Six Steps from The Kremlin- The Murder of Boris Nemtsov

Lies, greed, political intrigue, corruption at the highest levels of government, conspiracies of silence and ultimately murder. In terms of a good story the murder of Boris Nemtsov has more in common with a bestselling thriller novel, than it does with real life, but unlike the plot of some blockbuster Hollywood movie, this scenario is being played out today in Moscow.

Boris Nemtsov, father of four, environmentalist, nuclear scientist and most notably, outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin was shot in the back four times by an as yet unknown assailant just yards from the heart of the Russian seat of government, the Kremlin.

At the time of his murder, he had been arranging a massed rally of opposition supporters in Moscow, protesting against the alleged Russian military support and involvement in the Ukrainian civil war.  He had been attempting to unite the factions of the opposition movement and it was claimed that he had proof of Russian involvement in Ukraine.

In an article, published in Russia on the tenth of February 2015, Mr Nemtsov stated that “I am afraid that Putin will kill me”. To the untrained observer, this shocking turn of events would seem to implicate Mr Putin directly in Mr Nemtsov’s death.

However the real truth of the matter has yet to be brought to light.

This murder is just the latest in a long line of politically motivated murders stretching back to the murder of Sergey Yushenkov at his Moscow home in April 2003 and seemingly continuing with Mr Nemtsov’s murder at the weekend.  Individuals who have had connections with Mr Putin in the past or in the present have been targeted, opposition politicians have been assassinated, even foreign journalists are not safe on the streets of Russia today. Four people have died in Moscow alone under similar circumstances to Mr Nemtsov’s over the past ten years.

These murders are not endemic to Russia itself and have occurred in this country with the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko with the radioactive compound Polonium in London and the suspicious death of Boris Berezovsky, former Kremlin power broker turned Putin critic at his London home in 2013.

Statements of denial from the Kremlin are as regular as the morning paper. During this time the truth has been blurred, covered and cloaked in lies and rhetoric. That being said, Mr Putin deserves his day in court, even if it is in the form of this blog. For if we are to claim that we live in a fair and objective society, we must first practice what we preach.

So, what if Mr Putin was not directly responsible for the deaths of these individuals?

Who would be the most likely group to gain from discrediting the Russian government? Well the most obvious candidate, aside from half of the world’s countries would be the Russian opposition movement itself. By killing prominent individuals within their ranks, they could hope to engender a change in public opinion in Russia, polarizing anti-Putin sentiment both internally and internationally.  The big issue with this is that the opposition movement remains a largely factional one, with no obvious unity and no means at their disposal to enact this heinous agenda.

An international power seeking to discredit Russia would have both means and opportunity.  The obvious candidate for this would be the United States, in collusion with its allies within the European Union. However, agitating the Great Russian bear into a state of war would not be beneficial to them as most of their member states are in the firing line.  Destabilizing Russia would be of greatest benefit to countries like China or the members of the oil producing nations of the Middle East.

A Russian economy in ruins or a Russia in a state of War would be both beneficial politically and economically to both of these groups. China could complete its great rehabilitation into international society and score untold political points by stepping in to mediate an end to the crisis. The oil producing nations of the Middle East would no doubt benefit from an interruption to or an ending of Russian gas supplies to the European Union.  But would the benefits of this course of action justify the means?

The murder of a popular opposition politician, beloved by many Russians and a contemporary of Mr Putin would place his government in an increasingly hostile position, in terms of the amount of damage it could cause to Russia itself.  Mr Putin may continue to deny his involvement but the world it seems has already made up its mind on the matter.

The murder and the subsequent protests, with its high media exposure may force Moscow to change its policies, but then again it may not. The mechanism of political change often relies on opposing forces and in Russian politics, opposition can often mean imprisonment and even death, as the weekend’s events has proven.

But what would such public killings achieve? Russia has ostracized itself from the international community, alienated  many of its former satellites, caused irreparable harm to its own internal structure all to preserve the myth of the Soviet ideal and the failings of one man and one man alone: Vladimir Putin.

So is it worth it? Internal damage of the sort now being inflicted would only be risked if the truth was potentially more damaging both to Russia and Mr Putin himself.

Only then could you make the sort of calculations that end human lives. Only then could you entertain such notions.

Boris Nemtsov was a patriot, a man who believed passionately in Russia and like Boris the perpetrators of this crime may also believe passionately in Russia. But that is where the similarities end. He exercised his right to free speech, under the lawful government of his country and was ultimately killed for it. Four bullets may have ended his life, but those four bullets may have started a chain reaction in his beloved Russia leading to the creation of a fairer, freer Russia for Boris’s four children.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

Can we ever truly win the war on terror?

The war on terror has been the predominant force in world foreign policy for the last 15 years since the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. The embers of this war were stoked further by the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 but it really gained momentum after the attacks by Al- Qaeda on September 11th 2001.

Since then it has claimed an estimated 1,249,025 lives, has resulted in more regime changes than at any time since the end of the Soviet Union and does not look like it will end any time soon.

The war on terror shares some of the characteristics of a conventional war, in so much that it is fought with conventional weaponry, albeit on a more improvised and guerrilla style but it does not meet all of the character traits of a conventional war. It does have a definable beginning, in so much as it began with the September 11th Attacks.

But can it ever truly end?

The term “War on Terror” was used loosely before 9/11 but US president George W Bush adapted the term to suit the US aim of destroying their 9/11 nemesis, Al- Qaeda. At the time he created a manifesto of aims that this war on terror would achieve, with most of them being non-specific promises like ending state sponsorship of terrorists, enable weak states, persuade reluctant states and compel unwilling states.

Of the 5 main aims of the war on terror, as established by George W Bush only one has been truly completed: Defeat terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and demolish their organizations. This was only truly completed by the assassination of Osama Bin Laden in 2011. The rest of the objectives cannot be truly proven to be met definitively.

It has led to an overstretching of resources across many continents, from the Horn of Africa to Asia and beyond.

The United States has become a more restrictive and reactionary entity, it has lost a lot of the international standing that it once enjoyed during the 1990’s when it was a key player in the then peace agreements in Israel and Northern Ireland. Now the US is perceived as a kid with a gun and woe betide the person who gets in his way.

Key to this change has been its conduct since 2001, both internally and externally. The policies of George Bush have used and manipulated politics and international law to suit the intended objectives of the US government.

A prominent example of this is Guantanamo Bay, otherwise known as Camp Delta. The US has detained terrorists there since 2001, labelling them as unlawful combatants, which enables them to use the Geneva Convention to their own ends.

New and dangerous words have entered the American vocabulary, words like Rendition and Waterboarding. National security has become the cloak behind which America has justified torture and increasingly invasive surveillance methods. These have been enshrined into American law in the guise of The Patriot Act, they have become part of the American political system.

Manipulation of law and systems of government has not been confined to internal politics, the build up to the second Iraq war exemplified what the US is prepared to do to get its way. A country which, granted was in the grip of an evil dictatorship was pushed into a war that it had absolutely no chance of winning because of weapons of mass destruction which did not actually exist.

The UN was pushed and prodded into passing resolutions which required the use of weapons inspectors and when those weapons inspectors were denied by the restrictive Hussein regime, the US had all the justification that it needed to go in. It sought international support to legitimize its incursion which it gained in the form of the coalition, fresh on its coattails from winning in Afghanistan and ploughed headlong into the maelstrom of a war that it did not need to fight.

The war itself was over in a matter of weeks but the war for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people continued for many years until the US withdrawal in 2009. It was a withdrawal which would not mean the end of conflict in the region, as the rise of Islamic State has proven.

The things that America has had to do to win this war have proven unpopular with its people and even its intelligence services. The release of sensitive confidential files by C.I.A. operative Edward Snowden has shed an unwelcome window on the subversive tactics used by the US and its international partners. Evidence included the mass surveillance of both US and international citizens, the military tactics used by the US, its coalition allies and files of operations of questionable legality conducted away from the gaze of international law. The release of these files damaged the already shaky reputation of the US even further.

The negative opinion of the US in countries across Asia and Africa has led to the US becoming the prime target for every terrorist with a grudge. The fact that most of the current leadership of IS are former Iraqi military proves that by manipulating international law and politics the US has given birth to its own enemies.

These organisations, armed with steady streams of cash from as yet unknown sources purchase weaponry from the international black market. All attempts by the US and its partners to freeze assets and prevent terrorist financing have proved token gestures.

Terrorists will undoubtedly find a way to find these weapons and could even look to align themselves, albeit surreptitiously with larger powers who have an interest in seeing the US fall. Powers like Russia and China could supply these groups with weapons, allowing them to wage war on the US and its coalition partners without getting their hands dirty.

This would occupy the gaze of the US just enough for these powers to accomplish their aims without interference. Vicariously they would also have the effect of decreasing the operational capacity of the US to wage war against a comparable aggressive power.

Islamic State incursions into Iraq and the resultant bombing missions conducted by the US could be used as the smokescreen for a larger Russian incursion into the Ukraine.

The growth of fundamentalism in the Middle East is largely fuelled by religious fervour. Radicalised clerics, distrusted by their respective governments use religion as a smokescreen to indoctrinate young impressionable politically aware individuals in their respective countries. The war on terror provides the conditions for this to become virtually self-sustaining. Even the censorship of the religion most likely to fuel terrorism would have the opposite effect, it would increase the numbers rather than decrease them.

There is also a danger that in the quest to limit those religions, we ignore ones which can be equally inflammatory once perverted by these fundamentalist individuals. These religions could ultimately prove more destructive than the ones being outlawed.

A war on an ideology (which is not linked to one specific nation) is something not previously encountered in the course of history. The Nazi ideology and other pervasive ideologies have all been based in one nation or encapsulated in a group of nations like the Soviet Union.

The removal of an ideology completely from the human sphere of influence would involve the manipulation of a population to such a degree as to completely restrict independent thought.

This would ultimately damage the human spirit, resulting in a stagnation of its desire to explore new ideas and belief systems. Ideologies are by definition internal constructs of humankind and cannot be defeated by conventional means. The combatting of such ideals begins at an early age and does not cease until that individual dies.

The price of winning the war on terror may be too high, in so much that in the rush to combat this growing threat, we compromise ourselves to such a degree that our own politics are denied. Individual freedom and civil liberties cannot be sold cheaply to achieve this goal as we would become as bad as the individuals we are combatting. The prospect of maintaining such an aggressively restrictive stance for an extended period is ultimately detrimental to the country it serves to protect.

Is there another path which we might take which would prove more beneficial?

If we were merely to do nothing, remaining inactive and leaving the terrorist unchecked we run the risk of allowing these organisations to become legitimate political entities. Attacking them leaves them on the fringes of the political sphere of their respective countries. A marginalised organisation cannot gain a foothold in a country.

But by the same token, attacking them makes us a target for any terrorist organisation which springs up. There needs to be a paradigm shift in what we do when we interact with countries which have leanings towards terrorism. Engagement of all local groups rather than those most willing to grant us favour would decrease the risk of the marginalisation and radicalisation of ethnic groups. Groups which have a stake in government are less likely to rail against them.

The destruction of existing institutions as a chief by-product of militaristic invasion is unnecessary, utilising these institutions and repurposing them to suit new aims is far more beneficial to both the indigenous population and the invading power.

As the war on terror continues, the casualties mount up and the realistic goals of the war become less and less realisable over the years. The schism of creating such a war has proven to be ultimately damaging but the prospect of inaction over terrorism can be equally if not more so damaging.

The war becomes less and less winnable in the classical sense of the word. A state of long term warfare could apply with no end, to the point where it becomes a generational struggle. In the opinion of this writer this is a world I would not want to be a part of.

 

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

Would the US pursue a better strategy by pulling out of the Middle East entirely?

The end of World War Two was a watershed moment in US political history, it marked the end of its international isolation which had been the pervading element in US politics since the end of the 1920’s and only was abated when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. The politics of the Monroe doctrine were rekindled as the need to counter the Soviet threat grew.

The decline and fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990’s led to the resumption of American isolationism. America looked inward, became embroiled in its own internal issues such as the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the bungled US Presidential election in 1999.

As the new century dawned, America was shocked out of its isolationist stance by a new Pearl Harbour, the September 11th Attacks. It was a powerful wake-up call for the Bush administration and shocked the Americans into action. American involvement in international affairs increased, as they were effectively “hit where they live” by a few well placed individuals piloting hijacked planes.

The popular public sentiment at the time was revenge, the desire to hit those who had hurt America so badly. However Al-Qaeda was not of any specific country, Osama Bin Laden was a Saudi Arabian national and Saudi Arabia had a history of good relations with the US going back to the first gulf war.

This all changed, when the link between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was established in December 2001 and was duly followed by the invasion of Afghanistan by US forces.

The fall of the Taliban should have marked the end of this need to retaliate, but the American public full of the patriotism of winning a war wanted more. The controversial pursuit by the US of definitive proof that Saddam Hussain was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, despite reasonable evidence that he had no such capability prompted the second Gulf war.

But this time the US had bitten off more than it could chew. Although the war was won in a matter of months the resultant insurgency bogged the US down in the area for a number of years. Public support waivered and then declined dramatically as more and more US servicemen were killed. The second term of George Bush Junior was one belied by lack of progress, both domestically and internationally. Osama Bin laden remained at large, the US economy teetered and then fell into the abyss of recession and Hurricane Katrina rid the US of its stomach for war.

The Obama presidency was supposed to be a brave new dawn, where the mistakes of old were rectified not repeated. The killing of Osama Bin Laden in 2012 was seen as an ending to the aggressive stance of the US with the switch being made to a more peaceful approach. US troops were withdrawn gradually from Iraq and Afghanistan with the onus being on local forces to take up the slack. While the existing structure of Afghanistan did not change, the US disassembling of the Iraqi military created more insurgency, with many of these individuals joining the newly formed Islamic State.

The current crisis in the Middle East, one can argue is a direct result of American destabilisation of the area. Displacement of individuals with military training and those who would have enjoyed a greater position under the previous regime, together with those individuals who exercise an extreme view of Islam have combined forces where they would not have done if the US had not got involved.

Many books have and will continue to be sold on the motivations of the USA in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and its role in the Middle East. I don’t propose to rain on their parade; I’d like to establish an alternative: What if the USA pulled out of the Middle East entirely?

When I say pull out of the Middle East entirely, I mean a complete cessation of all military, diplomatic, economic and industrial involvement in any country located in the area.

The most obvious casualty of this withdrawal would be the standing of the US in the political arena. Withdrawal sounds far too much like retreat, the US would be seen as running away with its tail between its legs. Old adversaries like Russia, North Korea and Iran would cry coward and would not be on their own.

Far too often in politics leaders have pursued a course of action to the bitter end, despite the obvious damage it has caused to their political standing. An example I have already mentioned bears this out: The US pursuit of the Iraq war despite opposition from its allies within the UN. International relations with Germany and France were set back at least 10 years by following this through. On the other side of the coin, a US withdrawal from the Middle East sphere would show that the US is willing to change, willing to embrace new ideas. This may lead to a softening of current perception about the US and its foreign policy.

In addition the US government would improve its standing at home, as withdrawing would enable it to focus on its internal strife and rid itself of the problems that it faces and ultimately may strengthen it. However, this withdrawal may lead to a backlash, as those families who lost loved ones fighting in the wars for Iraq and Afghanistan might wonder what they died for and start to question their leadership.

The US army currently has 21,374 personnel in seven countries across the Middle East at its various military bases. This figure does not include the 28,970 currently stationed in Afghanistan, as most of these are due to return to the US by the end of the year, leaving a small residual force in the country until the end of 2016. The withdrawn personnel could be reallocated to conflicts closer to home, such as assisting the Mexican government in its battles against the cartels or defending the shipping lanes currently under threat from Somali pirates in the horn of Africa.

Ceasing economic intervention in the Middle East would save the US government on average 17.7 billion dollars in foreign aid payments. Money which could be reallocated to solving the US debt crisis, the redevelopment of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the strengthening of disease management infrastructure, the list goes on. It could also pay these funds to less developed countries than those currently enjoying US aid.

Industrially, the US would lose its guarantees to Middle Eastern oil, which currently comprises two thirds of the worlds overall reserves. These guarantees are mostly bought with a combination of aid and military support which would cease. Although the loss of these guarantees would be a body blow to US industry, it would stem the US overdependence on this resource, allowing monies which would have been spent on oil to be spent on developing fledgling energy sources such as fracking and re-evaluating Nuclear power.

The US need to defend these oil reserves, as articulated during the presidencies of Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter would cease and a new policy would have to evolve to suit.

In any war there are casualties, just as there will be casualties in any US withdrawal from the Middle Eastern theatre. US withdrawal would put the pressure of fighting Islamic State back on the powers currently being helped by the Americans. Would these powers be able to effectively push back IS without US help? Simply put: No. The IS advance into Iraq proves the ineffectualness of their army, the Turkish army is unwilling to aid the coalition because of the coalition’s desire to support its traditional enemies, the Kurdish people. Iran may be drawn into supporting its neighbour, resulting in an expansion of the conflict zone to larger sections of the Middle East.

Countries which have enjoyed US protection, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait are ill equipped to defend themselves against an aggressor such as IS. The fact that IS is concerning itself solely with Iraq is the only thing stopping the potential attack of these countries.

Already repressive regimes in the area would become more oppressive as a result of the absence of the moderate US, which serves as a check against restrictive and oppressive governments. These regimes could become the breeding ground for a new “Arab Spring” style revolution, which while needed could destabilize the region even further.

The other chief casualty of this withdrawal would be Israel, an aggressive country which has proven itself to be reactionary and volatile on more than one occasion in the recent past. In addition the removal of US financial aid would undermine the Israeli economy, which currently spends 57.5 billion a year on its defence forces. Volatility, combined with the presence of nuclear weapons is a dangerous combination and could lead to Israel’s destruction either by itself or a hostile foreign power. Iran, in the past has made no secret of its desire to destroy Israel as a nation state and the withdrawal of the US from the region could prove the catalyst to war.

So coming back to our original question: Would the US pursue a better strategy by pulling out of the Middle East entirely?

The simple answer is no. The US has been embroiled in the region for far too long is over dependent on its resources, finds opposition in its people and is too invested in the continuation of the current Middle East status quo. Removal of the US from this theatre would yield many practical benefits, however the ideological cost and lasting political, military repercussions on the region from exerting such a stratagem would cancel out any potential benefits.

Why ask the question then? Well the role of the politically minded individual is to question their leaders, the policies they follow and the politics they preach. We must continue to ask these sorts of questions of our leaders, lest we become a totalitarian dictatorship.

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

Is IS actually a fascist organisation?

One cannot look at the current affairs of the world without encountering one very prominent and disturbing organisation: The Islamic State (IS). Its spectre looms large over the Middle East claiming both territory and lives, but if you look further into the organization itself, past the propaganda you start to see the fundamentals of the politics being employed. Questions begin to sprout, one of which I will attempt to answer here.

To effectively examine whether IS is essentially a fascist organization we must look at several key factors the most obvious being their methods and their politics. We can also examine their history to understand their future. The easiest way to confirm this is to compare them against the greatest exponent of the fascist ideal in the last 200 years: The National Socialist Movement in Germany.

The Nazi Party invaded all of the social and political structures of Germany, perverting a great and noble people into the worst cycle of human depravity. No structure was so greatly invaded than the minds of the people of Germany, organisations like the Hitler Youth exploited the young forcing them to accept their ideology from an early age. They also exploited the ordinary working class people of Germany, so humbled by the effects of the great depression using rallies, propaganda and promises of a new future.

IS, while not in possession of a country rather a fluid state employs similar methods to radicalise ordinary Muslims. It uses social media and the internet to broadcast its messages of hate, none more so than the sickening videos of their massacres. Its videos of the vile beheading of westerners like Alan Hemming push the ideology that the western powers can be challenged and they can do nothing about it.

The use of obvious propaganda instruments like social media is supported by its use of subversive propaganda. IS targets vulnerable Islamic youth radicalising them with promises that they are doing what Allah wants them to do. The fact that a lot of these “Jihadi Johns” are springing up in the combat zones is proof that their message is getting through. It is not just male Muslims being targeted, there has been a disturbing rise in “Jihadi brides”, vulnerable women lured to the Middle East as part of a scheme to marry them to IS fighters. The fact that it is now an offence to view a beheading video online under anti-terrorism laws is testament to how seriously the Western powers view IS propaganda.

Religion played a prominent but not obvious part in Nazi ideology, manifesting itself in the myth of the Aryan race and its divine destiny to rule the world. The Nazis perverted pagan mysticism and scripture to suit their ideology and supported this through the use of the aforementioned propaganda rallies and book burnings. Even newer mediums such as film were used as tools for ramming home this belief system, directors like Leni Riefenstahl were indoctrinated into making propaganda films like Victory of Faith.

IS exploits religion in a far more obvious way, using it as a bedrock of their organization. You cannot view a video of IS fighters without encountering references to Allah and the Quran, even though every Muslim organization has denounced them as zealots. The establishment of the Islamic Caliphate has been cloaked in the scriptures and traditions of Sunni Islam. Radicalised clerics have used Islamic texts to legitimize the movements and the massacres.

The core membership of the Nazi party was primarily composed of politicized veterans of the First World War and middle class Germans. Men with experience of combat and higher education than the disaffected individuals that they drew to their cause.

The current leader and Emir of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdad obtained a BA, MA and a PHD in Islamic studies from the University of Baghdad. Many of the core members of IS are former members of Saddam Hussein’s Republican guard, men such as Abu Muslim al-Turkmani and Abu Ali al-Anbari. Both men were dismissed from the guard in 2003 after the American led invasion of Iraq, drifting into radicalization and then open insurrection against Iraq and Syria. Education and military experience has enhanced the effectiveness of IS and its message.

Both organizations have used genocide to expand their spheres of influence. The Nazi’s used eugenics as a cloak for the removal of those they deemed to be inferior like the Jews and homosexuals. IS regularly engages in the genocide of Shia Muslims but does not cloak its activities, in fact it pushes them to the forefront of its propaganda message. In addition the principals of Lebensraum and the Islamic Caliphate are very similar in their intention to unite both Islamic and Germanic peoples.

Moving away from National Socialism, comparing IS to fascism itself provides a good comparison but it ultimately raises more questions than answers. The chief virtues of Fascism like totalitarianism and direct action through violence, together with the fascist view of the roles of Men and Women are in evidence when looking at IS.

Its desire to purge all pervasive and corrupting influences to enable a regeneration also harkens to the Fascist ideal of palingenesis. The idea of sweeping away the old order in favour of the new, or in this case sweeping away those who do not share the IS interpretation of Islam.

However the other chief tenet of Fascism, the nationalist ideal is not in evidence because the IS nation state has not been established as a stable country. There is no certainty if this will take place, not if the nations of the coalition have anything to say about it.

As an observer of this movement, you could argue that once the area is brought entirely under IS control that the green shoots of Nationalism will spring up to complement those fascistic qualities which already exist in IS, but it remains to be seen.

While IS shares many similarities with Fascism, the ultimate judgment as to whether it is or is not will only be borne out by time and in all likelihood not by this generation of political observers.

As members of the politically aware world it is our responsibility to form these judgments and make such comparisons to gauge the principles and motivations of the political organisations involved. In short we must always ask these questions.

Dedicated to LSS: Thanks for the idea and support.

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

Should the “Special Relationship” end?

The “Special Relationship” between the United States and Great Britain has coloured the complexion of both countries international political philosophy for the last 150 years. Indeed over the century it has been difficult to note an incident in international politics where the United States and Great Britain have not been involved as a partnership.

To understand why it should end we should first look at what it offers.

The mutual defence thing is the most obvious thing which springs to mind, our friendship with the US grants us the protection of knowing that should anyone attack us, they will also be attacking the US. It has added weight to Britain’s standing in the world, which has been on the decline since the end of the Second World War. But this sort of relationship goes both ways and co-operation with our friends across the pond has led us to pursue policies of questionable legality and has pushed us into unnecessary and unpopular wars. The UK has blinded itself in making maintaining this relationship its number one priority, it has failed to consider the pitfalls of pursuing such a policy.

A prominent example of this being our entry into the second gulf war which, while largely opposed by the British Parliament was vehemently pursued by Prime Minister Tony Blair to the point where prominent members of parliament were resigning in protest. It also prompted the death of Dr David Kelly under suspicious circumstances.

Ultimately the naysayers were proved right when no evidence of any weapons of mass destruction was found after the invasion but the reputational damage to the UK is still being felt in the political sphere today.

Maintaining the special relationship with the US has led to a rift between the UK and our colleagues in the European Union. Countries which were traditionally our allies, like France and Germany are now more likely to oppose us than support us. It has also led to a breakdown in diplomatic relations between the UK and the Russian Republic, one of the powers most likely to square up to the US in a fight.

Our relationship with the US offers us industrial advantages that would not otherwise be available to Britain on its own. The United States is the UK’s single largest export market buying £57 billion pounds worth of UK goods. Also the UK is the largest direct investor in the United States. British companies have more offices in the US than most of the other countries in the world. But any industrial and fiscal relationship is likely to be a double edged sword, as proven by the crash of 2009-10.  Direct investment by the UK in the US, which at the time was experiencing a sub-prime mortgage crisis due to its own dependence on Chinese money, proved costly and drove the UK into a debt spiral to which it has only recently emerged from.

We cannot mention British industries operating in the US without mentioning the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. This disaster and the subsequent economic and ecological fallout has led to BP being banned from doing any more business with the US government for the immediate future. The special relationship has been tainted, much like the seas around the Gulf of Mexico.

What would ending the special relationship mean for the UK?

The first thing it would mean would be a severe decline in exports and consequently its economy. Current austerity measures being pursued by this government would have to change to accommodate longer timescales to reduce the national deficit. Also British companies would lose their edge over their counterparts in Europe and Asia when dealing with the US. Direct investment in the US could not continue under this and the UK would have to liquidate its assets or sell those investments to a competing world power such as China or Russia. Loans made to the UK by the US would be called in and would have to be paid.

But in any divorce there are always positives, a UK economy which is less dependent on exportation to the US would not suffer when US demand for goods and services decreases, as experienced in an economic recession. UK companies, free of the shackles of co-operation with the US could look for more lucrative opportunities in other foreign markets.

Militarily, the benefits of ceasing our relationship with the US are harder to quantify, indeed the prospect of not having the US to call upon when fighting a war would mean a greater cost in manpower and equipment to the UK. We would lose our protection as it were. But at the same time we would gain the freedom of not having to fight wars that only the US wants to fight.

Seeing this to its logical conclusion if the US is eventually brought down by a competing superpower like Russia or China, its fate would be its own. We would not be tied to them and would be a degree safer.

Clandestine military cooperation between our security services, which has often led to the aforementioned questionable legalities would cease and the surveillance culture which has permeated this over the last 10 years would have to change to suit. The government of the UK can return to the rule of acceptability and accountability, a rule which the US has chosen to ignore when it wants to.

Diplomatically, the UK would enjoy a better relationship with the EU and other world powers as it has often in the past been hamstrung by its work with the US. We could mediate political and economic disputes on our own. Indeed it has the potential to move us into a more positive light with our international colleagues. Perceptually, the UK would be seen as a nation of change, willing to end relationships that do not benefit it. It would grow stronger.

So, after all the issues are considered is it worth it?

It is a tense issue and the benefits of ending the relationship, while easy to see are not certainties. Positives can very easily turn into negatives. In the opinion of this writer, it would take a British politician of great courage and a Britain which is arguably greater than it currently is to undertake such a bold strategy.

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© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

Would NATO be more effective if it were disbanded?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, to use its full title was formed by the victorious western powers in response to the politically uncertain world of post war Europe. Its objective was simple, the preservation of the western democratic way of life in a organisation based on mutual defence.

Over the years NATO has grown exponentially and after the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1991 and it currently comprises 28 member states. With the notable exception of one of the biggest European powers: Russia.

The Russian government has never been included in NATO and with the political upheaval in Ukraine; the implication is that it never will.

Russian mistrust of the western powers can be traced as far back as the Second World War, when the Soviet Union signed a pact with Nazi Germany. This pact resulted in betrayal, invasion and the death of some 20 million of its citizens, so naturally they are mistrustful.

But what if NATO were disbanded and a new Pan-European organisation were created in its place?

The Russian mistrust of the west, though not completely dispelled would be moved to the background in the spirit of co-operation.

It’s military and industrial might would be at the disposal of the west rather than set against it. Russian gas and energy supplies would not be cut off from the west and inversely, the Russian economy would improve from its extremely tenuous current position.

To the non-NATO members, Russia would be seen as willing to change and this would be as much a perceptual victory as well as a diplomatic one. Its neighbours would be more willing to engage with it and conflicts like the South Ossetian war and the present crisis in Ukraine could be avoided.

The new international treaty organisation would be able to meet threats more readily and a stronger organisation would strike fear into the hearts of any terrorist or wrong doer.

There are those who would say that the United Nations achieves this and is an inclusive organisation. To them I would say one word, Iraq. The ineffectiveness of resolution 1441 and the coalitions blatant ignoring of the diplomatic rules showed what the United Nations is: A paper tiger, all roar and no substance. The more the nations of the world ignore it, the more it will diminish in its power.

But in any positive argument, there is always the other side of the coin. Russian membership of a NATO style organisation would make it more of an obvious target for terrorists and although the Russian people have experience of dealing with terrorists via the Chechens, their overall preparedness for a large scale terrorist attack can be called into question.

And what of the chief architect of the new imperialist Russia: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin?

Putin is a product of the cold war Russia, steeped in cloak and dagger tactics and clandestine activities. While post cold war America has influenced the world in a more obvious way, the Russia of Vladimir Putin uses its power in a more subtle way behind the scenes. The poisoning of the political activist Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 is a prominent example of this.

A Russia included in a large scale mutual defence and trade organisation would lead to a new breed of oligarchs, thriving in the new co-operative world. Restrictions both economic and social may be lifted, shining a light on the shortcomings of the current Russian system. Political change would come from the inside, motivated by the new oligarchs and those who would likely return from exile.

The clandestine tactics would have to go and more than likely so would Mr Putin.

However an international organisation that adopted both the subtle tactics of Russia and the more obvious manipulation of America would be a dangerous and far more subversive entity.

Not to end on air of pessimism, I choose to look at the positives.

There is a ceasefire in Ukraine, talk of arming the moderates in Syria and the mending of fences between the US and Iran, two long held enemies. There is every reason to think that inclusion of Russia in NATO will come about organically in its own time, but only time will tell.

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© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

The Failure of “Flat Pack” Democracy

Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and numerous other Arab speaking and Asian countries.

The names read like a who’s who of the Foreign Offices “must avoid” list. What do they have in common?

Simple, they have experimented in democracy, with varying successes and failures.

Let’s take Afghanistan first, the American led invasion of 2001 while being primarily an act of revenge for 9/11 had one very important thing, the support of the local leaders. The tribes of Afghanistan, militarised in the form of the Northern Alliance who long despised the Taliban had no trouble falling in with the Americans in their war of freedom.

The post war government of Afghanistan, led by Mohammed Karzai is a western friendly government, eager to fall in line with its American backers.  The April 2014 election, coincidental with the withdrawal of the bulk of the American forces from Afghanistan was a widely contested and criticised affair.  To date there has been no clear winner announced amidst rumours of electoral vote rigging and corruption of officials. Democracy has in this case bred corruption.

Iraq, the second great American war of the 21st century was an equally short affair. The government, while enjoying popular support from the mostly Shia population is without the means to effectively defend  itself in the same way that it’s Ba’ath (the party of Saddam Hussein) did.  The Sunni bankrolled Islamic State (IS) organisation has been allowed to rise in Iraq in the vacuum of power left by the demise of the aforementioned dictator. IS now controls large parts of Iraq and neighbouring Syria, cities like Tikrit, Mosul and Fallujah and has perpetrated appalling war crimes in its pursuit of its aims. Democracy, while present has been proven ineffective against brutality.

Eqypt, the great and ancient power eager to shake off the chains of the oppressive Hosni Mubarak presidency was the next to rise up in revolt.  No one can forget the scenes in Tahir square, it was a regime change that was as popular as it was swift. Free elections followed and it was believed that democracy would prevail. Democracy did for a time, but revolutions are fickle things as the Muslim Brotherhood found out when the army coalition of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi wrestled power back from the government.

Rather than reel off another narrative on the failure of democracy in Libya, I shall quote one disturbing fact, this: The Libyan government does not control its own capital, Tripoli, it has been in the hands of Islamist militants since the start of 2014. Muammar Gaddafi, so much a dominant figure over the last 40 years left a power vacuum which the current government has struggled to fill.

Syria is a sad and tragic story and has been in a state of civil war since the dawn of the Arab Spring in 2011. Where the people of Syria have suffered, the Islamic State has profited from the proliferation of weapons and combatants eager to embrace their extremist view of Islam. The failure of the surrounding Arab states and the Western powers to act has led to the growth of this genocidal band of fanatics in Syria and can be blamed for the current crisis.

The countries highlighted above together with several others were enthusiastic for change, but once it did the imposition of the democratic framework from the ground up has not worked.  In most cases the free people cannot move past the previous system, be it dictatorship, or corrupt form of democracy. Surely the failure of “Flat pack” democracy is the proof that what works in the western hemisphere does not work in the east, or the south. The countries that have adopted this have become political and conflict quagmires, where the innocent people of those countries become bogged down casualties.

So what are the alternatives?  Is there a happy medium that allows the rule of strong law but retains the rights and individual freedoms of the people?  The dictatorship for all its faults does fulfil at least one of these aims if only at the expense of the other.

If such a thing exists, the multitudes across the Middle East and Africa need this as soon as possible.

The Writing Mercenary- 12/9/2014

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

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