Beware the exaggerated portrayal of Russia as the unprovoked aggressor and the fragile western alliance as innocent defenders

October 21, 2016

In the FT, Professor Robert H. Wade, LSE Professor of Political Economy,comments on a reference in an article by Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and former US permanent representative to NATO.


Daalder argues that Russian president Vladimir Putin “needs the antagonism of the west to protect his standing at home”, and therefore acts as the unprovoked aggressor in order both to generate that antagonism and to expand the boundaries of Russia’s territorial control. Daalder therefore advocates that the west must strengthen the western alliance’s military forces around Russia (“The best answer to Russian aggression is containment”).

Wade questions Daalder’s statement that “the core of our strength is western unity”: stating that “In fact, western unity is fragile”. As Mr Putin needs the antagonism of the west to protect his standing at home, so the west needs the antagonism of Russia (helped by China) to glue the fractious alliance together.

Intelligence of the ‘dubious, politically ‘fixed’ kind used 12 years ago to ‘justify’ the US-led attack on Iraq’

The western exaggeration of the Russian government’s role in the civil war in Ukraine is cited by Wade and we are informed that eight retired US intelligence analysts wrote a letter to German chancellor Angela Merkel in August 2014 warning her that the intelligence supporting the accusation of a major Russian invasion of Ukraine “seems to be of the same dubious, politically ‘fixed’ kind used 12 years ago to ‘justify’ the US-led attack on Iraq”.

He warns Western voters and taxpayers to be wary of western governments’ exaggerated portrayal of Russia as the unprovoked aggressor and themselves as innocent defenders, which serves to fortify the fragile western alliance.

And adds that it also satisfies the arms industry, for which weapons systems against threatening states are much more profitable than those against terrorists . . . advising that if the aim is genuinely to curb Russian aggression, western states and NATO have to be less aggressive towards Russia.




Gorbachev: political veterans, civil society, academics, all who are not indifferent – should urge our leaders to act

October 20, 2016


MOSCOW, October 9. /TASS/. Mr Gorbachev opened by thanking the government of Iceland for invitation to participate in the conference marking the 30th anniversary of the Reykjavik summit of the leaders of the USSR and the United States.

He recalled that a few months before the first summit in Geneva, he and the US President made a statement: “Nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought; our countries will not seek military superiority”. But that statement was not followed by decisive steps to stop the nuclear arms race.

Extracts (read the whole statement here):

The overall situation in our relations was also causing grave concern. Many thought that relations were sliding back into a Cold War. US Navy ships were entering our territorial waters; the United States had tested a new, highly powerful nuclear weapon. The tensions were aggravated by hostile rhetoric and “spy scandals.”

Meanwhile, the Chernobyl nuclear accident had been a vivid reminder to all of us of the nuclear danger that we faced. I have often said that it divided my life into two parts: before and after Chernobyl. The Soviet leadership unanimously agreed on the need to stop and reverse the nuclear arms race, to get the stalled nuclear disarmament talks off the ground.

We proposed a clear and coherent framework for an agreement: cutting in half all the components of the strategic triad, including a 50-percent reduction in heavy land-based missiles, which the United States viewed from the start as “the most destabilizing.” We were also ready to accept a zero option for intermediate and shorter-range missiles.

I appreciated the fact that President Reagan, during the course of our discussions, spoke out resolutely, and I believe sincerely, in favor of ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction, of all types of nuclear weapons. In this, we found common ground. Experts led by Akhromeyev and Nitze worked overnight and found many points of convergence based on our constructive position.

Nevertheless, we were not able to conclude an agreement. President Reagan wanted, not just to continue the SDI program, but to obtain our consent to the deployment of a global missile defense system. I could not agree to that.

The key message in my statement for the press was: “In spite of all the drama, Reykjavik is not a failure – it is a breakthrough. For the first time, we looked over the horizon.” This is the view I still hold today. It was the breakthrough at Reykjavik that set off the process of real reduction of nuclear weapons. The unprecedented agreements we reached with Presidents Reagan and Bush on strategic and medium-range nuclear arms and on tactical weapons have made it possible to reduce the stockpiles and eliminate thousands of nuclear warheads – more than 80 percent of Cold War arsenals, as Russia and the United States reported to the Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference.

In 2010, the Presidents of Russia and the United States concluded the New Start Treaty. Nevertheless, we have to recognize that the process of nuclear disarmament has slowed down.I am concerned and alarmed by the current situation. Right before our eyes, the window to a nuclear weapon-free world opened in Reykjavik is being shut and sealed.

New, more powerful types of nuclear weapons are being created.

Their qualitative characteristics are being ramped up. Missile defense systems are being deployed. Prompt non-nuclear strike systems are being developed, comparable in their deadly impact to the weapons of mass destruction. The military doctrines of nuclear powers have changed for the worse, expanding the limits of “acceptable” use of nuclear weapons. It is mostly due to this that the risk of nuclear proliferation has increased.

The problems and conflicts of the past two decades could have been settled by peaceful, political and diplomatic means. Instead, attempts are being made to resolve them by using force. This was the case in the former Yugoslavia, in Iraq, in Libya, in Syria.

I want to emphasize that this has not resulted in the resolution of these issues. It resulted in the erosion of international law, in undermining trust, in militarization of politics and thinking, and the cult of force.

In these circumstances, it is becoming increasingly difficult to speak of moving towards a nuclear-free world.  We must be honest and recognize it. Unless international affairs are put back on a normal track and international relations are demilitarized, the goal that we jointly set in Reykjavik will become more distant rather than closer.

I am deeply convinced that a nuclear weapon-free world is not a utopia, but an imperative necessity. We need to constantly remind world leaders of this goal and of their commitment.

As long as nuclear weapons exist, there is a danger that someday they will be used: as a result either of accident or technical failure, or of evil intent of man – an insane person or terrorist. We must therefore reaffirm the goal of prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons.

Politicians who think that problems or disputes can be resolved through the use of military force (even as a “last resort”) must be rejected by society; they must leave the stage

I believe that the question of prohibiting nuclear weapons should be submitted for consideration of the International Court of Justice.

None of the global problems faced by humanity can be solved by military means. Our common challenges – further reduction of nuclear weapons, non-proliferation¸ fighting terrorism, prevention of environmental catastrophe, overcoming poverty and backwardness – again need to be put on top of the agenda.

We need to resume dialogue. Essentially abandoning it in the last two years was the gravest mistake. It is high time to resume it across the entire agenda, without limiting it to the discussion of regional issues on which there are disagreements.

We need to understand once and for all: A safe and stable world cannot be built at the will or as a project of one country or group of countries. Either we build together a world for all, or mankind will face the prospect of new trials and tragedies.

This is what we – political veterans, civil society, academics, all who are not indifferent – should say to our leaders, urging them to act.




People from these countries visited the site this week

October 19, 2016





Children in the army

October 4, 2016

Quakers in Scotland and ForcesWatch presented a petition to the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 15 September 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.

child-soldiersChild Soldiers International reports that in 2015 almost one in four new recruits into the British army were children under the age of 18.

They are directed into frontline combat roles, such as the infantry, which suffers more fatalities than any other part of the armed forces.

Children in the army have higher rates of mental health and addiction problems and receive lower standards of education than their civilian peers. They can also be made to stay in the army up to two years longer than adult recruits.

The public petition, lodged jointly by ForcesWatch and Quakers in Scotland, has more than 1000 signatories. Ekklesia reports that it calls on The Scottish Parliament Education and Culture Committee to hold an inquiry into armed forces visits, and for the Scottish Government and local authorities to:

  • Produce guidance for local authorities and schools on how visits by the armed forces should be conducted, taking account of the unique nature of armed forces careers, and ensuring political balance.
  • Increase scrutiny of armed forces visits to schools, including monitoring the number and location of visits and seeking to establish whether there is a link with deprivation indicators.
  • Ensure schools always consult parents/guardians as to whether they are happy for their child to take part in armed forces activities at school.


‘Fun days’ often provide an informal introduction to the idea of recruitment.

Mairi Campbell-Jack, Scottish parliamentary engagement officer for Quakers in Britain, says: ‘This issue needs scrutiny and public debate by all in Scottish society, especially parents and children themselves.’ Emma Sangster, Coordinator for ForcesWatch, which monitors military recruitment practices, says,

“We hope this petition will spark a wider public debate and see Scotland follow Wales in accepting recommendations to increase scrutiny of armed forces visits and broaden the range of employers going into schools.”




Pope Francis speaks from Assisi: “War . . . driven by greed for interests, money, resources, not religion”

September 21, 2016


An annual World Day of Prayer event is held in the medieval town of Assisi in central Italy, to combat the persecution of peoples for their faiths and extremism ‘dressed up’ as religion.

Pope Francis has insisted that violence committed in the name of religion has nothing to do with God. During a trip to Poland in August he said “the world is at war,” but driven by greed for “interests, money, resources, not religion”.

During a private visit, he met faith leaders and victims of war to discuss growing religious fanaticism and escalating violence around the world.


The Times of Israel reported that he said there is no God of war and called on “all men and women of good will, of any religion, to pray for peace.”

The pope reminded the West that while it had suffered a string of deadly jihadist attacks, there were parts of the world where cities were being flattened by fighting, prisoners were tortured and families were starved to death:

“We are frightened… by some terrorist acts but this is nothing compared to what is happening in those countries, in those lands where day and night bombs fall,” he said at a morning mass at the Vatican: “As we pray today, it would be good if we all felt shame, shame that humans, our brothers and sisters, are capable of doing this.”

In the Piazza of Saint Francis, Assisi, Radio Vatican broadcast his appeal for peace: “Let us urge leaders of nations to defuse the causes of war: the lust for power and money, the greed of arms’ dealers, personal interests and vendettas for past wrongs.  We need a greater commitment to eradicating the underlying causes of conflicts: poverty, injustice and inequality, the exploitation of and contempt for human life”.




Proper soldiering: developing a different view of security

September 3, 2016

Amid appalling news of man-made brutality from Yemen, Syria and other conutries a ray of humanity penetrates, recalling senior military figures who have advocated a constructive use of military skills, in environmental work, emergencies, peacekeeping, peace building and – first and foremost they would say – defence of their country’s border.

Michael Harbottle, a former chief of peacekeeping forces in Cyprus, pointed out the advantages of using military skills and equipment in What is Proper Soldiering? p15:

“From time immemorial armies and navies have responded to calls for help in peacetime. Now the air forces can provide an additional dimension to that help by being able to transport aid and rescue teams into remote and isolated areas not easily accessible by land. Flooding and earthquakes have been the more prevalent disasters for which all three services of the armed forces have been required. The navy with their small craft have provided a means of reaching and bringing to safety stranded victims of cyclone disasters”.

General Eustace D’Souza (Mumbai) gave a memorable and well-received One World Trust lecture in the House of Commons in 2001.

He spoke about his work promoting the creation of a structure for environmental protection within the three Indian armed services, so that today every unit has a specific environmental role to play. He regarded this as central to global security and part of the whole ‘web of life’.

The San Diego UnionTribune reports that in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Federal Labour Agency chief Frank-Juergen Weise formally initiated a pilot project on Thursday.

german troops help refugees

Refugees from the Syrian bombardment are learning how to reconstruct houses and acquiring other civil reconstruction skills at a German military education centre where, for 12 weeks, military experts are teaching 120 refugees engineering, construction, sanitation and other skills in three four-week courses. “The goal is for these young people to get good basic training,” the defense minister told reporters.

Von der Leyen said the idea is that the eventual rebuilding of Syria will need “more than just new stones, it will take people with confidence and diverse skills.” Even if the refugees decide not to return home, the programme will help them to acquire the skills they need to work in Germany. Ali Sharqi, a Syrian refugee, took time out from learning how to repair a damaged house to talk with reporters; his primary goal is to learn a marketable skill. As the minister, Ursula von der Leyen said, “We don’t know how long it will take until they can return, so they have to be able to make a living while they are here”.

Eirwen Harbottle recalls meeting Dr (later Prof) Ewan Anderson (geopolitics, Durham University), who has carried out research and practical studies in the Middle East on water and minerals resources issues, international boundary disputes, particularly relating to water, refugee movements, development, minerals and strategic resources. He discussed a joint project in which he would analyse the scientific research presently carried out by different armed forces into environmental/climate issues, while Michael Harbottle would concentrate on the psychological impact on military thinking.

She added that it was clear that individuals in the armed forces who were engaged in environmental protection and allied research, were developing a very different mindset from the old, traditional ideas about ‘expertise in warfighting’ being the basis of security.

More from Michael Harbottle:



Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko: for more than 27 years, quiet symbols of a now pacifist nation

August 12, 2016

A televised speech by Emperor Akihito of Japan is being described by the country’s media as his final act of resistance against the prime minister, a bid to halt the return to Japan’s aggressive pre-war attitudes and policies as Japan’s remilitarization is steadily underway with a revived weapons industry and rising armaments sales.


The emperor remembers the war and its aftermath first hand and was thought to be making a lightly veiled reference to these issues in some passages: “I have considered that the first and foremost duty of the Emperor is to pray for peace and the happiness of all the people. At the same time, I also believe that in some cases it is essential to stand by the people, listen to their voices, and be close to them in their thoughts.”

Mari Yamamoto in the IAC/InterActiveCorp’s Newsweek/Daily Beast notes that in recent years, the emperor’s speeches and those of Crown Prince Naruhito have been studied for their sentiments on the importance of pacifism and the post-war constitution:

“They have remembered honestly Japan’s crimes during the war, and voiced subtle opposition to the renewed militarism of the current administration” 

japan article 9 graphicShe adds that the Emperor and his wife, Empress Michiko, have reigned more than 27 years as quiet symbols of a pacifist nation, living voices reminding the Japanese people of the horrific past that the country endured and that Imperial Japan imposed on others, whereas Prime Minister Abe and his political allies have long derided Japan’s constitution as a humiliation imposed upon the Japanese people by the United States occupation government, impinging on “basic human rights.”

On his birthday in 2013, the Emperor said: “After the war, Japan was occupied by the Allied forces and, based on peace and democracy as values to be upheld, established the Constitution of Japan, undertook various reforms and built the foundation of Japan that we know today. I have profound gratitude for the efforts made by the Japanese people at the time, who helped reconstruct and improve the country devastated by the war. I also feel that we must not forget the help extended to us in those days by Americans with an understanding of Japan and Japanese culture.”

Abe’s visit to the shrine and the problems surrounding it were taken up in the 2015 US government report, Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress (PDF). The Imperial Family, even during the previous emperor’s reign came to an end, stopped paying their respects after fourteen convicted war criminals were enshrined in 1978. Neither the current emperor nor the crown prince has visited Yasukuni since.

In recent years, the Royal Couple have visited the sites where Japanese soldiers died overseas, expressing their condolences also to the foreign nationals killed in the war, but in contrast Abe and many in his party are known supporters of the Yasukuni Shrine where Japan’s convicted war criminals such as Hideki Tojo are remembered.

“Everything the Emperor says is correct,” said the acting head of Nippon Kaigi, Tadae Takubo, in a press conference last month – a pronouncement which puts Abe and his cabinet in a difficult position.

Will he retire and see his wishes respected in a pacifist Japan,  with a constitution that guarantees basic human rights and renounces war?