The west’s indifference will doom Aleppo

Natalle Nougayrede
The Guardian Weekly 05.08.16

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As Europe reels from terrorist attacks, Aleppo, once Syria’s second city, is suffering its own nightmare. The connection between these two developments is more than coincidence. As bombs, guns and knives were being wielded in France and Germany, a massive military operation was under way to besiege, and perhaps empty or starve, the eastern districts of Aleppo that since 2012 have been controlled by the anti-Assad rebellion.

When responding to the latest terror in Europe, few if any western officials draw parallels with the plight of Aleppo. That is understandable. Public opinion is naturally more focused on the domestic fallout from traumatic events. When security fears take over and political passions are aroused, it is hard to look beyond what lies in your immediate vicinity. Yet Aleppo will have consequences for Europe and for its citizens, and there is little cause to think they will be positive.

This is why: Islamic State cannot be defeated just through military action in Iraq and Syria, or police operations in Europe. It can be defeated only if the attraction that the militant group exerts on young, confused Sunni Muslims, in the Middle East and elsewhere, is somehow neutralised. The massacres carried out by the Assad regime in Syria over the past five years, and the failure of the international community to put an end to them – or even to hold his power accountable – have provided no small reason for the radicalisation now making Europe bleed.

The summer of 2015 went down in history as a time when the chaos of the Middle East suddenly became a vivid reality for Europeans because of the refugee crisis. The summer of 2016 may go down as the tipping point when all hope of a negotiated settlement in Syria’s civil war, one that would deprive Isis of much of its ability to recruit and sow terror, entirely faded.

In recent days, Bashar al-Assad’s army, assisted by Russian air power and Iranian-connected ground forces, has achieved its long-held objective of encircling eastern Aleppo, where 200,000 to 300,000 people are now helplessly stranded and under attack. Any European who remembers the 1990s should think about parallels with the siege of Sarajevo, and the Srebrenica massacre 21 years ago.

As one UN official put it this week: “In the 1990s, we said never again. Aleppo is the new Srebrenica.” Those who rightly express solidarity with refugees need to go one step further and ask why nothing has been done to prevent the mass atrocities that have sent so many people struggling over land and sea to reach our world. We should question the faulty western strategies that have focused entirely on combatting Isis and not on protecting Syrian civilians.

Right now more questions should be asked about Russia’s behaviour in Syria than about its cyber warfare in the US (however huge that story) because the consequences of Moscow backing Assad are a bigger threat to Europe’s liberal, democratic order. If Assad stays in power, which seems to be the ultimate goal of recapturing Aleppo, more – not less – radicalisation will ensue; the absence of political transition in Syria will fuel the Sunni anger that Isis thrives on. That, in turn, will lead to more terrorism in Europe, providing even more fertile ground for far-right movements who want to up-end fundamental democratic principles.

And if progressives who care about preserving those principles join the dots, they should realise the need to look a bit further outwards. However strong the “no more wars” slogans of the western left, in the past five years there have been no significant street demonstrations against the war that Assad and his allies have waged on Syrian civilians. What does that say about the solidarity with Muslims that many claim to profess?

We mourn our dead in Europe, and that sorrow cannot be minimised; but our difficulty in concentrating even a little on the suffering of Syrians may one day be something that haunts us. Rather than worry about how jihadi terrorists’ pictures are published in our newspapers, we’d do better to relentlessly draw attention to the wider picture of how an unravelling in the Middle East leads to a political unravelling in European societies; and we should spend more energy trying to overcome the difficulty of covering Syria and what its citizens are being put through.

There are no simple answers to the mess the Middle East finds itself in, but building awareness of how the safety of citizens in Europe cannot be dissociated from the question of protecting civilians in Syria should be a constant focus. In recent decades no large-scale atrocity, whether Rwanda, the Balkan wars or post-2003 Iraq, has affected Europe’s political and social fabric like the Syrian war has.

As Aleppo’s agonies deepen, the distant dream of a peaceful, democratic country emerging from the wreckage may live on among the Syrian diaspora in Europe. But in the meantime, it is our confusion and our fatalism – the “western bombs are the biggest problem” line, or the “what can we possibly do” line – that so many refugees live among.

It’s a good thing voices are calling for Europeans to stay steadfast and to refrain from conflating immigrants with terrorists. But we are still missing part of the equation: we can no longer ignore the connection between our fate and that of Syrians whose remaining hopes of being saved are fast dwindling.

The forces now besieging Aleppo are counting on our indifference as much as on their military hardware – witness the effort they have put into producing propaganda images. Russian and Syrian official announcements about “humanitarian safe passage” aren’t just aimed at tightening the noose on a whole population before it falls prey to a state machine of repression (a tactic from the Kremlin’s Chechnya war, by the way). They are also a ploy aimed at making the rest of us turn our gaze away, in the – not unfounded – belief that our attention span and our empathy for distant victims are limited.

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We must prepare for a 30-year war in the Middle East

Paul Rogers
Professor of Peace Studies, University of Bradford
19 November 2015

Twelve years ago, George W Bush gave his “Mission Accomplished” speech from the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, confident that the Saddam Hussein regime had been consigned to the dustbin of history, the Taliban regime had been terminated, al-Qaeda was dispersed, if not destroyed, and the desperately needed New American Century was back on track.

That’s what he thought. Instead, over the following decade, hundreds of thousands died in the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

In the past two years, the latest manifestation of al-Qaeda’s terrorist ideology, Islamic State, has grown apace to affect millions of people across north-east Syria and north-west Iraq, even in the face of an intensive air campaign against them. The US air war, Operation Inherent resolve, has – according to the latest figures from the US Department of Defense – involved more than 8,125 airstrikes and has hit more than 16,000 targets. An estimated 20,000 IS supporters have been killled, yet the number of fighters that IS can deploy – between 20,000 and 30,000 – is unchanged.

Moreover, the assessment of US intelligence agencies last year that 15,000 people from 80 countries had joined IS and other extreme groups has been raised to 30,000 from 100 countries.

image-20151119-1601-1exlh7nMission accomplished: George W Bush on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, May 2003, US Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Tyler J. Clements

War is good for IS. It relentlessly portrays itself as the defender of Islam under attack from crusader forces as it creates a rigid and determined caliphate, a pernicious world view hated by the overwhelming majority of Muslims – yet appealing to a tiny minority that is still worth proselytising.

Until last spring, IS concentrated primarily on developing and protecting its proto-caliphate. But it has now taken a leaf out of the old al-Qaeda book and extended its operations overseas.

This has taken two forms – developing connections with like-minded groups: whether in Libya, Nigeria, the Caucasus, Afghanistan or within the Middle East – and fostering direct attacks on the “crusaders”, whether it’s the tourists killed at the Bardo Museum and the Sousse resort in Tunisia or, more recently, on the Russian Metrojet, and during the horrific attacks in Paris.

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Image published in Islamic State ‘Dabiq’ magazine shows according to IS the components that were used to build the bomb that brought down the Russian Metrojet. Dabiq

As IS no doubt hoped, France has reacted with renewed air strikes in Syria, and across the West there is talk of an expanded air war and even the use of ground troops. This will be music to the ears of the IS leadership. Some of them will be killed but what does that matter when they are part of a divine plan? Moreover, if their acolytes can carry out more attacks then there is a real chance of rampant Islamophobia evolving rapidly in France and elsewhere, with all the recruitment potential that it provides.

What should the West do?
If we follow the logic of IS wanting war and suggest quietly that it might not be a good idea, then the inevitable response is: “What should we do?”. It is not enough to say, for example, that we should not have invaded Iraq in the first place, true though that is. There are, though, some clear steps that can be taken to start the multi-year process of curbing IS.

An early priority is putting far greater emphasis on ending the Syrian civil war, the necessary precursor to constraining IS in Syria. There are some small signs of progress here with the two recent meetings in Vienna involving all the proxies to the war including Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia. But the process must be accelerated and, however difficult, Assad and key militia leaders must somehow be engaged. It is the most difficult of all the tasks and will require the best skills of highly competent conflict resolution specialists.

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Nusra Front fighter: just one of the many factions fighting in Syria and Iraq. Reuters/Ammar Abdullah

Close behind that in importance will be a huge and immediate effort to aid the 3m or more refugees from Syria and Iraq, principally in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, many of them facing an appalling winter while the UNHCR and other agencies struggle to provide support. The core motive must be humanitarian – but if help is not provided, these camps also will provide a remarkable recruiting ground for IS.

A third element is to work as hard as possible to encourage the Abadi government in Baghdad to reach out to the Sunni minority, especially in those many parts of Iraq where persistent neglect of that minority is helping maintain support for IS.

Finally, there is the issue of the expansion of IS, not least in Libya. The need to support UN attempts to bring stability to that country is urgent yet seriously lacking at present.

In this context, perhaps the most urgent need for any state seriously interested in preventing the further growth of extreme Islamist movements is to foster a change in the repressive policies of the Sisi government in Egypt. With more than 1,000 Muslim Brotherhood supporters killed and well over 10,000 imprisoned, many under sentence of death, this is the one country that is ripe for Islamist expansionism.

None of these measures provides anything like a full answer to the many challenges of IS but they collectively point us in a different direction. We have recently entered the 15th year of what used to be called the “War on Terror” – and that war is about to intensify with little thought about the long-term effects or the reasons for past failures. If we do not take a new direction then we should prepare for a 30-year war.

 

 

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No Way Home: Iraq’s minorities on the verge of disappearance

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Displaced boy in Ashti IDP camp in Erbil providing shelter to 1,200 mainly Christian families from Ninewa. © Jeff Gardner

© 2016 IILHR, MRG, NPWJ, UNPO – July 2016

This report has been produced as part of the Ceasefire project, a multi-year programme supported by the European Union to implement a system of civilian-led monitoring of human rights abuses in Iraq, focusing in particular on the rights of vulnerable civilians including vulnerable women, internally-displaced persons (IDPs), stateless persons, and ethnic or religious minorities, and to assess the feasibility of extending civilian led monitoring to other country situations.

Key findings

Since June 2014, many thousands of persons belonging to Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities have been murdered, maimed or abducted, including unknown numbers
of women and girls forced into marriage or sexual enslavement. Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) forces and commanders have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide, including summary executions, killing, mutilation, rape, sexual violence, torture, cruel treatment, the use and recruitment of children, and outrages on personal dignity. ISIS has used chemical weapons on these groups. Cultural and religious heritage dating back centuries continues to be destroyed, while property and possessions have been systematically looted. Other forces, including Iraqi Security Forces, Popular Mobilization Units and Kurdish Peshmerga, have also committed war crimes prohibited under applicable international law.

After almost two years, conditions in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps remain desperate, and underresourced. There are more than 3.3 million displaced
persons, including minorities. Corruption is endemic. Many IDPs are now losing patience with return policies and restrictions, which are starting to generate further demographic changes in Iraq; as many as one in five IDPs feel that they have no choice but to flee the country. The anticipated displacement from a possible effort to retake Mosul
could total as many as 1 million over the next year and the international community could witness the flight of hundreds of thousands of further refugees in 2016 alone.

Many minority communities in Iraq are now on the verge of disappearance. The Christian population, which before 2003 numbered as many as 1.4 million, had dwindled to
350,000 by early 2014, and since the ISIS advance is now estimated as under 250,000. Most of the Yezidi and Kaka’i populations have been forced from their traditional lands
in Ninewa and are now subsisting as IDPs or have fled the country altogether. Similarly, Ninewa’s Shi’a Turkmen and Shabak have fled en masse to Shi’a majority areas in
the south of Iraq. Justice and reconciliation matters remain an unfortunately low priority for the governments in Baghdad and Erbil and, despite supportive rhetoric, for
the international community.

At the time of writing there appears to be no serious Iraqi or international effort to build the political, social and economic conditions for the sustainable return of those who
lost homes and livelihoods as a result of the conflict. Militias and unscrupulous local authorities are exploiting this vacuum. Thoughtful and realistic planning – with identification of financial and other resources – should begin immediately
for the post-ISIS era, including gaining agreement on the establishment of security to allow for the return of affected minorities to their original homes and lands.

This a summary of the key findings. The complete article can be found at: <http://minorityrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/MRG_CFRep_Iraq_Jun16_4.pdf>

 

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Iraq: Baghdad bombing kills more than 200

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More than 200 people have been killed in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, in a suicide bombing attack claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.

The bomb early on Sunday struck a crowded shopping area in the Karada district in central Baghdad, as people were gathering on one of the last evenings of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Hundreds were also wounded in the powerful blast, and there were fears the death toll could rise even further as the bodies of some of the victims were still being pulled from the rubble of devastated buildings.

The massive bombing attack in Karada was the deadliest in Iraq so far this year.

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People light candles in Karada where more than 100 died on Sunday in a car bombing for which Isis claimed responsibility. Photograph: Hadi Mizban/AP

Join the vigil for Baghdad – 3pm Sunday 17th July 2016 – outside York Minster.
There’s a Facebook page for this event here:
https://www.facebook.com/events/547112218822304/

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Chilcot Report: key points from the Iraq inquiry

Guardian staff
Wednesday 6 July 2016

The Chilcot inquiry has delivered a damning verdict on the former prime minister Tony Blair’s decision to commit British troops to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. It says:

The UK chose to join the invasion before peaceful options had been exhausted
Chilcot is withering about Blair’s choice to join the US invasion. He says: “We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.”

Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein
Chilcot finds that Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by the Iraqi regime as he sought to make the case for military action to MPs and the public in the build-up to the invasion in 2002 and 2003. The then prime minister disregarded warnings about the potential consequences of military action, and relied too heavily on his own beliefs, rather than the more nuanced judgments of the intelligence services. “The judgments about Iraq’s capabilities … were presented with a certainty that was not justified,” the report says.

George Bush largely ignored UK advice on postwar planning
The inquiry found that the Bush administration repeatedly over-rode advice from the UK on how to oversee Iraq after the invasion, including the involvement of the United Nations, the control of Iraqi oil money and the extent to which better security should be put at the heart of the military operation. The inquiry specifically criticises the way in which the US dismantled the security apparatus of the Saddam Hussein army and describes the whole invasion as a strategic failure.

There was no imminent threat from Saddam
Iran, North Korea and Libya were considered greater threats in terms of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons proliferation, and the UK Joint Intelligence Committee believed it would take Iraq five years, after the lifting of sanctions, to produce enough fissile material for a weapon, Chilcot finds. Britain’s previous strategy of containment could have been adopted and continued for some time.

Britain’s intelligence agencies produced ‘flawed information’
The Chilcot report identifies a series of major blunders by the British intelligence services that produced “flawed” information about Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, the basis for going to war. Chilcot says the intelligence community worked from the start on the misguided assumption that Saddam had WMDs and made no attempt to consider the possibility that he had got rid of them, which he had.

The UK military were ill-equipped for the task
The UK’s military involvement in Iraq ended with the “humiliating” decision to strike deals with enemy militias because British forces were seriously ill-equipped and there was “wholly inadequate” planning and preparation for life after Saddam Hussein, the Chilcot report finds. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) planned the invasion in a rush and was slow to react to the security threats on the ground, particularly the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that killed so many troops, the report says.

UK-US relations would not have been harmed if UK stayed out of war
Chilcot rejected the view that the UK would have lost diplomatic influence if it had refused to join the war. “Blair was right to weigh the possible consequences for the wider alliance with the US very carefully,” the report says. But it adds: “If the UK had refused to join the US in the war it would not have led to a fundamental or lasting change in the UK’s relationship with the US.”

Blair ignored warnings on what would happen in Iraq after invasion
The report says that between early 2002 and March 2003 Blair was told that post-invasion Iraq could degenerate into civil war. In September 2002, the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, predicted “a terrible bloodletting of revenge after Saddam goes”, adding: “Traditional in Iraq after conflict.” Sir Christopher Meyer, UK ambassador to the US, added: “It will probably make pacifying Afghanistan look like child’s play.” Chilcot rejects Blair’s claim that the subsequent chaos and sectarian conflict could not have been predicted.

The government had no post-invasion strategy
According to Chilcot, Blair did not identify which ministers were responsible for postwar planning and strategy. The prime minister also failed to press Bush for “definitive assurances” about the US’s post-conflict plans. Nor did he envisage anything other than the best-case scenario once the invasion was over: that a US-led and UN-authorised force would find itself operating in a “relatively benign security environment”. All of this contributed to Britain’s ultimate strategic failure.

The UK had no influence on Iraq’s postwar US-run administration
The Bush administration appointed ambassador Paul Bremer to head a new coalition provisional authority in Baghdad. The UK had practically no input into subsequent decisions taken by Bremer, including the dissolving of Saddam Hussein’s army and security structures. This decision alienated the Sunni community and fed the insurgency. Blair continued to talk to Bush, but Britain had little influence on the ground over “day-to-day policymaking”.

The UK did not achieve its objectives in Iraq
Chilcot says that by 2009 when UK forces were pulled out of Iraq, Downing Street was facing strategic failure. Iraq was gripped by “deep sectarian divisions”. There was a fragile situation in Basra, rows over oil revenues, and rampant corruption inside Iraqi government ministries. No evidence had been found that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. During this period the government did not reappraise the situation, Chilcot says. He describes the results of Britain’s costly six-year occupation as “meagre”.

The government did not try hard enough to keep a tally of Iraqi civilian casualties
Before the war, Blair had said that the US-led invasion coalition would try to minimise civilian casualties. As the war and occupation unfolded, however, the MoD made only a “broad estimate” of how many Iraqis were being killed. The report says that more time was devoted to which department should have responsibility for the issue than was spent on finding out the number. The government’s main interest was to “rebut accusations that coalition forces were responsible for the deaths of large numbers”.

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The Guardian view on the Orlando shootings: a time for calm, and for sorrow

Gary Younge
The Guardian Weekly
17 June 2016

The first reaction to the dreadful crime in Florida – the worst mass shooting in US history – must be one of sympathy and solidarity for the victims and those who loved them, and for the city of Orlando. It is dreadful that people who had come out for an evening of joyful dancing, and of celebration of their freedom to love whom they will, should have their lives ended or shattered in gunfire. This is true, and overwhelmingly important, whatever the motives of the gunman turn out to be. Whether it is an act of organised terrorism remains to be discovered. We do not know whether the victims were murdered for being American, or gay, or for both reasons: Isis, after all, has a record of monstrous crimes and cruelties against gay people.

But while the police and the FBI go about their work of unpicking the background to the atrocity, responsible politicians need to show calm and resolution. The damage done to the victims and their families is dreadful enough. It is one of the tasks of leadership to minimise the damage that the attacks can do to wider society. This is a task in which – predictably – Donald Trump is failing. “When will we get tough, smart, and vigilent?” he tweeted to his followers: but there is no evidence that anyone in Orlando was anything less than tough, smart, or vigilant as the attack unfolded.

The awful truth is that American society is vulnerable to these attacks in a way that others are not because of its belief that freedom requires easy, widespread access to lethal weapons. While it is true that guns don’t kill people, as the slogan has it, people with guns do kill people, and they do so much more quickly and effectively than people without guns can manage.

The problem here is that the US, a country that valorises freedom above almost everything else, is damaging its real freedoms in pursuit of illusory ones. The freedom that was enjoyed – in both senses of the word – by the dancers at the Pulse nightclub is upheld by tolerance as well as by firm and unbiased enforcement of the laws. It is a general freedom for every kind of American: LGBT as well as straight, Muslim, atheist and Christian. This is what serves as a real beacon to the rest of the world. But this kind of freedom is also what the attack, and the possible reaction to it, must tend to damage.

Whateve the motives of the attacker turn out to be, no gay person in the US can feel as secure today as they did last Saturday – a rejection compouded by the existing refusal of the authorities to accept blood donations from sexually active gay men. This is an additional tragedy on top of the deaths. The country must not compound it by lurching from fear into fantasies of omnipotence, in which everything gets better if only the strong man lashes out at his enemies. That would damage exactly the freedoms it purports to defend.

 

 

 

 

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Conflict and terror cost world trillions, says peace index

Sam Jones
The Guardian Weekly
17 June 2016

The world’s expensive  slide into violence and unrest continued last year, with conflict, terrorism and political instability costing the global economy $13.6 trillion, according to the annual global peace index.

The 2016 index, which analysed 163 countries and territories, rates Syria the least peaceful country, followed by South Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. The world’s most peaceful countries are Iceland, Denmark, Austria, New Zealand and Portugal.

While levels of peace improved in 81 countries, the gains were undermined by larger deteriorations in another 79, meaning that peace declined at a faster rate than in the previous year. Among the greatest destabilising factors were terrorism, political turmoil and the intensification and persistence of wars in Syria, Ukraine, Central African Republic and Libya.

The Middle East and North Africa is once again the least peaceful region. Three of the five biggest declines in peace were in the region – Yemen, Libya and Bahrain. Violence and conflict in the region are so fierce that, when considered separately, peace in the rest of the world improved. The report says terrorism is at an all-time high, battle deaths from conflict at a 25-year high, and the number of refugees and displaced people are at a level not seen in 60 years.

Steve Killelea, founder and executive chairman of the Institute for Economics and Peace, which produces the index, said in Middle Eastern and north African countries “external parties are increasingly becoming more involved and the potential for indirect or ‘war by proxy’ between nation states is rising”.

By the beginning of 2015, a record 59.5 million people – one in every 122 humans – were either refugees, internally displaced or seeking asylum.

South Asia remains the second least peaceful region, with deteriorations in Afghanistan,
Nepal, Bangladesh and India, but modest improvements in Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. In sub-Saharan Africa, Islamist terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and violence in South Sudan have damaged efforts to bring peace and stability.

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The UK and UN Peace Operations: A Case for Greater Engagement

David Curran & Paul D Williams
26 May 2016

Oxford Research Group has published a new report, written by David Curran and Paul D. Williams, on why the UK needs to take on a greater role in UN peace operations. Whilst the UK makes significant political and financial contributions to such operations, it has not deployed many of its own uniformed personnel as peacekeepers since the mid-1990s. Today, Cyprus is the only mission with British ‘blue helmet’ contingents deployed. The UK also maintains a small number of staff officers and military experts scattered across a few other UN missions, mainly in Africa.

The report discusses recent signs that the UK may give UN peace operations a more significant role in British foreign policy and argues that it is in the UK’s interests to do more and enhance its participation in UN peace operations. Enhanced participation would bring political, security, and institutional benefits, not least by strengthening the UN system, as an important stated objective of UK foreign policy. For the British military, meanwhile, greater participation in peace operations would boost skills retention, facilitate relevant retraining, and further refine specialist capabilities developed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Read the full report

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Replacing Trident will cost at least £205bn, campaigners say

Research from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament also suggests cost will be much higher than previously estimated

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HMS Victorious is seen berthed at the Clyde naval base. Photograph: Reuters

Richard Norton-Taylor
The Guardian Thursday 12 May 2016 00.01 BST

The total cost of replacing the Trident nuclear missile system will come to at least £205bn, far more than previously estimated, according to figures drawn up by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

It has calculated the total on the basis of official figures, answers to parliamentary questions and previous costs of items including nuclear warheads and decommissioning nuclear reactors. It says it has not taken into account that past Ministry of Defence projects have frequently gone well over budget.

The government is expected soon to ask MPs to vote to replace the existing Trident fleet with four new nuclear submarines. The MoD has already spent nearly £4bn on the replacement programme. Last month, it declined to say how much it thought it would cost to replace Trident, and the ministry said the situation has not changed.

“The government needs a safe space away from the public gaze to allow it to consider policy options for delivering the deterrent in the most cost-effective way, unfettered from public comment about the affordability of particular policy options,” it said in response to a freedom of information request from Reuters.

In its strategic defence and security review at the end of last year, the government announced an increase from £25bn in the estimated cost of four new Trident submarines to £31bn, with an additional £10bn to cover overspends.

The Blair government’s 2006 white paper on the future of the UK’s nuclear deterrent said leasing the Trident missiles from the US until the early 2040s would cost £250m – or £350m in today’s prices, according to CND.

The white paper said Britain’s nuclear warheads would last into the 2020s but added that £3bn would be set aside to refurbish or replace the existing stockpile. That is equivalent to £4bn in today’s prices, says CND. A further £3bn (equivalent to £4bn) has been allocated for new infrastructure work at Faslane and Coulport bases.

The most expensive item would be the cumulative running costs, estimated by the government to be about 6% of the total defence budget. Crispin Blunt, Tory chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee, has calculated, on the basis of parliamentary answers, that a new Trident system would cost £167bn over a 30-year lifespan.

The cost of conventional naval forces tasked with supporting Trident was estimated in 2007 by the then government to be about £30m a year. That would total more than £1bn over the lifetime of the new Trident fleet, according to CND.

It says that while it is difficult to know how much decommissioning existing nuclear-powered Trident submarines would cost, judging by the government’s estimated spending on decommissioning Polaris, Britain’s previous nuclear weapons system, the cost of disposing the existing Trident fleet would be at least £13bn in today’s prices.

About £20bn is also being spent on the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston, where the warheads are manufactured and maintained, between 2000 and 2025.

Kate Hudson, CND general secretary, said: “These new calculations, drawn from actual government figures, show that the bill has spiralled beyond all expectations.”

She added: “£205 billion of public money is a huge amount. Pouring it into a nuclear weapons system that experts say could be rendered obsolete by new technology is hardly a wise choice. Far better to spend it on industrial regeneration, building homes, tackling climate change or meeting our defence needs in usable ways.”

 

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The World as Seen from Raqqa

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ISIS raqqa_0.jpg

Paul Rogers
19 February 2016

Summary
In an attempt to understand the psychology of the West’s adversaries in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, this briefing asks the question, what does the wider world look like when seen from within the Islamic State group? Setting to one side the enormous political and economic deficiencies of the ‘host’ countries of the Middle East, it examines some of the contemporary and historic perceptions of the West’s relations with the Islamic and Arab worlds, and how these may have influenced IS strategy, particularly its 2015 shift from territorial expansion to attacks on and within Western states.

Introduction
Al-Qaida has now been largely superseded by the so-called Islamic State (IS) and the new movement is proving to be uncomfortably resilient. In such circumstances it is a useful analytical tool to visualise how the world might appear from an IS perspective. This can all too easily prove controversial because it appears to give more credibility to a brutal and uncompromising movement than it even remotely deserves. Even so, it has a value and is an approach that should not be dismissed if one wants to try and understand the reasons for the resilience and use such reasoning to aid in developing policies that are more likely to ensure its decline.

This briefing seeks to do just that, and takes as an example the view of the world as it might be seen through the eyes of an utterly convinced supporter of the movement in Raqqa, the movement’s de facto capital in northern Syria, who might be engaged in the planning of its operations.

Context
In the past eighteen months IS has come under sustained air attack from coalition forces in many thousands of air strikes that are claimed to have killed well over 20,000 of its supporters. Given that most reports of the paramilitary strength of the movement suggest active forces of around 30,000 at any one time, one would expect the movement to be near collapse by this stage. In practice it certainly has suffered some reversals in Iraq but far fewer in Syria, and is making clear progress in Libya while attracting the support of movements across North and West Africa and South Asia.

There is little evidence of much decline in the recruitment of supporters from outside the immediate Middle East, although their movement into Syria and Iraq appears to have become more difficult in the last year, and the conclusion of most analysists is that IS is nowhere near facing defeat. Given these circumstances the attitudes within IS may be assessed in terms of internal organisation, historical perspectives and more immediate circumstances.

Organisation
The movement as it exists in Syria and Iraq has three components with considerable overlap. Central is the religious dimension, especially within the leadership ranks, and this is based on a very narrow and rigid interpretation of the Wahhabi-orientated purist tradition within Sunni Islam. This is eschatological in looking beyond this life and believing that individual lives are merely part of a much greater divine purpose. This religious outlook permeates the other two components, albeit variably.

The first of these is the considerable paramilitary expertise born of years of fighting in Iraq and Syria as well as Libya, Chechnya and Afghanistan. Most significant are those Iraqis who fought and survived the shadow or dirty war with the elite Special Forces of the coalition’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), especially over the period 2004-2007.

The second is the cohort of technocrats who organise the economy in the areas under IS control. Many of these are ex-Baathists from the Saddam Hussein era in Iraq, including some who remain bitter at their exclusion from employment from the time of Paul Bremer’s leadership of the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 and 2004. Many of these paramilitaries and technocrats may be deeply religious, with some of the former developing that outlook when imprisoned in Iraq, but others are more secular if mostly imbued with a hatred of the foreign occupiers in Iraq and, more recently, of the pro-Shia policies of post-Saddam Iraqi governments, especially that of Nouri al-Maliki (2006-2014).

Historical Perspective
A broad historical perception of Western control extends far beyond the Middle East and South Asia and persists even more than half a century after the end of the colonial era. This builds on a sense that the colonial period was one of outright exploitation which still has a major power legacy, even if that is seen as being shared with local elites. This is poles apart from a common outlook in Western states that they represent more advanced forms of organisation and are, put simply, “the good guys” in an unstable world.

The old West African quip that “the sun never set on the British Empire because God didn’t trust the British in the dark” may raise a smile now but represents a view that would have been entirely foreign to British society during the colonial era. Moreover, this world-wide perception of Western control extends markedly to the United States to a degree that would have been entirely unrecognised by the supporters of the Project for the New American Century a couple of decades ago, just as it no doubt is by Trump, Cruz and others in the current presidential contest.

Across much of the Middle East the belief in the insidious nature of external influence is aided by the artificial division of the region a century ago during the Sykes-Picot era, and the later failure of Arab Nationalism and the subsequent rise of autocracies, often with their excessively close links with Western states, particularly among the oil-rich western Gulf States. Furthermore, Israel is seen as a Western construct which persistently acts with impunity against its Arab neighbours and the millions of Palestinians under occupation.

Beyond this is a much broader historical perspective which sees the current condition in the Middle East in the context of Islam in relative decline when compared with the regional caliphates of times past. Some will look back just to the Ottoman Caliphate (1362-1924 CE) but others will recall the first two centuries of the remarkable Abbasid Caliphate (broadly 750-1250 CE) which really was the centre of civilisation in the wake of the collapse of Rome and before the rise of Europe. The fact that the capital of that Caliphate was Baghdad, so recently occupied by “Crusader” forces, does not go unnoticed.

In short, this kind or perspective, with Islam seen as under threat by the West, is a mirror image of the common Western perception of Islam as the threat, but to IS supporters they will point to other recent evidence. Central are the Western occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and the military interventions in Libya, Mali, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and elsewhere, as well as the arming of repressive autocracies. All these actions provide proof of the real intentions of the ‘far enemy’ of the Western states, especially the US.

It all adds up to a radically different world view which is so at variance with that of most Western governments – not easy to accept but necessary to recognise in understanding IS resilience, bearing in mind that from a religious perspective this is a war that could take a century and is one in which the lives of individuals, even leaders, are of little consequence.

Current Environment
Against this background and in the wake of the intensity of the coalition air assault, these very attacks can readily be seen as confirming all the underlying beliefs that IS is the true guardian of Islam, the preparer for a new Caliphate and perhaps even engaging in a potentially apocalyptic conflict with unbelievers.

Yet this is reinforced in very specific ways by current circumstances. At the centre of these is the very impact of those assaults. If one particular air raid kills twenty people in a town in Iraq or Syria, the impact of that extends way beyond the event and has little if anything to do with whether those killed are paramilitaries or civilians.

Any one person killed will have immediate family – husband or wife, mother, father, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins – all grieving and bitter at what has been done by the ‘crusaders’. This is not different from the experience of families of Westerners killed, but is scarcely recognised in the West. Moreover, the death may well be seen as part of a noble war, and will be felt by scores of more distant relatives and friends and publicised and celebrated through the ubiquitous social media. It may well lead to dismay and depression but may also lead to a determination for revenge and retaliation.

Moreover, this feeds into a far more embedded narrative stemming from the more than two hundred thousand people killed, mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan, in wars initiated by the West, albeit partly in response to the 9/11 atrocities. Even 9/11, though, was seen by many as an acceptable response to decades if not centuries of being on the defensive. Furthermore, the ability of IS to recruit from many countries beyond Iraq and Syria, and especially from among diasporas in the West, is seen as proof of an endeavour that stretches across the world and gives hope for a global process of radical change.

Implications
To repeat the point made at the start, looking at the world through IS eyes does not mean in any way accepting it as a valid movement. Instead it may help understand the behaviour of the movement, especially how it responds to reversals. It has been suggested, for example, that there is a specific reason for the recent change in IS strategy from an emphasis on extending the geographical area of the Caliphate in Iraq and Syria to encouraging and even directly planning attacks overseas. This, it is thought, might be a valid motive for the attacks at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, the killing of foreign tourists in the Sousse resort of northeast Tunisia, the multiple attacks in Paris, the destruction of the Russian Metrojet and the attacks last month in Turkey and Indonesia.

That is one explanation but another, seen from an IS perspective, is that this is merely part of a longer term plan that may have been brought forward but was intended at some stage. Such attacks affecting countries such as France and Russia would have, as their major aim the stirring up of greater Islamophobia, ensuring the marginalisation of Muslim minorities and those affecting the likes of Tunisia and Egypt would also damage their Western-oriented tourist industries causing greater unemployment and consequent marginalisation. In both cases, the intended outcome is, in this rationale, making more young people willing to rally to the cause.

More generally, if we see IS and its world view in the way described here, we have to consider how it might affect our responses. The fundamental point here is the IS view that it is engaged in the historic awakening of what it considers to be true Islam. As such, and as the guardian of that true Islam, the more it comes under attack the more this “guardian” role becomes important. At the very least this suggests that seeing the control and eventual elimination of IS as an operation primarily dependent on military action is gravely misplaced.

The war against IS is barely two years old but it is part of a continuum, beginning with al-Qaida’s 1998 East African embassy bombings and US retaliation in Afghanistan and Sudan, that is heading towards its third decade. As such, it would be wise to be singularly cautious in relying on military action. A far more fundamental rethinking of approaches is necessary even if there is little sign of that at present.


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About the Author
Paul Rogers is Global Security Consultant to Oxford Research Group (ORG) and Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. His Monthly Briefings are available from our website, where visitors can sign up to receive them via our newsletter each month. These briefings are circulated free of charge for non-profit use, but please consider making a donation to ORG, if you are able to do so.


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