Paraphrasing George Monbiot’s Rings of Power essay: personnel employed by opaquely-funded thinktanks, that formulate and test the policies later adopted by government, circulate in and out of the offices of the UK Prime Minister and US President. Their output is published or reviewed in the print media, most of which is owned by billionaires or multi-millionaires living offshore.
Michèle Flournoy, a former US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and the co-founder of WestExec Advisors, described as ‘a diverse group of senior national security professionals with recent experience at the highest levels of the U.S. government’, has today published an article in the Financial Times.
It is – ostensibly – about the recent India/China confrontation, but is actually another move in what Robert Armstrong calls the US-China fight.
This cartoon replaces WestExec’s patronising cartoon of PM Modi and President Xi battling with stone-age clubs. It is taken from Jonathan Power’s FT article earlier this month:
Fanning the flames: “In principle, it is a moment that demands US leadership to convene and mobilise the region’s democracies”
Embedded in the article are Ms Flournoy’s references to China’s rising military expenditures, its growing assertiveness, coercive measures to enforce excessive maritime claims, expansive global infrastructure development strategy, modernised armed forces and multibillion-dollar state-directed campaign to develop (and steal) key emerging technologies. She adds:
“Its vessels have collided with foreign ships in the South China Sea (Ed, in 2014). Japan protests that its vessels re being harassed in the East China Sea. Chinese aircraft have encroached upon Taiwan, and Beijing has promulgated a new national security law for Hong Kong that seriously erodes its liberties”.
She then calls for deeper security co-operation among like-minded states, naming Japan, the US, India and Australia, urging these ‘major democracies’ and other countries who are anxious about Chinese intentions and capabilities, to treat China’s border clash with India as a clarion call and take steps to protect their common interests and values. If they do not, she continues, China will continue pushing boundaries, posing unacceptable risks to international order, ending: “In practice, however, that may have to wait for a new occupant in the White House”.
Another voice says: ‘The attack on China should stop’
Jonathan Power writes:
“The world is supposed to be pulling together to defeat the Coronavirus and to some extent it is. Earlier on Russia sent special equipment to the US and recently the US has sent some to Russia. China has aided Italy and Africa with doctors and equipment. Tiny Cuba, with its deep pool of doctors, has also helped Africa (detail here). Around the world there is a sense of “we are all in this together” and that this is a bigger problem than the ones the world has faced since World War 2.”
But President Donald Trump has suggested Chinese culpability for spreading the COVID-19, calling the virus “a Chinese virus” – and some Chinese senior officials publicly retorted.
Powers forecasts that the Coronavirus debate over who is right and who is wrong could become a watershed moment in the relationship between the US and China.
The World Health Organization has brought all the world’s countries together to discuss how to go forward now and – as Power continues – Trump’s representatives needed to say “Let’s sit down and with our best scientists discuss not who is to blame but how such diseases can be forestalled”. That is likely to bring a better result.
Power adds that despite Trump’s good-humoured meetings with Xi, “this antagonism is not a new development. There were three rounds of tariffs in 2018, and a fourth one in September last year. The most recent round targeted Chinese imports, from meat to musical instruments, with a 15% duty. He has refused to negotiate an extension of the nuclear weapons reduction agreement with Russia unless China (a relatively small nuclear power) is brought into the deal”.
Though both countries have an extreme superiority complex and think they are exceptional, unlike China, Power notes, the US has sought to prevent the emergence of a peer competitor, whether Western Europe, Russia or China, that could challenge its military dominance.
Fareed Zakaria in Foreign Affairs agrees: “Today’s China is a remarkably responsible nation on the geopolitical and military front. Beijing is now the second-largest funder of the United Nations and its peacekeeping work. It has deployed 2,500 peacekeepers, more than all the other permanent members of the Security Council combined.
It has not gone to war since 1979. It has not used lethal military force abroad since 1988. Nor has it funded or supported proxies or armed insurgents anywhere in the world since the early 1980s. That record of non-intervention is unique among the world’s great powers”. Powers comments: “For its part, the US has attempted regime change around the world 72 times”.
If Michèle Flournoy were to study the writings of Zakaria and Power, heeding the 16th century advice from Thomas Cranmer, to “read mark, learn and inwardly digest” – she might change course.
David Collins, a Committee member of the Movement for the Abolition of War of Friends of Le Monde Diplomatique and of Veterans For Peace UK, has drawn attention to a video on VfP’s website, “Made in the Royal Navy”, published by Child Rights International Network (CRIN). The film charges the British army with intentionally targeting young people from deprived backgrounds for the most dangerous front-line jobs. It plays on the natural anxiety in boys and young men about how they are going to become a man and go out into the world. Its message is that the Navy will remake the raw youth into a heroic version of the inadequate boy that they once were.
The actual experience of most of these youngsters is set out in a report published in August 2019: Conscription by Poverty? Deprivation and army recruitment in the UK.
This is a long-standing concern of many on our mailing list. In 2011, Britain’s child soldiers – 2 reminded readers that, twelve years earlier, the BBC had reported the British Army was being urged by the United Nations to stop sending young soldiers into war.
Following Symon Hill’s work in The Friend, the Ekklesia website, and a Nato Watch article, an article by Michael Bartlet, Parliamentary Liaison Secretary for Quakers in Britain, pointed out that “with the exception of Russia, and apprentices in Ireland, the British Army is unique in Europe in recruiting at the age of 16. Of 14,185 recruits into the army last year, 3,630 or over 25%, joined under the age of 18 . . . Deprivation and army recruitment in the UK . . . Those joining the army at the age of 16 often come from the poorest and least educated backgrounds. Some have reading ages of a child of half that age. They lack the confidence to seek a change in their career in the same way as those training for professions.”
Ian Davis, the Director of NatoWatch, sent a reference to the post by Symon Hill, now placed on its website. He added that the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, together with War Child, UNICEF UK, the Children’s Society, and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England are calling for the Armed Forces Bill to be amended to end the “outdated practice” of recruiting soldiers aged under 18, a call backed by Amnesty International UK and the United Nations Association.
Five years later Quakers in Scotland and ForcesWatch presented a petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for greater scrutiny, guidance and consultation on the visits of armed forces to schools in Scotland. Over four-fifths of state secondary schools in Scotland were visited by the armed forces in a two-year period, according to a 2014 ForcesWatch report.
A 2016 report by public health charity Medact found that soldiers recruited aged 16 and 17 were twice as likely to be killed or injured when in combat compared to those enlisted when aged 18 or over. Medact also found that they were more likely to commit suicide, self-harm, abuse alcohol and develop post-traumatic stress disorder than older recruits
In May this year, the BMI Journal reviewed an article: Adverse health effects of recruiting child soldiers, published in February. It rejected the main justification resting on fears of a ‘recruitment shortfall’: saying that given the extensive harms described in its report, to put recruitment figures above the health and well-being of children and adolescents seems misguided and counterproductive for both the Ministry of Defence as a governmental body and wider society.The second justification alleging economic and occupational benefits to recruits, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds was also rejected:
“(W)e have seen that it is precisely child recruits from disadvantaged backgrounds who are at highest risk of adverse outcomes in the military. Furthermore, figures from 2017 show that those recruited under the age of 18 constituted 24% of those who voluntarily left the Armed Forces before completing their service—this also increases the likelihood of lower mental health outcomes”.
It supported the views of those of the fourteen organisations mentioned here, recommending that the UK end its practice of recruiting adolescents to the armed forces.
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
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.
British politicians: stop shouting adjectives, banging drums and dropping bombs (Jenkins) and exert unrelenting international pressure for a negotiated settlement (Corbyn)
“It is a war crime to disable, maim or poison a victim by chemical or biological means, yet it is permissible to blow them to bits. Dropping chlorine evokes howls of horror. Dropping bunker busters does not. Cluster munitions, the most horrible of delayed action weapons, remain in the arsenals of NATO armies”.
Paul (left) wrote: “Fair enough, and of course I agree that the war mongering these last two days, particularly by the BBC, is shocking indeed. But to equate CW with other munitions is to miss the point that they are expressly illegal, and we have to be building up stronger humanitarian law piece by piece and defending strongly those pieces already in place”.
The editor replied: “Yes, I think Jenkins could have made a valid point just by referring to conventional bombs”. After checking on the illegality of cluster bombs she asked Paul, “Did US ever sign this?”
He replied, “No, I don’t think the US is a signatory. It certainly hasn’t ratified” and continued:
“I was on Russia Today yesterday saying that the best response for the Russians now would be to strengthen their call for a UN Security Council meeting and present all the evidence they have that the chemical weapons attack was not a Syrian air force one … or to come up with further evidence for their current explanation.
“The worst aspect of the cruise missile attack was the way it by-passed the UN Security Council and was illegal and is a major step in the direction of unilateralism and flagrant use of force.
“There are plenty of conspiracy theories going around, but the consequences are that Russia will no longer tolerate US aircraft over Syria and will strengthen the S300-400 systems that appear to have shot a majority of the 59 cruise missiles out of the sky.
“… and I see that Russia is sending its own missile destroyer into the Med today”.
Will parliament stand firm again?
*The British American Security Information Council (BASIC) works to address security challenges by building confidence in a shared, sustainable security agenda. We work in both nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states, with a specific expert focus on the UK, US, Europe and the Middle East.
Post truth: ‘for the birds’ ?
With thanks to Tom Rigby (above) – known for his effective advocacy on behalf of farmers poisoned by use of government-required organophosphate sheep dips (latest reference) – who often offers worthwhile Twitter feeds. Today one led to a rare challenge to the widespread acceptance of assertions that we live in a “post-truth” world.
He links to an article by Robert Fisk (‘always worth reading’) who bluntly asserts: “We do not live in a “post-truth” world, neither in the Middle East nor in the West – nor in Russia, for that matter. We live in a world of lies. And we always have lived in a world of lies”.
Rune Møller Stahl’s PhD fellow at University of Copenhagen, Department of Political Science and Bue Rübner Hansen is a postdoctoral fellow at Aarhus University, Denmark explore the subject in Jacobin: a voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics and culture.
Stahl and Hansen use the term ‘liberals’ in a way that needs further definition.
Far removed from the admirable political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality, an online search (including Wiki) offers the explanation that Liberal writers start from the belief that economic liberalism’s values — the right to private property, the valorization of self-interest, and formal freedom without material equality — best describe human nature.
To explain what happened in the United Kingdom and the United States this year these writers all agree that voters and politicians increasingly deny facts, manipulate the truth, and prefer emotion to expertise .They ask how voters could defy the warnings of so many pundits, wonks, and fact-checkers?
Almost unanimously, they answered that we live in an age characterized by post-factual politics and noted that, pushed by major media organizations like Forbes and the New York Times, “post-truth” recently became Oxford Dictionaries’ new word of the year.
Stahl and Hansen sardonically observe that the liberal media don’t seem to know how we entered this post-fact world or when the factual age, which must have preceded it, ended, asking “Was it in the 2000s, when the whole world debated imaginary weapons of mass destruction before being conned into war?”
Historical points made in Jacobin:
- In the 1990s centrist technocrats like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair ‘pioneered . . . a false progressivism that was premised on profitability and stopped short of any proposal the political center might object to, no matter how just’.
- The right-wing fringe led by Fox News, conspiracy theorists, and televangelists remained marginal until 9/11/01 threw the United States — liberal and conservative alike — into a patriotic mass hysteria that culminated in two poorly planned wars.
- But historical events started calling liberal truths into question. The 2008 financial crash revealed the failure of liberal economics. Occupy and Black Lives Matter threw light on structural problems that triangulation and managerialism not only can’t address but refuse to.
In sum, they end that it’s time to stop blaming (the current version of) fake news and realize why so many believe it: the simple reason is that the mainstream of the political class have squandered people’s trust, by not having their best interests at heart. Stahl and Hansen believe that only a democratic revival will challenge authoritarianism and liberal managerialism and combat the regressives who now run their country – and ours.
Saudi Arabia, with Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan led a gulf coalition airstrike against Yemen in March. The Obama administration is supporting the Saudi-led air war with intelligence, air refueling operations and expediting weapons deliveries and other crucial support.
Today a Moseley reader draws our attention to the news reported by the Guardian that – eager to follow suit – David Cameron has extolled the ‘defence’ products made by BAE Systems and assured the company that every effort would be made by the UK government to support the selling of their equipment to Saudi Arabia, Oman and other countries.
According to a BBC report, Houthis – aka Shiite Muslim rebels – are seeking change from weak governance, corruption, resource depletion and poor infrastructure, unemployment, high food prices, limited social services and large-scale displacement.
Tens of thousands of Yemenis have taken to the streets of the capital, Sana’a, to voice their anger at the Saudi invasion.
Death and destruction: the fruits of Saudi, UK, USA labour