Posts By Andy Storey

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Bomb the Bad Guys and Save the Innocents

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Will the US and other Western countries bomb Syria for its government’s alleged chemicals weapons attack on civilians?  It seems likely, despite the compelling case against any such intervention, as set out by Seamus Milne and many others.  At the time of writing, it also appears likely that the US will not even seek the fig-leaf of UN Security Council authorization.  Richard Haas, president of the US Council on Foreign Relations, has said that “The UN Security Council is not the sole or unique custodian about what is legal and what is legitimate, and, as many have pointed out, it was bypassed at the time of Kosovo.”  Indeed, reference to Kosovo is widespread right now with supporters of Western military action arguing that not only was the 1999 Kosovo intervention legal (it clearly was not) but also that it generated positive outcomes.  In 2006, I wrote an article, titled ‘bomb the bad guys and save the innocents’, for Village magazine which sought to explain precisely why NATO’s actions vis-à-vis Kosovo did not constitute a justification for Western countries bombing the rest of the world – that article seems worth reprinting now.

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What happened in Kosovo in 1999? This may seem like an obscure question, but it’s an important one, because Kosovo is often cited today to justify “humanitarian interventions” by the West, at a time when Iraq is giving Western military interventions an otherwise bad name. According to the official version of events, NATO attacked Serbia in 1999 to stop Serb forces “ethnically cleansing” Kosovar Albanians. And, so this version goes, it worked – genocide was prevented and a dictator (Milosevic) toppled. We (the West) may have gotten it wrong in Iraq, but we got it right back then in the Balkans and we can do it again elsewhere.

The official version has the status of holy writ – questioning it is tantamount to blasphemy. Noam Chomsky is described as one of the “contortionists of the left”, rejecting intervention even in “situations – such as the Kosovan crisis – which were plainly crying out for assistance”, according to Shane Hegarty of the Irish Times (14 January). RTÉ’s Mark Little, wholly in thrall to the official version, engaged in a Prime Time barracking of Chomsky over his opposition to the 1999 NATO bombardment.

But what really happened in 1999? If the real story is not quite as simple as the official version suggests, and it isn’t, then we should be suspicious when the precedent is invoked to justify Western military adventures today.

In the first place, there is a strong argument that the NATO attack need never have taken place. The Yugoslav government refused to sign the initial Rambouillet peace accord, in part because it contained an annex provision that granted NATO troops free access to all Yugoslav territory, a provision later dropped from the final post-war settlement terms. Other issues and suspicions also impeded the progress of the peace negotiations, including legitimate doubts about the extent to which the Milosevic regime would have accepted, or abided by, any deal. But the bizarre volte face regarding NATO access to Yugoslavia raises the suspicion that the provision was simply an excuse to provoke a conflict and thus assert a role for NATO in the post-Cold War world.

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Arms Sales, Debt and Corruption

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Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, a German MEP with the Free Democrats party has announced that he is resigning from German politics because he is “fed up with German hypocrisy”. Chatzimarkakis was born in Germany to Greek migrants and has dual nationality so his actions and comments are particularly directed towards German-Greek relations. The issue of corruption is the one where he sees hypocrisy as most glaring:

“The Germans in their hearts believe it is OK to bribe if it leads to more profit. They have a totally different attitude to corruption as the donor [party]. Many regard themselves as not guilty if they give… The guilty ones are those who take … this is the sort of hypocrisy that I am personally fed up with.”

A recent report entitled Guns, Debt and Corruption: Military Spending and the EU Crisis, authored by Frank Slijper, hones in on one sector where such corruption is endemic. Greece has long had the highest levels of military spending in the EU and Germany has been one of its leading suppliers of military equipment. In 2011, two former managers of the German firm Ferrostaal were convicted in Germany of paying €62 million in bribes in connection with the export of submarines to Portugal and Greece, and Ferrostaal itself was fined €140 million. The former Greek Defence Minister, Akis Tsochzopoulos, along with several others, faces trial in Greece for taking kickbacks on defence contracts, including an alleged €8 million from Ferrostaal.

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Irish Troops in Mali

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The government proposes to send eight Irish soldiers to Mali as part of a French-led EU intervention force in that country. According to Irish Times opinion writer Fintan O’Toole, this is all to the good – in a column entitled ‘This time it really is a war to save civilisation’, he writes that while the West has often got it wrong in the past, “Western powers… happen to be on the right side in a war in which the cultural stakes are very high”, citing alleged Malian rebel attacks on art and music. Nobody much will argue that these attacks are good things, or that there is not a pressing humanitarian crisis in Mali – the question is whether Western military intervention is an appropriate response to either.

For others, this latest Irish army deployment is seen as particularly positive because it will, for the first time, be carried out in conjunction with British forces (the Royal Irish Regiment). Justice and Defence Minister Alan Shatter has commented as follows:

“I believe that the provision of a joint UK/Ireland contingent is another step in the normalisation of relations between our two countries… In that sense it is a historic step and provides a tangible manifestation of the very positive relationship and the mutual respect that now exists between our countries.”

So what will this manifestation of mutual respect be doing, exactly? It will be providing military training and advice to an army that Human Rights Watch reports to be guilty of torture and summary executions, with the minority Tuareg group particularly targeted for abuses. This is the military that Irish and other European soldiers will be bolstering, though defenders of the deployment claim they will be training them in human rights (as well as map reading and marksmanship). What could possibly go wrong? After all, the leader of the 2012 coup that sparked the most recent crisis had been trained in the US, and look how well that worked out. (A Malian newspaper editor was recently arrested for criticising the salary of said coup leader). For once, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy had it right when he said that the French intervention was “supporting putschists”. When the fluff of ‘human rights training’ is brushed aside, the fact will remain that Ireland and its EU partners are enhancing the capacity of an army that is predisposed to carrying out coups, torture and executions.

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