New Years is Coming But Old Problems will Remain

As the old year turns into the new year, the old problems remain, getting more complicated and less soluble. It seems that Israel is entitled to exist as a State, but that Palestine is not so entitled. Continue reading

The Bravest of the Brave

We tend to read about our brave military, fighting in far off places on a mission to protect us from danger at home. Although much of the fighting does not require any more courage than it takes to aim a bomb or push a button, much of the military do spend their time in war zones like Afghanistan as targets upon which their enemies can vent their spleen. I do not think that the military have engaged in more offensive fighting than they have in defensive fighting, but all fighting requires some degree of courage and self examination. Continue reading

Syria is Entitled to Take Pre-Emptive Action

For many years, at least from the start of recorded history, nations have people have justified the use of force first on the grounds that they were taking pre-emptive action to protect themselves. If you know that a foe intends to attack you, international law states, you do not have to wait to be attacked and you can make a pre-emptive first strike to prevent or deter being attacked. Traditionally bellicose threats and statements are sufficient grounds to enable you to take pre-emptive action. States like Israel and the USA have relied on this doctrine, without which many of their military actions would be definitely illegal under international law.

We should consider then the present position of Syria. Syria is threatened with some kind of action, probably bombing or missile attacks, from the USA. Interesting the grounds upon which such action is proposed is an unproven allegation that Syria used chemical weapons in the course of its civil war. Syria denies the claim and sitting at my desk in London I have no idea whether that denial is false or true. What seems to be true is that Syria manufactured its chemical weapons from constituents sold to it by British and American companies. I suppose that was to be expected; The Western democracies do specialise in hypocrisy.

Now, being threatened with military action it seems to me that Syria is justified in International law in making pre-emptive strikes against those that threaten it. Syria is unlikely to do this, even though it may be legally justified under international law becasue to take pre-emptive action action the USA means breaking the first tenets of International Law: might is right and the mightier you are the righer you are.

After the Revolutions

There have been many revolutions in the world which have changed the government of nations or the means of choosing the government. In the Arab world there are series of events which may ultimately comprise some kind of revolution, with the old order changing and a new order starting. Even powerful and secure nations are not free from the possibility of revolution, which is why they support some factions in neighbouring countries, in the expectation that a change of government next door will bring in a government more sympathetic and less dangerous to them. Continue reading

Words of War

Politicians are expert at using phrases which convey an general impression but no specific meaning. When they contemplate war or warlike activities these phrases which have half meanings or in some cases two or three possible meanings are used.  So we hear words which can mean different things to different people and words which mean different things to different people have almost no meaning at all.

These are the words of war:-

Weapons of mass destruction: virtually every weapon, from a bow an arrow to a nuclear bomb can be deployed as a weapon of destruction; mass is a relative term: the English archers at Agincourt wreaked mass destruction on the French army; the Lancaster bombers over Germany provided mass destruction as did the dam busters’ use of the bouncing bomb; napalm destroyed masses of people, as did the atomic bomb; the gassing of the marsh Arabs involved a weapon of mass destruction. the Zyklon gas used by the Nazis was a weapon of mass destruction. What is meant by “destruction” in this phrase? is it the destruction of many buildings or people or both? How many people killed constitutes mass destruction? is it three hundred, three thousand or three hundred thousand?

Compelling Evidence: compelling evidence is not irrefutable evidence neither is it evidence that holds up beyond reasonable doubt. Compelling is not a term of art but a subjective term; what one person regards as compelling may be dismissed by another person as not evidence at all.

Chemical Weapons: it is hard to know what are chemical weapons and what are not chemical weapons; clearly many regard depleted uranium munitions as chemical weapons but such munitions have been regularly used as has napalm, agent orange and other chemical type weapons without incurring the wrath of the world and with the use of such weapons being regarded as the use of chemical weapons by many nations.

Necessary Measures: there are calls to take necessary measures to protect the Syrian people but what are these necessary measures? Do they comprise bombing of Syrian army installations or the bombing of Syrian fighters or the invasion of Syria. I do not understand what is meant by protection if in the course of such protection many innocent lives are lost. It does not seem possible to me to allege that you are protecting a group of people when you cause them loss of life and injury?

A simple limited response: I do not understand what a simple limited response means; it cannot mean a bombing strike, because if it did those using the phrase would simply say “a bombing strike”. I do not understand the concept of a response in the context of bellicose actions. If a war crime has been committed the proper course of action is to catch and punish those responsible; talking in terms of a response gives the talker using that word almost unlimited wriggle room to subsequently define what he meant according to how matters worked out.

Military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons: The user of this phrase (h M Government) has not defined what constitutes military action. It could be bombing or invasion. The use of the word proportionate” is difficult in the context. Surely H M Government know what they mean and they should spell out what they mean so that people can decide for themselves whether the proposed course of action is proportionate. The use of these words simply hides the intentions, rather than communicates the intentions.

Collateral Damage: I know what this phrase means; it means the killing of innocents which as not the prime purpose of the military action that killed those innocents. The phrase disguises, or attempts to disguise, the fact that innocents have been killed.

Unlawful combatants: this phrase simple means the enemy, but is used to deny the enemy captured prisoner of war status, which status prevents ill treatment and torture.

We must always be suspicious of the motives of people who cannot or will not speak plainly and communicate accurately. Their motives are seldom honourable and good, and in making war the motives of people who want to make war must be honourable and good.

Chemical Weapons Used by the Western Democracies

The exotic foreign policy of the United Kingdom is about to become a great deal more exotic. Parliament has been recalled four days early in order to debate whether some kind of military action should be undertaken by the United Kingdom in Syria. The United States is also proposing some kind of military action as is France. They are concerned to prevent the use of chemical weapons in Syria. That is the stated concern and it has arisen because 355 people have died in Syria as a result of a chemical weapons attack. Continue reading

Watching the Civil War in Syria

There is a civil war in Syria. Millions have fled the country to escape death and injury. Thousands have been killed. Chemical weapons have been used. It seems that all sides in the civil war (there are more than two sides) are committing atrocities and war crimes against the civilian population. The Western democracies are talking of intervening in some way. Any intervention will not end the war and the atrocities. It may end the existing government of Syria, but there are many people who want to take over the government and ending the rule of one regime does not guarantee that the rule of the next regime will be better for the people of Syria. Continue reading

The Futility of Revenge

The killing in the Middle East never seems to stop. I cannot list all the killings; 23 people were killed in Pakistan while paying their respects at the funeral of a police officer, more than 30 were killed by a series of bombs in Baghdad and there are many more incidents of killings which are conducted in the expectation of solving a particular problem. Continue reading

Don’t Panic…

…and keep your mind at peace. The terrible events in Woolwich do not require the convening of special committees of the government to plot a counter strategy to terrorism. We do not have to be suspicious of every idea that “deviates” from the norm, nor do we have to be frightened of every brow face or assault those whose only connection with the murderers of a young soldier is the colour of their skin or the single name they attribute t their separate religions.

Syria, two years on

Some anniversaries are sad events. Two years ago the conflict in Syria broke out. Since then one group of fractions have been fighting to take control of the government and the government has resisted these attempts. The conflict has bled to loss of life and to over one million people leaving the country, most of them settling as refugees in the Lebanon (which has plenty of problems of its own) in Jordan and in Turkey. Seventy thousand people have lost their lives. Continue reading