to start looking at things in a different way.
Salisburygate: “My old Home Office instincts tells me this was a political game that quickly got out of control”
“The diplomatic mess caused by Prime Minister Theresa May is embarrassing. Not that the wider British public would realise this thanks to pro-May coverage in the media”.
So says an article received from a Jamaican contact, about the political fallout from the alleged nerve agent Salisbury attack against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Accusing the Russian government and expelling diplomats thereafter – based on flimsy evidence – was incompetence of an amateurish level.
The fact that she was not willing to share any hard evidence with colleagues and Jeremy Corbyn was classic May. During her time as Home Secretary, senior staff would complain of May’s bunker-type mentality and withholding key information and decisions even from her own junior ministers and key relevant staff.
Classic May is – make a big statement then retreat into the background leaving others, such as her media friends, to spin information to crazy levels.
In Parliament, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party leader, was correct to challenge May’s assertions of the Russian government’s involvement.
Most of the British media, the government and Labour backbench MPs mocked his stance, labelling him a traitor, not fit to become PM and a Vladimir Putin stooge. But Corbyn – like many of us – has seen far too often where governments and law enforcement officials have got their initial claims on high profile incidents so wrong. e.g. Hillsborough, Manchester bombing, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Jean Charles de Menenez, Jill Dando, Rachel Nickell, Stephen Lawrence etc.
Given that the alleged foreign state sponsored incident happened on British soil, Home Secretary Rudd – who has oversight over national security – has said very little. The last time Rudd directly accused the Russian government was early March. Ben Wallace is Rudd’s junior minister responsible for national security matters; he too has been silent.
My old Home Office instincts tells me this was a political game that quickly got out of control. The fault lies not with Amber Rudd but Downing Street. Hence the silence from Rudd and Wallace: and why in recent days Rudd has deflected from Salisbury and promised to target wealthy Russians residing in the UK.
The reason why the May government is not receiving any flak for this diplomatic blunder is that the media would rather play down a diplomatic incident, than admit that Corbyn’s cautious instincts were correct.
Full marks to Corbyn and the Labour front bench for standing their ground and challenging Theresa May directly over Salisbury.
SEVEN POINTED QUESTIONS
After the Iraq lies the public has a right to question their government on any statements relating to serious national security issues:
- How is it that over 125 countries did not join May and expel any Russian diplomats?
- Why did May say that the Skripals’ health was in such danger that they might never fully recover? Only days later both came out of intensive care and are recovering well.
- Why has the UK prevented Russian Embassy officials from visiting the Skripals in hospital? Why have they denied a visa to Yulia’s cousin Viktoria to visit them from Russia?
- Why has May blocked international observers from inspecting the alleged nerve agent?
- Why have May and Amber Rudd said very little in Parliament over the past 14 days?
- Why did Boris Johnson claim that he was told by government scientists at Porton Down that the source of the nerve agent used was Russian, only for the Chief Executive to deny such claims?
- Why has there been no joint press conference held by May, Rudd and Johnson to answer media questions?
“The government will never admit to their error of judgment as that would be political suicide. So expect May, her ministers and media pals to play out this false narrative right up to the May local elections”.
It’s official: arms trading countries note: “Wars and conflicts are driving hunger in a way never seen before”
In 1991, the writer stopped standing orders to the largest charities after making a report with cut & pasted text and photographs from their own newsletters (pre-computer), documenting a three-year cycle:
- poignant appeals every Christmas for money to help war-torn Sudan, Ethiopia and Mozambique.
- followed by a cease-fire and aid for the victims
- and rebuilding destroyed schools and hospitals
- followed by renewed conflict and destruction
- and further appeals
Only one aid charity said, throughout this period, “there can be no development without peace”.
The reports were sent to the various headquarters and all replied courteously, agreeing that the accounts were correct and giving lip-service to the peace cause. Though there are still low-level conflicts in Sudan, following the first attack on Iraq and the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, there have been increasing levels of death and destruction in the Middle East.
Thousands of air strikes on this region – execution without trial – are killing people. destroying buildings, roads, bridges and damaging the water and electricity supplies. All rarely reported in the mainstream British media – perhaps because the government aids the American ‘coalition’-led onslaught, using ‘special forces’ deployed without parliamentary agreement.
Peter Hitchens summarised our country’s recent record:
“We are not morally perfect ourselves, with our head-chopping aggressive Saudi friends, our bloodstained Iraq and Libyan adventures, and our targeted drone-strike killings of British citizens who joined IS”.
60% of the 815 million chronically hungry people—those who do not know where they will get their next meal—live in areas experiencing armed conflicts.
Jessica Corbett has written an article following the release of the World Food Program (WFP) Global Report on Food Crises on Thursday, which found that “conflict continued to be the main driver of acute food insecurity in 18 countries—15 of them in Africa or the Middle East.”
Addressing the U.N. Security Council by video on Friday, World Food Program (WFP) executive director David Beasley reported that, largely due to armed conflicts, there has been “a staggering and stomach-churning 55 percent increase” in the number of acutely hungry people worldwide over the past two years, according to the head of the U.N. food agency. Millions of people are severely, even desperately, hungry.
Our friend and ally
The globe’s largest arms companies sold $370.7 billion worth of military equipment last year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri). The United States dominates the trade, accounting for $209.7 billion of the global total in 2015.
A warning about mounting conflict in the Sahel
Addressing the U.N. Security Council by video on Friday, David Beasley issued a specific warning about mounting conflicts in Africa’s greater Sahel region, noting, “In the five core countries of the Sahel—Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania—acute malnutrition has risen 30 percent in the past five years.”
– but no reference to the potential consequence of the encirclement and taunting of Russia
As Peter Hitchens said, we have no real quarrel with Russia: “We have made it up out of nothing, and now we are losing control of it. If Britain really wants a war with Russia, as our Government seems to, then Russia will provide that war. But it will not be fought according to the Geneva Conventions. It will be fought according to the law of the jungle”. He asks:
“Before we embark on this, could someone explain why we actually want such a war? We are a minor power on the edge of Europe. What national interest does it serve? What do we gain from it? And will we win it?”
David Beasley said that the Global Report shows the magnitude of today’s crises, but also that “if we bring together political will and today’s technology, we can have a world that’s more peaceful, more stable, and where hunger becomes a thing of the past.” His vitally important message:
“The fighting must stop now and the world must come together to avert these crises happening right in front of our eyes”.
Edward Luce, the FT’s Washington columnist and commentator, reviews and summarises the book.
How long does it take for the US military to admit defeat? The answer is forever, according to Harlan Ullman.
Today there are US soldiers deployed in Afghanistan who were one-year-olds when the war began. Yet the Taliban is no closer to being banished than it was in 2001. Indeed, it occupies considerably more of the country today than it did two years ago.
Donald Trump campaigned against America’s endless wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. He won the mandate to say “no” to the Pentagon. Yet, in power, he has given the Pentagon everything it has requested.
Ullman’s three explanations for this record of failure:
- First, the US keeps electing poorly qualified presidents.
- Second, they keep making strategic mistakes.
- Third, American forces lack cultural knowledge of the enemy
“Two exceptions were Dwight Eisenhower, who had been commander of US forces in Europe, and George H W Bush, who had been head of the CIA. Bush Senior wisely stopped the 1991 invasion of Iraq long before it reached Baghdad. Bush Junior was clearly not paying attention.”
He recommends a “brains-based” approach: Eisenhower combined brain and heart:
James Carden, a contributing writer at The Nation and executive editor for the American Committee for East-West Accord, points out that USA has “a national voter population that is largely skeptical of the practicality or benefits of military intervention overseas, including both the physical involvement of the US military and also extending to military aid in the form of funds or equipment as well – to quote a new survey” according to a new survey last November by J. Wallin Opinion Research. He records:
- 86.4% of those surveyed feel the American military should be used only as a last resort,
- 57% feel that US military aid to foreign countries is counterproductive and.
- 63.9% say that military aid—including money and weapons—should not be provided to countries like Saudi Arabia
- and 70.8% percent of those polled said that Congress should pass legislation that would restrain military action overseas.
But “There’s too much oligarch money in the arms and contracts to the military for Congress to ever listen to what the people want”: Sheila Smith indicates the serious problem endemic in both countries.
Brawn and brain have failed; the best option would be to heed the thinking of former general Eisenhower and the late Harry Patch – the true ‘bottom line’.
The BBC World Service radio this morning, Radio 4’s Broadcasting House – and other mainstream media – offered distorted reporting:
- first headlining the “iron fist” threat and repeating this several times, before acknowledging its conditionality ‘if political unrest continues’
- and failing to focus on the far larger rallies supporting the Iranian government
They stressed that the demonstrations erupted over falling living standards, but Iranian interior minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli said that those people in the larger demos realised this was due to imposed sanctions – but the BBC website chose only to report his words about the consequences of damage to public property, disrupting order and breaking the law.
The USA’s use of soft power to foment unrest has been effective with many worldwide
The use of soft power was touched on in a linked site in 2015. We quote: “Hard power is exerted by financial inducements, invasion and remote killing by drone aircraft. Soft power sounds quite benign, but as Joseph Nye points out in The Future of Power (2011, left), it can be wielded for good or ill: Hitler, Stalin, and Mao all possessed a great deal of soft power. He adds: “It is not necessarily better to twist minds than to twist arms”.
An illusion of a free society (‘liberating minds’) is presented and a consumerist culture cultivated. One actor in this drive is the Human Rights Foundation, whose approving Wikipedia entry emphasises its insistence on ‘economic freedom’. In Central and South America and the Middle East it has paved the way for the overthrow of regimes which would not co-operate.
Has it escalated in Iran after its threat to further ‘eliminate’ use of the dollar?
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said to Putin in November: “we can nullify US sanctions, using methods such as eliminating the dollar and replacing it with national currencies”. Forbes earlier reported that this policy would be implemented. Several countries have not fared well after ‘ditching the dollar’:
- In 2002 North Korea’s state-run Korean Trade Bank announced a ban on the use of US dollars in daily payment and settlement for its citizens and foreigners.
- In 2003 Coilin Nunan wondered: “Could one reason for the US wish for ‘regime change’ in Iraq and unprecedented European opposition to such a project be Iraq’s decision two years earlier to accept euros only as payment for its oil, instead of the customary dollars? Could America’s current focus on Iran be similarly explained?”
- In 2004 Fidel Castro decreed that the dollar would no longer be legal for commercial transactions.
It should be stressed that the soft power illusions of total normality, freedom and prosperity are a confidence trick. The unmentioned features of the USA, a country which young Iranians and others have been led by soft power to admire as ‘an ideal state of freedom’, include pollution, child abuse, violent pornography, inequality of opportunity, youth unemployment, high cost housing and military aggression.