Archive for September, 2015

Has Obama, Cameron & Co Underestimated Putin Again?

September 27, 2015


27 September 2015

New York

Putin is a dangerous ex-KGB bodybuilder who plans to knock over as many democracies as possible and if not rule the world then say how it should be ruled.

That is the mix of mocking and alarm bell ringing image put about by Washington and London and their client states such President Poroshenko’s Ukraine. Whereas London, Washington and the coffee morning gathering that runs the Western Alliance, NATO have the true masterplan to peace, prosperity and the eventual downfall of the leader of modern Russia.

The slight problem of it all is that when Putin ordered the taking of Crimea the West posted bare back and chested pictures of horse riding Putin and told him him to get out of Crimea and East Ukraine. The West’s Make My Day Punk plan did not work.  Putin put on his shirt and doubled the deployment.  The West did nothing about that.  Putin has already assessed that they would not. Obama, Cameron et al did not mention the subject again.

Then President Putin started loading its port facility in Syria and took over the main airbase south of Latikia.  Now at the UN General Assembly Putin (during his first visit in ten years – he does not need the UN) said the deal is that we all back Assad, bin and deals with the rebels and then go for IS in Syria.

The Western punditry, echoed by London and Washington leaders said Putin should wind in his military neck, get out of Syria and forget any deals with Assad.  Now there is an idea that Putin is right but no one can say so.

Today the plan is looking something like this:

The West has long realised that it should never have backed the Syrian Free Army etc but cannot say so.

The West should never have rushed in to the anti-Assad camp without thinking through the strategic end game. Putin did think it through.

Putin’s Russia has long been an ally of Assad and knows from decades of fighting rebel forces, especially in Chechnya, that backing Assad’s enemies was a mug’s game.

Now we have squeaky briefings in Whitehall and here at the United Nations that Assad can stay for a while but should agree to go eventually and that zapping IS should be the main effort.  The French have started.  The Australians are in on it.  The British have done so and will do more and the Americans are leading the way.

No one of course will put boots on the ground. No one that is other than the Russians. Russia is now running the show and the West is playing a dangerous catch-up.

There are three reasons for this change of tune and tactic by the Western coalition:

1  Bad Intelligence four years back made them back the wrong horse and they are only just realising that.

2  Secondly (and reluctantly) they are privately saying that Putin’s game could be the surest bet

3  Thirdly (and most significantly) there is every evidence that IS is beatable thanks to a combination of better Intelligence gathering, drone reconnaissance and attack and the fortitude and bravery of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters

What does this tell us today at the UN?

Firstly, Western Intelligence analysis four years back of what was going on in Syrian and the likely outcome was a failure.  (They should have listened to Sitrep on BFBS Radio – that programme has consistently got it right!)

Secondly, Putin may not have been right but his crude opportunism was based on what was possible and now he is looking right and although they will not say so Western governments know this

Thirdly, Syria is not a single example of Western failure to get Intelligence analysis right. Western assessment of what was happening in Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and Syria? All wrong.

When the critics of what goes down here at the UN blame the United Nations then they should think again.  It is not the UN that is consistently wrong.  The misjudgements are to be laid at the doors of foreign policy analysts who are either failures or who cannot overcome the preconceptions of political leaders too busy to think through the jumble of reality and possibility.

The shorthand for that is that Western leadership (the French and Germans are honourable exceptions) for all their assets are not up to the task of the management – never mind the crisis management – of today’s world.

Putin may be loaded with all the terrible characteristics our leaderships say he is but so far he has out thought them by sticking with the basics of Intelligence and Opportunity Assessment: it is easy to assess capability it is then the hard job of assessing intentions of an enemy and opportunities to exploit the current situation. So far at least, Putin is ahead of the game.

Why a hospital hid an RAF patient

September 26, 2015

Christopher Lee - photo

27 September 2015.  London

Sergeant Mark Prendeville of the RAF was admitted recently to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate Kent.  Sergeant Prendeville had suffered chemical injuries during a train exercise at RAF base at Manston in Kent..

What happened next is either bizarre or sinister in its trend in British society.  A member of the hospital moved the RAF sergeant because it was decided that his uniform might cause offence to other patients. He was hidden from view.

Worse to come.  He was moved again in A&E when it was decided that he could still be seen by other patients.

Sergeant Prendeville – a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – was moved says a hospital spokesman because a previous A&E patient had been the subject of an altercation.

Let us get this right.  The year is 2015. An injured man in military battle kit is taken into emergency care.  A person in the A&E unit decides it is best to hide him from view in case his uniform upsets other people in the unit.

The person who arranged for the sergeant to be moved could have been acting in everyone’s interest, including that of the sergeant. He had injuries to his eyes.  The trauma level would be at the least, worrying. He may have been seen before others waiting in A&E.  The member of A&E may have taken a decision for all sorts of innocent and even proficient reasons. The hospital management says that person has been told not to this again.

But the darker side of this is that something similar had happened in A&E on another occasion. Margate is not a terrible place.  There is a lot of unemployment and not a few who end up in A&E for very minor reasons other than it is a friendly place to sit or it is a seat after an unsteady few hours in the pub.  In other words, like a lot of places.

When the remains of British Service people were being brought back to the UK from Afghanistan there was something called the Wootton Basset Effect.  The bodies were returned to the local RAF base and with considerable ceremony the hearses paraded through Wootton Basset.  The streets were three deep in mourners. But now?

There are other tragedies to attend to. There are few easily identified heroes.

What has changed?  The UK is not longer at war in the way most understand boots on the ground conflict. There is no longer a Help For Heroes tin shaker on every corner.

The British no longer want to go to wars in far off places about which modern society cares little.  British society does not even wish to take in refugees from those wars – some of which we have had a part in creating.

And so here is one example where part of British society metaphorically spits on an injured man in uniform

It is a small incident and only individually and selectively sickening.  But maybe we should note that it reflects something that America went through towards the end of the Viet Nam War.

The once uniformed heroes were vilified. America wanted nothing more of that confrontation. Could be this tiny incident at Margate is telling us something bigger than a single occasion of hideous behaviour.

The slogan across the front of the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital A&E unit proclaims Clean Hands Save Lives.  Maybe society is washing its hands of more than the germs.

UK Defence Strategy – Time To Get It Right

September 21, 2015


21 September 2015. London.

Tomorrow the British Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon will set out his government’s view of the “strategic context” of the most important UK defence plan since the post Falklands War 1980s.  It will be the basis of a new Defence Review – the document that will say how Britain sees the world and in it the potential threats to the United Kingdom.

Today there are close on 40 wars around the globe. In each of a third of those conflicts as many as 10,000 are killed each year. British troops are deployed in 80 countries, most in peaceful roles but each with a security background.

It is very possible that a new deployment will be announced before this month is out; the UK has a request to supply a blue beret United Nations peace keeping force into Southern Sudan.  It is not a mission the British want but may have to take up.

Mr Fallon’s speech to the Royal United Services Institute, the London think tank on Tuesday will reflect the fact that three trigger words have to be in his thinking as never before on such a scale of importance: cyber, Daesh (IS) and refugee.

Cyber security is now so complex that the best Intelligence agencies in the world cannot cope with the way terrorist organisations are using this technology as part of attacking planning.  But cyber security threat is not all laptop terrorism.  Hacking units in China can get into the Pentagon and the British Defence Ministry the bastions of military opposition to state to state threats as well as the more complicated planning needed for asymmetric warfare.

Daesh can be disrupted but its true threat is that thus far there is little sign that regional governments can counter its ambitions without major military intervention from a coalition of Western forces. Few governments are willing to get directly involved at a level of eyeball to eyeball ground operations necessary to squash IS – a deceptively sophisticated enemy.

Perhaps of particular importance in Mr Fallon’s understanding of IS is that it constantly attracts men and women who see it as more than a cause.  Many of its recruits are young, educated and at odds with their own societies. In the UK for example, an IS recruit is typically the radicalised son or grandson of a family of sometime immigrants.  The radicalised generation says that the father, grandfather syndrome may live in the UK thankful for the shelter given by the British, but the young man – often with few long term prospects – has no deep identity and one who feels an alien and not willing to continue in that uneasy state as does his parent’s line. For Mr Fallon and his advisers here is a reminder of the threat of the enemy within. A mega buck defence budget cannot plan for that.  But it has to plan for the consequences of disaffection and radicalisation – the hardest aspect of his security diagram.

Refugees are not a direct military problem but they are destabilising. This phenomenon is not just about people escaping from war zones that Western governments have helped create either by commission or omission. It is not even about opportunism.  The greater and destabilising factor of mass movement of peoples is a reflection that most countries from whence they come simply do not work.  They come from corruptly governed states with individual high level corruption at an unprecedented level.  The refugee is in a mass movement that is already causing a long term schism in what was once a community of hope, the EU.

Here then the conundrum: at one time the British defence budget was simple.  The UK military had a nuclear deterrent system and then a traditionally balanced conventional tri-service that could honour post-colonial obligations and be part of that great coalition of the willing, NATO.  It may not have worked that well, but then it was not required to.

Today the British defence analysis  sees a world with uncertainty in Europe and not all the doing of President Putin of Russia.  It has to anticipate the consequences of a threat that it little understands – climate change and the imbalances of natural resources and changing societies.  Refugees are but one aspect of climate change. The Fallon plan has to look at the possibilities of conflict that are as yet quite unclear, for example, the grab for resources in the Arctic.  All this and more and not even mentioning the long term emergence of a Middle East and sub Saharan Africa with re-drawn boundaries.

In short there is hardly a spot on the globe that does not demand Mr Fallon’s attention. Hence his review. Hence his speech. The job of Britain is finally to decided how it sees its part in the world for the coming two decades and then to see if it has the military capability to support that vision.  Mr Fallon’s is an unenviable task.

Il Papa, Putin, Obama – A Word In Your Ears

September 20, 2015


21 September 2015. London

Today is the United Nations Day of Peace. It is the day the Secretary General says “stop the killings and the destruction, and create space for lasting peace.”  What Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would like to see is an end to the 16 big wars in the world (each with about 10,000 deaths a year) and the 22 minor wars (each with about 1000 killings a year).

The UN says it would be a good idea to halt the wars during this Day of Peace. Maybe the nearly 40 states or factions at war do not get the Secretary General’s Good Luck Peace cards.

But in one particular area of conflict, Syria, there is at least public demonstration of trying for a fix – however unlikely that is. Because this week, the world goes to New York and the General Assembly of the United Nations. It is the time when heads of government give speeches to the UN.  They talk of rights and wrongs.

On Friday Vatican flag will fly outside UN Headquarters, an unusual event because the Vatican is not a member of the UN. It is there on the day that the Pope will speak to the 180 or so delegates on his mood for peace, his hope for a world without hunger and his belief that it is possible for sides bitterly opposed to come together. It is more than a Have A Nice Day speech. The influence of the Holy Father should never be underrated – even Nikita Khrushchev admitted that after papal intervention in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

But the focus at the end of this week is on the seemingly intractable moment of the civil war in Syria.

The man with considerable influence who will be most carefully listened to is President Vladimir Putin of Russia. He has, or so we are led to believe, a plan to change the course of the war and to set a proper battle against IS – all in one.

Putin thinks he understands the weakness of the so-called Western Position. He believes that some allies of the United States are coming round to the idea that under America’s bidding they were too eager to jump into the war against Assad.  He believes that after four years bloodletting allies of the US believe that the rebel leaders are not to be trusted, that there is not unquestionable common leadership among them and that should they ever overthrow Assad then little would achieved but another Libya.

Putin on the other hand is building a military stronghold in Syria in support of Assad that has not been seen since the Soviet Union in the 1970s had a similar arrangement with the Egypt of the then President, Anwar Sadat.  The fact that the pact broke down and that the Soviet Union troops were told to leave matters not in the existing circumstance.  Putin is in.  Without him and Iran, Assad would be done for.

Mr Putin’s outline for his speech at the UN is that it would be best to support Assad and then bend a combined force against IS.  That could even, initially, mean Assad falling back on the Western Provinces of Syria, regrouping and then with a combined land-air operation for IS. Putin’s generals even see this as a combined operation with the counter-IS conflicy in Iraq.

The present state of US and UK thinking plus the support of other allies including Australia that has joined the bombing campaign against Assad’s forces is that it would be an unacceptable about face. It is not even certain that American President Obama will meet with Putin.

It might be remembered that the coming weekend in New York is a major part of the 70th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter. Putin, who has not visited the UN General Assembly for ten years, understands the symbolism of the event. It will give him an opportunity to grandstand his plan (at home as well as abroad) and with it he hopes to get some of the adverse diplomatic and world opinion of his back.

Putin believes his master plan is such an obvious solution to the Syrian war. He understands also that the war is part of the great scheme to realign the 20the century origins of the Middle East and now the imagery of Sunni versus Shia. In this case Putin supposes  the whole region is used to surviving by undated compromise and volte face and therefore his position has more support than publicly demonstrated.

In short, we may not see the results of public and backstairs meeting at the end of this week. But it will not be a time to write off those rarely understood meetings in the margins that mean so much at the General Assembly.

Putin will need credible allies and so far there is none. Putin’s people have hoped to put together meeting with someone they may just rate more than Barak Obama on this occasion.  Putin wants the support of the Pope.

The Pope will be briefly at the UN.  But the Pope is not going to get involved in a very possible public failure in such a tragedy that plays in Syria.  The Pope will speak on Friday. Putin is due to arrive on Sunday.  The Pope will not wait for the Russian President. All a macabre political gavotte? Maybe. But the reality is that somewhere between them all is the start of an effort get people talking in this dreadful war.  Could be we should be watching the mood at the UN by the end of this week. It’ll not be a mundane General Assembly.

Why MI5 needs MPs to back Cameron demand to bomb IS

September 17, 2015


17 September 2015. London

Andrew Parker, Director General of the UK Security Service says a terrorist attack on the British Isles from IS is “highly likely”.

Considering the the security state in the UK was SEVERE in January 2015, that suggests nothing has changed.  That threat status comes from the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre.  In recent times, it has got more right than not.  In these times that is a considerable achievement.

An even greater success is the fact that MI5 has foiled six recent attempts by terrorists to cause tragedy in the UK.  The threat is up about 35% during the past five years. The spread of counter terrorism action is up twice that amount.

It would seem on paper that the UK is holding its own against the terrorist threat. That is an easily corrupted illusion.

Each year a planned major attack is discovered. The rate of planned attacks is increasing. But the resources of MI5, the lead counter terrorism agency in the UK are weaker in practical terms.  Throwing money into the Security Service Budget is all very well but (a) resources really mean trained manpower and a vastly important catch-up programme of intercepting terrorist communications internationally by inner and dark webs to unknown electronics to street level Elint, for example, pay-as-you-go mobiles. Use once and bin is an almost perfectly secure street communicator where the only real hope is to find the contact being called rather than the caller.

Most of all, resources are not instant action solutions. Manpower is an example.  A raw probationary intelligence officer without any Service background can take two years to train to any higher standard than monitoring.  A Service of about 2000 trying to track and monitor say 2700 known radicals is an obvious unbalanced force.

Technically and using all other agencies (the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ plus police) the find-track-monitor rate is almost inevitably always a most demanding and often exhausting task. MI5 may never have had a harder role especially as it cannot easily get to the source of the threat, IS in Syria.

The intervention of Andrew Parker (who headed the investigation in the July 2007 London bombings) at this stage suggests an important link to PM David Cameron’s expected Commons Motion asking for Parliamentary support for the UK to join the coalition bombing campaign over Syria.  MI5 want the SI command and planning targets in Syria. That is where the direction for a UK will have full authority.  He would like the UK to go after that specific target rather than using resources to attack Assad troops.

So we can see Parker saying today that Parliament should vote Yes to Syria bombing.

Meanwhile there is a sub-clause to what he had to say: there is a Treasury move to wrap the Intelligence budget in with the Defence Ministry.  Parker wants to make it clear that this is nothing more than paper accounting.  He needs hands on always for his own budget and he needs a much bigger one and especially a technical development budget with GCHQ.

There is a ready source of increased budget for them both: delay Trident update for six years.  Give the money and the resources to the Intelligence people. They need it more than Trident Replacement. MI5 is in excellent hands but this its need to be guaranteed even more trained and technical resources than now they have.  Maybe Mr Corbyn at next PMQs could get Chrissie from Sussex to ask the PM why this should be made so.

Why Corbyn’s Sword Won’t Rattle the Military – Yet

September 13, 2015


14 September 2015. London.

The word on the new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is that he wants out of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) wants no part of foreign wars and wants to bin the Trident renewal programme.

So a bad election for Britain’s chiefs of the military staffs? Not really.

Firstly, you don’t have to be Left Wing Labour to question the idea of more Afghanistan-type interventions.

Secondly, you do not have to join CND to be thinking twice about Trident renewal.

Thirdly, and most importantly, Labour is not in government. There is no scheduled General Election until May 2020.  So all the headlines suggesting that Corbyn is about to turn over the Chiefs of Staff is way off mark.

But during this year and 2016 there are sign-post Parliamentary debates and decisions on the UK’s military policy.

In November of this year the Chancellor will announce his autumn spending round.  Shortly after that will be due the 2015 defence review with its strategic annexe of foreign policy and where the military may be asked to guarantee support of the policy.  It will be a rewrite of what the military is for and what form it will have to take to defend the security of the UK.

As a sign of that report’s complexity, the House of Commons all-Party Defence Committee (HCDC) under the chairmanship of Conservative MP Julian Lewis has a list of some 20 threats and risks to UK security that it wants the government’s views on.

The breadth of the Defence Review and the HCDC inquiry illustrate perfectly that the Chiefs of Staff, the Treasury, the government and the Shadow Front Bench have to get their heads around more complex ambitions than labels like Ban the Bomb and Trident Out.

Moreover, whatever the stated belief of Mr Corbyn on nuclear weapon policy there is the important feature of the authority of Labour Policy.  A change of leadership does not necessarily mean change of policy.  Any Parliamentary leader is obliged to speak for accepted and published Party policy until such times as he can convince others that it should be changed. Mr Corbyn is not a character who toes precedent but as things stand he is obliged to accept the Labour policy of support for Trident modernisation and therefore presumably the acceptance of Britain having a so-called nuclear deterrent.

Mr Corbyn does not accept nuclear deterrence theology and so we can expect him to attempt to change Labour policy, but that will take time.  Most Labour MPs support the policy and when it comes to a Parliamentary vote (as it will) Mr Corbyn would need to rely on Scottish National votes to get a No to Trident vote against the Tories.  On voting numbers alone that will not succeed and with such determination to relaunch Labour in Scotland, few of Mr Corbyn’s MPs will want to be seen in league with the SNP.

When it comes to the Defence Review, the Corbyn leadership will be on easier ground to criticise defence policy. For example, the principle of a 2% of GDP as a NATO benchmark on defence spending  does not stand much examination. The figure of 2% is held up as the key to defence spending.  It is not. The guideline to defence spending is this: government decides its foreign policy ambition and the military decides what it must have to support that policy.  The Defence ministry, industry and the Treasury costs it. If it is 2% so be the coincidence – nothing more.

The valid percentage of GDP is the cost, not a set NATO figure. Corbyn’s people will argue that way when the Review followed by the Defence Budget are published. But whatever the argument and expression of defence economics Corbynism will have no influence on the outcome of November’s review. The Chiefs of Staff will fear the Chancellor, whatever the political hue of defence funding.

We then come to NATO.  Mr Corbyn does not think much of the Alliance.  But then most military have doubts other than some sort of coalition of the willing is necessary. NATO is as far as it ever can be a self-reforming limb of European and part transatlantic foreign and defence policy. Ironically, the weaknesses of the organization are two-fold: the structure of its military wing under the commander of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACUER) and its political restrictions.  That weakness of NATO decision making and commitment has been question by the events in Ukraine and the bravado of President Putin.

NATO still happens to be a good military alliance if one were needed and the much presented European model is no better. A Corbyn gesture does not have to be withdrawal.  He or anyone else can satisfy scepticism by simply not signing up for some NATO operations.  Mr Corbyn’s sense of realism would also suggest that it is time to re-ask What Is NATO for in 2020? The supporters of such a debate would include the British military.

Furthermore, getting a convincing answer to the what’s it for question will allow a better understanding of national policy responsibilities and most of all, the transatlantic alliance function.

So a summary of the likely relationships between the British military and the defence policy makers working for Mr Corbyn would include that there is unlikely to be any influence on the defence debate between now and the next General Election. Public gasps of breath and headlines warning of damnation will run and run.

There could be two codicils: not this year’s but a not too distant defence review could indeed radically change the shape of British defence. The 1981 defence review carried out by the then Defence Secretary John Nott would have radically changed what the military especially the Royal Navy could and could not achieve. If Nott had been implemented immediately the 1982 Falklands War might not have have gone the way it did.

Would a simple White Paper change radically the British military? Could do easily.

A near-future defence review could be a good case for a radical change in policy by concentrating for example on home security including air defence, mine counter measures and territorial control of the British Isles instead of having a strategic long distance commitment. No armoured division, no long range air force no naval force projection using a carrier task force and no strategic deterrence.  It would not be hard to write. That is the one that would rattle more than there sabres of the Chiefs of Staff.

The second codicil is more of a reminder. The military is there to protect British policy, not to invent it.

Corbynism is not bothering the military at the moment because it is political Shadow boxing.

But there will be a few who remember the June 1981 Defence White Paper and shudder to think if Corbyn proved every one wrong and the face of British politics were to change in 2020 – and the face of the British military the following year.

What happens when The Queen goes?

September 9, 2015


9th September 2015. London.

How long will the British have a monarchy as we know it today?

The Windsors live a long time. The English monarchy is as old as Denmark’s and Japan’s.

England has had a king or queen since Athelstan defeated all comers at the Battle of Brunanburh in 937. The 1536-43 Acts brought the Welsh on board. The Scots in 1707. The Irish in 1801.

With a brief 17th century interlude that has been a popular arrangement.  Today fewer than 10 percent of the polled population of the United Kingdom would speak against the present monarch nor the monarchy.

But what of the future? Change is coming and its first stages are not so far off and probably before the death of the Queen.

For example: The Queen’s powers are limited but her signature of approval has considerable constitutional significance. We see many photographs of the Queen working at her Red Boxes.  These photo-ops are to show that the monarch has a real job. Bills do not become Acts of Parliament until the monarch’s signature is attached. There are many more examples that rightly royal approval has a constitutional role.

Today the Queen understands and signs documents that will enter the British political archive that are reminders that in theory at least the monarch is the safeguard against unsafe political motive. That is how it has been for centuries although the last royal veto was as long ago as 1708 when Queen Anne refused to sign a bill to reorganise the Scottish militia.  Today the signature and the understanding of what goes on in her name remains all important.

The queen is 90 next year. There are no signs of imperfect understanding. But what might happen if she decided (or others) that she no longer had the facility to understand fully and sign with all that authority meant?

Then without public knowledge an Act of Parliament based on the 1811 Regency Act would delegate some of the Queen’s powers to the Prince of Wales. His signature would replace the Queen’s. The unwritten constitutional commitment would continue and this would be the reminder of the single most important role of the monarch: approval.

But then we reach another stage in the monarchy’s role. Once a period of mourning has followed her death, Australia will be the first of the Commonwealth countries to do away with the monarch as head of state.  New Zealand, already exploring the idea of removing the Union Flag from its own national flag may follow. Canada too?  Possibly.  At least one Caribbean Commonwealth member will appoint a president.  So the monarch’s role will be reduced.

The next phase will be the future of the major institutions in the British Isles.  The House of Lords will after many attempts be reformed. In the extreme, it could be wholly elected. The monarch therefore would have no place in the new assembly. The Church of England will be disestablished and so not be the official Christian church in the UK and the monarch as earthly leader of that Church will have no place.

The institutions are collapsing and in a couple of decades will not be anything like they are are today.  The monarch’s task as titular head of those institutions will not exist.

Then we have identity.  The monarch’s role is to provide an heir and then reflect the identity of the nation. That identity is changing.  While there has been much said and written about the Queen presiding over the dismantling of the Empire, little or nothing has been mentioned about the dismantling of her own kingdom.  Under Elizabeth II the devolution of powers and the very likelihood of independence of at least Scotland has signalled the crumbling of the United Kingdom.

It could be that by the time we get to Prince George, there will be very little to rule and not even a signature required. Maybe that is sixty years ahead. Maybe monarchy will be redundant by then.

Drones – Grim Law Abiding Reapers?

September 8, 2015


8 September 2015, London. Two years ago the British Parliament voted against bombing Syrian tarkets by UK forces. In simple terms: the government said it wanted to bomb but MPs said No.

A few weeks ago the RAF used an unmanned Reaper drone to fire a missile that killed two British citizens in Syria. The RAF was ordered to do so because the best Intelligence analysis stated that one of the dead, Reyaas Khan was a member of IS and was planning an in UK.

Also, an attack by a United States force on the same man a few weeks earlier had failed.

Three major points arise: the Prime Minister David Cameron says the Attorney General has said that the attack was legal. The attack was made on a British target in a country with which the UK is not officially at war. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly the precedent of the strike will suggest that in extreme circumstances on unpublished Intelligence evidence and legal judgement similar strikes will be made.

Moreover, in spite of Parliament’s verdict two years ago and recent statements by the Prime Minister and his briefers in Downing Street the government has always believed it had the right to go against Parliamentary authority if and when there was evidence that the security of the UK was threatened. During the summer of WWII commemoration services including VJ Day, the Prime Minister believed such circumstances existed.

If Downing Street is correct – and talking in Washington last night there is US Intelligence analysis that says he is – there is evidence that the atrocities that we have seen in the UK and more recently in France are now being planned as a direct part of the IS war. Small groups of IS in Syria and elsewhere now have authority to direct where and when such attacks should take place.

The deaths of IS plotters will not put away the threat of attack. It could even make it more likely and harder to prevent.

Ryaas Khan and his motive was no secret to Intelligence agencies. He was monitored. His every signal and utterence was followed.

There is now the real possibility that a small bunch of IS supporters or an individual operating in the UK will carry out an attack in retaliation. It could easily be a couple of radicalised off the Intelligence and security radar. That was how Fusilier Lee Kirby was hacked to death in Woolwich on the afternoon of 22 May 2013. The people we hoped were keeping us safe did not see the attack coming. Nor could they have done.

So when the Prime Minister goes into the Commons to ask MPs for their approval that the RAF can join the bombing operation over Syria he could be in a better position to get it even though the almost academic importance of targeting policy will disappear in the show of hands. Furthermore, Mr Cameron has demonstrated that because the UK is at war with IS, single operations such as that against Reyaas Khan et al will not need Parliament’s approval.

He has also told senior Members who believe the UK should do no more in Syria than humanitarian and Intelligence gathering that it is all too late for that hands-off policy. The Attorney has told him effectively that if there is reasonable proof that a ‘baddie’ (the current Number 10 jargon) is planning to run an operation directly into the UK where there is a large number of radicalised groups then any PM has the authority and seeks no further authority to approve further strikes.

This summer Britain changed its ground rules. Parliament may feel left out but there is nothing it can do about it. The announcement on Monday will be followed by others.

Putin Moves Into Syria – The War Just Got Worse

September 6, 2015


6 September 2015. London.

Russian advisers and equipment are moving into Syria on an increased scale.  Intelligence agencies in Washington, London and Paris suggest the evidence of this move is now documented.

British Prime Minister David Cameron wants his UK air force to join in on bombing raids against President Bashar al-Assad ground forces, airfields and communications centres.

American air forces have been active for some time.

Has any one in London or Washington worked out the consequences of an UK or American guided system knocking out a Russian unit?  Sorry may not be enough.

We cannot write off such an incident as miscalculation especially with President Putin in his usual Make My Day mood.

Miscalculations start proper wars. The 4 year old Syrian conflict is a brush fire compared with what could follow the knocking out of Russian hardware & operational forces.

Russian intervention in Syria is not new. Russia along with Iran for different reasons has supported President Assad since the war against rebels began.  But the latest intervention is different.  Electronic, photographic and Human Intelligence sources now combine to show that Russian force protection units have been sent to a Syrian airfield.

The purpose of the units is to protect Russian armoured assets and a full air traffic control operation. This is not an in-out Russian operation.  Satellite monitoring shows that accommodation blocks including a medical unit have also been airlifted in.

The general operational conclusion is that the Russians have taken command of the airbase to begin further weapon deployments and even strike aircraft.

If you want to really get scared about Russian involvement then listen to what President Putin had to say on 4 September. It is “premature” to talk about Moscow getting involved in direct fighting.  That was not Putin saying the reports were rubbish.  That was Putin saying watch this space.

Unless Putin is about to change sides, then Prime Minister Cameron will have to answer this simple question when he goes to the Commons for permission to bomb Syria: “Does he want permission to bomb ALL pro-Assad forces? US Secretary of State John Kerry knows this.  That’s why he’s spending time this weekend talking to Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov.

Cameron who has displayed little tactical or strategic understanding of the use of force and the long term consequence has a problem

One of his Brimstone missiles into the wrong armoured personnel carrier in Syria could start the rollout of an even harsher conflict in Northern Europe. According to some of his former military advisers, Cameron’s past view is that the military job is to go fight when he tells them to. Best listen very closely Mr Cameron.

And perhaps the House should listen if the British chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Crispin Blunt (who does understand these things)  asks his PM for a target list when legislators debate airstrikes in the coming weeks.

Refugees? You ain’t see nothing yet

September 5, 2015


September 2015 London.The world of Tweets, texts and social media in 74 languages that started the Arab Spring is now doing what Europe’s political finest would not do- moving aside barriers. Even the UK’s self-confessed compassionate Prime Minsiter David Cameron has been shamed into executing the biggest u-turn of his Downing Street career on this.

Forty eight hours after saying that the UK would not take extra refugees he was promising that the British Isles will take “thousands” more refugees from the war in Syria. Poor chap must know that most will see this as a political u-turn and very little to do with compassion. Considering that compassion is the first duty of government that must be a harsh opinion to handle.

What remains a curious side to the events of the past few days is that so many European states have been caught by surprise by the size and complexity of the migration tragedy. For four years we have watched millions on the move from homelands struck day after day and night after night by terror seemingly from all sides. We watched and help cope with the movement of devastated peoples filling hastily built tent cities beyond the land borders of, say, Syria. We watched for eighteen months or so as refugee smugglers over-stowed small craft with refugees as far away as Ethiopia.

Yet still our North European governments failed to plan for what we now see. Yet the aid agencies, the network camera crews and the seemingly daily reports of tragedies said this was happening and was becoming an unmanageable crises. On the contrary, in the EU our governments did not stop a vote to reduce the humanitarian maritime watch over the crossings of the Mediterranean between North Africa and places like Lampedusa.

As an example of the frustration felt when evidence was ignored, I was part of an ad hoc group who sat in the University of Perugia studying the mass migration trends and predicted with uncanny accuracy the sort of scenes we have seen these past couple of weeks. In 2014 my paper on numbers and what should be the maritime response including the command & control structure plus the administration of land-based reception, recording and onward dispatch centers was not hard to write. Mass movement since Moses have had one distinction: no variation in the form and consequence of that movement. It is follow-my-leader on a massive scale that invites similar tragedy and consequence once the caravan halts.

The Italians took notice of what we were doing. A copy was sent to the NATO Secretary General’s office. The Sitrep programme on BFBS reported it. True the maritime effort was resumed and vessels such as HMS Bulwark did and are doing heroic work. But that was in response to the crisis, not the flashing lights two or more years back.

The cruel conclusion is that it took the body of a three year-old lad on a washed beach to move forward the action plot and the political up date. That is the way we are today.

The EU’s foreign affairs specialist Federica Mogherini said a couple of days ago that EU countries need to set aside their differences and stand together to deal with the problem.

“The time for blame games is over, it’s time for taking decisions, turning decisions into actions, and doing it united, as Europeans.

“Only in this way will we have the possibilities to face this issue, this urgency, this dramatic event, keeping faith to our European values,” she said.

Ms Mogherini is an Italian. In her words there was something very Italian. The Italians were in the first front line of this tragedy and they responded with great honour. The rest of us did not and mostly we still are not. Maybe we are all scared of what it could mean, the mass migration of peoples who are victims of war that we partly created.

Whatever the values Ms Mogherini thinks abandoned there are three truths we should all think hard on:

  • There was massive warning of what was about to happen
  • It took Twitter etc before most states reacted with compassion
  • 28 states of the EU are now caught in an East-West schism

There is something else to think hard on: today there are 60 million displaced persons in the world. What we now see is just the beginning.