The EU and the paradox of peace

The EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for six decades of work in advancing peace in Europe. The Nobel committee said the EU had helped to transform Europe “from a continent of war to a continent of peace”.

It’s easy to joke about former European ‘Unions’ and their progress towards peace: The Napoleonic Wars, WWI, WWII, the Cold War  and other European conflicts.

It’s also easy to joke about other recipients. Yasser Arafat, leader of a terrorist organisation,  won the award in 1994 along with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin for “opening up opportunities for further fraternity in the Middle East.”

Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 for non-stop gassing about climate change; and Barack Obama for being Barack Obama.

The parody of peace continues. When Angela Merkel visited Greece last week snipers were positioned on rooftops and protesters lined the streets to oppose EU directorates  – some even dressed as Nazis. Many would question the validity of awarding the noble peace prize to a largely undemocratic institution which, some would argue, causes more problems than it solves.

Bureaucratic boredom did not win the peace in Europe. It was the Marshall Plan, NATO and, paradoxically, the threat of nuclear war.

The end of the Second World War left Europe split in two. The democratic nations of the West and the Eastern Block countries behind the Iron Curtain of Soviet rule. The implementation of the Marshall Plan in 1947, in which the US gave economic aid to help rebuild Europe and prevent the spread of communism, helped foster peace in Europe.  In his Harvard speech Marshall said:

“It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health to the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace.

“Our policy is not directed against any country, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Any government that is willing to assist in recovery will find full co-operation on the part of the U.S.A. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.”

The Soviet Union was offered economic aid but turned it down. With tensions once again growing on the continent, NATO was formed two years later as a mutual defence pact to protect member states from Soviet aggression. Since then it has fought wars across the globe with the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction never far away.

The hotline between the US and USSR led to conflict aversion. When Kennedy and Khrushchev stared each other down over Cuba in 1962 the outcome would have had serious consequences for Europe.

Let’s not forget that out of the 28 countries currently comprising NATO only three are not European (USA, Canada and Iceland).  When conflict arose in Bosnia it was NATO, primarily the US and Britain, and not the EU who bombed Serbian targets, established safe zones and ultimately forced a surrender.  After the 9/11 attacks it was NATO who responded in Afghanistan while the EU was too busy issuing edicts about the shape of vegetables. Even as recently as Libya it was Britain, France and the US who went to war to prevent the Gaddafi regime from slaughtering rebels.

NATO will probably never receive the award. After all, it has gone to war on countless occasions and still has a presence in Afghanistan. The legacy of the 2003 Iraq War will still cast doubts over its peace building credentials in modern times. This is the paradox of peace.  To award the EU with a prize for maintaining peace in Europe underwrites the role of NATO in kindling a light for all mankind after the dark days of the Second World War.

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The Plebs and the Politicians

Pleb: n. informal, derog. a member of the lower social classes. Origin from Plebeian.

Who said Latin was a dead language? The last few weeks has seen the Conservatives get into a muddle over seemingly archaic words.

First there was chief whip Andrew Mitchell’s ‘alleged’ rant at a police officer in which he is said to have uttered: “Best you learn your f—— place…you don’t run this f—— government…You’re f—— plebs.” And all this because he wasn’t allowed to ride his bike through a certain gate.

If this had been uttered at any other time it would most likely have been viewed as an upper-class Tory demeaning those of a lower class and would have quickly faded from the news cycle. The fact he said it just days after two female police officers were shot dead in Manchester was just plain stupid.

Mitchell of course denies he used the language attributed to him. Fair enough you might think, politicians deny things all the time. But this now means he is calling a police officer a liar; albeit indirectly.

This isn’t the first time Mitchell has been accused of abusing those in less privileged positions. During a trip to Rwanda as part of a project looking at social development in the country, Mitchell and his aides are said to have verbally abused a volunteer student journalist. The volunteer had written a draft article criticising how the project was organised and said Mitchell had sent a text to her father saying: “They [his aides] are threatening her with physical violence and I can’t say I blame them.”

MitchellGate, PlebGate or even GateGate does this case of Prig Latin matter? I don’t know how you’d feel if you voted this man into power, a man who represents you and other constituents, only to utter these phrases at an inappropriate time.

The second case of Latin-Oh! was David Cameron’s appearance on The Late Show where he was quizzed on British history by host David Letterman.

DavCam stumbled on who wrote ‘Rule Britannia’ and what ‘Magna Carta’ literally means. I’m pretty sure there are many people in Britain who couldn’t answer these questions. The main question for now is does it matter?

I like to think those in power should have a wide grasp of knowledge  and be able to comprehend the lasting effects of the policies they put in place. Does knowing that Magna Carta translates to The Great Charter enhance or diminish this ability? Ultimately I’d say no.

Now London Mayor Boris Johnson has defended the PM claiming Mr Cameron knew the answer but didn’t want to appear like a know-it-all. BoJo, who studied classics, said: “I think he was only pretending. I think he knew full well what Magna Carta means.

“It was a brilliant move in order to show his demotic credentials and that he didn’t have Latin bursting out of every orifice.”

Once we get the image of the PM farting in Latin out of our minds, the question becomes did the Prime Minister deliberately get the answer wrong and if so why? Is it linked to PlebGate and ‘Dave’ took one on the chin to try and alter the public perception of the Tory’s as an old boys, Oxford and Eaton club?

Of course there are those who have said that an American politician would have been grilled if they couldn’t answer a question on American history. What would happen if Obama came to Britain and got quizzed on the meaning of ‘E Pluribus Unum’ or who composed the ‘Star Spangled Banner?’ – Personally I think he’d do pretty well but I’ll remember the joke about why is it called Latin America? Urm… because they speak Latin there?

Guest appearances are a side-show of the political process. They’re an attempt to show the human side of politicians. If they’re going to do this then they should at least be honest about what they have said and think about issues. Public perception is an important part of politics and it isn’t the systems that need to have a greater deal of transparency; but the politicians themselves.

News and nerves: Work experience at The Argus

WORK experience is vital for young people to start their careers these days. I’ve certainly had a great time on my first week.

My first day of work experience at The Argus went a little like this: I’d forgotten how to write, irratated those around me and I’d been sued for libel and contempt of court – and all this before I’d woken up #nightmare.

Setting off on my real first day of work experience at The Argus, I had enough butterflies in my stomach to impress any lepidopterist. I was expecting my first day to be relativly slow, who wants to give a work experience student serious work to do? In fact this was quite the opposite. After a friendly welcome chat from news editor Lee Gibbs, I was emailed over lots of press releases to cut down to 100 word panels, which I spent most of my first day doing.

At the end of the day I said my farewells and was told by Lee that he liked my style – which is good because until then I wasn’t aware I had one.

The next day involved more words, this time with pictures; but first, I had a look through a copy of Tueday’s Argus to spot my handiwork. The sense of acheivement I felt on that Tuesday morning felt really good; and it was only Tuesday.

Then came phones. Somewhere in my life I’d developed what can only be described as telephonophobia; not to be confused with phonophobia which is a fear of loud sounds; or mobilephonophobia, a fear of moving sound or sound hanging from the ceiling. Seriously though, the prospect of calling up complete strangers and asking them questions made me a  nervous wreck.

I was inspired by the confidence and professionalism of the reporters working around me. With the added fact that I would never suceed in journalism if I was scared to talk on a phone. It turns out most people are more than willing to talk to you and my phobia is weakening with every call.

A special thank you must be made to Mike Reinstein, the music teacher I had to call to write a feature on. Mike was very supportive and even took the time to call me to say how pleased he was with my article on page 38 of Friday’s Argus (kaching for me). I’d also like to thank Brighton Journalist Works for arranging this fantastic experience and prospect of oppurtunity.

Saturday was extra special. Flicking through The Argus while at retail work and seeing two by-lines for three stories, with an honourable mentoion on another, left me feeling  sense of achievment

My first week has really helped my confidence. I’ve gone from writing 100 word panels to phoning MPs to ask about their expenses claims. I’ve learnt a lot and enjoyed every nerve-shredding minute of picking up a phone. I’m sure I’ve made a few mistakes along the way, and I apologise now if this is the case.

I can’t wait to see what my last week brings.

Fortes fortuna adiuvat – Fortune favours the bold.

Attack of the drones: phantom menace or new hope of western warfare?

The number of US drone strikes has increased under President Obama. Is this the future of aerial warfare and what would this future look like?

Drones and the Western way of war

Drone strikes are seen as the future of aerial warfare. Most importantly, they abide with the western way of war. Air power reduces risks to Western combat forces while acting as a force multiplier. Western forces reduce the so called ‘body bag’ effect; the use of dead servicemen to sway public opinion.

Air power has been the dominant factor in recent conflicts. The 1991 Gulf War was characterised by an extensive aerial bombardment which softened up, or destroyed, Iraqi armour before ground troops went in. The same occurred in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Libya was an interesting case as it followed a model of warfare which Western, particularity US and UK, forces have been developing; that of air forces assisting local troops supported by special forces.

The rise of the drone is important both militarily and domestically (sometimes the two are related).

The number of drone strikes are increasing. There were 52 strikes under George W Bush’s presidency. This number increased to 252 over the last three years. Drone strikes are now a frequent occurrence in the remote tribal regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  One drone can accomplish a mission instead of deploying a task force or requiring a logistically and diplomatically challenging mission involving special forces.

A decade ago, less than five per cent of aircraft in the US military were unmanned. That number now stands at 40 percent. The F-22 Raptor and the F-35 JSF may be the last manned fighter aircraft to see service in Western forces.

Analysts are predicting a rise of drone use in civilian markets. Police forces, councils, engineers, farmers and search and rescue teams can all benefit from drones. A drone can stay in the air far longer than humans can endure and can reach areas where human lives will not be put at risk. They are cheaper and less conspicuous than helicopters allowing law enforcement agencies to conduct surveillance operations with a greater degree of discretion.

Most Western economies rely on high-tech manufacturing and provide jobs to thousands of people. The industry is there and so is the imagination.

Drones may have a role in journalism. War correspondents can take footage in conflict zones and beam it directly back to the studio. This can lead to greater accountability but raises problems with press ethics in other areas.

Drones and the rest

There are problems with drones however.

The US claims drone strikes have helped to disrupt terrorist cells by targeting al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. Pakistan views US drone strikes as a breach of sovereignty which further fuels anti-American sentiments, creating a cycle of warfare that generates new combatants for US drones to strike. The main issue is that most strikes occur in the autonomous, lawless, tribal regions of Pakistan. Is this really an invasion of sovereignty? Maybe not; but to the families of civilians it is much more.

This leads to the next criticism of drone strikes, ethics and morality.

Over the past eight years there have been 343 drone strikes in Pakistan. The number of civilian casualties ranges from 474 – 881. Most of these were avoidable, such as targeting weddings and funerals. The issue is that of follow-up strikes. A follow-up strike started as a tactic of terrorists. The initial blast would detonate; then when emergency services and civilians turned up to aid the wounded, a second device would detonate claiming more lives. These tactics are now being used with drones.

Counter-insurgency is commonly referred to as a grey area in warfare. Critics would argue that the American response to other nation states using these tactics would be damning. The fact is warfare changes. The main security issues facing the West since the end of the Cold War has shrunk from nuclear and great power conflict to terrorism.

Issues about the morality of drone strikes will depend on opinion. There is always contention in military affairs and drones are no different. I’ll pose this question to raise an issue for us to think about: Is a terrorist that boards a bus with the intention to kill civilians to achieve a desired goal any different from a US drone strike on what intelligence sources say is a militant compound?

The argument is that Western forces seek to avoid civilian casualties wherever possible but a reliance on technology to keep its personnel out of harms way redirects this danger to civilians. The danger is this leads to accidental civilian deaths becoming a ‘norm’ that is unavoidable.

Drones pose problems in the civilian realm as well. The most obvious issues being breach of privacy and state surveillance. Journalists, councils and the public could use drones for ‘snooping’, you can buy a drone from £30 to £275 on Amazon, and as digital photography gets smaller and more reliable, laws will have to created or amended to deal with civil drone use.

Future battles

The hardest thing to predict is the future. Whatever it is drones will most likely have a large part to play in the future of society; both militarily and domestically.

In 1908 H.G. Wells published the War in the Air in which he envisioned German ‘aerial navies’ bombing Britain and New York with mankind being reduced to barbarism. Similarly Alexander de Seversky, a Russian engineer who immigrated to America, argued in his book Victory through Airpower that the United States would be exposed to air attack and that it should preparefor an inter-hemispheric war across nations.

While this works were theory and science fiction, their main prophecies came true. The issue of drones is a real one and should be discussed more by open societies.

Questions to Kim Sengupta

Yesterday Kim Sengupta, defence correspondent for The Independent, recently returned from Aleppo, answered questions from the online community. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay to view the whole discourse but my question was answered:

Q. What reaction was there from fighters regarding Kofi Annan’s resignation, the role played by the UN and the £5 million in British non-lethal aid? – John, Brighton

A.The fighters regarded the Annan plan as dead in the water a long time ago. They do not appear to have much faith on the UN and, increasingly, any peace plan; the feeling is that the military option is the only one left unless President Assad and his circle leave Syria. There was some curiosity about the British aid with questions about how exactly the money would be disseminated and spent.

This was followed by a good question from Wael.

Do you think providing the opposition with more developed weapons can help end this crisis faster? How do you evaluate the public support of the SFA inside Syria? Can you see any prospect for a solution? – Wael

A. It is undoubtedly the case that the rebels need heavier weapons facing what they do from the regime. In particular they are in need of anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank weapons. Part of the problem about arming them, I gather from people who are supplying the arms, is that the rebels have, so far, failed to form cohesive bodies through whom distribution can take place, Instead individual khatibas (battalions) send their own shopping lists. Any solution must start with a proper cease-fire which can be monitored. I am afraid that on the ground the chances of that seem further away than ever.

It’s all well and good sending non-lethal aid. But against a regime with heavy weaponry, including tanks, gunships and fighter jets, this aid may soon end up in the hands of Assad’s supporters. What the Free Syrian Army (FSA) really needs is weaponry. This view was expressed by a Syrian doctor – a doctor of all people – in an article by Kim Sengupta.

“We need weapons, anti-tank, anti-aircraft, anything we can get hold of.”

Fears of escalating the conflict are well founded but from which angle? Iran and Russia will lose an ally in the region if Assad is overthrown while groups like Hezbollah can only gain from the turmoil. Meanwhile the West speaks of the appalling atrocities of the Assad regime but fails to act decisively.  Whatever the outcome Syria, and the Middle-East, will remain unstable.

The situation in Syria has spread to neighbouring countries. From the kidnapping  of Iranian ‘pilgrims’ and differing sects from Lebanon, to refugees fleeing to Turkey and Jordan. Yet today the UN will meet to discuss whether to establish a new civilian office to end the conflict.

As Mr Sengupta said, the fighters viewed the peace plan dead a long time ago. Both sides believe they can win militarily yet one is under equipped to remain in the struggle for much longer.

Where there is a will there is a way. But a lack of political will means the conflict can only end one way; further violence and the uncertainty that follows.

Annan resigns over UN failure to intervene while Jihadists act

Kofi Annan’s resignation proves the United Nations cannot resolve the Syrian crisis diplomatically and its role must change.

Kofi Annan had a tough job. Trying to enforce a peace plan with a lack of observers against a regime hell-bent on cracking down on its opposition. And all this against the backdrop of indecision within his own organisation.

In an article in the Financial Times Annan said: “The international community has seemed strikingly powerless in its attempts to influence the brutal course of events – but this is by no means inevitable.”

The truth is the International Community has begun to act. But this isn’t a reference to Barrack Obama signing a supposedly ‘covert’ order authorising US agencies to support the Free Syrian Army (FSA) or Saudi Arabia providing cash. It’s relation is to al-Qaeda and other Jihadists taking action.

Al-Qaeda and other groups have not been dormant since bin Laden’s death.  A new foothold has been established in northern Mali. Historic buildings have been desecrated and an unmarried couple have been stoned to death for committing adultery.

Both the FSA and the Jihadists want Assad to be removed; but both seek a different future for Syria. This clash of ideologies will determine the future of the region- even if the proxy war develops.

There are arguments that the violence brought by a UN intervention would lead to an unstable transitional period followed by sectarian violence. It is more than likely this will occur anyway, the issue is who will combat it?

The Assad regime is witnessing it’s final days – if the word of analysts is to be believed. Even if the regime remains intact, the violence will continue. It will have to suppress any dissidents as well as a new wave of Jihadists. If the FSA take control further clashes will result except the remnants of the army and an exhausted FSA may have to combat a new insurgency.

In his FT article, Annan closes with: “Is ours an international community that will act in defence of the most vulnerable of our world, and make the necessary sacrifices to help?”

The UN was created to prevent great power conflict. Much like national militaries must assess the changing strategic landscape, the UN must adapt to civil wars and popular uprisings.

As the battle for Aleppo, and the future of Syria and the Middle East as a whole rages on, the UN must realise its failure to decisively intervene will lead to clashes it cannot hope to control.

Brighton journalist works: an obituary

Class of April 2012

A brilliant, funny, intelligent, diverse and incredibly outrageous group. Widely regarded as one of the greatest BJW classes of its generation.

Intro

Nearly five score days ago, 14 journalism students began a course that would impact their lives in so many ways. Little did we know what was in store for us.

My time at BJW has been one of the best experiences of my life. Not only have I further expanded my knowledge – bringing me one step closer to world domination – but also being introduced to some of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet and, I sincerely hope, to remain friends with for a long time – I can only hope the feeling is mutual.

Fact

Trying to pick out some highlights of our 14 week course is proving somewhat challenging, there are so many to choose from.

Every Shorthand lesson would degenerate into some giant form of in-your-end-o while drilling Marie’s passages. (Chortle) This was made even more hilarious by our brilliant teacher, Roxanne, and her interactions with Neil, our non-Cornish Cornishman. It’s a testament to Neil’s character that he didn’t snap after being asked to repeat himself on numerous occasions.

At the start of the course many of us, myself included, thought reaching 100 words a minute was an impossible task; requiring assembling a team of mighty heroes, legendary weapons and a stash of energy drinks and doughnuts to tackle this Herculean task.

We have a lot to thank Roxanne for. Not only for getting us to respectable speed in shorthand, but for being able to sleep easy knowing Caroline got an eye test – something she tells me she revised hard for – and as a result, now has to wear glasses.

I’m sure I didn’t help Peoples’ concentration in many situations, but some opportunities can’t be passed up.

Quote:

Roxanne- “How do you write arrange?”

Ben – “I think backwards.”

Me – “I always worried about you.”

 

The air conditioning battles waged by Natalie – who strangely managed to position herself near the air-con controls in every classroom.  These battles made the atmosphere so tense you could cut it like butter – provided it hadn’t melted first.

Christie’s endless noise. This isn’t a bad thing, I have to thank Christie for keeping me insane throughout reporting lessons. If I’d actually gotten into some kind of normality who knows what might have happened. If I see or hear the name Radston ever again I’m going to commandeer something big and dangerous and wipe it from the face of the Earth. Although at the rate the town is going, it seems inevitable.

Spending my 25th birthday in a Magistrates Court was another memorable experience as was buying tasty snacks for the group in celebration. Having Richard Lindfield, our charming Public Affairs tutor with a voice for radio, present me with a cake added to the pomp and ceremony of reaching quarter of a century. The fact that some people towards the end of the course asked when my birthday was ripped this feeling of grandeur from me faster than Catholic rabbits reproduce.

I’ll miss my daily pool games with Philip and the unstoppable Jimmy ‘the saint’ Cutler. I’ll also miss trying to solve the cryptic crossword with Phil. I have him to thank for giving me a starting point on these, though I fear I’ll never be able to solve a whole puzzle without his Kiwi accent to navigate me through this intellectual labyrinth.

Media Law was great was it not? Media Matt and his fantasies of what could occur over in ASDA car park.I’ll never forget: the three tests of public interest, three criteria for libel, four criteria for defamation, five for contempt of court and the partridge in a pear tree of numerous defenses to each aspect of media law. Any legal situation I come across in my journalism career – provided I get one – will be subjected to the ASDA car park test:

“Look, look. If you go over to ASDA car park and see two politicians performing a blouse busting, skirt rumpus act behind the recycling bins, what are you going to do? You’re going to take a picture are you not? And who owns the copyright of said picture?”

All this, of course, after the alarm bells have stopped ringing in my ears.

Closing statements

I am loath to close. There are many memories  that will be preserved in the dusty museum that is my mind – free admittance on Sundays. I’d like to say I have a photographic memory but I fear it needs developing. Perhaps I should write more while I can still remember but I’d rather continue the journey with my class mates and everyone’s favourite friend, alcohol.

Now I must don my safari hat and elephant gun and begin the job hunt once again. In the meantime, I intend to practice for the sofa jumping Olympics, something I feel isn’t getting enough coverage. I suppose I could continue giving Frisbee lessons to gypsy kids. On second thought no, just no.

“Look, look. All I can say is it’s been an absolute privilege”

 

It most certainly was. All the best folks. You all deserve it.

John

P.S. When is the reunion?