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.

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.

Syrian military uses heavy weaponry in village of Trenseh

Syrian troops have killed at least 200 people in an attack on the village of Tremseh.

Russian Mi-24 Hind Helicopters

The number of dead is yet to be confirmed, due to the restrictions imposed on journalists by the regime.

However, the UN has confirmed that tanks, heavy artillery and attack helicopters were used in the attack, which has bought further  condemnation of the al-Assad regime from the US, UK and France.

Ban Ki Moon,  UN Secretary General, said the acts of violence: ” Cast serious doubts on President al-Assad’s recent expression of commitment to the six-point plan.”

Later in his statement, the Secretary General called on member states to take collective and decisive action, saying: “Inaction becomes a license for further massacres.”

As I’ve previously discussed; this action must take the form of military intervention as it is the only thing the Syrian regime seems to understand.

This leads to my second point; the Syrian regime continues to say armed terrorists are responsible for the violent killings. Is this the legacy of the War on Terror?

Will oppressive regimes label acts of violence against systematic state oppression as terrorism – a concept that hasn’t been clearly defined – in an attempt to justify their actions?

As the International Community continues to debate on the best course of action, the violence continues.

Recent intelligence suggests the Syrian military has moved chemical weapons, including cyanide and sarin, to the Homs region.

The fear now is how these assets will be used.

The regime could use the gas as a deterrent against any planned intervention as a counter-value target. In other words, if you intervene we’ll gas Homs.

If any action is to be taken; it must be taken swiftly and it must be taken now.

House of Lords Reform: A House Divided?

Coalition plans to reform the House of Lords took a blow today, after a timetable motion was withdrawn.

The news comes after a letter, signed by 70 Conservative backbenchers, stated the legislation would ‘pile a constitutional crisis on top of an economic crisis.’

Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, said: “This bill is about fixing a flawed institution.”

The plans, proposed by the Liberal Democrats, would see the number of peers reduced from 826 to 450 of which 80% would be elected.

The remaining 20% would comprise appointed members, who would serve a 15 year non-renewable term.

The plans would also see the number of Church of England Bishops reduced from 26 to 12.

The issue of reforming the House of Lords will cause tension within the Coalition as well as amongst the Lib Dems and Labour, whose backbenchers also oppose the bill.

Reaching back through history, I am reminded of Lincoln’s 1858 speech in which he said:”A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Although Lincoln was talking about slavery, the link can be made between institutions that are no longer seen as appropriate in a modern democratic society.

The UK is one of two countries to have an unelected upper chamber, the other being Lesotho.

The arguments for the Lords are that they offer greater scrutiny, as they provide expert opinion on legislation, and they are part of Britain’s constitutional heritage.

The main problem facing a reformed House of Lords is who would have greater legitimacy?

If an elected second house were adopted then this would undermine the supremacy of the Commons and could lead to stalemate when legislation is put forward.

This then presents the problem of whether to have an upper chamber at all.

In his speech, Lincoln went on to say:

“I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”

The house is divided.

The three major parties in the Commons cannot agree without risking splits in their own parties, despite all of them having the issue in their manifestos.

The House of Lords issue could see the country asking about the political personality of Britain itself.

UK Citizenship Test: Welcome to Pub Quiz Britain

Migrants applying for passports to live in Britain will have to learn about Shakespeare, Brunel and the National Anthem as part of a remodelling of the citizenship test.

The proposed patriotic passport purchaser will see a move away from the official Life in the UK: A Journey to Citizenship handbook; which informs migrants about the Human Rights Act, benefit claiming and how to read a gas meter.

The current test comprises 24 questions about life in the UK; ranging from information about where to go for information about training opportunities, to how many parliamentary constituencies there are.

The test then has some rather obscure bits of ‘trivia’ such as when did married women get the right to divorce their husband and what proportion of people living in the UK in 2001 said they were Muslim.

(You can find a practice test here: http://www.ukcitizenshiptest.co.uk)

I sat the practice test and scored 15 out of 24 -the pass mark is 18.

Having sat the new citizenship test run by The Sun – scoring 100% – I find it puzzling as to why the Government is going to ask these questions to migrants when most Brits probably don’t know the answers themselves.

The paper asked 1000 people – demographics unknown – 10 questions about British history and culture in what I’ve dubbed the citiSUNship test.

The results showed 37% didn’t know the first line of God Save the Queen whilst a quarter didn’t know when the Battle of Hastings occurred.

But an amazing 95% knew who stole from the rich to give to the poor. (You can view the questions and results here: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/4416600/37-dont-know-first-line-of-God-Save-the-Queen.html

Does this mean we should be exiled from the land until our general knowledge of British History is up to scratch?

Just because you don’t know who composed Pomp and Circumstance Military March No. 1, or Land of Hope and Glory as it’s better known, doesn’t make you any less British – if such a thing is possible. Neither does attaining an A grade in a GCSE about Nazi Germany make you a Nazi.  I wrote my dissertation on the American Civil War but this doesn’t make me an American or Abraham Lincoln – unfortunately.

Again this links back to why ask these questions in the first place? Especially when some people who are born and bred in this country cannot answer the questions themselves. (Personally, I think there should be an emphasis on this in schools as part of a balanced curriculum.)

I think if you are planning to move to another country you should learn about it first. Much like when you go abroad you should try to observe local customs – within reason-  and learn basic phrases out of respect to your ‘host.’

The British demographic has changed vastly over the last half century. The break-up of the Empire after World War II and the introduction of European laws on movement of people have seen it become a multi-cultural ‘melting pot’.

This influx poses a challenge to the host nation. A lack of resources to cope with an already ageing population and loss of jobs whilst  many fear a rise in Islamic immigrants will increase religious tensions with Britain’s traditional ‘Christian heritage’ – which itself is based on other forms of worship.

The Home Office stated to the BBC the test would help improve community cohesion and integration. I can imagine it now. Migrants from all over the world trying to initiate a conversation with something along  the lines of ‘So the Battle of Hastings was in 1066. What do you think about that?’

Who knows, migrants may put the England football team to shame with their recital of the national anthem.

These sorts of questions belong in two places: pub quizzes and school examinations. Not as a mandatory test to determine where you can begin a new life.