Archive for July, 2014

NATO: Is It Prepared?

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

It depends for what. According to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, NATO is not ready to deal with the ‘Russian Threat’.  This Blog admires the Chairman of this committee more than almost any other MP. Rory Stewart is a writer, broadcaster, academic, historian and former soldier. He is perhaps the expert on  Middle East history since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It is therefore regrettable that he has led his committee to a wrong conclusion. This is that NATO needs to pull its socks up to confront potential overt and covert threats to former Soviet dominated states in Eastern Europe, sighting previously Georgia and South Ossetia and currently Ukraine and the Crimea as warnings to heed.

This Blog has argued extensively and exhaustively that Russia is not an enemy but the West is in danger of making it one. Russia is far more nervous of actual advances by NATO east than the West is of any supposed expansion of Russia westwards. Russia, faced with a relentless barrage of vitriol from people she still hopefully callers her partners, may indeed decide she has had enough and become an obstructive and belligerent rival in every sphere of foreign policy, forming an alliance with China and Iran and possibly India to form an alternative camp to resist and challenge western interests both financially and diplomatically wherever in the world they are asserted. Anybody in the West who supposes this would be a good thing is a fool.

Russia, with memories of invading armies going back to Napoleonic times, is paranoid about what it used to call its near abroad. It would not be difficult to find a formula for reassurance. As previously argued the best would be to bring Russia and all its former satellites into NATO. The threat to western civilisation comes from other quarters. Tony Blair was right to point that out.

Gaza Agony

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

It is true that Israel is threatened by Hamas. It is true that Hamas’s command, control and rocket launch infrastructure is honeycombed within residential areas of Gaza, not least because it is a tiny area with a dense population. It s also true that Hamas rockets can and do kill and maim Israelis indiscriminately. And, yes, the tunnel system for infiltration into Israel is not a tenuous thread of uncertainty, but a well engineered and effective conduit through which fighters can pop out of the ground in Israel and create mayhem. It is certainly true that Israel has a right and indeed a duty to defend itself and its people against these threats.

What is less certain is whether the scale of the Israeli response is proportionate and whether the large scale slaughter and maiming of women and children, which continues to shock the world, is justified. What is quite certain and beyond all doubt, is the fact that this kind of punitive bombardment of a population forcibly contained within the target area will stiffen resistance and feed resentment among Palestinians, making a solution more difficult to find. The aim of Israel should not be heavy handed punishment campaigns, which at best build a shattered calm which will not last long, but a lasting peace which will put an end once and for all to these recurring wars, which achieve nothing but suffering on all sides.

Downfall In Downing Street

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

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Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Downfall In Downing Street

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Monday, July 28th, 2014

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Clegg and Moscow: This Is Wrong

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

The news that Nick Clegg thinks that the next World Cup should be taken away from Russia, jumps onto the hysterical anti-Putin bandwagon whipped up in western media by people who have little grasp of the facts. The deputy prime minister should know better. Russia is not a rogue state, there are good historic reasons for its support of the Russian majority in eastern Ukraine and its restoration of Crimea to the Russian Federation. All of this was part of the Soviet Union and because of that the populations are culturally and ethnically mixed. Russia’s position is exactly similar to the British view of its continued control of the Falklands, Gibraltar and Northern Ireland.

Too little of western foreign policy,  led by the US and an increasingly strident UK, is about making friends and too much of it actually makes enemies. Too many of the friends turn out to disappoint. The headlong flight of the staff of the US Embassy from Tripoli over the border to Tunisia underscores the embarrassing and little reported fact that post Gaddafi Libya is a failed state and about to break up.  The West is accumulating the greatest foreign policy failures in modern history, with mounting  jihadist threats emerging in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan. It is backing a very unsavoury nationalist grouping in Kiev, the prime minister of which has resigned and the coalition split apart. Its peace initiatives in Palestine get nowhere and terrible slaughter now ensues as a stubborn Hamas and a heavy handed Israel engage in their third war.

The last thing the West needs is another Cold War or even a chill in its relations with Moscow. Most of the problems, especially Ukraine, Iran and Syria cannot be solved without Russian input. Foreign policy is not a football tournament. To work in the national interest and the interest of all nations it has to be nuanced, pragmatic consensus building and constructive. The object is to turn enemies into friends, not friends into enemies. Everyone knows Russia did not shoot down MH17. Everyone knows too, that the most likely explanation is that the plane was shot down by mistake by separatists using sophisticated weaponry without due care for target identification. It has been a public relations disaster for both the separatists and Moscow.

On the other hand Kiev has gained authority and status. That is why some harbour the suspicion that Kiev is hiding something. Meanwhile its government in parliament has collapsed and the money has all but run out. By the end of this week it will not be able to pay its army. Instead of making childish gestures to Moscow, Clegg needs to turn his attention to his bright new ally and find out what is going on in Kiev.

Labour, Milliband and Winning

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

The Labour Party is ahead in the polls but not by a large margin. The margin is small enough to be eaten away during the election campaign. The recovery is gaining momentum. This is awkward for the party which said the Coalition was on the wrong course. It is true that the recovery is fuelled by another housing bubble, is not well balanced and is not felt by ordinary people, whose incomes are falling in real terms. It is also a recovery which cannot last and may well end in tears. Yet the tide appears turning towards the Tories, when it should be running more strongly to Labour.

It is not because Milliband is geeky, though he is. It is not because Balls lacks the credibility to become the next Chancellor, though he does. It is not because Labour has no good new ideas, they have a few worth looking at. The problem is they have no Big Idea. Nor do they have a narrative in which people can believe and by which they can become inspired.

It is simple. With a Big Idea and a Narrative to Inspire, Labour could be certain of victory, whoever is leader. Without either they can expect, at best, not to win outright and, at worst, to loose altogether. Whoever is leader.

Cameron: Think It Through!

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

The ‘blame the Russians’ mantra running through British foreign policy, which feeds into hate stories in the media and inflames public opinion, has the power to damage Britain in the long term much more than it does Russia. Russia is perhaps the most resilient of all nations. It coped with Napoleon, the Kaiser, Hitler and the collapse of the Soviet Union and remains one of the world’s three greatest powers. It is potentially self sufficient in all things. It has already agreed to sell more gas to China and Western sanctions will only increase job opportunities for Russian workers in the long term. It can well survive Cameron’s opprobrium, better than the British economy can survive the loss of the enormous economic opportunity of participating in the modernization of what was the central power of the old Soviet Union.

Britain, its foreign office and its lack lustre political class have been anti Russian in sentiment since the collapse of the Soviet empire. There has never been a serious attempt to think in strategic terms; only to advance the hand of friendship on conditional and censorious conditions which require that they become like us. They were blamed for Syria, yet they prophesied the current mayhem would be the outcome of our original policies. They were blamed for the seamless return of Crimea to Russia without any significant violence and with overwhelming  support of the Crimean population.

In Northern Ireland we allow the protestant unionists  to attach themselves to us for historic reasons, rather than the country of which they were originally a part. We call them loyalists. Yet when the same sentiment breaks out among ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine, for equally good historical reasons, we call them separatists. Russia is nervous of the ever eastward advance of NATO and the EU, in violation of promises previously made and without a serious attempt to bring Russia westwards.

Unless the Ukrainian government in Kiev had a hand in bringing down MH17 (unlikely but as yet not fully discounted), it is now accepted that tragic though it was, MH17 was shot down in a catastrophic mistake by people who had the basic skills to fire the missile, but not the skill required to confirm identification of the target. US intelligence has confirmed that its sophisticated tracking, surveillance and eavesdropping has produced no evidence to show Russian complicity or participation in the disaster.

So the accusation is that Russia supplied the weapon. Coming from one of the greatest arms exporters, Britain, this is hardly an intelligent platform on which to stand on such an issue. The aim all along should have been to make Russia a full partner with the West, in which case the turmoil in Ukraine would never have happened. Now the West is hell bent on turning Russia in on itself to become a rival. Russia will then turn to China. If they gang up together the West will have nothing to gain and a good deal to lose.

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Monday, July 21st, 2014

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Israel: This Has to Stop

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Israel has gone over the top and is pursuing a counterproductive policy which will not enhance its security in the long term. Its military operations have no validity whatever as a strategic operations and have all the aspects of revenge attacks and punishment details. There is only negative propaganda value in massive civilian casualties, among them large numbers of women and decapitated children. The warnings to civilians to leave their homes are little more than a cruel torment when Israel knows perfectly well that in overcrowded Gaza they have nowhere to go. Israel is now without any friends in the nations in the world bar one, the United States, which is close to getting fed up as well. The State of Israel teeters on the edge of moral bankruptcy.

It has nothing to do with being Jewish. Almost everything it is does  is in violation of all the high principles and humanitarian traditions of Judaism. It is to do with the difference between being a fully paid member of the family of civilised nations and a rogue state which does whatever it likes. Of course Israel has a right to defend itself, but that right is progressively degraded if it has itself created the very conditions which cause its security to be threatened.

Occupying large tracts of other people’s land and refusing to accept any peace proposals which to do not involve capitulation by the enemies which it has in sixty years of conflict itself created, sealing of all access in an out of Gaza so that the essentials of life have to be smuggled through tunnels burrowed into the earth, forcing a rat like existence and which guarantee  that those very tunnels will be used also to smuggle arms and weapons, builds with forensic efficiency the very threats Israel then has to defending itself against. The United Nations is often split on major issues but on the censure of Israel for its current operations, the condemnation is unanimous.

The people of Israel and their government have to take a long hard look at themselves in the mirror of reason and see that they cannot go on like this. Their future lies not in everlasting fear and fighting but in negotiating a settlement which guarantees their security and gives their neighbours a civilised life in a place they can call their own. This is what the world gave the Jewish people when it inaugurated the state of Israel after WWII. To secure that achievement Israel must now recognise once and for all that the rights it has been given by its very existence are not exclusive to it, but are shared by all humanity and must be honoured by all civilised countries. The days when Israel could claim exception on whatever pretext are well and truly over.