Many readers will echo Verhofstadt’s view on the EU: “Once we fought now we talk!”

August 3, 2017

 

Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: “On this day in 1914, Germany declared war on France. Once we fought now we talk! This is why I am proud to be European!” 

Verhofstadt was once suggested as a candidate to replace Romano Prodi as the next President of the European Commission, but his candidacy was opposed and rejected by a coalition led by Tony Blair and other leaders who had disagreed with Verhofstadt’s uncompromising criticisms of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq the previous year.”

The writer wanted to learn more about this Belgian politician after receiving this link from Felicity Arbuthnot, whose recent audio account of the past and present of Mosul some readers will have heard.

Guy Verhofstadt served as the 47th Prime Minister of Belgium from 1999 to 2008. He is the Leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group and has been an MEP since 2009.

At one stage, he and his party, Flemish Liberals and Democrats (VLD), formed a coalition with the French-speaking Flemish socialists and Greens in Brussels and Wallonia.

He has been put forward as the possible candidate for replacing José Manuel Barroso as the president of the European Commission by a coalition of Greens, Socialists and Liberals.

In 2015 he supported the European Commission’s proposal to distribute asylum requests for migrants over all countries of the European Union, opposed by UK and France. He also called on governments of France, the UK, and Hungary to stop building walls and increasing border security measures and redirect their efforts to  humanitarian assistance.

There were other subjects on which we would not agree, but his position on migrants seems just and humane. He also fosters progressive political alliances which many in this country advocate.

 

 

 

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Japan’s closely monitored peacekeeping mission in South Sudan

July 28, 2017

The Japanese public supports the country’s ‘peace constitution’ and is keenly aware of any breach of its terms. At present they are scrutinising the role played by the 350-strong contingent of Japan’s Self-Defense Force, which was based in Juba after fighting in the area had halted and a UN peacekeeping force was in place – a precondition for the SDF’s participation. Its mission was to build infrastructure and be responsible for engineering and construction in the capital.

United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) peacekeepers from Japan assemble a drainage pipe at Tomping camp, where some 15,000 people who fled their homes following recent fighting are sheltered by the United Nations in Juba.

Its mission ended at the end of May this year after facing public criticism because the second contingent was allowed to guard UN bases, mount rescue missions and escort U.N. staff and personnel of non-government bodies (NGO). Though this was in line with a security law passed in 2015 that expanded the SDF’s overseas role, critics say it is weakening Japan’s war-renouncing constitution.

Defence Minister Tomomi Inada, who earlier rejected opposition calls to resign because she refused to describe the conflict as “fighting” has been questioned, as part of an ‘internal probe’, about the Ground Self-Defense Force troops’ activity logs.

The logs — which initially were said to have been discarded by the Ground Self-Defense Force but had actually been preserved by them – described tense moments last summer in South Sudan. Fuji News Network reported it has obtained “handwritten notes” of a Feb. 13 meeting, taken by a senior Defense Ministry official, that showed Ms Inada was informed by a senior Ground Staff Office member of the existence of the logs’ digital data. She denied an allegation that she endorsed a decision by the ministry and the Ground Staff Office to keep GSDF’s retention of the logs from the public.

The logs had been kept on the computer of the Self-Defense Forces Joint Staff Office but immediately after the announcement the GSDF erased the data it had in its possession, at the instruction of a top official of the GSDF staff office, according to government sources.

This was controversial information that could have affected a parliamentary debate on whether to give the GSDF members new, and possibly riskier, roles during the U.N. peacekeeping operation, in line with the country’s security legislation that took effect in March last year.

On Friday 28th July Ms Inada resigned.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters at his residence in Tokyo today that Japan would continue providing development aid to South Sudan.

If even 10% of Britain’s population scrutinised the country’s defence operations in this way its foreign policy might take a very different course.

 

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Middle East Eye: Peter Oborne reviews Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy     

July 2, 2017

Last month’s statistics show visitors from seventeen countries, with  ‘Neutral or non-aggressive countries and states’ as the most widely read entry and twice as many readers from the United States as from UK. Today we draw on Peter Oborne’s article about the foreign policy of the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.

After a reference to the ‘colossal debt of gratitude for restoring genuine political debate to Britain’ and ‘his extremely brave and radical decision to break with the foreign policy analysis of Blair and his successors’ Oborne considers the Labour (pre-general election) manifesto: ‘a well-argued and coherent critique of the foreign policy consensus which has done so much damage over the last quarter of a century’ – stating that it offers a serious alternative to the catastrophic system of cross-party politics that gave the world the Iraq, Afghan and Libyan calamities.

He compares the Conservative manifesto, which ‘contains no specific foreign policy pledges and no mention of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Palestine or the Middle East at all’, with Corbyn’s promise to implement the will of parliament and recognise the state of Palestine.in a vote three years ago.

The Labour position on the Yemeni bombardment is described as admirable and that of the last two administrations condemned:

“Under Cameron, and now Theresa May, Britain has thrown its weight behind the Saudi bombing campaign. I am afraid that Michael Fallon . . . recently said that the murderous Saudi bombing raids have been carried out in “self-defence”. This comment was frankly obscene, and Fallon owes an apology to the thousands of Yemeni families who have been bereaved as a result of Saudi attacks . . . his approach is sadly typical of the series of misstatements and lies emanating from the British government over this terrible Yemen business”. (Below, a ruined hospital, one of 20 filed photographs of the onslaught on Yemen)

Oborne points out that Corbyn demands comprehensive, independent, UN-led investigations into alleged violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen, including air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition and the suspension of any further arms sales for use in the conflict until that investigation is concluded.

He continues: “Needless to say, the British media (and in particular the BBC, which has a constitutional duty to ensure fair play during general elections) has practically ignored Corbyn’s foreign policy manifesto”. Oborne also adds that, as Mark Curtis has pointed out, the BBC website carried only 10 articles on Yemen but 97 on Syria in the six weeks to 15 May “focusing on the crimes of an official enemy rather than our own”. Further:

“His manifesto pledges to ‘commit to working through the UN’ and to ‘end support for unilateral aggressive wars of intervention’. We have been waiting to hear a mainstream British politician say this for years, and at last Corbyn (supported by his capable foreign affairs spokesperson Emily Thornberry) has spoken out against the pattern of illegal intervention favoured by the United States and its allies.

“Corbyn has also had the moral courage to highlight the predicament of the Chagos Islanders, supporting their right to “return to their homelands. He bravely but correctly compares the British betrayal of the Chagossians – deprived of their Indian Ocean home as a result of a squalid deal between Britain and the US in the 1960s – with our national loyalty to the Falkland Islands, the South Atlantic territory that Britain sent a taskforce to recapture following an Argentinian invasion in 1982. But it is deeply upsetting that the BBC has betrayed its own rules of impartiality and ignored Corbyn’s brave stand on this issue”. He concludes:

“Jeremy Corbyn has raised matters of deep importance that go right to the heart of Britain’s role in the world, and in particular the Middle East. Yet his radical and brave manifesto is being traduced, misrepresented, and ignored. That is wrong – and a betrayal of British democracy”.

Peter Oborne was named freelancer of the year 2016 by the Online Media Awards for an article he wrote for Middle East Eye. He was British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015- see his blistering account of his reasons here

His books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, and Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran.

 

 

 

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Theresa May – a conversion?

May 24, 2017

Mrs May, who travelled to Manchester yesterday, said: “We struggle to comprehend the warped and twisted mind that sees a room packed with young children not as a scene to cherish but an opportunity for carnage.” (Times)

She will now, presumably, stop selling arms and providing ‘intelligence’ & ‘logistical support’ to those who are killing hundreds of children and other civilians.

 

 

 


Could we abolish the arms trade and prosper?

April 13, 2017

Earlier this month *Imam Farhad Ahmad was moved to write to the Financial Times about plans by the US administration to approve weapons sales to nations with known human rights abuses. Multibillion dollars worth of sales of F-16s to Bahrain and precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia are on the table. He continued:

“These plans and other sales, including those that have been making their way into the hands of Isis from eastern Europe, did worry me, but what made me really convinced that it ought to be stopped was when I listened to a Muslim leader refer to curbing arms trade as a “ready-made” instant solution to world disorder.

National Peace Symposium

On 25th March 2017, the 14th National Peace Symposium was hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in London with an audience of more than 1000 people, from 30 countries – including more than 600 non-Muslims. Ms Setsuko Thurlow, a Hiroshima bomb survivor and peace activist, was presented with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Prize for the Advancement of Peace in recognition of her outstanding efforts in campaigning for nuclear disarmament. Farhad Ahmad wrote:

“I was at the National Peace Symposium at UK’s largest mosque last week, where more than 1,000, including over 600 non-Muslims, had gathered to listen to a Muslim caliph. He called on effective sanctions to be put on weapons from powerful nations, including those in the west and eastern Europe, which are fuelling conflicts in Muslim countries.

“There is a saying of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that “A wise word is the lost property of a believer”. I think it is time that governments listened to these words of the Caliph and adopted them like their lost property, rather than worrying about their coffers:

“For the sake of the good of mankind, governments should disregard fears that their economies will suffer if the arms trade is curbed. Instead, they should think about the type of world they wish to bequeath to those that follow them.”

*

We recommend that he strengthens his case by drawing on the work of noted arms conversion authority, *Dr Steven Schofield. Though not underestimating the complexity of such a change, he calls for the release of skills and finance for the rebuilding of economic, social and environmental security. In Arms Conversion – A Policy Without a Purpose, Steve says:

“Turning swords into plowshares remains one of our most evocative images of peace, reflecting the universal desire to bring an end to war and to use skills for productive rather than destructive purposes.”

Since the 1950s, Schofield points out, a permanent military-industrial complex and highly specialised arms corporations in aerospace, shipbuilding,  engineering and electronics has emerged “to satisfy the byzantine demands of the MoD” and the context is completely different from that time of restructuring after the Second World War, when there was “pent-up demand for goods made effective by wartime savings and sectors with a similar skills base such as civil aircraft, communication satellites and cruise ships, already have well-served mature civil markets”.

Curb exports and fund a major arms conversion programme

He pointed out in another report, Making Arms, Wasting Skills: “[C]entral government has a vital role to play in developing a radical, political economy of arms conversion and common security. By moving away from military force projection and arms sale promotion, the UK could carry out deep cuts in domestic procurement including the cancellation of Trident and other major offensive weapons platforms, as well as adopting comprehensive controls on arms exports, including the suspension of weapons exports to the Middle East. The substantial savings in military expenditure could help to fund a major arms conversion programme.

“Here the emphasis would be on environmental challenges, including a multi-billion pound public investment in renewable energy, particularly offshore wind and wave power, that would substantially cut the UK’s carbon emissions and reduce dependency on imported oil, gas and uranium supplies. These new industries will also generate more jobs than those lost from the restructuring of the arms industry. In this way, the UK would be taking a leading role in establishing a new form of international security framework based on disarmament and sustainable economic development”.

Will the peace movement and unions heed this message? 

*Farhad Ahmad Imam, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Surbiton, UK  

*Steve completed a doctorate on arms conversion and was co-founder of the Project on Demilitarisation in the 1990s. His most publications include Trident and Employment: The UK’s Industrial and Technological Network for Nuclear Weapons (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament); Making Arms, Wasting Skills : Alternatives to Militarism and Arms Production (Campaign Against the Arms Trade) and Local Sufficiency and Environmental Recovery (Local Economy Journal, Vol 24, No 6, pp 439-447). He lives in Bradford, West Yorkshire.

 

 

 

 


Paul Rogers’ January article has a bearing on yesterday’s London attacks

March 23, 2017

A Yardley Wood reader draws our attention to an article by Paul Rogers, professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University, openDemocracy’s international security adviser

Some points made:

Rogers refers to the bombings of London’s transport network on 7 July 2005 (correction), when fifty-two people were killed on a bus and three underground trains. (The four perpetrators also died), describing it as “the defining event for Britain in relation to political violence, closely connected to the Iraq war although this was strenuously denied by the Blair government at the time”. He continues:

“This “disconnect” has remained a feature of British attitudes to al-Qaida, ISIS and other extreme Islamist groups, even if some people pointed out at the time that the loss of life on “7/7” was no higher than the daily loss of life in Iraq.

“Now, nearly twelve years later, the war goes on with a similar disconnect – there is simply no appreciation that Britain is an integral part of a major war that started thirty months ago, in August 2014. It may take the form of a sustained air-assault using strike-aircraft and armed-drones, but its intensity is simply unrecorded in the establishment media. This is a straightforward example of “remote warfare” conducted outside of public debate.

“Thus, when another attack within Britain on the scale of 7/7 happens, there will be little understanding of the general motivations of those responsible. People will naturally react with horror, asking – why us? Politicians and analysts will find it very difficult even to try and explain the connection between what is happening “there” and “here”.

“The straightforward yet uncomfortable answer is that Britain is at war – so what else can be expected? It may be a war that gets little attention, there may be virtually no parliamentary debate on its conduct, but it is a war nonetheless”.

He lists some of the factors which underpin this approach:

  • The post-9/11 western-led wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya have left three countries as failed or failing states, killed several hundred thousand people and displaced millions. This causes persistent anger and bitterness right across the Middle East and beyond.
  • While the Syrian civil war started as the repression of dissent by an insecure and repressive regime, it has evolved into a much more complex “double proxy war” which regional rulers and the wider international community have failed to address. This adds to the animosity.
  • The situation in Iraq is particularly grievous, given that it was the United States and its coalition partners that started the conflict and also gave rise directly to the evolution of ISIS. The Iraq Body Count project estimates the direct civilian death-toll since 2003 at more than 169,000. After a relative decline over 2009-13, an upsurge in the past three years has seen 53,000 lose their lives through violence.
  • Since the air-war started in August 2014 the Pentagon calculates that over 30,000 targets have been attacked with more than 60,000 missiles and bombs, and 50,000 ISIS supporters have been killed.
  • But there is abundant evidence that western forces have directly killed many civilians. AirWars reports that:”As ISIL was forced to retreat in both Iraq and Syria, the year [2016] saw a dramatic jump in reported civilian deaths from Coalition airstrikes. A total of between 2,932 and 4,041 non-combatant fatalities are alleged for 2016, stemming from 445 separate claimed Coalition-caused incidents in both Iraq and Syria.”
  • ISIS, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), and other groups have no air-defence capabilities yet are determined to continue the war, seeing themselves as guardians of Islam under attack by the “crusader” forces of the west. At a time of retreat they will be even more determined than ever to take the war to the enemy, whether by the sustained encouragement and even facilitation of individual attacks such as Berlin or Nice, or more organised attacks such as in Paris and Brussels.

These groups seek retribution via straightforward paramilitary actions, responding especially to the current reversals in Iraq. They want to demonstrate to the wider world, especially across the Middle East, that they remain a force to be reckoned with.

Rogers thinks that a repeat 7/7–level attack in Britain is probable, although when and how is impossible to say.  Again, it will not be easy to respond. But in trying to do so, two factors need to be born in mind:

The aim of ISIS and others is to incite hatred. Politicians and other public figures who encourage that is doing the work of ISIS, adding “This can and should be said repeatedly”.

And the links between the attack and the ongoing war in Iraq and Syria must be made: “That Britain is still at war after fifteen years suggests that some rethinking is required” and ends:

“Politicians who make these points will face immediate accusations of appeasement, not least in the media. But however difficult the case, it needs to be made if the tide of war is to be turned”.

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Reinvigorate big power relationships or put an end to sabre-rattling?

November 4, 2016

lord2richardsReading more about General Richards – chief of the defence staff between 2010 and 2013 – gives rise to mixed reactions. In 2010 – to his credit – he said there was no desire to “open up another front” in the Middle East . . . an intelligence-led approach was the current strategy: “Clearly, the primary agencies dealing with this are our intelligence and security agencies. But the military are already helping with their [the Yemenis’] training. I don’t think we want to open up another front there and nor do the Yemenis want us to do that”.

Today the Times reports that General Richards said that Donald Trump would re-boot relations between Moscow and Washington, which are at a post-Cold War low.

By contrast, he thinks, Mrs Clinton would be more likely to set the West on a course for war if she pushed ahead with a safe zone for civilians in Syria: that might require US aircraft to shoot down the Russian fighter jets flying in support of the Assad regime.

Lord Richards, a cross-bench peer, told The Times this week that he believed the only way to prevent a further humanitarian catastrophe in the rebel-held east of Aleppo would be for the rebels to withdraw, removing any reason for Russian planes to attack.

In an interview with The House magazine, which appeared yesterday, he said: “In the Cold War era states coalesced and they had this understanding and it worked — even though there was a massive amount at stake, communications and mutual understanding between Russia and America wasn’t too bad . . . It’s non-state actors like Isis that are the biggest threat to our security. If countries and states could coalesce better to deal with these people — and I think Trump’s instinct is to go down that route — then I think there’s the case for saying that the world certainly won’t be any less safe. It’s that lack of understanding and empathy with each other as big power players that is a risk to us all at the moment. Therefore I think he would reinvigorate big power relationships, which might make the world ironically safer.”

The wisest words come from Dr Ian Davis (SIPRI):

dr-ian-davisDr Davis responded to a letter (FT: “How NATO can neuter Putin’s ‘shock and awe’”) by Dr Harlan Ullman, Senior Advisor, Atlantic Council, US. Dr Ullman acknowledged that Mr Putin “has no intent of starting a war or invading any Nato member”; nevertheless, he recommended turning a variant of shock and awe against Putin. Dr Davis saw this as both irrational and dangerous:

“[S]kilful mediation with Russia is needed in order to transform real antagonisms into pragmatic working relationships and practical agreements . . . The challenge is to see beyond historical positions and attempt to identify and then reframe key issues through careful dialogue. It will take significant effort, yet it may be possible to explore ways of moving beyond presumptions of strictly zero-sum, winner takes-all thinking in Russia-West relations. And put an end to the sabre-rattling of intrusive flights and large scale manoeuvres on both sides”.