Tag Archives: Putin

Western military intervention in Syria has already begun

Now that Baba Amr has fallen with appalling brutality, The Western press is full of demands for intervention to forestall any further such genocidal episodes.   More thoughtful minds insist that Western intervention would be counter-productive.   Syria is no Libya: its 20 million population is three times that of Libya, concentrated in big towns and cities which combine a variety of ethnic and religious groupings.   Syria has nothing like the Libyan divide between a pro-rebel east focused on Benghazi and a pro-regime west centred on Tripoli; in Syria protests have occurred throughout the country.   Nor has there been a clear demand for foreign military intervention from Syria’s opposition which remains fractured and split.   However, what has received no mention at all in the Western media is that low-level Western military intervention is already well under way, indeed has been in action since May 2011.   According to Milliyet, a Turkish newspaper, France has already sent its military training forces to Turkey and Lebanon to train the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and the French, British and Turkish authorities have reached an agreement to send arms into Syria.   Even more significantly, Ahmet Davitoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, has openly admitted that Turkey will invade Syria as soon as the Western allies agree to do so.
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Do we let Bradley Manning and Julian Assange go to the wall?

Britain has yet to take an official view about the fate of Julian Assange or Bradley Manning – the latter, whilst obviously primarily a matter for the US authorities, because his activities were so closely intertwined with WikiLeaks and Assange over the last two years.   The motivation of both men appears to have been principled – they leaked evidence that they believed should be placed in the public domain so that wrongs that had been committed should not go unpunished or be continued in future with impunity.   The most obvious example so far is the harrowing Collateral Murder video showing 17 non-combatants including 2 Reuters employees mowed down in a Baghdad street in 2007 by a gung-ho US Apache helicopter crew, but there are many others like the setting up by the US of an espionage network to spy on and manipulate UN Security Council members.   Both Manning and Assange clearly have a public interest defence.
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Holding multinationals to account: Blackhawk and Shell

Events in the last 3 days just might advance a long overdue struggle to bring to justice violent marauders who have hitherto caused death and destruction in foreign countries with impunity. Not al Qaeda operatives on this occasion. This time it’s terrorists who are protected by some of the biggest and most powerful countries in the world. Shell has just been brought to court in the Netherlands for the first time over the environmental degradation caused by its oil extraction in the Niger Delta. Blackwater, the US security firm engaged in military protection contracts and privatised warfare, has been brought to court in the US after an incident in September 2007 when 17 Iraqis were killed in Baghdad by the company’s private security guards in an allegedly unprovoked shoot-out. In addition, a few months ago Trafigura, a British private oil dealer which had arranged for the dumping of tons of highly toxic waste oil in Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire which allegedly killed at least 15 people, was brought to court in the UK by families of the victims. All these break new ground in accountability, but international law in this area is still weak, uncertain, far too easily evaded, and urgently needs reform.


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The era of oil wars

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Gordon Brown meeting Britain’s oil chiefs to discuss higher North Sea output to bring down prices is prompted by oil prices hitting a record high of $135 a barrel, twice as high as a year ago and a staggering 12 times higher than a decade ago. The well-sourced website petrolprices.com is now predicting that petrol will reach £1.50 a litre by September, just 4 months away. Jeff Rubin of CIBC World Markets is forecasting “oil prices almost doubling over the next five years”. That would mean $270 a barrel by 2013. It perhaps explains why the government is now strongly backing BP to get a big new slice of the oil drilling licences soon to be issued in Iraq, and – astonishingly – has now also made clear it intends to annex a third of a million square miles of the seabed off Antarctica to pre-empt any rights to the oil it may contain. The fight for oil has begun in earnest.
But is there the oil to go round? The authoritative International Energy Agency foresees an oil supply crunch within 5 years forcing up prices to unprecedented levels and greatly increasing western dependence on Opec. And the oil industry itself in its own report Facing the Hard Truths about Energy, produced by 175 authorities including all the heads of the world’s big oil companies, for the first time predicted that oil and gas may run short by 2015.
The geopolitical implications of this gathering crisis for world oil supply 2010-15 are immense. The risk of further military interventions and conflicts in the Middle East is clearly high. Total world oil reserves are estimated at 2.5-2.9 trillion barrels, of which half has now been already consumed, while half of the 51 oil-producing countries reported output declines in 2006. Non-Opec production is expected to peak and decline within the next five years, driven mainly by burgeoning demand from China and the US, together with restricted output from Iraq. Then in the following five years Opec’s diminishing spare capacity will probably become increasingly unable to accommodate short-term fluctuations, depending on how fast world demand grows and how extensively Opec invests in new capacity. The latter may well not raise production capacity high enough or quickly enough, whether for political reasons or because internal decision-making is too slow or the security environment too hostile.
There are of course exits from this doom-stricken scenario, though none is at all credible. First, discovery of major new oilfields could alter the picture. However, though billions have been spent on the search for new fields, discovery peaked in the mid-1960s and the last big ones were found in the 1970s. Only Iraq has undeveloped super-giant oilfields – at West Qurna, Athabascan tar sands (from Alberta, Canada), extra-heavy oil (from the Orinoco belt in Venezuela), oil shale, and mature source rocks. But the almost insurmountable problem is recoverability, whether poor quality oil (extra-heavy oil), poor quality reservoirs (oil from source rocks), or both (oil shale). Worse, production may be uneconomic because of a very low net energy gain, ie it requires almost as much energy to extract the oil as is made available for subsequent use. And the enormous hike in greenhouse gases generated could produce a turbo climate change effect that would wipe out any benefit from a global post-Kyoto agreement.
But even if supply constraints are ineluctable as the explosion of Chinese growth coincides with falling non-Opec oil production and the beginnings of a slow but remorseless slippage in Opec capacity, the coming crisis could still be eased by significant demand restrictions. Clearly there is substantial room for energy-saving when half the energy generated every day is wasted and when propulsion of an average car is only about 20% efficient, heating of a standard oven only 25%, and electricity generated in some power stations only some 35%. The question, however, is whether improvement can be secured globally on the level and timescale required to push back the crisis more than a few years. Equally, taking the CO2 out of fossil fuels, especially coal, may be crucial, but a decade at least is needed even to test the carbon capture technology in pilot projects, let alone begin to mainstream it. But the most direct means of constraining world demand would be the proposed Rimini protocol, which prescribes that oil-importing countries cut their imports to match the world depletion rate (ie annual production as a percentage of remaining global reserves) now running at about 2% a year. Of course, the fundamental political problem remains that the most powerful oil-hungry countries will not agree. If not Kyoto, why Rimini?
What is most disturbing of all is that the big powers, so far from seeking major adjustments of their energy policies on either the supply or demand fronts or making a major switch into renewables, are actually massively intensifying their competitive struggle short-term for the limited oil reserves left. Despite an unwinnable war in Iraq, the US is still constructing at least five large permanent military bases there in order, according to evidence given to a US Congressional Committee, to control access to Gulf oil, including in Saudi and Iran. As one neocon recently put it, “one of the reasons we had no exit plan from Iraq is that we didn’t intend to leave”. The US is also trying to force through a new Iraqi oil law that would give western, primarily American, oil multinationals control of Iraqi oilfields for the next 30 years.
The US maintains 737 military bases in 130 countries under cover of the “war on terror” to defend American economic interests, particularly access to oil. The principal objective for the continued existence and expansion of Nato post-cold war is the encirclement of Russia and the pre-emption of China dominating access to oil and gas in the Caspian Sea and Middle East regions. It is only the beginning of the unannounced titanic global resource struggle between the US and China, the world’s largest importers of oil (China overtook Japan in 2003). Islam has been dragged into this tussle because it is in the Islamic world where most of these resources lie, but Islam is only a secondary player. In the case of Russia, the recent pronounced stepping up of western attacks on Putin and claims he is undermining democracy are ultimately aimed at securing a pro-western government there, and access to Russian oil and gas when Russia has more of these two hydrocarbons together than any other country in the world.
The struggle has also spilled over into West Africa, reckoned to hold some 66 billion barrels of oil typically low in sulphur and thus ideal for refining. In 2005 the US imported more oil from the Gulf of Guinea than from Saudi and Kuwait combined, and is expected over the next 10 years to import more oil from Africa than from the Middle East. In step with this, the Pentagon is setting up a new unified military command for the continent named Africom. Conversely, Angola is now China’s main supplier of crude oil, overtaking Saudi Arabia last year. There is no doubt that Africom, which will greatly increase the US military presence in Africa, is aimed at the growing conflict with China over oil supplies.
As Joe Lieberman, former US presidential candidate, put it, efforts by the US and China to use imports to meet growing demand “may escalate competition for oil to something as hot and dangerous as the nuclear arms race between the US and the Soviet Union”.
This article originally appeared in Comment is Free on 29 June 2008: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jun/29/oil.oilandgascompanies

Closest ally or humble servant?

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Gordon Brown wants to reassure Bush at the Mansion House tonight that the ‘special relationship’ still lies at the heart of UK foreign policy. After a teeny-weeny bit of independence in beginning to withdraw British troops from Iraq, we have to genuflect again. The real question we should be asking is: are we seeking a closer relationship because we believe that US policies are broadly right or simply because that is where the power is?
There is of course no special relationship, almost by definition, since the essential tenet of the neo-con philosophy is unilateralism, Might is Right, and self-interest overrides everything whatever their ‘friends’ may say. We are no more likely to carry influence if we play the deferential courtier than if we play the critical friend. As we found out painfully throughout the Blair years, playing to the American tune unremittingly on every occasion gained not a singly demonstrable concession.
So are American policies right? Of course there is a considerable US-European consensus across a broad spectrum of policy which nobody seriously doubts. But there are some very important areas of discord where we have a responsibility to make our voice heard.
Iraq is a prime example, though far from the only one. It is becoming clear that the US intend a permanent military presence in Iraq as long as Saudi, Iraqi and Iranian oil lasts, amounting in total to more than half global oil reserves. For this purpose the US is strong-arming an oil law through the Iraqi Government which is virtually expropriating all future Iraqi oil revenues which on some official US estimates could reach the stupendous level of £30 trillions, 12 times the UK GNP! The Americans are now building five colossal military bases across Iraq to enforce their will. We should be telling them this is a recipe for an endless insurgency which is not only flagrantly illegal, but an unwinnable quagmire which can only erode the West’s position to the benefit of Iran, China and Russia.
Second, the US won the Cold War in 1989, but then blew it by passing up a priceless opportunity to win over Russia as a long-term ally. Russia let the Berlin Wall be torn down, pulled the Red Army back inside its border, removed the Communist Party from absolute control, and embraced American-style capitalism. Putin went out of his way to aid American forces after 9/11 and did not use his Security Council veto to block the US invasion of Iraq. What has been his reward? The US, exploiting Russian weakness at every turn, moved NATO into Eastern Europe and then into the former Soviet republics. The US bombed Serbia for 78 days in 1999 despite Russian protests, and is now placing a missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic as well as unilaterally abrogating the ABM Treaty which has produced stability for 30 years. Is it any surprise that Putin is now so suspicious and uncooperative towards the West? This is fundamentally the wrong policy, and we should be saying that loud and clear to the US before we alienate yet further one of the great powers that should be our ally.
Third, instead of continually fudging his options over Iran, Gordon Brown should be making clear that whilst we support economic and diplomatic pressures to deter an Iranian nuclear bomb, we do not and will not support a military attack on Iran. It would have catastrophic consequences – setting the whole Middle East alight, provoking intensified Iranian intervention in Iraq, seriously disrupting the world oil supply a quarter of which passes daily through the straits of Hormuz, unleashing murderous retaliation maybe as far as Western capitals, All without being able ultimately to prevent an Iranian bomb, and indeed generating a national unity behind the mullahs when otherwise an unpopular regime might steadily unravel because of economic failure.
It is our duty to make clear to the Americans now our strong opposition to their perverse and counter-productive military threats towards Iran. Otherwise, the Cold War will be succeeded by another long term geo-political conflict, only conducted at much higher temperature.
Graphic: Project Gutenberg

Everybody join in…

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The inestimable Ann Black has thoughtfully provided a guide (see below) for members wanting to respond to the current proposals for the reorganisation of annual conference and policy making. It’s not as straightforward as you might expect. For a start, submissions are to come from individuals, not branches, CLPs or affiliated societies, as they are to be sent via individual members’ MpURLs – which party units do not have. Presumably they can stilll write directly to Peter Watt, Labour Party General Secretary (39 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0HA) but the consultation document does not make that clear. The second issue is that of internet access. It’s about 60%, as the ONS report from last year shows – but it is not universal and it is heavily weighted away from areas and incomes where one might expect Labour members and support to reside.
Ann’s email:
[A motion proposing a contemporary resolution on] this will not be accepted as a contemporary motion because it does not relate to events after 1 August, and the subject will be covered in the NEC report to conference. So it will not be printed and no-one will see it.
Can I suggest that branches collectively and members individually make these points in the response form on the party website on their MpURLs? – see sequence below. I will of course ask for what responses have been received, and if possible read them, and if the majority think that abolishing conference, or for that matter the NEC, it will be hard to oppose.
I also understand that the unions – though not constituency representatives – had sight of the proposals some time in advance of the NEC, and removing contemporary resolutions was not a deal-breaker for them. So there are questions to be asked there as well.
Ann
Go to http://www.labour.org.uk/labour_membersnet
and click where it says “if you are already a member of the Labour Party etc”
If you have already used your MpURL this will take you to
http://members.labour.org.uk/
If not, it may ask you for a username and password. Some people have had problems getting in – if so, or for any other problems with access), ring Computing for Labour on 0207-783-1291 If OK so far, scroll down to Gordon Brown, leader of the Labour Party under this, click where it says “to read Gordon Brown’s message etc”, which takes you to
http://members.labour.org.uk/Survey2007
from where you can see the document and also complete a response form.


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World’s big problem is the US, says Meacher

From The Times
World peace and the future of the planet are threatened by the overwhelming power of an “aggressive and unilateralist America” run by a right-wing President with close connections to the oil industry.
Such is the view of Michael Meacher, who until being sacked, or “liberated” as he put it, in last week’s reshuffle had spent six years as Environment Minister. During his period in office he was described as Tony Blair’s green fig leaf, a lone voice supporting environmental policies or even the last Bennite in government.
In an interview with The Times, Mr Meacher insisted that none of this was really true. He is his own man and a supporter of the Prime Minister and of a Government that has worked as a team since coming to power to “embed a fresh approach to sustainable development”.
His charity does not, however, extend across the Atlantic to George Bush, with whom Mr Blair has forged a close alliance in the war against terrorism. Mr Meacher’s departure from the Government comes as the Kyoto Protocol for tackling climate change is “on the cusp” of international ratification, despite the US President’s opposition.
He said that America’s stated reasons for refusing to sign up are “ridiculous and wrong-headed”. The cost of adhering to the protocol, he said, would be between 0.1 and 1 per cent of the extra growth predicted for America by 2010. “They say, what about the rest of the world like China and India? But those coutries will only come on board if the rich nations show they mean business.”
Instead, he suggested that a more sinister motive may lie behind Washington’s decision as he highlighted the new US investments in oil production in Africa and South America. “Everyone knows that George Bush is a Texas oil man, his family have long-term connections, nearly all his senior advisers and closest aides have connections to a very, very powerful oil industry,” he said. “I think that is a relevant consideration. They believe in the oil business and the traditional way of generating power and if they gain personally that is a bonus.”
Mr Meacher said that these interests played their part in the decision to go to war in Iraq: “America is pursuing future oil supplies with extreme vigour, so it is difficult, when you look at Iraq, which has the second biggest oil reserves in the world, not to think it was a factor.”
He did not, contrary to reports at the time, oppose military action. “What persuaded me was the idea that getting rid of a murderous, barbarous, genocidal regime responsible for millons of deaths overrode anything else,” he said. “It was a justification for military action.” He added: “It was not the reason why we went to war. My view is that we went to war because America wanted to establish a political and military platform in the Middle East, it saw a need for oil and of course it wished to support Israel. Weapons of mass destruction, if they existed, even on the most threatening predictions, were certainly not going to put Europe or the US at risk. But Tony Blair took the view that if you are a close ally you have more influence than if you are a protagonist. That is a view which still prevails. The problem is that Bush is not Clinton.”
Mr Meacher is deeply concerned about the US “occupation” of Iraq and the sidelining of the UN, suggesting that Mr Blair should start puting some distance between himself and Washington. “The biggest political problem in the world today is the overwhelming power of the US. That is very serious for the world order. How you deal with an aggressive unilateralist like America is a problem for us all, but there are no easy answers.”
Mr Meacher denied that Britain had been too soft on America on Kyoto, saying that Mr Blair had been taken by surprise by Mr Bush’s decision to oppose ratification and had since tried to bring the US “on board” for a programme to reduce fossil-fuel emissions through technological change.
Since being sacked last week, however, he has focused his efforts on the looming government decision on allowing commericial production of genetically modified crops. Mr Meacher said that the GM food lobby had already won its battle in America, partly because of the links between the Washington Adminstration and firms like Monsanto.
Mr Meacher talked about the “happy days” spent negotiating with his EU counterparts on the environment, suggesting that Europe, which has risked a trade war with the US by opposing GM food, could be a bulwark against Washington. He promised to be a “sympathetic but critical friend” of the Government, saying it had done much good for the NHS and education but should pay more attention to a traditional Labour agenda of tackling poverty and improving equality.
From his new position on the backbenches, however, he will have already discovered that his views about Mr Bush chime with those of many of his colleagues. “My view is that we should not get too close to America. It is an important friend and ally, but in the end we should make our judgments about where the public interest lies and we should take note of public opinion in that as well.”