Thursday, 25 April 2013

An Elementary Thought Experiment

A short summation of the 4-piece series on Iran, from the perspective of an alternative world:

Imagine, if you will, that in 1953 Iran overthrew the elected government of the United States and installed a puppet dictator who would rule for 26 years, keeping US natural resources firmly under the control of Iranian companies. Imagine that in 1979 this Iranian-backed ruler was overthrown in a popular revolution, and US national independence restored. In time, Iran would invade both Mexico and Canada, building at least 42 military bases in the surrounding region, replete with a naval fleet to patrol the Gulf of Mexico. Iran then utilises politically distorted intelligence estimates to demand that the US surrender its rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium, in return for a vague promise not to pursue ‘regime change’ in the US. Any pretence of negotiations is undermined by the threat of an attack upon the US, in violation of the UN Charter. Imagine American scientists are assassinated, infrastructure decimated by ‘cyber-bugs’, and devastating sanctions imposed, causing a pharmaceutical crisis for the US people. Iran’s major regional ally, Venezuela, works with US Christian terrorist groups who seek to overthrow the US government. A conference on establishing a Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone in the Americas, to be attended by the US, is whimsically cancelled by Iran to ensure that their ally Venezuela be allowed to unilaterally retain the only nuclear weapons in the region.

Rhetorical musings aside, everything written here has manifested itself in reality, with one key difference: the official ‘enemy’ is not the perpetrator of the crimes. We are.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

The Bloody Formula

Having previously been an avid Formula 1 watcher, I find myself compelled to write a piece on one of the factors that contributed to my stopping watching the sport I love a couple of years ago: namely, the utter disregard for the political implications of the sport’s refusal to cancel the Grand Prix in Bahrain. The sport has collectively contributed to legitimising the regime in Bahrain, despite a vast human rights crisis in the country. The reasons are not hard to find.  

The Bahrain Grand Prix takes place this weekend. Since the Arab Spring erupted in 2011 Bahrain has been largely off the news agenda and off the lips of Western officials, but the importance of the small Sheikdom is not negligible. Located in the most important strategic energy location in the world, the Gulf Peninsula, it forms a vital part of the system of global energy supplies. All 6 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, are ruled as dictatorships with severe levels of repression, and if one were to fall to democracy, the others could follow.

Bahrain has seen the most unrest of the GCC states since 2011, as the Shia majority has attempted to rise up against the minority Sunni rulers. Around 90 protesters have been shot dead in the streets. Incarceration without trial and torture is rampant, as confirmed in an official report set up by the Bahraini government as part of a ‘reform’ process. The report even stated that the torture and repression ‘could not have happened without the knowledge of higher echelons of the command structure’. The Bahraini government then went on a tour de force to whitewash its record, employing Western PR firms to use an array of techniques to make it seem like a progressive, reformist regime. The ostensive reform-agenda has failed to fool human rights groups, who have continued to document how doctors have been trialled for helping wounded protesters, activists have been taken from their homes in raids, and objectors to brutal police treatment have been thrown in prison.

In March 2011 Saudi Arabia ‘intervened’ in Bahrain (at the ‘request’ of the Bahraini government) to help put down the uprising, with little Western protest. Former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, wrote how a senior Western diplomat at the UN assured him that Hillary Clinton (then-US Secretary of State) gave an explicit green light to Saudi Arabia to carry out the invasion in return for Saudi support at the Arab League for the Western intervention in Libya. These claims were also reportedly given to the Asia Times Online which claims that ‘two different diplomats, a European and a member of the BRIC group’ stated that this US-Saudi deal had been struck. It is impossible to confirm these claims, but they seem plausible given the interests the US has in Bahrain, the close relationship between the Saudi’s and the US, and similar US actions in the past (more on that in later weeks).

Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and along with the other Gulf states, buys millions of dollars (and pounds) worth of military equipment off the US and UK every year. The Saudi National Guard, which was the main force used to crush the protests in Bahrain, has long been trained by British forces, including in ‘public order and sniper training’. In September 2011, the US moved to sell ‘armored vehicles and optically-tracked wire-guided missiles to Bahrain for an estimated cost of $53 million’. In 2012, ‘licenses were granted for £2.2m-worth of UK weapons to be exported’ to Bahrain. Bahrain is designated by the US as a ‘major non-NATO ally’.

A report by the US Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, headed by the now-US Secretary of State John Kerry, explicitly states why the US has made no effort to help the democracy protesters in Bahrain. The major goals for the US in the region, it explains, are for ‘The United States [to] carefully shape its military presence so as not to create a popular backlash, while retaining the capability to protect the free flow of critical natural resources and to provide a counterbalance to Iran’ (page 4). A passing mention to democracy is made, with no real recommendations on how this is to be achieved. The main focus for the US and UK is on preserving the dictatorial, bloody regime in Bahrain, a compliant, pro-Western government that does its best to serve Western interests and keep the population subdued.

Against this backdrop, Formula 1 has done its best to keep in line with elite opinion in the West. After the race was called off for a while in 2011, it has gone ahead the following two years despite mass protests by the Bahraini people calling for it to be cancelled. The wilful ignorance amongst the F1 elite is astounding- racing legend Jackie Stewart claimed that the unrest was ‘no different to the Glasgow Rangers and the Glasgow Celtics’, and that Bahrain has ‘already started a move towards democracy’. The ever-principled Bernie Ecclestone (head of F1) has compared the protests to those at Thatcher’s funeral in Britain, and last year called all controversy ‘a lot of nonsense’. He claimed he wanted an earthquake to occur so the media would start writing about that instead. In 2012, three-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel felt that it was ‘all a lot of hype’, and wished it would blow over so ‘then we can start worrying about the stuff that really matters like tyre temperatures, cars’. Clearly tear gas being fired at protesters, ITN film crew being forced to leave the country for filming protests, and detention of leading activists is of little concern to teams, drivers, and Formula 1 bosses.  

Conservative MP David Davis last year called it an ‘example of where big money is over-ruling serious ethical concerns’, and his analysis is surely partly correct. To F1, the money is far more important than the principle. However, the race acts not only as a large source of revenue for F1 and the Bahraini government, but it also helps legitimise the ruling class in Bahrain, the favoured Western allies. That there should be little concern for human rights and democracy is of little surprise, when the people who run F1 are no doubt immersed in the norms and values of the elite class to which they belong. Commercial incentives are important, but not necessarily the entire story. As Robert Fisk pointed out last year, would Bernie Ecclestone host a race in Iran or Syria, Western enemies, even if they were prepared to pay $40m to do so? The answer is likely no- F1 will host races in countries which are ruled by governments the West likes, no matter how oppressive they are. But when the government is an ‘official enemy’ of the West, suddenly the human rights issues, and the legitimacy which the race would lend the ‘enemy’ government, become important (China is a special case). That is why the Western client-regime of Bahrain will continue to be allowed to host races as it guns down and tortures its citizens- and why we won’t be hearing about the Tehran Grand Prix any time soon. 

Another post on Bahrain and the Gulf states will follow in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Boston Bombings

On the 15th April two bombs exploded at Boston marathon killing at least 3 people and injuring over 100. On the same day, around 30 were killed in Iraq in bomb blasts and 160 wounded. On the same day, at least 16 workers were killed in Ghana in a mine collapse. The week before, 15 people were killed and nearly 50 injured in a bomb blast in Syria. Today, an earthquake hit the Iranian- Pakistani border killing at least 13 people, injuring around 20 and destroying ‘hundreds of houses’.

The media coverage of the above events couldn’t have been more distorted. The Boston bombing, which in terms of numbers was probably the least severe of the events, dominated the news. The mine collapse appeared to be barely news-worthy in the UK, despite over 5 times as many people dying- I only read about it on international news sites. One can understand why domestic events may be at the forefront of British news, given that in a world of strictly divided nation-states, events that happen within ‘British’ borders are likely to affect ‘British’ people politically, socially and culturally in a more immediate way than those events which happen overseas. Clearly, however, such arguments don’t apply in this case. Proximity fails to function as a reason too; as was pointed out to me, Syria is around 1,000 miles closer to the UK than Boston, Iraq 500 miles closer, and Ghana is roughly the same distance away.

The Boston bombing has led to some predictable and laughable reactions. One Fox News contributor reacted by claiming that all Muslims are ‘evil’ and that we should ‘kill them all’. Despite the obvious genocidal nature to the tweet it also ignores the fact that no one knows who carried out the bombing: statistically, more attacks are carried out in the US by right-wing terrorists than by Islamic ones. One blog records a few of the more extreme reactions from US citizens on Twitter- one of my personal favourites was this gem: ‘I swear to god I’ll murder the Korean moms, kids, dogs, dads, elders, everyone’.  Another blog points out that some have chosen to blame Jews or even the US government itself (happily, these are offset by some fine responses from Glenn Greenwald and Stephen Walt, amongst others).

More concerning is the way the mainstream British media is placing so much emphasis on the event over everything else. Taking a quick survey of the main media’s internet front pages this morning, the Guardian’s looked like this, and was fairly representative of all British outlets-

The ‘latest’ updates from the FBI on the bombing were considered more important news than an earthquake which has killed far more people. The Telegraph and BBC were much the same. The Independent had 7 stories listed on the Boston bombing before the earthquake was even mentioned.

This apparent devaluing of the lives of those of different colour, or perhaps culture, is made even more concerning when one considers the fact that ‘we’ are responsible for creating the conditions which led to the wave of bombings in Iraq yesterday. Furthermore, I came across another blog pointing out that 175 children killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan and beyond is barely treated as news in the US or UK, despite the bombings being comparable to the Boston attack (for those doubting that statement, I will give a detailed post on drones and why they constitute terrorism in the future).  

So why the focus on Boston and the neglect of every other tragic story, horrendous as they all are?  Is it racism? Cultural affinity? Pandering to readers who are more interested in America than Africa and the Middle East? Or a manifestation of the fact that much of our culture, politics, and media landscape is shaped in the image of the US, and naturally follows US events far more closely than that of ‘less important’ countries? The truth probably contains all those elements. For you and I though, we should extend the sense of compassion we feel for the 8-year boy killed in Boston to the Yemeni child killed in a US attack, the Ghanaian miner crushed to death, the family losing their house in an earthquake in Iran, and all those killed as bombs rip through crowds of innocent people in Iraq. 

Monday, 15 April 2013


The blog has been going far better than expected: now clocking over 1,500 views in total, with the most recent post on Iraq by far the most popular. I have found it far more enjoyable than working on maths or economics, probably to the detriment of my grades. I have to apologise for the length of posts but given the subject matter I find it hard to get them down to a reasonable word count; furthermore, as I said in the introductory post, the blog is as much a place for me to record my thoughts as an audience-seeking enterprise. The blog also seems to be riling some people up, since I received an email from Google saying I was subject to an attack located in the US. 

Coming up I have arranged for a guest blog post from fellow course member Jamie Sims, who writes a blog ( on political issues from gay marriage to atheism to libertarian socialism. It’s far more nicely laid out than mine and a good read; I believe he will write something to be put on here about domestic issues or economics, to give a balance to the dense international relations that characterises the majority of my own writing. In return I will contribute a post to his blog about international politics, most probably something on West Papua. Also in the pipeline for the near-future are posts on the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula and drone warfare.  

For anyone interested, another friend of mine writes a blog on European and British issues: he wrote a post ‘In Thatcher’s Defense’ (, which was followed by an amusing 11-comment exchange between the two of us on the legacy of the late-Thatcher. 

Friday, 12 April 2013

Iraq 10 Years On

The 10 year anniversary of the Iraq War past us by last month, replete with a reasonably large media discussion. This blog will look at the results of the war, the motives behind it, and give a little analysis of the media discussion. Apologies again for the length, but this is an issue so central to the international post-war perception of Britain that it needs a thorough treatment.

The Legacy

Civilian deaths are hard to ascertain (General Tommy Franks claimed that ‘we don’t do body counts’) and vary widely, but are at least 111,903 according to the Iraq Body Count. Opinion Research Business put it at 1,033,000, and Just Foreign Policy estimates 1,455,590. One of the most respected studies comes from Lancet, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, which put the total number of deaths at around 650,000 in 2006. Iraq is the second largest source of refugees in the world (second only to Afghanistan), with nearly 1.5 million even today. In 2007, the UNHCR estimated there were over 4 million externally and internally displaced Iraqis. Nearly 5,000 coalition troops have died. A U.S military veteran commits suicide every 65 minutes, many from Iraq. The war was the deadliest of any war in history for journalists: Al Jazeera’s headquarters were bombed by the US military, despite the fact that they ‘supplied the Pentagon with their headquarter’s coordinates in Baghdad in February 2003’, and two Reuters journalists were infamously mown down by a US gunship in 2007 (a family who tried to help the victims were then open fired upon, killing the father and injuring his two children), revealed in a video given to Wikileaks by Bradley Manning.

The BBC, perhaps trying to atone for its poor reporting in the run up to the war, has done some good work on Iraq recently. A joint BBC Arabic- Guardian documentary revealed how the US appointed a man who headed Reagan’s near-genocidal wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua, Colonel James Steele, to fund and recruit Shia death squads in the early years of the Iraq War. It partly blames this US counter-insurgency policy for starting the civil war which left 3,000 dead bodies a month on the streets of Iraq at its height in 2006-7. Hugh Sykes returned to Iraq for the BBC World Service to interview Iraqis. Their feelings were clear: as one put it in a message to George Bush, ‘on judgement day, Jesus will be on my side, not yours’. Another was asked if Iraq would have been better off without the invasion, to which she replied: ‘I don’t care about Saddam, I care about my family. Without the invasion I wouldn’t have lost my family’.  

The city of Fallujah was assaulted twice by the US for being a hub for insurgents. Depleted uranium and white phosphorus were used, contrary to international law. The results have been almost too much for one to emotionally contemplate- the legacy of the chemical warfare was described by one study as ‘worse than Hiroshima’. One of the authors claimed it was ‘the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied’. It recorded a ‘38-fold increase in leukaemia, a ten-fold increase in female breast cancer’, and ‘infant mortality was found to be 80 per 1,000 births compared to 19 in Egypt, 17 in Jordan and 9.7 in Kuwait’. There is little doubt that this is the result of the US assaults. Recent court cases have revealed that the practice of torture, which we know to have been institutionalised by the US, was almost as wide-spread and as systematised in UK forces.

Today, Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s Prime Minister, is widely considered dictatorial, and has been slammed by groups like Amnesty and Human Right Watch for running a state responsible for ‘rape, executions and torture’. Saddam-era prisons operate as torture cells much as they did under the US-UK occupation, and Iraq now executes more people than it has for almost a decade, according to Amnesty. Waves of bombings from groups which didn’t exist in Iraq prior to 2003 (such as Al Qaeda in Iraq) still regularly hit the country, and some fear a return to full-blown sectarian warfare. According to the Economist, ‘less than 40% of Iraqi adults have a job, and… a quarter of families live below the World Bank’s poverty line’. It is well understood that the war increased the threat of terrorism hugely, through the fomentation of hatred towards the West. Finally, Nobel Prize winner in Economics Joseph Stiglitz has put the cost of the war at over $3 trillion dollars.


It barely needs pointing out that the reasons for the war had no correlation to their professed aims, which were to dismantle Iraq’s (imaginary) Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), and to bring democracy to Iraq. No one except the most deluded thinks it was for any noble reason; as Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve said, ‘the Iraq war [was] largely about oil’. As noted in an earlier blog of mine, the objective wasn’t access, rather control. They could achieve access if they wanted, but control requires a puppet regime, something Saddam was too unreliable to be. In the 80’s when he was fighting against the enemy (Iran) and using chemical weapons ‘on his own people’, the US and UK was happy to arm and support him (interestingly, the late Baroness Thatcher’s government lost £1 billion of tax-payer money funding Saddam at the time).

Tony Blair has since admitted that he would have invaded Iraq even without the reason of WMD. He explained how ‘obviously you would have had to use and deploy different arguments about the nature of the threat’. Secret intelligence briefings were leaked days ago which revealed how Blair was told in 2002 that ‘Iraq had no nuclear weapons and any actual WMD would be “very, very small” and would fit on to the “back of a petrol lorry”’. But after his famous visit to Bush in 2002, ‘Blair appeared to be a changed man’, and started pressuring the intelligence services to find evidence that showed Iraq had WMD. An excellent documentary by Panorama shows the intelligence officers who peddled the lies in the lead up to the war and the willingness of top officials to hear the faulty intelligence. For instance, it reveals how Saddam’s Foreign Minister and intelligence chief approached French intelligence services and the CIA six months prior to the war to tell them that Saddam had no WMD- but this intelligence was completely ignored. Informants who were assessed as ‘fabricators’ by the CIA and MI6 were used as vital sources of information, and evidently-forged documents were used as authentic. What is clear is that these apparent intelligence failings weren’t mistakes as such, but an intentional bending of the truth, or outright lies.

Top-secret documents have allegedly been given to the Chilcot Inquiry showing that Blair and Bush made a pact in 2002 to go to war with Iraq no matter what; this is contrary to claims by the pair that they were waiting until the last minute to see if Iraq would ‘disarm’, and wanted to go through the UN, as international law requires. It is clear that they were set on invading, with or without the UN and with or without WMD. British combat troops started operations in Iraq before the House of Commons even voted for war, apparently showing that they were prepared to invade even with or without parliament. Sir William Ehrman, a senior member of the Foreign Office, told the Chilcot Inquiry that they were receiving intelligence ‘in the very final days before military action’ that WMD had been dismantled in Iraq.

Oil-industry executives and government ministers met in the run up to the war to discuss the future of Iraq’s oil, which was described as ‘vital’ to British interests in documents from the inter-departmental Oil Sector Liaison Group, an arm of the British state. The oil industry was considered the ‘first main target’ in Iraq. The Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War has been repeatedly delayed as the Coalition government has sought to delay the release of documents from the New Labour era (this is partly to cover up from their establishment friends, in the same way that Obama refuses to prosecute any Bush or CIA officials for torture, and partly because of the Conservatives’ overwhelming support for the war). History will judge this in the same way it does nearly every other war- as a criminal act of aggression launched on the back of lies spread by self-serving elites.

Media Coverage

One of the most interesting contributions to the debate has been from John Bolton, former Ambassador to the UN for George W Bush, who explained in the Guardian how ‘the issue was never about making life better for Iraqis’, and that ‘while President George W Bush and others sought to justify military action… as helping to spread democracy, such arguments played no measurable role in the decision to end Saddam's regime…that was not the motive, should not have been, and will not be in future interventions’. During his incredible piece of propaganda, the former senior Bush official inadvertently accused his old boss of making up the reasons for going into Iraq. His analysis of the ‘mistakes’ is that what the US should’ve done was overthrow Saddam in 1991, and then have moved to overthrow the Iranian and Syrian governments in 2003. Only a depraved individual like Bolton, who thinks the afore-mentioned Bradley Manning should be put to death, could draw the conclusion from the Iraq disaster that what was really needed was more war, earlier, and in more countries. It certainly reveals something about the mentality of members of the Bush administration.

A no-less revealing contribution from a far more respectable source came in the form of a Financial Times editorial on the ‘lessons from Iraq’. According to the newspaper, which is the major business publication in the country, the main negative consequence of the war is that Western governments now adhere to an ‘unofficial rule that military intervention requires UN Security Council backing’. Last time I checked there was a well-established official rule that military intervention requires UNSC backing- it’s called international law. Furthermore the FT laments that the ‘reticence to intervene’ has prevented the West from arming rebels in Syria; in the FT’s eyes, the real issue with Iraq is that is has caused Western governments to become less war-like. Lastly, the war has left ‘western publics too sceptical about intelligence’- namely, they are less likely to swallow the lies next time around. That the worst results of the Iraq War are considered to be these, and not the destruction of an entire country, tells you something about the media.

An article in Foreign Policy explains how ‘the war in Iraq is regarded by most Americans as a costly mistake’: this constant emphasis on the ‘mistake’ clouds the truth about what the war was: a calculated crime that should be punished through existing institutions like the International Criminal Court (which the US refuses to sign up to, for obvious reasons; the UK on the other hand, is part of the court). The parameters of debate are often bounded between those who think that the war was too costly and unwinnable, and those who think that it was winnable and a correct choice. The large part of the public who think the war was wrong (as in immoral) aren’t represented in the debate. Polls show 22-37% of the population think Blair should be tried as a war criminal- that side of the debate certainly doesn’t get a fair hearing in the media. There are exceptions- the highly-respected Desmond Tutu recently refused to meet with Blair on principled grounds, and coverage is far better than it was at the time of Vietnam- but the debate is still far too narrowly framed (for a more in-depth analysis of the media’s role in the Iraq War, I can’t recommend John Pilger’s documentary ‘The War You Don’t See’ highly enough).

Britain is yet to come to terms with the ruin it has left in Iraq- the public seems not to fully appreciate the misery and damage that has been caused by our government. Iraq is a country of similar size to Britain, and has been utterly decimated by the invasion, on the basis of lies. Until we as a nation fully realise what we have wrought in Iraq, we have little chance of stopping this from happening again.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Iranian-Western Relations Part 4


The final full piece on Iran; reviewing perhaps the only hope for eliminating the spectre of WMDs from the Middle East: diplomacy.

Given the apparent repeated failure of the talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the permanent 5 on the Security Council plus Germany) at Kazakhstan recently (, this option would seem to be a proven failure. However the Western media have failed to give the full story on diplomatic efforts. There are two avenues in particular which should be pursued urgently.

Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone

The first is the possibility of a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in the Middle East; a treaty, governed by the UN, which would place obligations upon all states in the region to forgo any current nuclear weapons, or nuclear-ambitions, and submit to a wide-ranging regime of inspections and verification, either through the IAEA, Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Additional Protocol, or a new body set up to monitor compliance. Such verification wouldn’t be 100% accurate but it would be pretty close- the capacities of institutions like the IAEA are generally respected. Such zones already exist in Africa, Central Asia, South East Asia and Latin America (, and have so far been more or less successful.

Efforts to achieve such a zone in the Middle East have been on-going for decades, headed historically by Egypt in particular. Patricia Lewis recently wrote an article in International Affairs documenting the history of such efforts. It is recorded how ‘In 1974… Iran and Egypt formally tabled a joint UN General Assembly resolution calling for the establishment of an NWFZ in the Middle East. The resolution was adopted by a majority of 138 votes, with only Israel and Burma abstaining’ ( Furthermore, a 1995 resolution passed at the NPT Review Conference calling ‘upon all States in the Middle East to take practical steps… aimed at making progress towards… the establishment of an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems, and to refrain from taking any measures that preclude the achievement of this objective’, and was accepted and voted for by all relevant states, including the US. Subsequent efforts culminated in an agreement to hold a conference on the establishment of a zone in Helsinki in December 2012.

Several months before the conference Iran announced it would attend (Jerusalem Post- Shortly after that announcement, the US cancelled the conference, a decision slammed by Iran’s Ambassador to the IAEA as a ‘flagrant violation of the NPT’ ( The suspected reason for Washington’s sudden cancelation is Israel’s refusal to attend. Israel has a policy of ‘nuclear ambiguity’, refusing to admit or deny its possession of nuclear weapons, but it is widely believed by all respected observers to be the only state in the Middle East to have nuclear weapons. Given that this was a chance for an international effort to eliminate a danger to humanity in one of the most volatile regions in the world, one would have expected the United States to seize the opportunity with both hands. Instead, even the possibility of such an achievement was blocked. In a statement, the State Department claimed that ‘the United States will continue to work with our partners to support an outcome in which states in the region approach this issue on the basis of mutual respect and understanding’ (, reminding me of a talk by Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow in which he called for negotiations to be undertaken with respect for Iran’s history and desire to be accepted into the international community (; precisely the opposite of how diplomacy has been conducted so far. We have come a long way from the times when British diplomats wrote how ‘we English have hundreds of years of experience on how to treat the natives’ in Iran; but an air of superiority and arrogance remains in the US’ approach to negotiations. Take for instance one of their bargaining chips: a promise not to pursue ‘regime change’ in Iran in return for certain Iranian concessions. I wonder how the US would respond if Iran gave a vague promise not to pursue ‘regime change’ in the US in return for giving up certain aspects of its nuclear programme. When the precursor to negotiations is vast cyber-attacks and threats of an attack (even the very threat is actually against international law), it is unsurprising that negotiation often fail to get anywhere. It increases distrust and willingness to defy the opponent who comes across as an arrogant, aggressive bully.

Interestingly, I couldn’t find a single article on the conference for a nuclear-free Middle East in the mainstream British or American media. Such silence is stunning when the threats of nuclear proliferation are considered. Such a conference may come to nothing, but unless we at least try we can never know.

The Brazil-Turkey Deal

There are other avenues, and diplomacy has worked to some extent. Iran have recently diverted ‘a third of their enriched uranium fuel rods to medical research’ (Foreign Affairs-, and Iran has been ‘careful to stay well below the 240kg mark’ of 20% enriched uranium which would be necessary for a bomb (Economist- Furthermore, in 2009 the Obama administration approached Brazil asking them to broker a deal whereby Iran would ship out around 1,200kg of 5% enriched uranium, in return for a research reactor and 20% enriched uranium fuel rods usable for medical reactors only. Iran initially opposed the idea, but by 2010 Brazil and Turkey managed to get signatures on paper to achieve such an end (see here- and here- However the US and UK then did a complete U-turn, refusing to back the deal ( which they had tried to foment previously. A common refrain has become that ‘the US doesn’t know how to take yes for an answer’. After Iran gave way to diplomacy, potentially opening up avenues for further agreements, the US humiliated the Iranian concession by destroying the deal.

This record of botched diplomacy could show one of many things. It could just be an unfortunate consequence of the challenges and complexities of international diplomacy, or it could be the result of a lack of respect for Iran and a certain arrogance on the part of Western powers. It may even betray a lack of sincerity on the part of the US to actually engage in serious negotiations. There is part of the US establishment that still hasn’t forgiven Iran for freeing itself from US dominance in 1979, and wants to re-establish control. Iran is one of the most important countries in one of the most important regions in the world, and the imperial mentality of the US is such that there is still a lingering feeling that they have a right to own Iran. In order to do that you need a war and regime change, something which has long been desired by the more hard-right elements of the US establishment.

There is certainly a wish on the part of the US to stop Iran getting weapons (although this certainly has more to do with the fact that a nuclear Iran would endanger US and Israeli power in the region rather than any concern for nuclear proliferation- Ehud Barak was quoted in Foreign Affairs as saying that the reason a nuclear Iran is so feared is that it would ‘undermine Israel's strategic monopoly in the Middle East’-, but the mentality of the US state is one culturally prone towards war and violence rather than diplomacy. There are also more sinister motives underlying their aggressiveness towards Iran. The US is the world’s only empire, and ever since the 1953 CIA-MI6 coup the US has tried to dominate and control Iran in its interests. Disobedience to The Empire is often considered the greatest crime; one Iran is unlikely to be forgiven for whatever it does, short of complete submission to the iron will of the United States of America.

A short summation of the 4-part series will follow.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Iranian-Western Relations Part 3

Iran Part 3- what to do

I clearly miscalculated when I said that there would be a 2-part series on Iran; it is now a 4-part series.
Given that Iran may well be attempting to move towards nuclear capability or weaponisation, it is sensible to review the options available to Western governments and the international community regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. Apologies for length and the occasional slightly technical passages, but this is a complicated and important issue which needs a thorough examination. This post will review letting Iran have a bomb, attacking their nuclear facilities, and waging low level warfare (the current policy). The next post will look at diplomatic options.

Let them get a bomb

There are some in academic circles who believe that nuclear proliferation is a force for stability in the world- notably Kenneth Waltz, the giant amongst international relations scholars, who wrote an article in Foreign Affairs recently entitled ‘Why Iran Should Get the Bomb’ ( They argue that the destructive power of nuclear weapons is so vast that no regime would ever be the first to use them, as they require ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ (MAD). Simplifying somewhat, their argument rests more or less upon historically precedent; we have had 70 years of the nuclear age and, so far, no two nuclear powers have ever gone directly to war with each other. They claim that this shows that nuclear weapons prevent leaders from going to war with other nuclear powers, lest they start a nuclear war and are both obliterated.
There are many reasons to be sceptical of this argument in any situation; it ignores the millions killed in proxy wars during the Cold War between the US and the USSR, and ignores how, in the words of the then-US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, ‘it was luck that prevented nuclear war’ ( between the US and USSR in the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis. Try to apply the argument to the modern day Middle East and things get shakier.

It’s not that Iran or any other state would be reckless enough to launch a nuclear missile at an enemy, unprovoked (as Richard Betts wrote in Foreign Affairs recently, ‘there is no evidence… that the Iranian leadership has any interest in national suicide, the likely consequence of an Iranian first nuclear strike’-; rather, wars often start from miscalculation and accident. As political scientist Scott Sagan has pointed out, accidents are a statistically inevitable part of any system (

Whilst Iran has ‘never launched a regular war against its enemies’ (Betts), the power and arrogance that can flow from having the world’s most powerful deterrent could embolden it to engage in more destabilising behaviour in the region. Waltz himself even admits that new nuclear states will ‘feel freer to make minor incursions, deploy terrorism, and engage in generally annoying behavior’ ( , and given Iran’s apparent support for the Syrian regime, Hezbollah and Hamas, this is hardly something to welcome. The respected Geoffrey Robertson QC has documented the Iranian regime’s regional and domestic human rights abuses in Mullahs Without Mercy: Human Rights and Nuclear Weapons, and points out that a nuclear Iran would be disastrous for the region. Miscalculation between Iran and the US and Israel could cause a nuclear war.

Military Strike

Interestingly, some polls of Arab opinion have shown a majority in favour of Iran having a nuclear bomb in order to deter Israel and the US, who are considered to be the greatest threats to peace in the region by far (The Wilson Center and USIP- However it seems no one seriously interested in peace and stability could be in favour of a further extension of weapons capable of destroying humanity, regardless of the fact that Iran is generally considered to be what international relations scholars call a ‘rational actor’ in the world system (that is, a regime that won’t willingly undertake activity which it knows will lead to its self-destruction).

The other extreme is a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, in order to forcibly halt Iran’s nuclear progress. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and (until recently) Defence Minister Ehud Barak are said to favour such an action, and there are certain sectors of the US government who are also in line with such thinking. Articles such as ‘Time to Attack Iran’ have appeared in major journals like Foreign Affairs. An article recommending a regime-toppling attack was even considered mainstream enough to be published (  Such an attack would have to take out Iran’s considerable air defences, and heavily bomb dozens of facilities all over the country, perhaps even using M.O.B’s ( or M.O.P’s ( on underground facilities like Natanz and Fordow. Consequences are hard to predict, but civilian casualties from the bombing campaign would run at least into the hundreds; the best case scenario is that the nuclear programme is set back several years and Iran fails to retaliate to the attack on its sovereignty.

A realistic assessment of possible outcomes leaves us with dire scenarios. As Robert Jervis in Foreign Affairs points out, ‘Washington knows that the likely results include at least a small war in the region, deepening hostility to the United States around the world, increased domestic support for the Iranian regime, legitimation of the Iranian nuclear weapons program, and the need to strike again if Iran reconstitutes [the programme]’ ( Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz (Reuters-, through which around 20% of the world’s oil supplies travel. A closure would rack the global markets and possibly send the world back into recession. Furthermore Iran is likely to respond, as any nation with substantial military capability would when attacked; Colin Kahl writes that such a retaliation would probably take the form of ‘proxy attacks against U.S. civilian personnel in Lebanon or Iraq, the transfer of lethal rocket and portable air defense systems to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, or missile strikes against U.S. facilities in the Gulf [which] could cause significant U.S. casualties, creating irresistible political pressure in Washington to respond’ ( If Israel were involved in the strike, the Iranian-backed Lebanon-based Hezbollah and Gaza-based Hamas could fire masses of rockets into Israel, leading to a swift response from the government there, and potentially a new conflict in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. The Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, Qatar etc.) are extremely hostile to Iran, and any retaliatory attack upon them from Iran (many of them host US bases which could be a launching point for an air attack) could draw them into a huge region-wide conflict, unseen in decades. It is little surprise then, that former head of Mossad (Israel’s intelligence services) Meir Dagan has called an attack on Iran the ‘stupidest idea [he’s] ever heard’ (

Low level warfare

We are now 10 years on from the Iraq War and it would take incredible amnesia to repeat the disaster which has unfolded there; whilst the above passage was committed to the practical consequences of an attack on Iran, there is also a very strong moral and legal case to be made against a strike (this perspective on the debate is nearly invariably left out of mainstream journals and media); the afore mentioned Geoffrey Robertson QC is against an attack ‘because it’s wrong’ ( Recently a legal memo was leaked from the British government declining US requests to use British bases as a launching pad for an attack upon Iran; the memo stated that such an attack would be in violation of international law, since Iran does not yet pose a ‘clear and present threat’ (Guardian-  

A step down from a full blown strike would be low level warfare: sabotage attempts, sanctions, cyber warfare, funding opposition within Iran etc. This resembles the United States’ and Israel’s current policy. Vast sanctions have been placed upon Iran, causing the value of its currency to plummet by up to 80% in value (, and allegedly causing a pharmaceutical crisis for the population, as the sanction are so broad that civilian goods get caught up in them (Guardian-  Scientists working on Iran’s nuclear programme have been assassinated (BBC-, and the famous ‘Stuxnet’ cyber virus was thought to have originated from the US (described by some legal experts as an ‘illegal act of force’-
The murky underground war against Iran goes further; an Iranian opposition group called the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK) has the public support of a number of US citizens high up in the US establishment, including James Woolsey, the former CIA director, and the former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton, who has campaigned to have the group removed from the US list of terrorist organisations ( The group has been previously involved in Marxist terrorist activity (testament to the fact that many sectors of the US government will work with anyone if it furthers their strategic and economic interests- Al Jazeera Senior US officials allegedly told NBC news that the MEK has been involved in assassinations of Iranian scientists, carried out with the support of Israel (  

Israel has a seemingly strange relationship with another terrorist organisation: the Sunni Jundallah. Foreign Policy reported last year on how Mossad agents posed as CIA operatives and attempted to recruit members of Jundallah to help fight the covert war against Iran ( The idea of Israel working with Pakistani-based Sunni terrorists against a Shia government would be amusing if it weren’t so troubling. There is a long history of our government and our allies working with extremist groups and Islamists to further their own interests, most famously in the 80's when they funded Bin Laden and the groups which would later become the Taliban and Al Qaeda in their fight against the USSR in Afghanistan. The consequences of that policy are well known to all.

There is of course a similar argument to be made against such a policy in Iran- not only will these actions likely backfire, as it allows the government in Iran to muster up domestic support by using the threat of hostile powers as an excuse to expand its power and control- but these activities are most probably mostly illegal and certainly immoral. We can imagine what the US response would be if Iran were assassinating its scientists and launching huge cyber-attacks on its nuclear infrastructure (indeed we know what the Israeli response would be- when the Iranian-backed Hamas or Hezbollah launch any kind of attack against Israel, Israeli officials claim that they have a ‘right to defend their country’ and respond with huge force). The murder of civilian scientists for political aims and in order to scare away graduates from pursuing such a career is the very definition of state (or state-backed) terrorism. 

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Asia's Hidden Genocide

The blog is an early copy of an article I had published in the Warwick Globalist, before it was cut down to size and slightly changed by the editor. This was more or less how I intended the article to be. Given the style of the magazine, there are no references and it reads more like an emotive opinion piece than my usual blog posts do/will. Enjoy:

In 1969, 1,022 native tribesmen of West Papua were summoned by the UN to vote on the so-called ‘Act of Free Choice’; a referendum to decide if their land should be incorporated into Indonesia. The tribesman, supposedly representative of all 1m native inhabitants, voted under the gaze of the Indonesian army’s guns. Unsurprisingly, they voted to surrender independence. The beginning of a brutal subjugation of one of the world’s oldest civilisations had begun.

In 1962 West Papua- the western half of Earth’s second largest island and recently freed from Dutch imperialism- was pressured to incorporated with Indonesia. After Dutch protests, the UN agreed to ‘participate in and supervise’ a vote on potential Indonesian rule by the tribal elders of Papua, to be held by 1969. Given that, according to the then-US ambassador to Indonesia, ‘85-90% of the native population [were] in sympathy with the Free Papuan cause’, Indonesia had to rely on a campaign of terror to get the desired result from handpicked ‘representatives’. An officer assigned to intimidate the Papuans into voting for annexation told a group of tribal leaders that he would “shoot anyone who is against [Indonesia] and all his followers”. According to some estimates, the Indonesian army killed around 30,000 Papuans over the 7 year period whilst the UN ‘observed’. In some parts of the country Catholic missionary schools were forced to close following disappearances of entire families.

Thankfully for Indonesia, the world’s major western powers did their utmost to ensure the unimpeded perpetration of this injustice.  The result of the vote required approval from the UN General Assembly; the US pressured Latin American leaders to vote for its acceptance, and the French pressured former colonies to follow suit.

44 years later, the nascent ‘Free Papua cause’, alluded to by the ambassador in 1969, has developed into a fully grown independence movement. The OMP (Free Papua Movement) is a ‘broad based social movement, which almost everyone in West Papua, if you get them alone, will admit to belonging’, according to Paul Kingsnorth, an investigative writer who travelled across West Papua in the early 2000’s. It does have an armed wing- maybe a thousand men armed mainly with bows and arrows- who for decades have sought to regain their homeland from the occupying Indonesians. Unfortunately for them, Indonesia is armed by the most advanced military machines in the world- the US and UK- and is willing to use this equipment in the most brutal manner imaginable. According to Human Rights Watch, the International Centre for Transitional Justice, and local Papuan human rights groups, torture, assassination, detention without trial, rape and massacres of peaceful protesters are common place. In 2003 a group of Yale Law School academics released a report making a strong case that the Indonesian government was liable for prosecution under the 1948 Genocide Convention. According to official estimates, around 100,000 West Papuans have been killed since 1969. Unofficially, the number approaches 800,000. The truth is unknown, and the destruction of ‘the forgotten bird of paradise’, as it is known, is invisible to the rest of the world.

The tale of West Papua is mirrored in another island in the region: East Timor. In 1975 Kissinger and Nixon travelled to Jakarta to authorise an Indonesian invasion of the peaceful land. What followed was possibly the closest anyone has come to the eradication of an entire ethnic group in the post-war period. 90% of the weapons used for the genocide came from the US and UK, and the then-US ambassador to the UN later wrote that ‘The United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about’. This story, however, had something of a happy ending; at the end of the 20th century a worldwide protest movement grew, and Clinton was forced to withdraw support from the brutal Indonesian dictator, General Suharto. Consequently Suharto fell swiftly from power, and the Indonesian army withdrew from East Timor- a lesson in the life and death power the West wields. The harrowing occupation of West Papua continues to this day.

In 2010 Obama reauthorised US training and arming of Kopassus- the Indonesian Special Forces group responsible for much of the East Timorese genocide- despite leaked Kopassus documents detailing an assassination campaign against West Papuan independence leaders and civilians, described in the documents as ‘the enemy’. Filep Karma, a celebrated member of the liberation movement, warned that this US support would lead to Kopassus being “even better equipped to commit their murders”.

Compounding the misery in 2012, part time arms salesman David Cameron – ignoring mass demonstrations from the West Papuans imploring him to help end colonisation and genocide - ‘toured Asia’ with UK arms companies promoting sales to Indonesia. British ‘Hawk’ jets have been used to bomb villages and British surveillance equipment helps monitor peaceful protesters. So whilst Cameron talks of ‘freeing’ the Libyan people, he supplies the Indonesians with the equipment and logistical support needed to carry out ethnic cleansing of Papuans, who lived in harmony with their land for around 40,000 years. As privileged students and members of this state, we must demand the British government cease this horror story – in which we are all complicit by association. Visit to learn more and help promote groups working to end our government’s diplomatic and military support for ‘Asia’s hidden genocide’.