The journey into world disorder: 14 years later – a downward spiral?

January 23, 2018

Extracts from the introduction*: Martin Bell writes

“This is a time for storm warnings if ever there was one. Some of those storms, of war and terrorism, are already breaking over us. We worry ourselves to bits about little and local issues ­footpaths, flight paths, career paths and the like, as if the conditions of peace and freedom, on which our societies depend for their normal functioning, are natural entitlements, which can safely be taken for granted  . . .

It is when war becomes a local issue that we really will have something to worry about. And it is worth remembering that in the end war always is a local issue, claiming individual lives in specific places. It is the trench or cellar or street or field where its victims, soldiers or civilians, breathe their last. It is the pilot who says, `I didn’t know who was there. I really didn’t care. You fall totally into execute mode and kill the target‘ . . .

“If we don’t blow ourselves into oblivion the quest for regime change, or whatever other military adventures attract our leaders, and if we don’t continue to go to war for its own sake, then future generations will look back on life in the Western democracies at the start of the twenty-first century, at least until 11 September 2001, as a sort of golden age, or fools’ paradise – depending on the strength of the hostile forces ranged against us.

From where I have been and what I have seen, my antennae tell me that the fools’ paradise theory is very much nearer the mark. The Second Gulf War, an exercise of raw power that applied the values of the Wild West to the relations between states, has sharpened the edge of the argument . . .

“We share with creatures who are in every respect less destructive than we are. With a few exceptions, the fiercest predator or venomous reptile kills only one at a time, for food or in self-defence, and is benign in relation to man.

“We kill our own more than any other species on earth, and we do it to the point of genocide. In the ratio of civilian to military casualties, the wars in the collapsed states of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have mocked the Geneva Conventions and victimized the innocent to an unprecedented degree.

“Weapons of mass destruction proliferate – and not only those in the hands of sovereign or rogue states. A passenger jet flown into a skyscraper is as much a weapon of mass destruction as a nuclear warhead. So is a sea mine rolled downhill into a village, or a 500 pound aircraft bomb bolted to a rocket and fired into a crowded city centre, or a mortar bomb aimed at a market place. These are not imagined examples. I have seen their effects at first hand  . . . 

“The Cold War was safer than this . . .

“Our way of life is defended by new and ever more ingenious ways of death. The sole remaining superpower seeks out its enemies and blasts them with the firepower of its missiles, drones, long-range bombers and carrier-based aircraft. By answering terror with counter-terror, it bids for the status of the world’s most hated nation. Too bad about the collateral damage and the needless taking of life. The higher the warplanes fly, the harder it is for their pilots to distinguish between a friend and a foe, an allied and an enemy reconnaissance vehicle (Iraq), a tank and a tractor (Kosovo), a terrorist cell and a wedding party (Afghanistan). The mark of Cain is upon us . . .

Language is another casualty

“When we speak of degrading an enemy’s assets, what we actually mean is killing people – the unarmed and the armed, the innocent and the guilty, blown to bits in the same high-explosive inferno. The same applies to `blue on blue’ or ‘friendly fire’ – the code for attacking our allies. Power and ignorance, like officers and maps, are a dangerous combination . . .

“The United Nations, the last best hope of mankind, is a forlorn cave of winds on New York’s First Avenue – invoked (when it is convenient to do so and bypassed when it isn’t

“The most vital issues of war and peace are resolved in something close to a state of anarchy. The rule of international law is whatever the White House, with an obedient echo from Downing Street, says that it is in the New American Century. ‘If we need to act we will act,’ said President Bush, `and we don’t need the approval of the United Nations to do so’ . . .

The war in Iraq, waged without a specific or sufficient United Nations mandate, was the sort of imperial enterprise that, in the sweep of history, belonged more to the nineteenth than the twenty-­first, century. It was gunboat diplomacy, conducted not with ships’ cannons, but with all the weapons of mass destruction that at the science of the new millennium can procure . . .

Our media, which should be informing us, are instead turning out the light and joining the stampede from reality in the blind and mad pursuit of commercial advantage, of profit without honour.

“The culture of celebrity, like an army of ants, has colonized the news pages both tabloid and broadsheet . . . Television is the god that failed . . . It has not yet become the worst that it can be, but it is working hard on the project and is still on a downward trajectory. Just when you think it has hit the bottom, it finds new depths to plumb.

“The outcome is that it serves us less as a window on the world than as a barrier to it. Its screen is only a screen in the original sense – something that blocks our view of what lies on the other side of it . . . and then, because we find these things strangely unreal (and they have already been censored by the `good taste brigade’ of broadcasting to stop them upsetting us too much), we take refuge in `reality TV’ and the bromides of Big Brother.

“Our reach has exceeded our grasp. Something is seriously out of joint. We are left with no heroes, but only celebrities. We need a survival strategy, but seem to lack enough of what it takes to put one together: understanding, courage, compassion, common sense, connectedness, care for each other, steadiness under fire and memory. 

“What follows is a journey through the new world disorder Better fasten your seat belts. This could be a rough ride.”

 

 

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*THROUGH GATES OF FIRE – A journey into World Disorder, by Martin Bell, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003

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Indian boxer’s message of peace

August 7, 2017

A stand-off in a remote frontier region beside the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has become increasingly tense. At the heart of the dispute are different interpretations of where the “trijunction” – the point where the three countries’ borders meet – precisely lies. China argues its territory extends south to an area called Gamochen, while India says Chinese control ends at Batanga La, further to the north.

Avoiding escalation

To avoid escalation, frontline troops in the area do not generally carry weapons, and the Chinese and Indian troops reportedly clashed by “jostling” bumping chests, without punching or kicking, in order to force the other side backwards – see video (Hindi commentary).

The current standoff began on 16 June when a column of Chinese troops accompanied by construction vehicles and road-building equipment began moving south into what Bhutan considers its territory. Bhutan requested assistance from Delhi, which sent forces to resist the Chinese advance.

On Thursday, China demanded India immediately remove troops from the border, accusing it of building up troops and repairing roads along its side of the border next to the Indian state of Sikkim.

 

The BBC reports that Vijender Singh, a middleweight Indian boxer, beat China’s Zulpikar Maimaitiali on points on Saturday to retain his WBO Asia Pacific super middleweight title and take his opponent’s WBO Oriental super belt. But he dedicated his win to “India-China friendship”.

After the unanimous verdict in Mumbai, Singh returned to the ring, taking the microphone and saying: “I don’t want this title. I will give it (and the belt) back to Zulpikar.” He added: “I don’t want tension on the border. It’s a message of peace. That’s important.”

 

 

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Social media: for militarising the young and pacifying the attacked

March 3, 2017

The blurb: “Social media has become an increasingly vital tool for the armed forces in the 21st Century.

“Not only in order to reach out to a wider and younger audience globally for recruitment and information purposes but as a new front in warfare. What soldiers, airmen and sailors post online can be crucial to winning the hearts and minds of local populations, weakening the enemy’s narrative and as an instrument in the proliferation of cyber warfare”.

The SMi PR group held its 6th Annual Social Media Within the Defence and Military Sector in the Holiday Inn, Bloomsbury. Their programme:

  • to present the latest concepts and ideas on how to enhance the outreach of the military in the digital sphere,
  • the integration of social media activities within the whole spectrum of operations conducted by the military both at home and abroad,
  • to hear from some of the leading voices of social media within the industry and NATO and allied militaries,
  • to focus on the effects of social media on and off the battlefield through training and application,
  • to learn from the commercial sector on how to create an effective social media strategy,
  • to learn from the military about how they are utilizing digital media channels to project their activities to a wider audience,
  • to discover how social media is intertwining with other aspects of warfare to create a multi-levelled war zone both in the real world and the virtual one
  • and to discover how popular social media brands operate with militaries in a defence environment.

The only named sponsor: Thales, the French multinational company that designs and builds electrical systems and provides services for the aerospace, defence, ground transportation and security market.

 

 

 

 


Democracy in action: Swiss people had a direct say in military procurement

November 21, 2016

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Many people in Switzerland, a country which has not fought a war in 200 years, are convinced there is no military threat now, nor in the foreseeable future. Swiss voters therefore, in 2014, blocked the government’s $3.5 billion deal to replace its fleet of Northrop F-5 Tiger fighters with 22 Gripen fighter jets from Saab.

Vested commercial interests and the Swiss upper and lower houses of parliament backed the deal, mounting a campaign of expensive advertisements favour of buying the jets, but despite this public relations onslaught, Swiss Socialists, Greens and the Group for Switzerland without an Army secured a referendum by collecting the 50,000 signatures needed.

gripen2-graphic

Reuters reported that around 53.4% voted against the government’s proposal and twelve cantons rejected the creation of a fund for the acquisition – the no vote was especially strong in the west of the country.

Andreas Weibel of the Group for Switzerland without an Army, emphasises that only in Switzerland do people have a direct say in their country’s military procurement.

Two years later, however, as Flight Global records, a second effort will be made to  acquire these new fighter planes: defence minister Guy Parmelin has announced that a study into the acquisition of a new fighter will be submitted to parliament in 2017.

 

 

 


Vatican conference: there is no justification for war – prioritise work for a just peace

April 15, 2016

 

Western media – apart from the Catholic Press – appear to be in a state of shock judging from their absence from first 100 entries brought up by a Google search. The only coverage found was one Machiavellian reaction from the BBC, by implication upholding the current devastating military aggressions, regurgitating Just War doctrine and giving no indication that the Vatican conference had rejected it. Later, another rear-guard action was found in Providence, ‘a journal of Christianity and American Foreign Policy’ – its only redeeming feature being this photograph:

vatican ceiling

The participants of the conference stated that there is no ‘just war’ in a press release on Thursday morning.

Joshua J. McElwee, NCR’s Vatican correspondent reports that the Vatican’s first conference – to reevaluate just war theory, justifications for violence and re-examine the Catholic church’s long-held teachings on just war theory, was cohosted by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and Pax Christi International on April 11-13.

The conference was organized around four themes: Experiences of Nonviolence, Jesus’ Way of Nonviolence, Nonviolence and Just Peace, and Moving Beyond Unending War, led by experts in the separate topic areas.

The eighty attenders included participants engaged in global nonviolent struggles in countries such as Chile, Japan, Sri Lanka, South Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya, Palestine and Burundi. They have developed a new moral framework rejecting ethical justifications for war and displacing the centuries-old just war theory as the main Catholic response to violence. Also taking part were a senior policy fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace, several noted theologians, and Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire.

Just War theory uses a series of criteria to evaluate whether use of violence can be considered morally justifiable. First referred to by fourth century bishop St. Augustine of Hippo, it was later articulated in depth by 13th century theologian St.Thomas Aquinas and is today outlined by four conditions in the formal Catechism of the Catholic Church.

One criteria for the moral justification of war in the Catechism is that “the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated” and notes that “the power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.” Below: killed by widely used ‘modern means’ – the armed drone.

children drone killed

Conference organizers said in a note to participants: “After more than 1,500 years and repeated use of the just war criteria to sanction war rather than to prevent war, the Catholic Church, like many other Christian communities, is rereading the text of Jesus’ life and re-appropriating the Christian vocation of pro-active peacemaking . . . Emphasizing the need to work for a Catholic Church, the Church is moving away from the acceptability of calling war ‘just’ . . . because that language undermines the moral imperative to develop tools and capacity for nonviolent conflict.”

As part of their goals for the conference, organizers stated they sought a “new articulation of Catholic teaching on war and peace, including explicit rejection of ‘just war’ language” and “an alternative ethical framework for engaging acute conflict and atrocities by developing the themes and practices of nonviolent conflict transformation and just peace.”

The outcome

The Catholic Church’s long-held teachings on just war theory were ‘bluntly rejected’, as having too often been used to justify violent conflicts and it was stated that the global church must reconsider Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence.

The group’s final appeal states: “The time has come for our Church to be a living witness and to invest far greater human and financial resources in promoting a spirituality and practice of active non-violence . . . In all of this, Jesus is our inspiration and model, neither passive nor weak, Jesus’ nonviolence was the power of love in action.”

ugandans need peaceUgandans plead for peace: http://chrisblattman.com/projects/sway/

“I came a long distance for this conference, with a very clear mind that violence is outlived,” said Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, Uganda. “It is out of date for our world of today. We have to sound this with a strong voice. Any war is a destruction. There is no justice in destruction . . . It is outdated.”


The cause of peace is not helped by sub-headline sensation-mongering

February 4, 2016

“President Assad’s army cut the last supply line for rebel forces in the northern city of Aleppo yesterday as peace talks in Switzerland collapsed”.

Not so.

alleppo destruction

It was a relief to read in the actual report by the Times’ Bel Trew in Cairo, that the Syrian army said it had broken a three-year rebel siege of two government-held Shia villages and the UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, had merely announced a pause in peace talks in Geneva: “I have already fixed a date for the next talks of February 25.”

Most comments were well worth reading:

  • It’s worth remembering that Assad was nominated for an honorary knighthood by Tony Blair’s government, and was a guest of the Queen at Buckingham Palace at the same time. Russia, Iran and Hezbollah have been entirely consistent in where their loyalties lie. It’s “our” foreign policy which is in total disarray.
  • We need a better foreign policy. We are now supporting the insupportable, as the lesser of two evils.
  • The west, Qatar, Turkey and Saudi back the rebels, the rebels fight each other, the Russians, Hezbollah and the Iranians back Assad. Good luck to anyone trying to sort out that mess.
  • And how do you rationalise the behaviour of providing weapons to these so-called rebels which has caused this crisis? Are we humanitarian in our desire to determine the destiny of another nation that is no threat to us?
  • My kids cannot understand why Blair got involved in Iraq and Afghanistan or why Cameron got involved in Libya and Syria. Nor can I. Having correctly predicted the outcome in all four countries, I await any valid excuse for the stupidity of our politicians.


Max Hastings: the military historian who hates war

January 23, 2016

Sir Max Hastings has been called the leading voice in the anti-war sentiment: “(War) can cost an enormous number of lives and a lot of those people haven’t been killed by al-Qaeda or the Taliban but by our bombs and our guns.”

max hastings 2He describes the drone strikes as ‘pred porn’. “The military get seduced by watching live images and being able to say ‘take him out’ from their armchairs.

Everyone seems to think that the First World War in the trenches were awful but all wars are ghastly; the drone business can kid people there is a clean nice way of winning but there isn’t. You have to go in, get your hands dirty, see young men being maimed if you want war, the idea that you can push a few buttons in Lincolnshire and fire a few missiles from a drone is insane.”

Both his parents were journalists and he was determined to succeed in their world, becoming editor of two newspapers and author of 25 books.

“I was brought up to believe that the first duty of a journalist is to be a troublemaker, though I hope one is never an iconoclast doing it for the sake of doing it.”

Alice Thomson and Rachel Sylvester writing for the Times, see him as the leading voice in the anti-war sentiment.

He believes the prime minister was wrong to join the bombing campaign in Syria: “People like me have a responsibility to say, ‘Look there is no plan here, there is no coherent strategy.’ If we don’t say it, who will? . . . I’ve seen so many wars it makes me very wary that military action without purpose is a good idea.

“Cameron is not being correct to say it will keep our streets safe, this isn’t part of a coherent policy, we are making it up as we go along. I would focus far harder on what to do about Islamic radicalisation in this country and not just be thinking about making a gesture by dropping bombs in Syria . . .

“What worries me is his short-termism — his idea of strategy is how to get through until Tuesday. He doesn’t think through what he says, he once described Isis as an existential threat. He’s a clever man, he ought to know better”.

He also believes it is “nonsense” for the prime minister to suggest that 70,000 moderate Syrians are ready to fight. “We just don’t know. The prime minister should be leading a proper debate rather than chucking out spurious figures. There are three threats, Isis, migration and the Syrian war. We can try to combat Isis and treat the refugee crisis seriously but we should not take sides in Syria. There is no point in getting rid of tyrants if we replace them with anarchy or something worse.”

Sir Max, who has just written his first book on military intelligence, The Secret War: Spies, Codes and Guerrillas, 1939-1945, says: “It has been a huge mistake to run down our Foreign Office so our diplomatic presence is weakened. A lot of our best information has come not from spies with moustaches but diplomats in suits . . .In peacetime the best brains don’t need to waste their minds in intelligence but during difficult times and wars intelligence is the front line. Instead of buying the F-35 [fighter jet] we would do much better to spend a fraction of that money identifying and employing really clever people to work in analysis and cybersecurity . . . we need to give up some freedom so we can monitor these people.”

On social media Isis is winning, he thinks: “I would love to scrap the aircraft carriers and run a social media offensive against Isis that destroyed their propaganda machine. Isis is just a ludicrous death cult with no coherent vision to offer rational people. They are absurd.”

What is lacking is people who understand the nuances of battle. “The recent debate in the Commons was preposterous . . . Hilary Benn’s speech was passionate but juvenile, we need to be pragmatic. Politicians can’t give all the answers but they have to pose the questions. The public aren’t as stupid as most politicians think.”