Archive for September, 2013

Christopher Lee

September 11, 2013

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11 September 2013

Climate Change – a question of morality as well as science

In the United Kingdom most people do not believe they can do anything about climate change. In fact there’s evidence that about the same number don’t really see the problem. Weather going crazy? The British have spent a hundred years believing that anyway. They take a raincoat to the beach.

Ozone layer? Most British have heard of it. Equally, most British do not have the faintest idea what it is other than perhaps a hole in the sky. It’s worth no more than a shrug.

Rising sea levels? Another So What? Anyway, scientists tell us that sea levels are not now rising as much so what was the problem? More and bigger floods in Bangladesh?  There are floods in Bangladesh anyway. Famine in Africa? We give every year. Job done.

There’s one problem about climate change: scientists do not have too much to say that sounds different every time they say it.  The crisis (if that is what it is) remains a simple one to explain.  But modern UK and generally western populations have become schooled in news deafness. News deafness is not that people do not listen.  It is when people hear the same thing said more than twice and so they switch off the listening bit of the brain because something is suggesting to them that if there is nothing new then there is no real crisis. A good news editor will tell you that only sports reports, guaranteed to advance the story and score-line, contain a perk-up factor.

Let’s think of just one simple thing that most people do not know about in the climate change debate. They do not have to be experts, but aware. Most people do not know what a carbon footprint is. Almost no one knows what their personal carbon foot print is.

It is simple really: a carbon foot print is the estimate of the full climate change impact of activity on earth by the individual, society within one country or totally around the globe. The chemistry of this affair is well known but rarely understood by the  average Joe  As an example, most of us now understand that Carbon Dioxide is bad for us.  That’s a silly way of putting it, but in reality, it’s about as far as most understand it.

Global warming created by we people here on earth is mostly from the gases we let off into the atmosphere.  The cleverer we are with transposing science into useable technological the more extraneous gas we create. Burn fossil fuels on fires or in power stations and up goes carbon dioxide. But less known is the danger of methane which is 25 times as ruinous as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide is some 300 times as powerful. In the UK, the gas emissions are: carbon dioxide 86%, methane 7% and nitrous oxide 6%.

We then get into the caerbon footprint business.  It’s a dangerous area because statistics such as the average UK person has a personal carbon footprint of 1.7 means very little because the calculation is bogus. Home and travel emissions for an individual ignore the other things – equipment, buying something that has to travel a thousand miles to get to you etc.

Here then the confusion of facts and opinions of the analysis and use of those facts. Today however, we move to another area. When a convinced climate change science warns that our children’s children children will suffer because we have pierced the ozone layer, he or she does so by quoting the book of climate change statistics.  However, what about the morality of it all?

In London, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change includes the Oxford professor of moral philosophy, John Broome. Broome is there to bring us back to a basic rather than an economic and science argument.

For instance, this author believes the simple question is this: what responsibility do we have towards the child who dies because of climate change and, what responsibility do we have for the child that was never conceived because the parents feared the consequence of climate change? This is the bigger question.

Broome will introduce this level of moral debate by the time the IPCC reports in April 2014. When he does and it appears, then for the first time since the IPCC was established 15 years ago, climate change must not suffer from news deafness. Broome and his like will have something new to say.

And now, Sport

 

 

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Christopher Lee

September 9, 2013

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Obama’s Syrian Problem – What Should He Bomb?

9th September

The frightening aspect of the Do We Bomb Syria debate is simply put: even if President Obama got the go-ahead to strike he does not know what to bomb?

What do his cruise missile commanders aim for?  Chemical stocks? Command HQs of Syria’s 4th Division? President Assad’s palace? His brother’s command post? Think about it.

The order to the Syrian army to take Moudhamiy, the suburban rebel stronghold had not shown any result.  The local commander had failed to get his troops in to the district and eject the rebels.  The division responsible for retaking the area was the so-called elite 4th Division. 4 Div is commanded by General Maher al-Assad who is the unquestionably ruthless and crippled by his wounds from another occasion, brother of the Syrian President.

The spearhead brigade in the Syrian assault was 155 brigade in which there is an element on the two Syrian chemical warfare battalions.

The brigade attack was not producing results. Maher al-Assad does not tolerate failure.  When a local commander is failing, he may return to last resort weapons release.  In NATO procedure that would be low kiloton tactical or theatre nuclear warhead release.  CW is the poor man’s kiloton warhead. The procedure would be to fire binary chemical warheads into the area and follow on with an artillery attack. All of this happened on 21st August.

It is possible that President Assad was not in the loop that took the decision to use CW. It is even possible that this was a local and tactical decision. All this is discussed elsewhere.

Given these circumstances, President Obama said that the red line had been crossed. Secretary of State John Kerry in London this morning gave voice to the circumstances, the thinking of the President, the moral as well as the military case for attacking Syria.

Later today (9 September) he will do so to Congress. Kerry knows the Congress and what it has to hear and understand.  After all, he was a celebrated Senator as well as a one time prosecutor.  Kerry understand s evidence and jury.  Congress is the jury today.

Every procedure aside from a UN supporting resolution is in place for Obama to take the decision to attack, even if Congress says No.  The President does have that option.

What is not clear, is the target list. The purpose of bombing is to show Assad and any other  CW holder anywhere in the world- and there are plenty of them – that America will tolerate CW use. The next purpose is to disable the Assad option to use them again – if again he did. The third purpose is to bomb a Syrian leadership (not necessarily Assad’s) to the conference table.

Obama et al say the plan is not regime change.  This is clearly nonsense.  Perhaps the plan is not to bomb Assad in his palace bunker. But if the logical targets are given a GTG (Green To Go) then the conclusion has to be that Washington believes that the Syrian regime will be so vulnerable as result of lost assets, that it will fall or, as Washington would hope, those close to Assad will remove him from power and that they will then agree to meet in a Geneva Two-type peace negotiation.

If any of this could be true, then here are the targets:

  • Command and Control of Syrian air force units plus the avgas, repair and logistics capability. His air force could perhaps disperse to Iran and fight on from there. So some effort has to be put into taking out aircraft and aircrews – not at all easy.  Some have already gone to Iran.
  • Air defence radar and communications
  • 4 Division HQ and its back-up command systems.
  • Military fuel supply dumps
  • Remaining brigade HQs

Many of these targets could patched and regrouped. But battle damage assessments from US satellite and overfly, plus signals intelligence, would quickly put together a second attack list.

The people (apart from the Assads) who will be watching the Congressional vote and the GTG moment are not in Damascus, nor Aleppo. They are in the southern Turkish garrison at Antakya which is now the headquarters of the Free Syrian Army along with its, US, UK, Saudi and Qatari advisers and sponsors. If you believe that the rebels fired the CW, that would be the place they planned. Very unlikely of course, but so is the whole Syrian affair.

 

 

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Christopher Lee

September 6, 2013

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Kremlin says the Brits no longer matter. Know any one who buys roubles?

6 September 2013

The Russians say the British rate no higher than a small Pacific Island about whom none has heard. The Kremlin take on the British is that the world does not care a toss what Cameron says on Syria or anything else.  

According to Moscow, the UK is an insignificant off-shore island run by ex-pat Russian oligarchs. A sort of Cayman set-up with lousy weather nine months of the year.

Forget that a whole bunch of Russian fat cats prefer to purr in London rather than Moscow and just accept that this a good diplomatic fanging. Syria has brought out the wonderfully worst in dip-speak.  The Americans are telling Putin’s lot to get real. Putin is telling the American’s to stick to the UN Security Council rules.

But why get grumps with the Brits? The answer’s a long and messy story that starts with the fact that the later Mrs Thatcher could do business with Mr Gorbachev, that modern Downing Street keeps demanding an admission from Putin that his agents murdered the former KGB officer of Alexander Litvinenko in London and that the apparently insignificant British Foreign Office refuses to stop accusing the Russians of aiding and abetting murder and mayhem in Syria.

There’s another line to follow that should not be dismissed: the British government doesn’t admire Putin.  They see him as gauche, a parvenu. a man uneasy in relatively sophisticated world-wise company who is giving to stripping to his middle-aged waist as a photo-op.  As our Great Aunt Betts would have said: “Our mother would never have had tea with his mother.”  Not one of us.

All that’s the daft side and what Russia says about the Britain of David Cameron and what Britain says about the Russia of Mr Putin, does not in the short term matter very much. Both leaders and both nations know what they think.

If there’s any pudding to be scoffed in diplomatic influence it has to be tasted in a terrible truth that is the world wide away from just the Syrian civil war.  The global economic position, the fragility of the whole Middle East s a result of Syria, the prospect of civil war in Lebanon, the unlikelihood of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement worth the paper that it’s not yet written on, the largely Sunni versus Shia war in Iraq that is killing sometimes 1000 people each month, the fragility of the leadership in so many Gulf states including Saudi Arabia, the uncertain future of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the unfinished and maybe unfinishable business of the Arab Spring, of African poverty, climate change and the impending disaster of mass migration as a result of all these things.

Russia has an insignificant role in balancing world government, democracy, economy and social order in any of these deeply concern issues. But the question is not Russia’s role in the world. More interesting is Britain’s role.  A busted flush rolled out and unrecognizable from the colonial great power?

In spite of the view from the Kremlin wall and, a part of the UK media, the British have enormous influences over the global spectrum of variously shaded difficulties.

For examples: other governments than Mr Putin’s recognize that the UK influence on EU reforms are considerable.  Who says so? The Germans. The UK concepts of middle management training – military and civilian – in an all but abandoned Afghanistan, will be crucial to that nation’s statehood and so will the British influences and help with the two major influences in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.

Britain’s aid programmes and the speeds at which they get into needy areas have long term marks on bi-lateral as well as regional relationships. The influx of overseas students to UK colleges and universities (Moscow is not a natural academic centre for global students) has long-term influence on peoples and governments they may eventually shape. Language, the BBC World Service, colonial heritage and thus the Commonwealth of a quarter of the world’s nations, the seat on the permanent membership of the UN Security Council, a leading role in NATO and above all one of the major centres of banking and finance make the UK soft-power influence considerable.

There’s something else for Mr Putin to consider. If Cameron had got through his Syria vote in the British Parliament two weeks back, then Mr Obama would not have had such a hard job with the Congress. He’s still have had a tough time, but it would have been easier with British support. That by itself shows that the British still have a remarkable and durable influence in the decision making capitals of the globe.