Monday, January 31, 2005
All the World's a Stage and Europe is a Player

The latest Eurobarometer poll has shown that most citizens of Europe have not not heard of the Constitution - a fainthearted demos that the pols prefer to remain. Ignorance is less of an obstacle to their plans. So they are doing quite well with one-third ignorant of the Constitution and 56% admitting to 'very little knowledge' of this document.

Still, UK exceptionalism remains cheerfully apparent, even if the referendum is more difficult to win than many realise.

A recent European Policy Institutes Network (EPIN) Survey of National Experts, entitled “What Prospects for the European Constitutional Treaty” predicts that 22 out of the 25 EU members are likely to ratify the EU Constitution. This survey labels Czech Republic and Poland as ‘unsure’ and the UK as ‘rather unlikely’.

The most interesting findings are those that describe the attitude of the continentals towards the process. Consider the sources that they would trust: the stench of statism is apparent:

The most trusted sources of information on the Constitution are national governments (22%), journalists (16%), the European Parliament (15%) and the Commission (11%).

The two main issues used “overwhelmingly” as arguments in favour of ratification of the Treaty are the provisions on the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the enhanced role of the EU on the global stage.

The potential of the superpower is a vote winner. Anti-Americanism is the siren call and the binding glue that persuades the voters Europe deserves its place in the sun.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Who Cares if it's a farce?

The Iraqi vote is going to be a farce. The government simply does not have enough territory under control for enough Sunnis to come to the polls. And so what?

Basically the elections are a cover. Every other reason for invading Iraq - the WMDs, the terrorist connections, the lot - none have panned out. However bringing democracy in Iraq can be a short term rationale (how long Iraq stays democratic is anyone's guess). Then we can leave.

Of course we will need a strong government to hand over to, and the elections can provide that - especially if the Sunnis are kept out of the picture. It's not going to be a nice government, but those types tend to lose civil wars. But a triumphalist Shi-ite majority government, no matter what their ideological flag of convenience, will be strong enough to take over. Of course they will bash ten bells out of the Sunnis, but that doesn't really matter to us.

The fact that the election is a farce should not be an impediment to leaving. And the peace movement pointing out it's farcical nature is contrary to their stated goal of getting the troops out.

Let's all just pretend that this is a real election and then let's leave - and not pretend.
Thursday, January 27, 2005

Leavin On Your Mind

Charles Kennedy, the maligned leader of the Liberal Democrats, has proved a canny politician, positioning his party to take advantage of the skepticism that the electorate views the war. In a major foreign policy speech today, he struck a note of realism whilst surveying the state of Britain’s role in the world. His descriptions of world affairs were orthodox and conservative; his prescriptions were not.

On Iraq, Kennedy was arguing for an exit strategy to withdraw British troops, a task that has acquired greater urgency as the temperature is raised on the role of Iran. His solution was idiotic, allowing unfriendly powers to dominate a region that we depend upon for energy security.

I would like to see a phased withdrawal of British troops from Iraq, as soon as the situation allows. I would like to see the replacement of British troops with those from other countries, especially Islamic countries. I would like to see a proper exit strategy set out by London and Washington, with a timeline that augments and supports the democratic process.

However, the main thrust of his speech involved a rejection of the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the United States. Kennedy wished to dissolve any distinction between the British and the European interest, since both were indivisible, a strange chimera unrecognized and mocked on the Continent. Within the EU, Kennedy would be viewed as a sap negotiating away our advantages for a mess of pottage. As a consequence, no institutional relationships could be maintained with the United States apart from those sanctioned by Europe.

The challenge for Britain is to find the political will, and the public consent, to invest British power and influence in common European foreign policy initiatives that will serve the British interest, the European interest, and the interests of the Atlantic Alliance.

A reinvigorated relationship that recognises Britain’s influence in Brussels maintains its influence in Washington.

It is clear that the Europhiles in Britain will clothe themselves in the flag to promote their cause. However, it is a discourse of the dead since the national interest is effectively destroyed if subordinated within a greater whole. For the first time, politicians are having to engage with the ‘death of Britain’ and applaud our future within a superstate. Because they understand that the electorate views foreign policy in terms of traditional power structures and patriotic discourse, they are attempting to package Europe in the Union Jack as an instrument of the British national interest.

Europhiles face one insuperable problem. It is impossible to disguise a turd by wrapping it in gold.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Give us back our borders

Either the Tories have been very lucky or very cunning. The European Union's rather stupid line that the UK can no longer control it's immigration policy (and how are they going to stop it?) has given us the usual howls of outrage. Some particularly sharp analysis has come from Dan Hannan.

I avoid immigration and I'm probably more liberal on it than most of A1's readers (although far, far less liberal than most of the political class - I don't need a nanny) but the national interest angle is clear.

Now the Tories can bang on about immigration and say it's all about Europe - all they need to do now is somehow tie up beer and angling and the working class vote is theirs. It's going to be entertaining to see just how the Tories are going to mess this one up - although I'm sure they will.

Sunday, January 23, 2005
Foreign Policy Redux

If one looks at the recent speech that Jack Straw gave in China on January 21st, it is clear that Britain has very little to offer China. The three major themes focused upon climate change, Africa and the United Nations where Chinese representation was confusingly misinterpreted as support.

Straw painted a picture of a stable power, contributing to global stability and concerned to promote development and other transnationalist hymnsheets. Human rights were skimmed over:

Meanwhile China is embracing more fully globally-accepted rules and standards. I particularly applaud China's ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. I look forward to China's ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which China signed in 1998 and which I discussed with Foreign Minister Li today.

With phrases like this, I am sure that Straw would have welcomed Stalin's 1936 Constitution as an advancement in human rights for all Russians. Taiwan and the arms embargo were unmentioned.

The list of themes will only invite contempt from the Chinese. Their bold defence of their national interests is clear to all and Straw's belief of their support in Blair's pet projects is rhetorical padding. The Chinese lend their support to transnationalism for national interests, that is, a counterweight to the United States.

The United States has confirmed that the administration will not raise this issue with Britain, recognising that this policy is made at European level.

"I think our relationship with the British has far transcended any particular issue, given the number of areas, the myriad of areas where we cooperate," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.

Boucher conceded that the arms embargo was an issue where the United States and Britain probably did not see eye-to-eye but added "we will see how the European Union decides to act, if and when they do."

The United States knows that these policies are now decided by the European Union. As a consequence, Blair's own focus on the UN, climate change, and development, indicates the shrunken circle in which the Foreign Office can make decisions. No wonder they will merge the FCO and DFID - it will give diplomats something to do.
Thursday, January 20, 2005

Do We Need a Pliant Iran?

According to Seymour Hersh America is thinking of bombing Iran, and our very own Spectator argues that Israel may do it on her own anyways.

The issue is not so much whether Iran is a direct threat to us (she isn't, and Andrew Gilligan disposes of the case rather easily so I won't repeat the argument) but what it has to do with us. After all if America wants to make the Middle East into a stable chain of democracies (oh the old ones are the best) or Israel wants to keep as the only nuclear powered democracy in the Middle East is none of our business.

Indeed it isn't. Or it wouldn't be if we didn't have a whole chunk of our army in southern Iraq.

It's very hard for us to realise how much we owe to the placid behaviour of the Shias. We have very few troops to spread over a large area and population with the added bonus that few of the occupiers and occupied can communicate. Whereas the Americans are seeing what a sullen population can do, we are getting on very easily.

The reason, I suspect, is less to do with the British Army's greater experience of occupation and more to do with the fact that Shias want to take over the country and they see the continued occupation and the elections as a useful tool to do this. So despite some strained relationships (including British troops doing an Abu it's all been fairly quiet.

Now if our allies were then to bomb the biggest (indeed the only) Shia power out there, where would that leave us. First the top dog among the Shias, Sistani has friendly relations with Iran, and there are more direct links than that between the two Shia sides. Even Al Sadr will help Iran.

Not only will Iran have a reason to make the occupation of the Shia areas impossible, but it most certainly has the means to do so. What would happen if it is not just Al Sadr's lot calling to get rid of us and fighting our troops? Remember - it's these guys, and not the Sunnis, who first bought suicide bombing to the Arab world.

Of course we could threaten the Americans with a withdrawal from Iraq if they decided to make our life hell by bombing Iran, but what's the chances of that?
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Choosing China

Jack Straw stated that there would be clear differences between the United States and Europe on this issue. His explanation was that the arms embargo had a limited effect and that its replacement by a code of conduct would provide greater transparency in the sale of arms to the communists. These weapons would not be sold if they were going to be used for domestic repression or regional conflict, although it is unclear if they would be used for anything but these tyrannous objectives. Straw’s statements would be more convincing if there was no evidence that the EU was targeting China as a major arms buyer.

EU countries doubled their arms sales to China between 2002 and 2003, raising questions about the European bloc’s recent insistence that is has no intentions of increasing arms sales ahead of possible plans to lift the embargo on Beijing later this year. An EU own report on arms exports shows the value of EU licenses to sell arms to China mounted to €416 million in 2003, compared with €210 million for 2002, the Financial Times reported today. Last month, the EU government endorsed plans to lift the arms embargo in China, but stressed that “the result of any decision should not be an increase of arms exports from EU member states to China”. However, according to the EU's Official Journal last month, France granted €171 million in licenses for arms sales to China in 2003, while Italy granted €127 million worth of arms licenses and Britain €112 million.

The New Labour government is distancing itself from its major ally, the United States in the run-up to the election, and working more closely with the larger countries in Europe. However, Blair may find that he has misjudged the mood in Washington and pay a price for his tactical shifts which others may view as opportunism or betrayal.

Typical Blogger: ate half my post.
Sunday, January 16, 2005
Baltic Protection Society

They may not belong to NATO but a recent news article indicates how our strategic borders now run between the Baltic States, Belarus and Russia. European members of NATO rotate their airforces to patrol the airspace for the Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The first two Norwegian F-16 fighter jets are expected to land at Zokniai air base outside Siauliai on Monday, and two more on Wednesday,the press service of the Lithuanian Defense Ministry told Interfax.

On Wednesday, the Norwegian pilots will start patrolling the three Baltic countries' air space, allowing four Tornado F-3 fighter jets of the British Royal Air Force, on duty since the middle of October, to fly back to Britain, the news agency said. More than 50 Norwegian military and civilian personnel will arrive at Zokniai to service the new planes, it said.

Notice how Europe provides another commitment for our overstretched forces. No doubt the French, with their semi-detached relationship to NATO, do not have to take part. They would probably trade the Baltic states to Moscow.

Tsunami Update

The British Navy maintains a small presence in Sri Lanka aiding the clean-up. Although helpful, this must be considered a token effort compared to the actions of the United States, Australia and Japan. As this is their local neighbourhood, the response appears proportionate, given our distance from the disaster.

Devonport-based frigate HMS Chatham and Royal Fleet Auxiliary repair ship Diligence remain off the eastern coast of Sri Lanka to help with the rebuilding of coastal towns and villages which were badly-affected by the Christmas tsunami.

The town of Batticaloa and the more isolated community of Kalladar have both benefited from the efforts of the Navy and civilian personnel, augmented by members of the Forward Support Unit from Portsmouth Naval Base, who are working from Diligence.

So long as they remain under the Union Jack and are not rebranded under the EU/UN hydra!

An Injustice Remedied (Possibly?)

Whilst this government is embroiled in the truce between the UN endorsed Blair government and the Brownite insurgents, Hoon has managed to review one of the long-standing complaints of injustice thrown at the MOD.

British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon on Tuesday asked the Ministry of Defense to review the terms and conditions of service for the Gurkha Soldiers serving in the British Army, the Kathmandu based British Embassy said.

Hoon, according to the statement, told British MPs that the study would look at whether differences in their terms and conditions were 'reasonable and justifiable.'

“As the House will be aware, our policy is to keep the Brigade of Gurkhas’ terms and conditions of service under review, to ensure that they are fair and that any differences from the wider Army are reasonable and justifiable,” the British Defense Secretary told the House in a written ministerial statement, according to the embassy.

According to Hoon, the terms of services for the Gurkhas under review may include, their career profiles, length of services, comparisons with the wider British Army in terms of services, promotional structures, pay and pensions, allowances, personal support for the individual, education for children, medical provisions and leave arrangements.

About time!
Thursday, January 13, 2005

It's a Big World, after all

One of the things you realise when you look at the Tsunami is that what happens to large chunks of the world is of little importance even when it is of huge interest. Of course, for those who suffer directly from it the impact will be huge, but what will be the effects on those of us who have thankfully not lost a friend or relative?

Waves of migration? Political instability? Economic meltdown?

Well, no. If something of a hundredth of the destructiveness of this Tsunami were to affect France or Ireland we would have far greater knock on effects.

Which is a way of saying that what I'm going to write will be even more redundant and beside the point than usual, or should be. For what I'm about to say would be to many close to madness. We have nothing to fear from the rise of China.

And China will rise, here's some reasons:

- It's more capitalist than just about any other large economy in the world. There are lower taxes and fewer regulations than, to take two examples at random, the EU and the US.

- IQs are reasonably high. China has an average IQ of about 100. That's the same as us and a smidgen higher than the US.

- There is at present a strong correlation between IQ and national income, which becomes a lot stronger once you allow for state interference in the economy (which, guess what, is bad for national income.

- At the moment China has a GDP per capita at purchasing power parity of around 5 000 bucks. The United States has a figure (at purchasing power parity) of 35 750.

- So you're average Chinaman has a GDP of roughly 15% of what you'd expect. I'd say he's due a fairly hefty pay rise over the next couple of generations, even if the place were to become as statist as the EU.

- We're not talking about you're average Chinaman, we're talking about one billion of them. That's a lot of people.

- A billion well off people will also be able to buy a lot of weapons and more important weapons research. In the long term they could easily outspend (and are almost certain to outspend) the yanks on weapons research.

- There's gonna be a new sherrif in town.

There are going to be plenty of upheavals but they won't reach us unless we let them. Not only is China far away but it also does not have the millitary toe hold that America developed in Britain during the Second World War and the Cold War.

Now it may be bad news for those who believe that independence means swimming in the slipstream of te most powerful country on the block (pausing only to argue if it is the United States or United Europe, or in Blair's case both) but we are on the other side of the world from the Pacific and from China's land borders. The most compelling stories of the next century will play out on our TVs and not our borders.

With any luck we'll be swapping place with Australia as a sleepy relatively isolated island. And with the greenhouse effect we may even get some of their weather.

Normal gloomy service will resume shortly.
Sunday, January 09, 2005
Further FCO Incompetence (09.01.2005)

Whilst the government hails the performance of Jack Straw and the FCO, relatives and the police are clamouring for a list of the missing so that relatives can know if their friends or family members are on the list. With the unbending insensitivity that only this government has mastered, the FCO supports a procedure that has been used in other disasters of far smaller magnitude.

Relatives criticised the Foreign Office's decision to stick to guidelines for the identification of the dead and missing that were developed for smaller-scale disasters. The Metropolitan Police are thought to have become increasingly frustrated by the FO's refusal to make public all but the most definitive death toll figures. One police source told The Observer that there was no reason the FO could not publish a list of the countries where the 391 Britons now presumed dead actually perished, as they had done for the 50 confirmed deaths. He urged the media and the public to keep the pressure on the Foreign Office to release more detailed information. 'They really have to take ownership of this,' he said.


Another Friend, Another Leak (09.01.2005)

The Observer ran with a leaked letter from the Foreign Office Minister, Baroness Symons, to the husband of Tessa Jowell, Culture Secretary, on how to deal with the sanctions regime imposed on Iran by the United States. David Mills, Tessa Jowell's husband, had wished to sell BAe jets to the mullahs, whilst avoiding the sanctions regime. The lobbying was publicised in 2003 when the Observer ran the story which the government denied:

In 2003 The Observer revealed how Jowell's husband lobbied Symons about the potentially lucrative deal to provide Iran with several British Aerospace jets after he sat next to her at a dinner party. Mills then went on to write to her, asking for help to push the deal through.
At the time Straw and Symons were adamant that Mills did not receive any special treatment. However, the leaked letter from Symons, written on headed government notepaper, suggests that this was not the case.

Unfortunately for the government Baroness Symons wrote a letter in which she set forth her understanding of the sanctions regime:

Symons wrote: 'Dear David. Given the obvious political sensitivities you will need to tread very carefully with this one. This is a difficult time to be raising Iran policy in Washington. The advice I have been given, with which I am inclined to agree, is that our official support for you with the administration would raise the profile of the case and, by so doing, increase the chance of eliciting a negative response.'

She advised Mills: 'So you will need to think very carefully about a lobbying strategy calibrated to achieve the right result. I am pleased that Allan Flood [the British Aerospace director] will be in Washington next week and that he will be calling on the Embassy to discuss this further. They are best placed to advise on next steps.'

Symons, whose portfolio includes the Middle East and international security, concluded: 'If after that meeting, you need further advice or help from me, please let me know. Yours sincerely, Liz.'

Selling jet planes to a brutal regime contrary to our interests in Iraq would appear to be a foolhardy exercise, but is part of our ethical foreign policy. However, buttering up BAe and Iran is a greater priority for this government than reinforcing the security of our soldiers. As Symons appears to be undermining the US sanctions regime, let us hope that Congress commences investigations of a company that is tied too closely to the current establishment. That would put a stop to some of the sleaze that our current crop of pols indulges in with increasing abandon.
Europol (09.01.2005)

Just tried out the Europol website. There is no information for public access and you need a number/password to enter its portals.

The ring of flags lead you to the websites for each Member State's Police Force ( a portent of a centralised security force). It is all very European...
Saturday, January 08, 2005
Was Labour's wooing of the Muslims anti-semitic? (08.01.2005)

If we are to assess whether Mike O'Brien's article in the Muslim weekly was anti-semitic as The Daily Mail claimed, it is best to read the original piece. Having done so, one can see that Labour faces an uphill struggle to convince Muslim voters that they are worth an X.

The article provides a long list of policies that O'Brien insists have been implemented to assist the Muslim community, in particular, those who hail from South Asia. Included is the much quoted admission that the government shamelessly kowtowed to Muslim lobbyists for laws against religious discrimination and prohibiting that artificial canard, hate speech.

The Muslim Council of Britain has been at the forefront of lobbying the Government on issues to help Muslims. Recently Iqbal Sacranie, the General Secretary of the Council, asked Tony Blair to declare that the Government would introduce a new law banning religious discrimination. Two weeks later, in the middle of his speech to the Labour Party Conference, Tony Blair promised that the next Labour Government would ban religious discrimination. It was a major victory for the Muslim community in Britain.

But this is not the first and only time that Labour Party has delivered for Muslims. When I was a Home Office Minister in 1997, the MCB lobbied me to introduce not only a new law which would increase sentences for racial violence and harassment but also to recognise the particular problems faced by Muslims. As a result we were able to amend the law to make religion a factor in any violence and harassment. Today, new Crime Bill, announced in the Queens Speech is coming before Parliament to toughen the laws on incitement to religious hatred. This has upset some M.P.`s such as Evan Harris MP, the Liberal Democrat spokesman, who has said he will oppose it because it is unnecessary!

The core accusation is that Evan Harris and Michael Howard were singled out because they were Jews. Apart from the fact that the article is aimed at the Muslim community, there is little of substance in the piece to support this. Some may single out the prominence that O'Brien gives to Blair's support for Palestine as evidence. This support is pitiful since he is reduced to arguing that Blair never gave up on Arafat and that, unlike Howard or Kennedy, he has influence with President Bush, a man even more loathed than Blair amongst the ummah.

Whether we in Britain like it or not, the reality of the modern world is that only the Americans can influence Israel. And it seems only Tony Blair has any influence with the Americans. Can anyone seriously imagine that Michael Howard or Charles Kennedy would be able to significantly influence George W. Bush? If they do, then they need to join the real world. The Prime Minister who has the most political clout to help the Palestinians is Tony Blair.

And again:

Soon after the recent US elections, Tony Blair travelled to Washington to make it very clear that he wanted to see the road map to a Palestinian state opened up. If we are to have a Palestinian state in the next five years, then a key player in creating it will be the British Prime Minister, who will need to have world influence. In practice, only Tony Blair has the required credentials and track record. The reality remains that with George W. Bush in the White House, neither Charles Kennedy nor Michael Howard has the clout to deliver

As we know here, appeals to realpolitik are not votewinners, and inclusion of such arguments indicates that Labour has lost the debate or needs to employ better speechwriters. The article is designed to show Muslim readers that the New Labour government positively discrimates in favour of their needs. It convinced me that this government does so, opening up other arguments on why Labour should favour certain communities. Harris and Howard were singled out because of their political positions, not because of their ancestors' background. A pity that Melanie Philips could not see this.

Mike O'Brien has provided excellent evidence of the divisive, illiberal policies that New Labour has followed in order to court the Muslim vote. These are policies that undermine equality before the law and favour the communalism which the multiculturalists favour, establishing voting blocs that will perpetuate their hold of the New Left on power. With one military campaign, their strategy fell apart and O'Brien's wooing shows the contradictions between multiculturalism and the war on terror.

Death Toll of 2,000 (08.01.2005)

The death toll of British victims from the tsunami has risen to 2,000 based upon lists of those missed by their friends and relatives. This is based upon a police estimate. Within the space of two days, the number of British dead or missing, a figure that could possibly have been released days earlier, in line with Sweden or Germany. This policy has also been followed by the United States where the State Department declined to release figures until the last two days.

The State Department has hesitated to estimate how many Americans who have not been located were assumed to be victims. For more than a week, department officials have been checking airline passenger lists, U.S. embassies abroad and sifting through telephone calls for concerned relatives and friends.

Hundreds of names have been taken off the tentative list of Americans who had not been located, But others have taken their place as the inquiry proceeds.

The State Department was examining the trade-off between transparency and uncertainty. One would wish to conclude that our government was also motivated by such concerns. However, political calculations have informed their actions in the past. Is it cynical to assume that they wished to time the release of these figures for maximum advantage, especially as Blair was facing criticism for his holiday?
Thursday, January 06, 2005
Spicer's Millions (06.01.2005)

Tim Spicer of Sandline fame was afforded byline status in the Independent for making profits out of war. It is a dreadful job, but someone's got to do it, and our hearts should swell that British firms are competing with the Halliburtons of this world in providing security.

A private security firm headed by a former British Army colonel, Tim Spicer, has been named as one of the "top 10 war profiteers" of 2004.

The London-based Aegis Defence Services was awarded a $293m (£155m) contract by the Pentagon in June last year to co-ordinate security operations among thousands of private companies, making it the biggest private security operation in Iraq.

Only US companies such as Halliburton and Bechtel, which are involved in providing support services and reconstruction, and the defence manufacturer Lockheed Martin have received larger contracts.

This demonstrates that the United Kingdom retains important links with the US securocrats and proves a testament to Spicer's own role as a freelance entrepreneur, licenced to provide merc services for our little adventures. Not a true free market, but a private sector born of the military-industrial complex that wishes to keep its trained personnnel occupied after they retire from formal service.

He is disliked by the US Left who publicise the 'scandals' that he has involved himself and his record in Northern Ireland, where he has the temerity to defend the record of soldiers who served under him. The Nation scorns him, whilst puzzled that the British government raises no objections:

It is significant that the British Ministry of Defense was apprised of our intention...and did not object or advise against the action. Moreover, neither Aegis nor Mr. Spicer are on the...list of parties excluded from Federal contracting," wrote Sandra Sieber, director of the Army Contracting Agency. "We therefore had no legal basis to deny the award to Aegis, which won the competition fairly based on the rules and criteria established by our solicitation."

He gets worse reviews at the IrishNationalCaucus. They play the equivalence card to provide implicit support for the IRA.

The Bush Administration has given the largest ever Iraqi -contract -- $293 Million -- to a former British Army terrorist who operated in Northern Ireland -- Lt. Col. Timothy Spicer.

Better to keep people like Spicer onside working above board. It is like paying for Russian nukes, a mischief prevention service. Still, is he a lightning conductor, drawing attention away from murkier activities? Have your favourite merc hate figure, whilst the securocrats use more secure and well-hidden outfits. Or did he just grow up with a poster of "Mad Mike" Hoare on his bedroom wall?
Wind-Up Radios (06.01.2004)

Another example of the equipment failures that seem to dog the British Army on a regular basis these days. The Bowman radio system, already panned for its shortcomings, has been put into service, without addressing these failures:

Bowman is a key component of the British Army's implementation of network-centric warfare, Network Enabled Capability, and is alleged by the MoD to have 'entered service' in March 2004. However, it began a slow rollout in July, and is fairly generally felt to have been pushed into service in order to meet Government targets, rather than because it was ready, as such. The estimated cost of £1.9 billion is probably on the low side, and last year it was subject to a series of unfavourable news reports (particularly in the Telegraph, alongside numerous Parliamentary questions.

This includes a wearable radio, also known as the two kilogram wristwatch. Adam Ingram, Defence Forces Minister, has promised that it will improve, as a basic platform for upgrades. With the MOD's procurement record, probably not.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Where will the aid go?

There has been a vast outpouring of donations from the British public over the last week. While this is a credit to the British public, there are a couple of uncomfortable questions.

(1) How many palms will be greased?

Indonesian society is massively corrupt. I mean monumental. No one who has only lived in Britain or America can ever grasp the way in which large swathes of the world live with corruption as a way of live. I have been told by friends who have lived in Indonesia that no experience, apart from perhaps doing business in Russia, can ever prepare you for Indonesia. It's worse than Africa.

(2) Are there any incentives for inflating the death toll?

If there are (extra funding for example) you can be sure that the toll will be inflated. The same goes for the amount of homeless.

(3) When will we know when to stop?

There are already siren voices asking whether we will forget the victims after they have been fed, clothed, tented and medicated. Well that's just what needs to be done. The last thing that any place needs is to become dependent on the international community's dole, in the way that African "success stories" such as Uganda have. When farming skills atrophy and industrialisation stops that is a failure and not a success for compassion. As tough as it sounds the areas will need to fix itself.

One of the most hopeful signs has been the aid that has come from the inhabitants of the countries affected, often outracing the more sophisticated foreign charities.

This does not mean that we should not give. Some of the aid will get through, more if we carefully choose the charity, and this will save lives. And saving lives is the name of the game, for now.

Back to Reality

I know we're not supposed to say this, but 3 000 dead in the World Trade Center compared to 150 000 dead in the Tsunami. There I've said it.

The sheer scale of the tidal wave dwarves the amount of deaths from the twin towers and proves that the world did not change forever on the 11th September. As for "nothing will ever be the same again", well it is now.

With 150 000 dead in the background it is time to say that the war on terrorism is actually a medium level irritant that can and should be treated as any organised crime should be - by the police with support from the armed forces when the gangs are being harboured. Remaking the whole Arab world was a disproportionate and irrational response, and this has been thrown in sharp relief.

In the meantime please pray for the survivors and the souls of the departed.
Monday, January 03, 2005
Political Fallout (03.10.2004)

The short response from Jack Straw to criticisms of the government's response to the British victims of the tsunami says more about New Labour's highhandedness than the flaws revealed since Boxing Day. There is anecdotal evidence that the Foreign Office was unable to draw the resources necessary to meet the demands of a concerned public. Without a willingness to provide a clear and accurate assessment of their actions, a cynical public will take Jack Straw's statement that the Foreign Office was "exemplary" with scepticism.

Now the opposition parties are beginning to voice their criticisms, days after people needed someone to speak up for them. Charles Kennedy never saw a bandwagon that he didn't jump upon and this issue has proved no exception:

Ministers have faced mounting criticism of their handling of the relief effort with opposition MPs suggesting the public was quicker to react, donating millions to aid agencies within days.Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy today questioned the Mr Blair’s refusal to cut short his holiday and said the Government was playing “catch-up” with public opinion.Tory leader Michael Howard has also said he would have returned home if he had been in Mr Blair’s position.

As the Tories and the Liberal Democrats remain in 'catch-up' mode as well, no political party has been able to tap into or articulate the mood of public disaffection. The government is aware that this is a general groundswell, rather than a lightning rod that will undermine their electability. However, these individuals will join the growing number who have experienced the incompetence of the British state and withdraw from the crater of lies that now characterises our politics.

In private, Blair will be reflecting that he can no longer judge the public mood as he once did, a lack of touch that portends the political failure awaiting all politicians. In a more cynical moment, he will compare Britain with Sweden where the deaths of many more tourists has translated into political crisis.

Slow to Act (03.01.2005)

One of the constant themes running through the reaction of government offices to this disaster is their inability to cope with the demands of relatives or set up an infrastructure, rapidly, that would meet their expectations. We have heard that governments did not realise the magnitude of the catastrophe. This is a lie! It is a myth designed to cover their asses, their lack of action.

In Sweden, the Foreign Minister was attacked for going to the theatre:

The criticism of Sweden's response has been widespread, after revelations the Foreign Office Minister went to the theatre upon learning of the disaster. And the Government's first efforts to repatriate stranded and injured Swedes came several days afterward.The Director-General of Sweden's National Crisis Management Authority says Sweden's preparedness to deal with crises leaves a lot to be desired.Facing great pressure, the Prime Minister Goran Persson admitted Government action came too late. But Foreign Office spokeswoman Nina Ersman told the ABC it's predictable the administration is in the firing line.

The Swedish government is particularly nauseous. The spokeswoman attributed the anger of grieving relatives to a psychological reaction, rather than reflecting the rational reaction of individuals who found that the actions of their government were inadequate. Those in power choose to insult their electorate rather than apologise for their mistakes.

NINA ERSMAN: I think it's natural in a situation like this that people in shock, people who are severely hit, are angry and mad and they want somebody to be angry at. I mean I think that is inevitable.

It is also covered in more detail by Der Spiegel:

An editorial in the mass-circulation Aftonbladet lambasted Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds for not showing up to work until more than a day after she learned about the disaster. Even worse, said the paper, Freivalds did not sit worriedly at home like so many Swedes on Sunday night. Instead, she went to the theater in Stockholm. She did so knowing full well that, at that point, 10,000 people were already believed dead on Southeast Asia's beaches, which draw Swedes in droves each winter. And she didn't exactly rush to get to the office. "At nine o'clock the next day their chairs at the foreign office were still empty," hissed the paper. "Not until 10.30 a.m., 31.5 hours after the death wave, did the foreign minister arrive at work."

Governments have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.

Saturday, January 01, 2005
New Year Predictions (01.01.2005)

Just wondering around the various websites hoovering the predictions that appear halfway sensible, without the overwhelming indulgence or stupidity that prejudice stages.

Andrew Stuttaford at the National Review appears optimistic:

The elections in Iraq will go better than expected, but the situation there — at least in the Sunni Triangle — will continue to be grim: at best Belfast, at worst Beirut.

Nearby, Iran will admit to nuclear weapons capability and no one will know what to do, and to the North economic confidence and performance in Russia will slow — perhaps dramatically — as investors lose confidence in Putin.

The Times correctly pointed out that the key issue for Bush and the one that will define the first year of his presidency is Iraq and its elections:

Much depends on the elections scheduled for late January. The US may well face a series of unpalatable choices about whether to step up its presence in an effort to stabilise the country, or wash its hands of Iraq altogether as it stumbles towards a degree of unstable self-determination.

Unfortunately, most of the predictions were similar (house prices down, stocks up, China and India are new economic giants) and safe. It is clear that the complex landscape that has unfoldedover the course of the twentieth century continues to unfold with the uncontrollable proliferation of WMDs and the benign/malign effects of globalisation. As these situations cannot be controlled or contained, my prediction for 2005 is that we will continue to pay an increasingly expensive risk premium for living in security in the First World. Or in English: higher taxes for defence.

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