Tuesday, 8 April 2014

What has truly been disastrous for the West?


The dictionary definition of "cataclysm":

"an event that causes a lot of destruction, or a sudden, violent change"

Never one to shirk from telling us what he really thinks, Lord George Robertson said today in a speech to the Brookings Institute in the US that Scottish independence would be "cataclysmic" for the Western world and boost the West's enemies. As former head of Nato, Lord Roberston ought to know about sudden, violent changes and events that cause a lot of destruction.

The force of such language as "cataclysmic" and "balkanisation" in the context of Scottish independence is beyond preposterous, which anyone with any sense of proportion can see. Violent language inherently connotes violence and extremity. What is being proposed in Scotland in the event of a Yes vote is an entirely peaceful, democratic, mutually-assured transference of power between two governments that meets all requirements of international law. The Yes movement is built on outward-looking ideals of co-operation, friendship, healthy civic and cross-national debate, and non-violence. The good Lord should know better. Using this kind of language has the potential to stoke unrest and hatred and he should be ashamed.

But what events in the recent history of the West have truly caused death and destruction and violent change? Overwhelmingly, it has been Western actions abroad. Joint military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya that have left all three countries in the grip of turbulent, protracted civil-wars.

In Iraq yesterday, 52 people were killed, 2 were executed and 52 people were injured. This is completely normal.

In Afghanistan yesterday, a roadside bomb killed 15 people in Kandahar.

In remarks published today, the French defence minister stated that southern Libya had become a "viper's nest" for Islamic militants and that they are "acquiring weapons and recruiting".

Lord Robertson talks of Scottish independence raising the "loudest cheers" from our enemies, "the forces of darkness". He misunderstands the West's enemies, which seems a glaring flaw in a former NATO General Secretary. Before the invasion of Iraq, al-Qaeda did not exist in Iraq. Our military campaigns in the Middle East have emboldened Islamic extremism, not deterred it. Every innocent Muslim that dies in one of these countries is a propaganda coup for the fundamentalists; the best and cheapest recruiting tool. Think the beating and killing by British troops of Baha Mousa in Basra. Think the UK's use of white phosphorus as a chemical weapon in Fallujah.

Western policies have actively incited unrest, death and violence in an already volatile region of the world, while increasing the risk of terrorism on our own shores exponentially.

This is not global stability.

Lord Roberston said:

"What could possibly justify giving the dictators, the persecutors, the oppressors, the annexers, the aggressors and the adventurers across the planet the biggest pre-Christmas present of their lives by tearing the United Kingdom apart?"

In fact, some of the best presents many of these "dictators", "persecutors" and "oppressors" receive all year round come from the massive bounties of guns, bombs and military equipment they purchase from British arms companies, signed off by the UK government. American, British and French arms companies dominate the top 30 largest arms sellers in the list compiled by the Stockholm Peace Institute.

The UK Government authorised £2.2 billion in arms sales to the autocracy in Bahrain at the height of Arab Spring unrest. Because of that, innocent Bahrainis died and were imprisoned and tortured. This decision flew in the face of the UK's own declared standard that it would not sell weapons to states where they "might be used to facilitate internal repression”. It did not matter a jot. It never does.

This is the reality of the UK's sanctimonious hypocrisy on human rights. This is why David Cameron just embarked enthusiastically on the first ever visit of a British Prime Minister to the central Asian republic of Kazakhstan, to cosy up to and arrange trade deals with another despot, in another country where suppression of dissent, torture and even state-sanctioned murder is common-place. Most likely with only the most tentative of "come on guys, give it a rest with that dictator-y stuff, would ya?"

David Cameron likes cosying up to dictators with grisly human rights records - not unlike the great invader himself, Tony Blair.

Similarly to Blair again, if David Cameron had had his way we would be at war with another Middle Eastern country right now: Syria.

By any objective measure, the UK's foreign policy taken as a whole, even including the good bits, does not point to a stabilising force for good and peace in the world. The UK is a nuclear-armed, heavily militarised, frequently aggressive state actor that has been complicit in war crimes.

Furthermore, UK foreign policy damages us at home. It has increased the risk of terrorism. 179 British families lost someone in the Iraq war. Iraq and Afghanistan combined are conservatively estimated to have cost the UK Treasury over £20 billion. What if that money had instead been used to improve vital public services? The same argument applies to the £2 - 2.4 billion we spend every year on Trident nuclear missiles.

As Scots and Britons, we need to recognise and acknowledge both the domestic and international implications of British foreign policy, and ask ourselves: what kind of country do we want to live in?

Do we condone civilians in far-away countries getting shot with British guns because it's good for the economy?

Are we willing to take swingeing cuts to social security and the steady dismantling of the welfare state on the chin, even while knowing the UK spent a decade draining away Treasury resources in a decade of war and by bailing out the foolish banks they foolishly neglected to regulate?

Are we happy that the UK's residual post-imperial pretensions to being a great power will always tempt British leaders into starting or entering into bloody, counter-productive  and expensive conflicts abroad, which always seem to make us less secure rather than more so, and in which Scottish and British servicemen and women are likely to die?

That innocent, nameless people in the countries we attack will die too, in their hundreds and thousands, whether by our guns and bombs or those of the forces we unleash?

All in wars that none of us ever asked or voted for?

Do we accept Trident nuclear weapons thirty miles from Scotland's largest city as simply a fact of life, so the UK can retain its status in the big-boys club?

Or do we instead aspire to be a country that promotes peace, nuclear disarmament and the protection of human rights abroad, both in word and in deed?

Are we brave enough to step into a polling booth on September the 18th and say to ourselves:

"I reject what UK foreign policy regularly does in my name around the world, because I reject the enabling of oppression and torture and dictatorships. I reject military aggression. I reject illegal wars and ill-judged interference in other countries' affairs. I reject the harming of innocent people around the world. I reject nuclear weapons, the bully's toys.
None of this is done in my name. I am voting Yes for mine and the nation's pride, not No in spite of mine and the nation's shame."  

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