Tag Archives: UN

Time For Palestine To Join The Arab Spring

Palestinians must decide whether they want to continue living in dire conditions under a brutal Israeli regime or take the plunge, join the Arab Spring and strive for the opportunity to achieve justice and freedom for themselves.

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Palestine flags

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As uprisings continue to sweep the Arab region, from the North African country of Tunisia all the way to Syria and Bahrain, it is rather astonishing that the Palestinians have not jumped on the bandwagon and joined the Arab Spring movement. After all, it would have been a timely opportunity to join the momentum of those revolutions that continue to strike the region in hope of achieving freedom from brutality. It would have also put the Western nations in a difficult situation. Western Europe, together with the United States, has been very supportive (at least in rhetoric) of the Arab Spring, playing a crucial role in overthrowing Gaddafi and continuing to be an important player in the Syrian civil war. It is well known, however, that the West-especially the United States-shows undeniable support towards Israel. This was witnessed during the last Israeli attacks on Gaza when the United States blamed the Palestinians for the conflict. For this reason, a Palestinian uprising would put the United States in a peculiar position. Could America really continue to show full support to the Syrian rebels and Egyptian civilians, who are once again demonstrating on the streets against their current leader Morsi, yet deny the Palestinians the opportunity to protest against the many grievances: Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the ghetto-like Wall that separates Gaza from the rest of humanity, the illegal settlements, the unfair treatment of Palestinians living in Israel, the shootings of Palestinian children on the Gaza border, the lack of food and clean water due to the Israeli blockade and against the constant threat that Israel will strike again any minute. While western nations are notoriously known for their hypocritical stance when it comes to their foreign policy in the Middle East (which usually reflects their own national interests), the denial of the Palestinian right to rise up against Israel would set in stone what the majority already fear: the West’s lack of concern for human rights of others.

Though the Arab Spring started in 2011, the uprisings are still in full swing and therefore it is not late for Palestine to join the movement. It would be essential for the Palestinians to carry out a peaceful protest (i.e. no rockets from Hamas and no killings of Israelis), but nevertheless a protest that sends out a clear message that they will not back down until some progress is made. This would deny Israel their usual defence: that Palestine is an aggressive region and poses a threat to Israeli national security. This protest should not be about borders, or about a potential creation of the Palestinian state, but about a simple desire to be treated like human beings rather than caged animals. The majority of the international community already support the Palestinians. Not only has Palestine been granted the status of an observer non-member state at the UN, but the reports by the United Nations continue to condemn and criticise the inhumane actions of Israel. If Israel were to retaliate with violence and force against a peaceful uprising by the Palestinians, the Jewish state would risk more alienation from the international community and more disapproval from the general public around the world. A nation cannot continue to survive with a long queue of enemies.

In 2011, the Arab populations took the leap of faith. Many knew that their uprisings could lead to brutal response from their dictators. Some were aware that perhaps they would not survive to see the end of authoritarianism in the Middle East. Yet as the saying goes, when you have nothing, you got nothing to lose. The Palestinians have suffered to the point of near-total submission. However they must use the inspiration from their fellow Arabs who made the decision that enough is enough. Emiliano Zapata, a leading figure in the Mexican Revolution against the dictatorship in 1910 said that “it’s better to die upon your feet than to live upon your knees”. The Palestinians must now make the choice between whether they want to continue living in dire conditions under a brutal Israeli regime or take the plunge, join the Arab Spring and strive for the opportunity to achieve justice and freedom for themselves.

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Photo Credit: Joi

The Sabra-Shatila Massacre And The End Of A Love Affair

It is time for western activists, academics and journalists dealing with the Middle East to look at the region with an objective eye when covering conflicts and condemning human rights abuses. All parties to conflicts should be judged by the same standard.

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1983 Sabra refugee

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Last autumn marked the 30th anniversary of the Sabra-Shatila massacre, the most well-known incident of the Lebanese Civil War. Between the 16th and 18th of September 1982, Christian militiamen rampaged through the alleyways of the Sabra & Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in West Beirut, raping, butchering, and executing unarmed Palestinian civilians. Many of their bodies were horrifically mutilated. Some were castrated, scalped, or marked with Christian crosses etched into the skin. When asked why they killed pregnant women in the camps, militiamen answered to the effect that the unborn children were destined to become Palestinian terrorists and therefore represented legitimate targets. The militiamen responsible for these actions were mostly from the Phalange, a right-wing Lebanese Christian paramilitary group allied to the Israeli military forces that had invaded Lebanon three months earlier. The exact number of people killed in the massacre is unknown, and subject to dispute. It is likely that 1000-1500 civilians died.

Israel faces a string of accusations for its role in the massacre. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) had fully secured the camps’ perimeters prior to the Phalangists’ operations. It granted the Phalangists access to Sabra and Shatila ostensibly to seize Palestinian militants’ weapons. It guarded the exits throughout the Phalangists’ operations, fired flares for illumination, and turned back civilians attempting to flee. Israeli troops had a direct line of sight into the camp, and Israeli officers received radio calls bringing their attention to the killing of civilians. Still they failed to act to stop them.

Though extremely brutal, the Sabra-Shatila massacre was by no means unique within the context of the Lebanese Civil War. Thousands of civilians also died in the massacres of Karantina, Damour, and Tel al-Zaatar. At Tel al-Zaatar, the perpetrators and victims were precisely the same: primarily right-wing Christian militiamen massacring unarmed Palestinian civilians.

Indeed, the Tel al-Zaatar massacre was likely even bloodier than Sabra and Shatila. The United Nations-administered camp was besieged on-and-off by Christian militiamen for several months, and eventually overrun. Most estimates state that at least 2000 Palestinian civilians lost their lives. Even more shocking than this is the fact that Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) militants defending the camp repeatedly and deliberately aggravated the situation in order to increase the number of civilian “martyrs” slain and earn correspondingly greater media attention and sympathy for their cause. According to Robert Fisk, Arafat personally ordered his men to fire upon Christian fighters during a ceasefire in order to provoke a bloody counter-attack.

Both Tel al-Zaatar and Sabra-Shatila stand as bloody and horrific examples of the cynical inhumanity often characteristic of armed conflict. They are examples, too, of the great suffering experienced by Palestinian refugees in the Lebanese civil war.

And yet the Sabra -Shatila massacre was unlike the massacre of Tel al-Zaatar in one significant respect: it generated a massive international response. Where Arafat had failed, for all his “martyrs”, to generate a lasting story at Tel Al-Zaatar, Sabra-Shatila would change the world’s impression of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict forever. In the fallout, the New York Times ran a ten-thousand word article on the massacre. The United Nations General Assembly voted in favour of condemning it as genocide. The largest demonstrations in Israel’s history took place in Tel Aviv. The Israeli “Kahan” Commission was set up, and called for Ariel Sharon to be dismissed as Defence Minister. Defence Appropriations Committee member and pro-Israeli lobbyist within Congress, Charlie Wilson, pointed to Sabra and Shatila as marking the moment when he fell out of love with Israel. The massacre remains important in popular culture. As recently as 2009, freshly-released film Waltzing with Bashir won a Golden Globe. The film follows the story of an Israeli war veteran seeking to remember his experiences in the 1982 war who finally discovers that he was suppressing memories of his involvement at Sabra-Shatila.

Meanwhile, Tel Al-Zaatar remains forgotten. Whereas many major international news agencies (including, amongst others, Al-Jazeera; the Independent; the New York Times; Euronews; the Huffington Post; Press TV) ran stories about Sabra-Shatila on the day of its 30th anniversary last year, a search for news articles relating to the Tel al-Zaatar massacre dated August 2006 (the 30th anniversary of the Tel al-Zaatar massacre) returns no results at all. Even pro-Palestinian blogs are mute. Why is that? Why did the massacre of a comparable number of civilians not prompt similar international concern and media coverage? Why was the Tel al-Zaatar massacre not important enough for the UN’s time? Why wasn’t that also genocide?

The answer to all these questions is that Israel was not involved.

Israelis have often complained of international media and foreign governments applying double-standards when they report on, or involve themselves in, Israeli foreign policy. Israelis are not wrong when they do this: the example of Tel al-Zaatar and Sabra-Shatila is a clear-cut case of double-standards. Not only is Sabra-Shatila remembered only because of Israeli involvement, but only Israeli involvement in Sabra-Shatila is remembered. It will be recalled that the Israelis were not the direct perpetrators. No Israeli soldier engaged in the massacres. It was the Phalangists who were directly responsible for the slaughter. Yet the Israelis received such disproportionate blame for their lesser part in the events that the Phalangists’ role became all but forgotten. Journalistic reports at the time focused not on criticising Phalangist militiamen for the ruthless rapes and murders they had committed, but rather on condemning the Israeli military for failing to have predicted the violence the Christians were inevitably going to unleash upon Palestinians in the camps, and for failing to stop it once they became aware of it.

In order for this narrative to be maintained, it must be assumed that the Phalangists had lesser capacities for moral thought and action. It must be assumed that it is natural that they will act violently when given the opportunity. It must be assumed that they are nothing more than amoral, sectarian killing machines: clockwork toy soldiers wound up on a predetermined path of violence intrinsic to their very natures. It is not worth spending valuable column-inches deploring the acts of fighters who lack any capacity for knowing or doing any better. Meanwhile, a second premise of the same narrative is that Israeli soldiers are capable of understanding the barbarity of other combatants, of making independent ethical judgements, and of policing accordingly.

Put simply, in order to be more shocked at the behaviour of a party which has failed to prevent a murder than with the conduct of the murderer himself, we must be forming judgements on the basis of deeply biased opinions of the two parties. We must consider the murderer inherently inferior, or less capable of making moral judgments than the aloof witness in the first place. After all, if the farmer fails to lock the door to the chicken coop and the fox kills the chickens, we blame the farmer. What sense is there in blaming a fox, an animal without reason?

It is often claimed that the extra criticism Israel receives in such situations is rooted in anti-Semitism. This charge has been levelled against scores of academics, journalists and government officials, and has ended many a career. However, it is not anti-Semitism at the heart of this hypocrisy. The opposite is true. We hold Israelis to be superior to their Arab neighbours rather than inferior. The hypocrisy stems from the deeply ingrained, sub-conscious, racist views we in the West continue to hold of Arabs and of Orientals generally. We consider them to be less moral than us, and to be naturally more at ease with violence. Israel has re-enforced this image by presenting itself as a lonely outpost, flying the flag of democracy in a dangerous and savage land in which it is surrounded by nothing but tyranny and threat. It is the fact that we consider Israel superior to the Arabs that leads to our noisily reproaching it.

It is not the case that we go too far in our criticisms of Israel. It is right and proper that we should condemn Israeli activities when they appear to go against international law or common morality, as they clearly did at Sabra and Shatila. What is unacceptable is that when Arab groups and governments commit far greater crimes we do not respond in the same terms. We say nothing because we consider it normal as a result of institutionalised and racist beliefs. We think it natural that governments throughout the Arab World continue to engage in the vicious oppression of their own peoples, opposition groups, and minorities. Most guilty of all are the likes of George Galloway: pro-Palestinian activists willing to express support for dictators like Saddam Hussein and violent sectarian militias like Hezbollah in the same breath as denouncing Israeli human rights abuses.

It is time for western activists, academics and journalists dealing with the Middle East to look at the region with an objective eye when covering conflicts and condemning human rights abuses. All parties to conflicts should be judged by the same standard. If that were achieved there would be a great deal more criticism of Arab governments and militias. If that were achieved, the victims of the Tel al-Zaatar massacre would be as well remembered by everyone, including “pro-Palestinian activists”, as those of Sabra and Shatila.

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Photo Credit: Cliff1066™

The Algerian Hostage Dead: NATO Is Responsible

While the West may be reluctant to put more boots on the ground due to the growing frustration from the general public, we are likely to see more military interventions this decade.

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What do Libya, Mali and Algeria have in common? The three nations have played a pivotal role in the political domino effect culminating over the last week. At least 48 hostages are now thought to have died in a four-day siege at an Algerian gas plant. In response to the Algerian hostage situation Mr Cameron said his government will continue to focus on fighting terrorism: “There is no justification for taking innocent life in this way”.

These are typical words attributed to a politician speaking in the generic foreign policy language. However David Cameron has failed to mention that NATO also played its part in the Algerian hostage crisis. Algerian crisis is a direct consequence of the current Mali conflict and the Mali conflict is the direct result of the Libyan conflict in 2011 as those who supported Gaddafi were thrown out from the country for being black and had nowhere else to go except to join the Mali terrorist groups.

And since it was Cameron and his “peace-seeking” NATO states who encouraged the violence in Libya and helped to carry out a regime change operation, it seems NATO are at least partially responsible for the Algerian hostage crisis. Politics works in funny ways.

Let us examine each claim individually starting with Libya.

The mission to oust Gaddafi and kick start a new dawn for Libya has been claimed by the West to be a success. Yet an uncomfortable truth rarely mentioned in the Western media remains- hundreds of African migrant workers in Libya accused of being mercenaries for Col Muammar Gaddafi were imprisoned and tortured by fighters allied to the new interim authorities.

Indeed it is heavily documented how the victorious rebels were hunting after African mercenaries and the latter had no choice but to escape from the destruction-stricken country. These mercenaries found a new home- Mali. Additionally there are irrefutable claims that homes have been looted, and women and girls beaten and raped. Perhaps removing Gaddafi was a success for the Western nations, but the country is currently in turmoil and is still mostly run by heavily armed mercenaries.

It is clear that the West had a lot of interest in removing Gaddafi. While the UN gave the authorisation to protect the Libyan civilians, this objective turned into a regime change operation. It is not surprising that Russia and China continue to veto any resolutions in regards to Syria as they understand that another aim to protect the Syrian civilians would simply mean regime change in Syria.

We can only speculate what interests the West has in the region. A number of theories have been put forward: oil, a step towards eventually attacking Iran, protecting Israel, all of the above. While impossible to know the truth, it is clear that the West has a grand strategy for the Middle East and Africa.

And so we arrive at the second stage of the domino effect. The current conflict in Mali seems in many ways to mirror the conflict that took place in Libya. Rebels are trying to take over the country and overthrow the government. There is however one difference. The current Mali government is a friend of France whilst Gaddafi refused to get on his knees for the Western powers.

A popular argument used by the politicians is the claim that Libya was a dictatorship while Mali is a democracy and therefore the West has a responsibility to protect Mali from radical extremists. However if this claim was true then the West would have already intervened in Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However these authoritarian states have good relations with the West and are therefore safe from NATO interventions.

Indeed those who claim that the Mali government are not executing their own civilians like Gaddafi did may be shocked to find that there are growing reports by Amnesty International of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses in Mali, as troops battle Islamist militants in the West African country.

Residents of Mopti, in the centre of the country, told the Observer of arrests, interrogations and the torture of innocents by the Malian army. Amnesty International says that it has documented evidence of abuse by the Malian army, including extrajudicial killings. It says that in September, a group of 16 Muslim preachers composed of Malian and Mauritanian nationals were arrested then executed by the Malian military in Diabaly. It seems like the French government is trying to protect those that are carrying out human rights abuses.

Undoubtedly the rebels are not saints either. Nevertheless there has to be some consistency from the West. Claiming to be against Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein as they killed own citizens, while at the same time supporting the regimes in Mali, Bahrain and Jordan, who also treat their citizens with cruelty is simply hypocritical.

Of course this is not the first time a Western power has supported brutality. It is also imperative to mention the case of Syria here. Mr Hollande has claimed that the reason why his country is supporting the Mali government against the rebels is because the rebels are Islamic extremists whilst the rebels in Syria are secular.

Mr Hollande’s remarks are are simply wrong as it is well known that a large section of the Syrian rebels are also radical Islamists. The radical rebels who have connections to Al Qaeda seem to be having more influence on the Syrian population than the Free Syrian Army who claim to be secular.

And so thanks to the continuous hypocritical interventions by the Western nations we have arrived at a situation where a BP gas site has been assaulted by terrorists. Whilst undoubtedly investigations will be carried out, it seems more than likely that the terrorists who have carried out the hostage mission are in some way linked to the rebels in Mali.

It is well known that in life, a particular action always leads to a particular consequence. This is called the butterfly effect. International politics is not immune from this phenomenon, as something that began as a mission by the West to oust Gaddafi in 2011 has ended with Western citizens being taken hostage in Algeria. I say “ended” yet it is probable that this is just the beginning of more violence and conflict which will spread to other parts of Africa.

This is rather useful for the NATO states as America and other Western nations have been itching to find an excuse to send more military to the continent now that the Middle East has been “conquered” and squeezed completely dry. And while the resource-plenty and flourishing Africa will now be the new victim of Western interventions, our media and politicians will continue to tell us that our governments are fighting to make the world a safer place by annihilating the terrorists – the same terrorists that arise through Western interventions in the first place.

Just yesterday David Cameron has announced that the war on terrorists will go on for decades and NATO interventions will switch from Afghanistan to North Africa.

Interventions are a destructive cycle. The West intervenes in other regions as a police state under a pretext of supporting democracy, but end up opening a can of worms. Extremism spreads to nearby regions and the locals are angered by the continuous meddling of the West in their affairs and therefore join the terrorist groups which encourages the West to intervene more.

It becomes a permanent circle, or better known as a perpetual war. Alternative solutions to intervention do exist. Empowering regional bodies and governments through international development programs, foreign aid and cooperation are viable alternatives to militarism. While the West may be reluctant to put more boots on the ground due to the growing frustration from the general public, we are likely to see more military interventions this decade. Due to the development of unmanned drones and other rocket-type weaponry, NATO is likely to continue to intrude in the Middle East and Africa. It seems the West never learns.

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Photo credit: US Army Africa

Terrorism is Terrorism? How Communication Exacerbates the Definitional Problem

Why is terrorism so difficult to define? {Department of War Studies, King’s College London}

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A definition of terrorism is arguably one of the woolliest concepts of modern discourse. Its manifestations arrive from a complex mosaic of compounding issues that affect any real brevity in assessing it. Since 9/11 it has been promoted to the forefront of most political agendas and yet no definitional consensus has followed. In the second presidential debate for example, Mitt Romney lambasted President Obama for not calling the attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi a terrorist incident, of which Obama took 14 days to finally call it such. The interim Libyan leader in comparison described it as an act of criminal violence. Politicians and subsequently media organisations have been careless, imprecise and sloppy in labelling incidents as acts of terrorism. This essay will therefore, scale back from the larger definitional debate and acknowledges that issues will be omitted. However, by arguing that terrorism is wrapped up in political motivations and rhetoric in tandem with the rise of modern communication, ultimately has a greater impact in understanding why terrorism is so difficult to define.

A Definitional Overview

To argue with clarity, the first logical step is to assess why terrorism is so important to define. Since 9/11 the word ‘terrorism’ has increasingly become intertwined in today’s society, and is synonymous in creating powerful images of violence, self-sacrifice and catastrophe. However, are we any closer in understanding what constitutes it? There are many academics and professionals who not only struggle to grapple with a definition, but utterly refute any notion of needing one. Walter Laqueur, perhaps the most prominent in this category, argues that a definition “does not exist nor will it be found in the foreseeable future.” Additionally, Jeremy Waldon and George Fletcher, in separate works, acknowledge that there are too many questions and not enough answers. Both seem to deviate from any real conclusion and believe the best possible course in understanding terrorism – is to know it when you see it.

The British Ambassador to the United Nations also shares this argument. In a post 9/11 speech he shunned the attempts of a definition by stating, “let us be focused about this: terrorism is terrorism… What looks, smells and kills like terrorism is terrorism.” However, if terrorism is taken as a transnational issue and not a single state-centric paradigm, to simply say every terrorist attack has characteristics that are obvious in all instances and consistently the same, is not only trite, but affects any sort of successful counter-terrorism strategy. Therefore, if terrorism is a global affair encompassing many different countries, a definition is vitally important to understand and ultimately combat it.

It is fair to argue that a definition is imperative in combating terrorism. However, coming to that conclusion is not an easy feat. Alex Schmid has become a cornerstone in the definitional debate and arguably places significance on “anxiety-inspired methods” which are implied on victims “generally chosen… (targets of opportunity).” He interestingly includes state-actors within his definition, which further adds weight to the necessity for a classification, because it can separate who or what are committing the acts. In a direct response to Schmid, Weinberg et al conclusively found no room in their definition for psychological effects and place politics as the primary reason behind terrorist strategy. Bruce Hoffman also asserts the importance of politics and views it as the key tool in understanding terrorists modus operandi. However, viewing a terrorist group in the sole constraints of politics reveals only a partial picture, as ignoring religious or ideological motivations limits the scope of analysis. John Horgan moves away from the idea of politics by putting explicit importance on the psychological use of ‘terror’, which in his words “removes part of the mystery” in understanding terrorism.

The use of terror is vitally important in assessing an attack because, as John Mueller identifies, it breaks down the moral criminal code that almost all populations abide by. Thus, understanding the potential method and targets not only helps polarise state and non-state actors but also allows a better degree of understanding of what the potential aims of a group are. There is arguably not one definition to use and it is fair to say that the scattered academic radar adds more uncertainty to how terrorism is defined. Nevertheless, if a definition is used, it does enable a set of parameters to be implemented allowing terrorist activity to be assessed.

The Misuse of ‘Terrorism’

The understandable academic ambiguity around the manifestations of terrorism is one that will continue, however, it is arguably not the basis of why terrorism is so hard to define. The way the word is used in its entirety by political apparatuses and influential individuals has a far larger footprint in misguiding the real meaning and use of terrorism. Ian Lustick’s thought provoking book ‘Trapped in a War on Terror’ portrays this argument and crucially identifies how terrorism became the Bush administrations political foundation. Patriotic fist pumping speeches that hark back to old veteran sentiments helped legitimatise policy-making decisions and misalign people’s perceptions of what terrorism actually is. There is perhaps little to dispute with this argument especially when assessing Bush’s clay footed notion of fighting a ‘War on Terror.’

Other hazy statements seem to be in abundance when terrorism is assessed and the idea of an attack to have a ‘look and feel of terrorism’ seems to be the optimum phrase when there is no uniformity concerning a violent attack. The blurry platitudes imposed by state echelons is unrelenting and is further compounded by the systematic use of “apocalyptic alarmism” whereby a top down smothering of scare tactics is employed – specifically in the United States. Homeland Security for example, not only portrays the threat of terrorists having the capability of CBRN weapons but also the ability to use those weapons “from home and abroad.” The imprecise and often inaccurate statements seem to have other motives. Fred Kaplan, in The Guardian, believes “policies will gain maximum support if they are linked to the war on terrorism.” Therefore, if terrorism is bound up in political drives for public support it begs a very serious question whether it is possible to separate truth from fiction and thus provide an accurate definition.

Communications Unique Role

Government’s apparent manipulation of the subject nature of terrorism is compounded by mushrooming nature of globalisation and the subsequent rise of modern technology, which in Manuel Castells words has created a “new communication space” where “power is decided.” The expansion of ideas to previously untouched parts of the world and the connection of disparate communities to their home nation has created a complex dichotomy that Sir Richards labels as a “global network of grievances.” The rapid expansion in technology, and the explosion of social media sites has arguably transformed opinions and debates into a virtual, informational space. This, allows people to move “rapidly and seamlessly” within a virtual world. David Betz has aptly labelled this as Web 2.0, in which all vectors of society can interact simultaneously, and subsequently, the public are no longer passive spectators but an active cog in the informational world.

Modern technology has therefore now provided an unprecedented platform to move messages horizontally across an archipelago of national and international borders. If the message is incorrect or misleading it can have exponential consequences by smattering the population with distorted information. In that respect, a political message is increasingly becoming a media message and has the ability to influence all spheres of society instantaneously. However, on the other hand, the role of modern technology also means people can circumvent not only traditional state controls but also contrived information. This is evident with General Sir David Richards’ summary of technology where he argues modern communications “are way beyond the state’s ability to control without threatening all the other functions of that state.” However, this works on both feet and allows governments to wield a certain degree of autonomy in the use of modern media processes. Therefore, as David Kilcullen argues, the ends and means of developing sources of information have a paucity that makes it very hard to distinguish origins or accuracy.

A government message is thus now instantly input into the media and the subsequent outlets play a significant role in shaping how it is defined. If terrorism is put through these many different communication filters, the outcome is a kaleidoscopic mesh of compounding definitions. They are connected to public opinion, leader personality and the usual platitudes around foreign policy. John Horgan therefore argues, to assess terrorism in its definitional entirety; a movement away from the media process is vital. However, with governments increasingly using the term in its haziest context and media being completely associated with political issues, this arguably is not possible and subsequently affects coming to terms with a definition of terrorism.

Conclusion

To conclude, this essay has focused on a very selective variety of sources and is not by any means conclusive in bringing the definitional debate to a finish line. It has specifically focused on the US government’s role due to its unique place in combating terror and an investigation into other nations could lead to a very different argument. However, misinformation imposed by any government can arguably filter down into everyday life and is further exacerbated by the role of modern communications. This ultimately gives a larger footprint and further muddies the water in trying to come to terms with an accurate definition of terrorism.

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Photo Credit: bixentro

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner Has It All Wrong

Today the Guardian published an open letter by Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, urging UK Prime Minister David Cameron to recommence talks for the handover of the Falkland Islands, which she refers to as Las Malvinas. This brief correspondence, timed to appear as an advertisement in the Guardian’s print edition (p. 25) on the 180-year anniversary of the re-establishment of British rule on the islands, rehashes tired accusations of continued colonialism but fails to mention either sovereignty or self-determination.

She props her claim upon 48-year old UN Resolution 2065, waving it as a flag of transnational support for Argentina’s claim. However, this rather old but well-meant resolution, like most UN edicts, doesn’t say much at all except to promote talks in the hope of calming the waters. Being seen to say something, whilst not saying anything of great import. The letter even copies in Ban Ki-Moon, the secretary-general of the UN. On the sovereignty question, the UN Resolution that Kirchner is clinging to like a deflating buoy explicitly states that these discussion and both governments must take into consideration “the interests of the population of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)”. It seems the UK is alone in this particular concern.

This 212-word piece of showmanship highlights that Kirchner is clearly not insensible to the impending referendum on March 10th-11th 2013 in which the 3000-strong population of the Falklands will decide their own fate, despite Argentina’s unwillingness to recognise its validity. In between spiky remarks on the geographic distance between the Falklands and the UK (8700 miles), Kirchner fails to recognise a point made by many others in the past including myself, its not so much geographic distance as cultural difference that often matters most, and in that regard, Argentina couldn’t be further away from the islanders.

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Photo credit: Expectativa Online

Recognizing A Palestinian State Would Be Disastrous

A hoorah enthusiasm to accept Palestinian statehood at the United Nations no matter what – and with no regard for Israel’s say in the matter – would be catastrophic. We must be patient.

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A view of Jerusalem

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This is a response to  ‘Blocking Palestine: America’s Big Mistake

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Many groups have seen hope for a solution to the Middle East conflict in the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN, the thinking being that international pressure will exert  pressure on Israel. Following this logic, American opposition to the move is regarded as a diplomatic mistake given a growing consent among the UN member states for the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) request for statehood. Americans, the argument goes, are opposed to it out of concerns that the Palestinian state could then file a lawsuit at the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Israel for illegal occupation of its territories. This stance takes root in its loyalty to a close ally despite the fact that such policy goes against its principles and values and undermines its influence across the Arab World. American behavior with regards to the PA is even more perplexing when one takes a look at its efforts to support democratic changes in North Africa.

I would like to counter that argument. Accepting a Palestinian bid for statehood would be a dangerous development, not only for the US and Israel, but first and foremost for Palestinians and the wider region. Americans oppose Palestinian statehood out of security concerns rather than a morally dubious attachment to its ally. At this moment in history Palestine is by no means ready to become a state, and the blatant international disregard for the Israeli input in the matter could have dire consequences, including an all-out conflict across the region.

The first and most important risk originates in the fact that the PA does not exercise full control over its territories, even in Zone A, and cannot guarantee the rule of law over all of its lands and stability at its borders – the Gaza Strip and Hamas, for example. Let’s imagine the PA finally gets the statehood it wanted – how is it supposed to oust Hamas from Gaza and reinstate itself as the ruling power? What do Abbas’s assertions on peaceful cooperation with Israel mean if once Palestine becomes independent Hamas will continue to dictate its own policies, fire missiles at Israel and recruit Bedouins to attack from Sinai? Palestine can only become a state if it has all the features of a state – territory and population are not enough.

Let us imagine the newly independent Palestine files a lawsuit against Israel at the ICC, the ICC finds Israel guilty and demands its withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. Then what? No state in history will voluntarily abandon strategic positions without being fully confident that its withdrawal will not be instantaneously used against it. Palestinian state apparatus and security forces are too weak to deal with rioting and protests, let alone successfully fight domestic terrorist groups. Can Abbas really guarantee that no missiles will be launched on Ben Gurion Airport from the West Bank hills? That he will make sure nobody smuggles firearms from Jordan into Ramallah? That Hezbollah operatives would not enter Palestine to train and recruit new terrorists?

The risk is just too big to take, especially now with sectarian conflicts raging all over the region. The PA does not wield enough power – state institutions are weak and security forces are ill-trained and corrupt. Israel contains the terrorist threat coming from the Occupied Territories at the disgraceful costs of humanitarian abuse and violence, but its tactics and strategy are successful. Can Israelis gamble put their safety and security in the hands of weak and semi-failed institutions out of a moral imperative? It would be against common sense to claim they should.

The first condition for the PA is to exercise the full rule of law, both in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, when it will be able to contain terrorism on its own territory before it hits Israel. Secondly, Israel cannot be forced into an internationally orchestrated Palestinian statehood. Israelis would not yield to such pressure, whereas encouraged Palestinians would interpret such move as a green light for staging a Third Intifada. The consequences would be more bloodshed, more violence and a greater Israeli military presence in the Occupied Territories. Such a move would delay any chance for a comprehensive solution for another couple of decades.

The peace process must be negotiated with the involvement of the great powers. The counter-argument is irrelevant as all the parameters for a peace solution have been set and defined as far back as Taba Summit in 2001. The problem lies in the lack of good will between the two sides; if the solution was mutually desired, Palestine could become an independent state over one night. Any international solution without the Israelis on board would deteriorate the situation, enhance the risk of violence, and fuel hawkish moods both in Israel and in Palestine.

Lastly, statehood would be disastrous for the PLO and its legitimacy. If the PLO could not gain any substantial improvement in the Palestinian situation following recognition, Palestinian society would question the PA’s ability to deliver, thus further undermining its already weak support. It is not hard to imagine a wave of social protests bolstering radicals’ support base, who could build their popularity on harsh critique of the PLO’s inertia and passiveness, calling for the people to forcefully take what has been promised by the UN itself. If another intifada were to break out, the PLO would have no chance of controlling the uprising, nor would it be able to compete with the militant and populist Hamas in rallying the support of the society to lead the fight. If Arafat could not control the Second Intifada, it is beyond the realms of possibility that someone as uncharismatic as Abbas will do better.

I do not intend to defend Israeli policies; I am no fan of Bibi and his politics. But a hoorah enthusiasm to accept Palestinian statehood at the UN no matter what – and with no regard for Israel’s say in the matter – would be catastrophic. We must be patient and appreciate the current situation, as irrespective of what we think, Israeli-Palestinian relations, both on official and social levels, haven’t been as peaceful as they are now for some time.

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Photo credit: Adam Biggs / theriskyshift.com

Afghanistan Part 2: The Rise Of ‘Green On Blue’ Attacks

The recent surge of ‘green on blue’ attacks in Afghanistan may be the most successful tactic in the history of this conflict towards this aim, the aim of breaking the will of domestic populations to support the wars for stability and security in the Middle East.

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Afghan policeman helping American soldier

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This is the second part of a two part series on Afghanistan. View the first part here.

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By 2014 the ISAF may well have succeeded in creating an Afghanistan which can be secured by the government, supported by the significant infrastructure and well-trained military developed in the latter half of the conflict. In-fighting between Taliban moderates and extremists and the many groups in the Pakistan federal regions may prevent them developing the strength to challenge government forces. The departure of Western forces may kill off the Taliban’s chief propaganda engine and cut their recruits. The ISAF/UN efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan locals, already having shown some signs of success before the recent resurgence of extremist attacks in the wake of the rise of Pakistan-based groups over the increasingly moderate Afghan Taliban, may yet develop hostility towards yet more violence after the war involving the West is over.

What may result after 2014 is an unknown to even the most knowledgeable military thinkers and strategists. However what the withdrawal itself will show is more solid. What began with the retreat from Mogadishu in 1993 will be completed with that from Kabul in two years time. Western inability to stomach the sacrifice of lives necessary to win such long and non-traditional “bleeding” conflicts may prove the defining element of Western militaries in many conflicts to come. There is no lingering over the death of ever Kenyan to die in the fight of Al-Shabaab nor every Columbian kidnapped and executed by the FARC. Extremist knowledge and use of the strategy, outlined and shown at its most crippling by bin Laden, of goading the west with brutal terrorist attacks into wars which will eventually be defeated by their own public may well be the most devastating development since the advent of nationwide guerrilla warfare in 1800s Spain.

The Taliban will continue to fight to break the hearts of the West to win the minds of their leaders. And they will do so by the use of horrifyingly brutal tactics, by sowing sorrow and despair in those populations least able to cope with them. That is what the ‘green on blue’ attacks symbolise, the massacre of happy Afghans whose only crime was to dance, the murder of raped women and accused homosexuals. This is what terror is, to not know whether the man you taught to bear arms for their own freedom will simply wait till your back is turned before aiming that weapon at your head. Hopelessness and terror is their weapon, and as the ISAF prepares to withdraw they may be giving up their fight against it.

Unfortunately bin Laden was right, and is still winning victories long after his death. The major NATO powers, having not experienced a single conflict on their own soil in over half a decade, have lost the tolerance to violence and death our species had developed over millennia of traumatic and brutal existences. By contrast populations of those states ravaged by war in the Middle East have experienced such constant and repeated violent trauma that death and violence have become normalised. The idea that ten fighters were killed in a raid has become a part of life. In comparison every individual death of ISAF forces is broadcast across world media with sorrowful regret and sentimental remembrance of their life.

I in no way intend to criticise the way the West deals with death. I believe the increasing value placed on lives is a great testament to the culture of individuals rights and the freedom from violence and persecution the West continues to develop. However, it does not lend itself well to war. With every death the Taliban suffers, another willing recruit takes their place. Driven by the trauma of a country which has known no peace, to seek the community, purpose and order of extreme Islamism and with no sense of the sanctity of their own lives, only of that of their purpose. By contrast every ISAF death saps the will to fight of western forces and drives domestic populations away from the idea of a war which is worth fighting.

The recent surge of ‘Green on Blue’ attacks may be the most successful tactic in the history of this conflict towards this aim, the aim of breaking the will of domestic populations to support the wars for stability and security in the Middle East. This colloquial term for the attacks by newly trained Afghan forces on their ISAF allies covers the sudden growth of a new tactic to win the hearts and minds of western audiences. To convince them the war in Afghanistan, possibly a vital one for the fight against Islamist terrorism and regional stability, is both unwinnable and unjust. Why, when ISAF deaths are still so high (despite being nearer half of the losses suffered in the Iraq war), should we believe after a decade that Afghanistan can still be saved? Why, when we dedicate so many of our sons and brothers to the conflict, only to have them killed by those they are trying to help, should we believe the Afghans are deserving of our help?

This has even begun to seep into the highest ranking generals in ISAF forces, commanders vocalising their anger, frustration and sadness at the campaign which continues to drag on with no end in sight. This is no Iraq. The enemy are not collapsing, casualties have not been dramatically reduced by a troop surge, the government is not increasingly powerful or secure. In Iraq both military and civilian casualties dived from their peak after a troop surge which broke the back of extremist elements. In Afghanistan the continuous stream of combatants and extremist preachers from neighbouring Pakistan, outside the reach of the ISAF, is instead breaking the back of western morale. The battle for hearts and minds is one we are losing, it is the strength of religious extremists and their brutal tactics. No where is that more evident than when our hearts fall and minds recoil every time Green turns on Blue.

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Photo credit: The U.S. Army

Afghanistan Part 1: The Failure Of ‘Hearts and Minds’

That ISAF/UN attempt to win over the hearts and minds of Afghanistan has not been a great success, but the campaign by the Taliban to win over those of the domestic populations of the West has been a victory beyond their wildest expectations.

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This is the first part of a two part series on Afghanistan.

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The war for the hearts and minds of Afghanistan may be the most important propaganda campaign to the West since its long and bitter fight against Communism over two decades ago. However, unlike the Cold War, it is not a fight between two powers stuck in a precarious balance of equal and all-powerful military might. This is a war of power so disproportionate that it has made the battle of ideals so much more vital, not less so. In a conflict where the military balance is so one-sided, it is the hearts and minds of those both abroad and at home which have become the battlefield for both sides.

The Taliban could never hope to inflict any defeat on ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) forces large enough to swing the conflict in their favour. To do so would have required numbers, equipment and organisation beyond which the organisation was capable of even at its most powerful. Even the rise of new powerful groups such as the Haqqani network poses no real threat to ISAF forces as a whole. Even a total of three thousand casualties over the last decade is a relatively small loss in real terms against a total strength of over one hundred thousand and very little in comparison to the over twenty thousand Taliban and affiliated fighters killed in the conflict. The worst ever single loss of life for ISAF forces was a helicopter shot down, killing 38.

38 simply isn’t a large loss of life. Six harriers destroyed in the attack on Camp Bastion last month may be a the most serious aircraft loss for the US since Vietnam, but is a drop in the ocean to the US defence budget. With their capability to cause any form of military defeat significant enough to cripple with ISAF forces almost completely out of reach, and the continuing losses to their own more limited forces a constant of their campaign, how is it so many are saying the Taliban is winning the war, and why is NATO drawing out so soon from an unfinished conflict?

The truth lies not in military might and casualty figures but with hearts and minds, and not those of the population of Afghanistan. That ISAF/UN attempt to win over the hearts and minds of Afghanistan has not been a great success, but the campaign by the Taliban to win over those of the domestic populations of the West has been a victory beyond their wildest expectations.

By this I do not mean that the Taliban have succeeded in turning western populations to violent Islamist extremism and a fundamental interpretation of Sharia law. Instead they succeeded in doing exactly what Osama bin Laden set out to do in 2001. Even before the war was launched, Bin Laden stated his aim as to “provoke and bait” the United States into “bleeding wars” on Muslim lands, claiming: “since Americans […] do not have the stomach for a long and bloody fight, they will eventually give up and leave the Middle East to its fate.”

When the US and UK forces withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014 their greatest defeat will not be military, it will be psychological. They will withdraw with heads hung and eyes lowered. They will return to countries where their home populations have long seen their mission as pointless, unjust or an inevitable failure. Too many have tied the UN-sanctioned, internationally supported mission with the illegal invasion of Iraq which followed.

If ISAF forces retreat from Afghanistan, and it proves too early, before the Afghan government can itself secure the mountainous country and so releasing Afghanistan into a chasm of extremist violence and chaos, it will prove the most significant defeat in NATO history. It will prove the strategic brilliance of Osama Bin Laden and the success of the brutally unjust tactics of friendly fire in the Green-on-Blue attacks. If the Taliban manage to break the Afghan government they will not inherit Afghanistan. After a decade of war they are too weak to consolidate control that they were not even capable of before the 2001 invasion. Instead Afghanistan will collapse in the face of waves of combatants from the Pakistan federal regions and the battle between Iranian Shia and Pakistani Sunnis which will follow. Afghanistan will become a pump for terrorist attacks far greater than anything seen in a decade.

Read the second part of this series here.

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Photo credit: The U.S. Army

Is Iraq The Only War Tony Blair Should Be On Trial For?

Kosovo was not a question of defending people from ethnic cleansing and genocide. Tony Blair’s support for intervention led to more deaths than likely would have occurred without the bombing campaign.

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B1-B US Bomber on a night mission

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Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been back in the headlines recently (though not quite as he would like), with Archbishop Desmond Tutu calling for him to be put on trial, a call supported by, among others, Guardian columnist George Monbiot, who has been promoting citizens’ arrests of Blair. Their argument is that Blair prosecuted an illegal war without UN authorisation, an act of aggression justified on spurious grounds, which led to countless unnecessary deaths.

The facts are certainly on their side, but perhaps more than they themselves realise. For whereas they point only to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, I would suggest that these arguments also hold true for the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia (now Serbia), of which Blair’s UK was, as in 2003, a main instigator.

A Moral War?

Like the attack on Iraq, the bombing of Serbia lacked UN authorisation, and so was illegal under international law. The bombing also carried a terrible direct toll (at least 500 civilian deaths and billions of dollars of damage, as NATO targeted Serbia’s civilian infrastructure), including war crimes such as the deliberate targeting of Serbia’s media.

Despite this, the Kosovo intervention is usually seen as justifiable on humanitarian grounds, as it defended the Kosovars (Kosovo Albanians) from genocide and ethnic cleansing, and liberated them from the oppressive rule of the ‘Serbian Saddam’, Slobodan Milosevic.

It is this justification – the moral case, as Blair would call it – that this article will focus on. As we shall see, the situation was no-where near as black-and-white as presented, and, far from preventing violence or promoting compromise, the NATO bombing actually caused a huge escalation of the conflict and eliminated all possibility of compromise: it caused the very disaster it claimed to be preventing. So if Tony Blair ever does face trial for his wars, there is a strong case for including this one in the Prosecutor’s brief.

Kosovo: The Story Before the Bombing

Kosovo is a case – of which there are many in the world – of a territory contested by two national groups, Serbs and Albanians. Serbs, who by the twentieth century formed about a quarter of the population, considered it an integral part of Serbia, and were never too happy about the presence of an Albanian majority there since the nineteenth century. Albanians, two-thirds of the population, wanted the province to be part of Albania rather than Serbia, and were never too happy with the Serbs being there. Whenever one group had control of the region, they oppressed, abused or persecuted the other, in a fairly predictable cycle.

The most recent part of this cycle began in the late 1960s, when communist Yugoslavia transformed itself into a loose federation of which Kosovo, run mainly by its Albanian majority, was de facto an equal part. Despite this unprecedented degree of autonomy, in 1981 Kosovo was shaken by Albanian riots demanding the severing of the symbolic links with Serbia that remained. Soon, abuses of Serbs by Albanian nationalists, acknowledged and described by the province’s Albanian leaders themselves, and the persistence of separatist feeling in the province, became major issues throughout Yugoslavia.

It was this situation itself which helped lead to Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic revoking Kosovo’s autonomy in 1990, now bringing Albanians under a discriminatory and repressive Serb regime. Faced with Serb military strength, the Kosovo Albanians adopted a largely pacifist resistance. Their openly declared goal, however, was not merely civil rights or autonomy, but secession from Serbia and, ideally, unification with Albania.

In the second half of the 1990s, meanwhile, a group of radicals called the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) – described as ‘a terrorist group’ even by US negotiator Robert Gelbard, among others – began a violent campaign against Serb rule, targeting not just Serbian police and military, but Serb and Roma civilians too, and any ethnic Albanians they deemed ‘collaborators’, or simply rivals. (Former KLA leaders are on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for some of these crimes). Their goal was to provoke Serb response and thereby greater Albanian support for the KLA, and eventually international intervention. As one of their officials later admitted: ‘every single Albanian realized that the more civilians die, intervention comes nearer… The more civilians were killed, the chances of international intervention became bigger, and the KLA of course realized that’.

The KLA managed to take control of much of the province, and, predictably, the Serbs responded with a brutal counter-insurgency campaign, until the threat of NATO bombing in October 1998 forced an uneasy truce and de-escalation. Over the following months the KLA used the ‘truce’ to re-take lost territory – British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook himself noted the KLA was the truce’s chief violator – but the presence of large numbers of OSCE and EU monitors kept the conflict at a relatively low level.

Thus, the conflict in Kosovo before the NATO bombing was one between two rival nationalist forces, a repressive state apparatus on the one hand and a rebel group on the other, with each guilty of crimes. The Serbian counter-insurgency campaign was brutal and often indiscriminate (like many in the world), but the available evidence does not suggest that it had the goal of ethnic cleansing – no Albanians were being forced out of Kosovo. The number of casualties – although high considering the size of Kosovo’s population of two million – was also hardly exceptional: according to the pro-Western Humanitarian Law Centre (HLC) in Belgrade, which has painstakingly documented the killed and ‘disappeared’ of the Kosovo conflict, there were about 1,500 dead in 1998, 300 of them non-Albanians.

The Negotiations That Never Were

Though harshly critical of the Serbian side, Western states at the time did not endorse Albanian nationalist goals. Rather, they advocated a compromise between Serb and Albanian national projects: extensive autonomy for Kosovo within Serbia, as had existed in the 1970s and 80s. In February 1999 negotiations were held in Rambouillet, France, with the supposed aim of reaching this outcome. Serbia’s negotiating platform was for autonomy, but at a lower level than had existed previously, and with built-in protections for non-Albanians (not just Serbs, but also the Roma, Muslims, and other groups in Kosovo). The Albanians, on the other hand, would reluctantly accept expansive autonomy only temporarily, under the condition of a future referendum on independence.

Whether Milosevic was really prepared to compromise is debatable – he was undoubtedly exploiting the crisis to strengthen his own authoritarian rule – but it is notable that his stances were actually closer to the envisaged compromise than the Albanians’. Moreover, just three years earlier he had indeed shown himself willing to claim victory in peace, forcing the Croatian and Bosnian Serbs into abandoning most of their goals.

Negotiations, however, were not given a chance, as Western negotiators instead sabotaged them to create a pretext for bombing, proposing a draft agreement that included a referendum after three years. In a signed promise given behind the back of the Russian negotiator, US Secretary of State Madeline Albright promised the Albanians that this meant a referendum on independence, whose results the USA would respect. This was not a compromise, but the victory of one side, and an agreement that no Serbian government would ever have been able to accept.

When the Serbs rejected the draft in March 1999, NATO then ordered the withdrawal of all OSCE and EU monitors from Kosovo, and began bombing.

Escalation

Predictably, NATO’s bombing caused a massive escalation of the conflict. Serbian forces now not only cracked down on the KLA but also launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing, executing thousands of Albanians and ordering hundreds of thousands out. When Serbian forces withdrew as part of the June 1999 peace deal (which did not include a referendum on independence), these Albanians were able to return alongside NATO/UN peacekeepers. But so did the KLA, which in turn orchestrated a wave of ethnic cleansing against Serbs, Roma and other non-Albanians, kidnapping and executing many, and forcing the majority to flee the province. As has been revealed and extensively documented by former ICTY chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte and the Council of Europe’s investigator Dick Marty, there is convincing evidence that several hundred of the ‘disappeared’ non-Albanians had their organs removed by the KLA and sold on the international market. Former KLA leaders, such as current Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, remain dominant in Kosovo today, sitting – according to leaked NATO intelligence documents – atop an apex of organised crime, including the heroine trade.

The HLC has reached a figure of about 10,500 Albanians and 2,500 Serbs and others killed or ‘disappeared’ during the whole Kosovo conflict. (10) These numbers testify to the disastrous role played by NATO intervention, as the overwhelming majority of Albanian deaths took place after NATO began bombing, while a further 1,500 Serb civilians were killed or ‘disappeared’ after Yugoslav withdrawal on 10 June 1999. Moreover, although large considering the population size, the total number of Albanian victims was nowhere near the genocidal levels alleged by NATO (US Defence Secretary William Cohen had talked, during the bombing, of ‘about 100,000 military aged men missing… [who] may have been murdered’). Proportionately, in fact, the Kosovo Serbs suffered a similar number of victims, and – shockingly – as many Kosovo Serbs were killed in post-war peace as Albanians during the fighting in 1998.

Before the NATO bombing, meanwhile, there were no refugees outside Kosovo. During the bombing, however, about 800,000 Albanians were forced out, and afterwards about 200,000 non-Albanians, with very few of the latter ever returning.

Kosovo Today

Unsurprisingly, the result of this escalation was not a compromise between Serbs and Albanians. With the province now outside of Serbian control, the Albanians no longer had any incentive to compromise, and Western states eventually abandoned their support for autonomy. Thus, with Western backing, sensible Serbian offers of a Hong Kong-type arrangement for Kosovo were ignored, and in 2008 Kosovo declared independence.

The end result of the whole intervention is thus one great mess: Kosovo is ruled by organised crime, recognised by only a quarter of the world, and still has no control over a Serb-majority region in its north, which functionally remains a part of Serbia. Albanian-Serb relations within Kosovo remain poor and Serbia refuses to recognise the province’s secession, indefinitely hindering its EU prospects. The Kosovo precedent, meanwhile, has been cleverly used by Russia to justify its 2008 war with Georgia and subsequent recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. More devastatingly, the NATO intervention, which took place without UN authorisation, provided an important precedent for the attack on Iraq four years later.

Conclusions

There can be a ‘moral case’ for the NATO bombing only if all the deaths that it caused were inevitable; intervention somehow managed to prevent a far worse sequence of events; and the current situation is the best possible outcome. This seems highly unlikely. Before the bombing the Serbs were conducting counter-insurgency campaigns, not ethnic cleansing, and Western pressure and monitoring was keeping the fighting to a low level. Milosevic had previously shown himself to be susceptible to Western pressure and willing to compromise when necessary, and, even if an agreement proved elusive, it is doubtful that, under the pressure and watchful eye of the West, the conflict would ever have escalated so drastically.

To put it simply, Kosovo was not a question of defending people from ethnic cleansing and genocide, or liberating people from their oppressor. It was a matter of resolving a nationalist dispute between two peoples – and even if that is difficult, bombing one side is usually not the best way to find a solution. NATO’s bombing campaign was illegal, included clear war crimes, and caused the very catastrophe it claimed to be preventing. So if Tony Blair is ever put on trial, there is a strong case for adding it to the list of charges.

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Photo Credit: expertinfantry

Somalia & Democracy: An Oxymoron?

It takes years of learning, patience and dedication to achieve a full democracy and it is the hope of every Somali to see Somalia holding fully democratic elections in 2016—a hope that can be achieved.

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On August 20th, Morgan Lorraine Roach of The Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington based think-tank, wrote an article titled Somalia’s Government Transition Maintains the Status Quo. In her article, she argues that the process of creating the new permanent government that is to replace the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was flawed and undemocratic. She further argues that due to the flawed and undemocratic process that created the new permanent government, the Obama Administration should not reward poor governance by: withholding bilateral assistance to the new government, continuing to support the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and recognizing Somaliland. This article serves as a response to her arguments.

A Flawed and Undemocratic Process

Due to the Somali people not being able to vote for the members of the new permanent government of Somalia the process of creating the new government of is in no doubt undemocratic. Due to the security situation in some parts of the country and Al-Shabab controlling the southern regions of Somalia, a countrywide election could not have been possible. Instead of a democratic election, a system was used that is undoubtedly the next best option given the constraints and the desire to form to a representative government.

For a very long time Somali elders have been the leaders of Somalia. For centuries they have served as judges under the Somali customary legal system known as Xeer, and most recently during the last twenty years of the Somali civil war due to the absence of proper judicial institutions. Respected by many, they are considered to derive their authority as the guardians of their various communities, and the Somali nation. With the absence of direct elections due to security issues, the Somali elders are the next best solution in terms of creating a representative government and it is indeed a step forward to a full democracy in Somalia.

The creation of the new permanent government was guided by the Somali elders, from appointing the 885 members of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) which approved the draft constitution, to the selection of the new members of parliament. This is not to say the process was perfect—far from it in reality. There have been reports of corruption during the appointment of the members of the new parliament, and threats that have been issued to the members of the Technical Selection Committee (TSC) which is charged with ratifying and overseing the selection of the new legislators.

But, compared to the previous members of the parliament selected in Kenya and Djibouti, the members of this new parliament are considered to be the most qualified and educated MPs Somalia has had during the last three decades. This is due to the TSC requiring the new legislators to be at least high school graduates, free from having ties with any warlord, and not to have committed any atrocity during the civil war. The TSC have so far rejected close to 70 parliamentary nominees who have not met the above criteria.

International Community Support

The United Nations, United States, European Union and other international partners have welcomed the inauguration of the new Federal Parliament of Somalia, and rightly so. “The Somali people have waited 20 years for peace to take root in their country. Now is the time to begin a new chapter in their history,” said the spokesman of the Secretary General of the U.N. The congratulations come after the international community has supported and funded the TFG during its mandate.

Although senior members of the TFG have been accused of corruption, the government has achieved some progress in its fight against Al-Shabab. For the first time since the civil war, Mogadishu has managed to regain some normalcy. It is in the interests of the international partners, including the United States, to see this success replicated to other parts of the country under Al-Shabab rule.

At the present, the major concerns of the U.S and other international partners of Somalia is not bad governance but the threat of Al-Shabaab and the problem of piracy in the region. The author’s proposal of the Obama Administration to withhold bilateral aid to the new government directly goes against these U.S interests. The withholding of bilateral assistance to the new government will significantly weaken the government’s aim to rebuild the institutions of the country and its fight to liberate the areas controlled by Al-Shabaab. Funding only AMISOM forces and not Somalia’s security forces will also cause major problems. If history can tell us one thing it is that Somalis do not allow foreign armies to be in their country for a long period of time. As soon as AMISOM manages to liberate the territories under Al-Shabab rule, there is a high likelihood of Somalis demanding AMISOM to withdraw from Somalia. Withholding aid to train and fund the Somali security forces will only ensure that there will be no well-trained Somali forces to take over the command. Further, withholding of bilateral assistance to the new government will not stop corruption and bring good governance, but collapse a government that badly needs international support to succeed.

These interests aside, the international community has a responsibility to ensure that the resources and funding allocated to the Somali nation are used as intended. The creation of the Joint Financial Management Board at the London Conference on Somalia by the international community is a step forward in tackling corruption, increasing accountability and transparency. As the Somali institutions develop, it will then be up to the Somali people themselves to ensure corruption is eradicated.

On the issue of Somaliland’s recognition, the U.S and the other members of the international community recognizing Somaliland will only cause conflicts and division in Somalia. There is no doubt that Somaliland has achieved some success during the last twenty years, but the only way to avoid a fresh conflict and the bloodshed of the Somali people are direct talks and negotiations between the new government and Somaliland leaders.

A Significant Milestone for Somalia

“Somalia’s new system of governance is set up for failure.”

Morgan Lorraine Roach.

One thing the author seems to be getting wrong is that this is not a new governance system for Somalia but a  significant milestone and a path to a representative democracy. Many democratic systems around the world, including the United States, weren’t built overnight. It took learning, patience and dedication to achieve a full democracy. It is the hope of every Somali to see Somalia holding elections in 2016—a hope that can be achieved. But for now, considering the situation Somalia is in, the system in place is the next best thing to a representative government.

The Fourth Reich Rises?

No one seems to understand what Germany wants. Does Germany have big plans? A European strategy of hegemony?

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Amid the international finance crisis the role of Germany has become central to the fate of the continent and for many appears to be the only hope for solving this quagmire. At the same time many seem to fear the creation of a German empire built on the shoulders of the other European countries and infiltrating EU institutions. Italian newspapers speak of the Fourth Reich, while Italian politicians on live TV ask their German colleagues if they think a United States of Europe would be blond and blue eyed. The sentiment among many seems to follow the lines of: “What they did not achieve with tanks in 1940, they are now doing with the Euro”. Many see it as a foregone conclusion that Germany wants to lead. In last week’s issue of Germany’s biggest quality weekly Die Zeit, the newspaper asked literates from all over Europe to describe their countries’ view on Germany. One of them first asserted that Germany wants to lead Europe and than goes on to denote what the country had to do and not to do as the European hegemon.

On the other side of the fence, some deplore German inactivity. In late 2011 Poland’s Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski stated: “I will probably be the first Polish foreign minister in history to say so, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity”. This is a little surprising from a politician from a country that suffered tremendously from German occupation during the Second World War and whose press has not abstained from playing the Nazi card when the two countries were involved in a conflict.

This very well illustrates the ambiguity surrounding the perception of German foreign policy in Europe. No one seems to understand what Germany wants. Does Germany have big plans? A European strategy of hegemony?

The problem is, Germany does not know itself. Important is the insight of Germany’s profound lack of a foreign policy strategy and a lack of interest within the general population and political elites beyond situational attention driven by the media cycle. A sophisticated foreign policy elite that would gain wider attention is lacking; the most important foreign policy intellectuals are two old men. While journalist Peter Scholl-Latour has been explaining the “Orient” to the German audience for the better half of the last century, former Chancellor, proverbial chain smoker and 90 years old statesman Helmut Schmidt basically covers the rest of the world (… and economy).

Their influence can be easily deduced by the metres of bookshelf space the two inhabit in Germany’s bookshops. Younger protagonists are hard to come by (which does not mean that they do not exist here & here). As a result German foreign policy often is erratic and uncoordinated despite the fact that Germany is covering large parts of the EU budget (highest absolute contributor) and makes substantial contributions to other international organisations such as the UN (third largest contributor in 2011). Germany is often said to hold nowhere as many senior positions within these organisation as would be suggested by the contributions. Further, while Germany diplomats in New York are lobbying for, and even sponsoring, UN resolutions against weapons trafficking, the German government is selling large quantities of Leopard 2 tanks to countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) amid the Arab Spring.

The lack of a sophisticated strategy is often deplored by foreign policy professionals in Germany (the reasons for such lackings are so plentiful that they deserve their own article). This however, does not mean that Germany lacks strategic paradigms all together. There used to be crucial interests of German foreign policy making: reunification was central but became obsolete after the Cold War. Reunification was prepared by the “East policies” and détente was the vehicle for that. Another central paradigm is the special relationship with Israel: in 2008 Angela Merkel elevated Israel’s security to the level of “raison d’Etat” of Germany.

Other paradigms continue to shape foreign policy making: for Germany the suggestion of integration into supranational organisation is not an attempt to fix its own power into place. Rather, it is a logical consequence of another main line of German foreign politics. After the Second World War – and under occupation – integration into a supranational organisation was the only way for Germany to ensure the other European states that it would not become a revenge power again and opened the way to regain lost sovereignty from the occupation powers. This was a major purpose of “Westintegration”. Multilateralism is in general highly valued by many decision makers. Hegemonic thinking rarely exists. The core tenet of German foreign policy has been the “culture of restrained”. This for a very long time meant that Germany would not aggressively formulate and push for national interests. This is not to say that Germany is following any foreign interests: professionals that have interacted with German embassies can confirm that the country’s diplomats will often help companies to get a foot into the door. However, in the German tradition supporting its own economy has always meant creating economic welfare through cooperation and integration. During the financial crisis the culture of restrained has arguably suffered to a certain degree. However, reviewing German suggestions for how to tackle the problem fits German post-1945 tradition. It aims for further integration, not hegemony.

Arguing that Germany is bound on a course of recreating a Nazi like European hegemony is the wrong conclusion. When dealing with the democratic republic that Germany has been for almost 70 years now, Europeans should keep in mind this quote from Anika Leithner’s 2009 book Shaping German Foreign Policy: “ I often hear foreigners say what they would do if they had Germany’s wealth, its size or its population. I never hear them say what they would do if they had Germany’s past”. They should get used to Germany formulating national interests more obviously than it she has done in the past. However, the lessons of the past are well learned, becoming a hegemony is not one them.

The news from the Fourth Reich? It does not exist.

The Syrian National Council Visits The UN

Whether the SNC’s New York press conference was just a dog-and-pony show to curry international legitimacy or if they also have actual influence on the ground in Syria remains to be seen.

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New York United Nations UN

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap]mid this week’s seemingly dramatic shift in the course of the Syrian civil war, a senior delegation from the Syrian National Council (SNC) came to U.N. headquarters in New York. The SNC is the Turkish-based umbrella organization for the various groups opposed to Bashar al-Assad. The group gave a press conference on Tuesday, a day before the startling attack on Assad’s inner circle that left three top officials dead. With the U.N. Observer Mission in Syria set to expire at the end of this week, the delegation had come to New York to push for a renewal of the mission as well as a U.N. Chapter VII resolution, which could pave the way for outside military intervention. Although the delegates accused the Observer Mission of being understaffed, they insisted  it was important to have observers on the ground recording what Assad’s regime was doing, and possibly deter atrocities by their presence. Seemingly resigned to Russia’s continued support of President Bashar al-Assad, they also told reporters they wanted the international community to increase pressure on Syria even with a divided U.N. Security Council.

The press conference focused on outlining the SNC’s plan for getting a Chapter VII resolution—a resolution that defines a state as a threat to international peace, therefore justifying the implementation of sanctions and possibly even outside military intervention—passed in the United Nations Security Council. The SNC delegation also touched lightly on the activities of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The two organizations are separate: The FSA is a paramilitary organization concerned with the military fight against Assad; The SNC is a political body that concentrates its activities on the international community and increasing diplomatic pressure on Assad.  Bassma Kodmani, head of foreign affairs for the Council, did give an overview of the current FSA strategy, which in recent weeks has started controlling territory for the first time since the uprising began. She said that the Syrian army is withdrawing from rural areas and into the major population centers, like Aleppo. The FSA is now taking control of these abandoned areas. Kodmani also mentioned a recent escalation in the number of defectors from the Syrian army.

However, Russia was the real elephant in the room. Moscow is a crucial supporter of the Assad regime and is dragging its feet in terms of either strengthening the Annan peace plan or abandoning their support of Damascus. After traveling to Moscow last week to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the SNC appears to have given up on changing Russian minds. Apparently there were “no positive encouraging signs” regarding support for stronger international action. While the SNC says that Russia “has an important role” to play, they are now more focused on persuading other members of the U.N. Security Council to act. But as a veto-wielding Permanent Member, Russia’s resistance could prove to be a major roadblock to SNC plans for a stronger stand from the United Nations.

The delegation was skeptical of the Kofi Annan plan, saying that it had actually “escalated killing” by giving the Assad regime a “blank check” to continue its crackdown without consequences. In addition to lacking teeth, the Annan didn’t have a clear time frame nor were there enough observers in the USMUS mission. Furthermore, the SNC criticized Annan for spending too much time talking to “Assad and his allies” and not “the Syrian people.”

Although the SNC delegates said they were committed to working through the United Nations, they also hinted at alternatives. Kodmani said that if there was “no possibility of working under legitimate UN Security Council architecture, then [we] need to explore other options.” In further questions about outside parties, Kodmani mentioned the Arab League—though she failed to outline any formal role the organization would play.

When questioned about plans for governing post-Assad Syria—including protection for minorities—the delegates said they were working on a detailed action plan but reiterated that their primary concern at the moment was removing the Assad family from power. The plan, known as the “Day After Project,” was being compiled by experts and policy makers and would provide a sketch of Syria after the fall of Assad. This comes in part as response to the failure of Libyan rebels to formulate a detailed plan for governance after the fall of Gaddafi. The Council also assured reporters that provisions were being made to secure the country’s chemical weapon stockpiles by a team headed by a defected former general.

After the progress the rebels have made in the last weeks, along with Wednesday’s devastating attack on Assad’s inner circle, the tide does seem to be shifting in favor of the SNC. But whether the SNC’s New York press conference was just a dog-and-pony show to curry international legitimacy or if they also have actual influence on the ground in Syria remains to be seen.

Three Steps Towards A Greener Future

Crowdsourcing, technological innovation and putting a price on biodiversity could offer an alternative economic model which works towards a greener future.

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greener future

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Economist recently wrote that ‘market failures, co-ordination problems and government subsidies deter businesses from choosing green growth’. This article will explore an alternative way of looking at the concept of the green economy. Crowdsourcing, technological innovation and putting a price on biodiversity could be the three pillars of a green economic model.

Why crowdsourcing is important for the green economy

The green economy could benefit from crowdsourcing by using collective intelligence and money to complete projects with added transparency. As history has shown, unregulated global economic models, which rely on an ‘invisible hand’, end up not benefiting most people. Economic experimentation and competition can only be held on track through regulation. ‘People increasingly want humanity with their technology’, said Caterina Fake, an investor in Kickstarter. Similarly, the world’s first happiness report by the UN found that strong social networks were a major indicator of human happiness. So this need for social belonging and transparent business models could be found through crowdsourcing. As Allister Heath from the City AM said, “the key is to empower consumers to vote with their feet – and then allow the structure of the market to adjust to their free choices, in a bottom-up fashion, rather than (governments) to try and plan what it should look like.”

Technological advancements could reduce the impact on the environment

Technological innovation is the main driver of the green economy. The effect of technology needs to be looked at as neutralising the destructive impact of wealth and population. The more technology is developed to use resources efficiently, the less impact we as a growing population will have on the environment. Economic growth should not be understood as simply using more and more resources, but rather with the efficient utilisation of clever technology. For example, recently a Korean innovator Ryan Jongwoo Choi designed the Pipe Waterwheel, a simple plumbing accessory, which generates hydroelectricity from running tap water. When any standard water pipe is attached to the waterwheels, hydroelectricity accumulates and is stored in removable bulbs attached to the top of the pipe. Einstein once observed that imagination is more important than knowledge, which is especially relevant here – once we start to imagine, design and implement these solutions, the use of vital and finite resources can become ever more efficient.

There are plenty of other renewable technologies that need creative solutions in order to produce more with fewer resources. For example, Tim Worstall noted in his book ‘Chasing Rainbows’ we could get more solar cells from the same amount of raw materials through slicing silicon panels thinner, in doing so we would create resources rather than consume them. Physical growth is often confused with economic growth: economic growth is the growth in value and physical growth is bound by the environment in which you want that growth to happen. Therefore, an on-going debate about growth without prosperity becomes redundant once we realise that economic growth is what we put value to and how imaginative we are, regardless of the physical limits that we have to contend with.

Introducing a biodiversity tax

Although biodiversity is the backbone of the environment, the damage done to ecosystems is often ignored by large companies’ CSR reports. The shadow price of damaging the environment should be converted into a green tax on business (i.e. pricing the externalities that are being used in the companies’ production processes). Once these basic production inputs are being included into the balance sheets, it will be more expensive to degrade the environment. In order for this to happen, a way of measuring the damage done to biodiversity is needed. Income which is received from this tax could be used to fund the green products and services that people would benefit most: electric cars, fuel cells, renewable energy, insulating houses, etc. The tax money could also be used to replace old fossil fuel plants with non- fossil fuel plants.

Drones & The Missing Moral Compass

The US is sending out the message that it can target whom it wants, whenever it wants, with no repercussions for themselves. Other states will undoubtedly follow their dubious moral lead.

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Reaper Drone

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[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n the 18th June, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions called on the United States to clarify its legal justification for killing, rather than capturing, those they suspect to be terrorists. As noted in many reports, these killings are now usually achieved by the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, aka drones. Praised for their speed and supposed accuracy, drones represent the greatest advance in military technology in the past ten years, and perhaps the greatest step backward in morality.

The use of drones in killing those assumed to be terrorists is seen as causing a loss of the moral high-ground and as a failure in moral leadership by the United States. The most recent high-profile death by drone was that of Abu Yahya al-Libi, who was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan on the 4th June. The operation was deemed ‘inhumane’ both by al-Libi’s brother and human rights campaigners. Al-Libi, second-in-command in Al-Qaeda, was obviously a strategically important target for the US, who stated that his death brought the organisation ‘closer to its ultimate demise than ever’.  Yet his death provoked moral outrage and statements of condemnation from Pakistan and international human rights organisations.

The technology, ostensibly the most accurate and least likely to cause civilian death, while used by many States (including the UK) finds its champion in the United States, who have embraced drones for reconnaissance and strategic targeting operations. With the ability to be controlled by a person in a room thousands of miles away from the scene of the operation, the immediacy of war disappears; some have called drone operating as akin to playing a video game. Whilst the use of drones is steeped in just war rhetoric, it is difficult to term such a strike ‘just’ when almost all of the losses are sustained by one side, while the other remains safely ensconced in a room far away.

The use of drones in the context of the al-Libi killing and other killings in Pakistan and Yemen represent a transgression of international law. Drone strikes, when undertaken in an armed conflict scenario against a combatant or civilian directly participating in hostilities (such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan) are sanctioned under international law. The U.S. is not engaged an armed conflict with Pakistan or Yemen. It is not possible under international law to be in an armed conflict with a transnational non-State organisation such as Al-Qaeda – an armed conflict requires violence between two or more States. Violence between a State and a terrorist organisation is governed by international human rights law. Human rights law requires that an individual be captured rather than killed if possible. Typically referred to as the ‘capture or kill’ dilemma, it appears that “the capture part has become largely theoretical.” Recent reports revealed that President Obama personally goes over a list of those deemed a threat to the US, and more often than not chooses to kill. Another worry rests on the fact that the remote drones used in the al-Libi killing and other such strikes are operated by the CIA. CIA agents are non-combatants, and thus have no right to take part in an armed conflict, if, as the US claim, that is what the violence between the US and Al-Qaeda is. The US invokes the rhetoric of war and law of war in order to legitimise their targeting of individuals away from the battlefield.

There are serious concerns raised by the lack of transparency of the drone programme, which has expanded in the three years since Obama took office. Prior to 2008, there were 48 targets killed by drones in 5 years ; 51 were targeted and killed in 2009 alone, and the attacks continue to increase. These figures account only for publicly recognised drone strikes – the programme is top-secret, and as such it is impossible to know exactly how many drone strikes have occurred. This also makes it exceedingly difficult to ascertain how many civilians have died as a result of drone attacks. The US figure ranges from between 50 to 60 in the past eight years, and in 2011 it was stated that civilian casualties were in single figures that year from drone strikes. This contradicts other reports, such as that from the Pakistani Human Rights Committee, which places the number of Pakistani casualties at 957 in 2010 alone, and by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which places the figure in the thousands.

We have almost no knowledge of what criteria must be fulfilled in order to be put on the ‘death list’- what constitutes a militarily strategic target, under what parameters a terrorist is defined, what threat level they must hold or how imminent a threat an individual must be. For those targeted for aiding terrorist activity, we do not know what falls under ‘aiding’, be it the providing of financial funding or the storing of weapons.  If an individual is wrongly targeted, we have no knowledge as to whether there is a system of accountability or who in the chain of command might be held responsible for the death of an innocent civilian.

Drone use and strikes will continue to increase as the technology becomes more widespread. On an individual state level, the international community has remained remarkably silent on the US’ excessive drone attacks, inadvertently lending them a tacit legitimacy. This will likely encourage the use of similar tactics by other states. Based as it is on reciprocity, the blatant flouting and disregard by the US of international law weakens the law as it discourages others from abiding by it. The lack of transparency is the most damaging aspect of the programme, both for America’s standing as a moral leader (which many will argue has been in decline for years) and for morality in war. The argument that drone strikes may not be the most moral option, but that they are the best option, is not good enough- capture may not be the easiest or most practical option but it should at the very least be considered. The US is sending out the message that it can target whom it wants, whenever it wants, with no repercussions for themselves. Other states will undoubtedly follow their dubious moral lead.

The Falkland Islands: Has The Game Changed?

With ‘new players’ on the scene and China’s expansion pushing the international situation ever closer to a bi-polar order, perhaps the most vital question is whether the international community is prepared to accept an Argentinian occupation of the Falkland Islands.

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Freedom Monument Falkland Islands

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t was announced this week that the residents of the Falkland Islands will hold a referendum on their political status in 2013. The main focus of which will be their links with the United Kingdom, with 1,600 registered voters on the Islands deciding whether to remain under British rule or back Christina Fernandez’s view that ‘Las Malvinas’ should be a part of Argentina.

Views are mixed as to the seriousness of the escalated tension between the British and Argentine governments over the last few months. Some see the situation as harmless sabre rattling which should have been anticipated given that 2012 is the 30th anniversary of the 1982 War. Others are choosing to read more into the rhetorical exchanges between David Cameron and Mrs. Fernandez. Governments are rarely prepared to answer too many questions on their willingness to enter into global conflict through fear of provoking unnecessary alarm, but what can we divulge from the rhetoric so far, and what are the main areas of concern?

A different kind of Cold War?

Whilst categorically denying that their own country is willing to enter into a new conflict, both governments are doing their best to show that the other one might be. Britain is accusing Christina Fernandez of pandering to the staunch nationalists in Argentina and using bullish language, on the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, to increase her approval ratings. For its part, Argentina has accused Britain of stepping up its military presence on the Islands and viewed Prince William’s recent visit as an obvious sign of disrespect.

Underlying all of this, the Falklands dispute has always involved, to an extent, concerns over natural resources, particularly oil. According to Argentine observers the Falklands are an important strategic asset for the UK and give them an important route into Antarctica, which is seen as a potentially crucial area for future oil extraction. Many Argentines also recognise the cost of allowing the British to seize important natural resources so close to their own shores. Indeed, a significant part of the Military Junta’s reasoning 30 years ago was the possibility of improving their economic situation at home, and turning public opinion in their favour as a result.

The Dangerous Mrs. Fernandez?

Christina Fernandez is not leading a military junta. As a democratically elected figure, she is accountable to the people of Argentina and has historically shown her support for international law. There is also an unwritten rule in International Relations theory that democracies have much more to lose from war, and are therefore less likely to instigate a conflict than, say, dictatorships.

However, recent activity suggests that the President has tapped into a real sense of Argentine nationalism and has provoked criticism from financial institutions and fellow world leaders by her actions. Firstly, she has put aside concerns over the size of Argentina’s debt, and decided to raid state coffers to pay for increased public spending. Secondly, earlier this year she took the decision to nationalise 51% of YPF, thus scuppering a deal between Spanish oil firm Repsol, the previous owners of the YPF shares, and the Chinese. Instead, Fernandez has sold 8% of YPF to Carlos Slim, a Mexican telecommunications mogul.

This is certainly one area of concern the British government would do well to take seriously. The response to increased State intervention in Argentine politics has been insignificant so far, and there is really no way to measure the extent to which public support is capable of pushing an increasingly popular President like Christina Fernandez towards the unthinkable.

It’s now fairly clear that she wants to re open the debate about Britain’s claim to the Islands she insists on calling Las Malvinas. In an emotionally charged speech to the UN’s Decolonisation Committee, she called on Britain to enter into dialogue and to stop abusing its power as a member of the UN Security Council. She also accused Britain of acting as a ‘bully’ and urged David Cameron to act with more intelligence and compassion. Fernandez did not help her cause by refusing an offer for negotiations from the Falkland government, but still has the ability to portray Britain as the stubborn roadblock to peaceful talks.

By refusing to offer any indication that her country wants to enter into another conflict, Fernandez appears to be playing a rather shrewd game. In terms of international politics, calling for dialogue can win you friends, and is more likely to provoke sympathy than Britain’s current stance of ruling out negotiations altogether.

The other slight advantage facing Argentina is the overall political situation in South America, which is unrecognisable from the 1980’s. Thanks in some part to US aid and support, the continent has seen an increase in foreign direct investment, particularly in the north. South American economic growth hit 5.9% in the midst of the economic crisis in 2010. Some countries, including Colombia, have seen growth four times that of the European Union in recent years. The continent is also home to Brazil, who has recently stepped up its trade links with China.

This has gone some way to producing economic and political integration throughout the continent. Political matters, like the Colombian and Venezuelan conflict, are now increasingly dealt with by UNASUR rather than the OAS. Also, the ‘Bank of the South’, a Hugo Chavez inspired project now offers South American nations alternative borrowing options to the IMF.

The last OAS summit in Colombia this year was arguably the most divisive event the American region has witnessed in recent times. Argentina and Brazil felt willing to oppose the USA on matters from Cuba’s involvement in future summit proceedings to the legalisation of the drugs trade. Christina Fernandez also used this summit to bring up the Falklands debate and called for negotiations to take place between the OAS and Britain.

Mrs. Fernandez has certainly recognised this change to the American region. She now describes British claims to the Falklands as outdated clichés and an affront to a world ‘we all dream of’. ‘The world has changed’ she argues, and there are now ‘new players’ to consider.

With these ‘new players’ and China’s expansion pushing the international situation ever closer to a bi-polar order, perhaps the most vital question of all is whether the international community is prepared to accept a 21st century Argentinian occupation of the Falklands. Britain can currently rest assured that the Falkland Islanders’ right to self-determination is legally backed up by a UN resolution. The referendum in 2013 will undoubtedly return a verdict of support for the status quo, limiting Argentina’s options to regain the Islands through diplomatic means. If the extreme scenario were to occur, the future of the Islands would depend on both Britain’s capability to retaliate, and the willingness of the international community to intervene.

There are certainly enough examples from history to show that a nation’s public are willing to tolerate an increase in military spending, even in times of austerity, if it means protecting an ally and scoring a victory over an old enemy. However, with cuts to defence spending starting to take place already, the British public may not even be able to make this decision whereas the Argentines might. With South America carving out its own identity away from the United States and Europe, and Argentina’s increased economic ties with China, the veto wielding UN Security Council member, Britain cannot rely on the willingness of NATO or the UN to intervene in what would be a relatively minor conflict in their eyes. Argentina may just have enough leverage and motivation to reclaim the islands, and unfortunately, a referendum may not be enough to stop them.