Syria – The Times – Congress vote 9 Sep 2013

Syria The Times  – Congress vote.

The Syrian vote in the US Congress will produce outcomes far beyond a humiliated President and the visible decline of American power.


If Obama loses, this will be a watershed moment at least as important as 9/11.


The United States will, for the first time in nearly a hundred years, have chosen disengagement on a matter of international consequence. The decision of the British Parliament on xx August will be seen historically as a vote that led the way to a new mood of isolationism The era of active internationalism that has dominated international affairs since the end of the Second World war will be drawing to a close. We will have marked the precise watershed in our passage from a mono-polar world, which the West can dominate, to a multi-polar one in which it cannot – or will not choose – to act alone. Intervention in the domestic jurisdiction of another state with the intention of preserving the wider peace would, for all practical purposes have ended – save in places too small to matter to any of the emerging global powers.


And hurrah for that, many will say, given the mistakes we have made, the laws we have sometimes broken and the blood we have spilt in pursuit so called “liberal interventionism”.


Up to a point Lord Copper. Up to a point.


It is futile to rake again over all the arguments of the last few weeks. What happens next, is now far more important than how we got here. But one point is worth remaking – our repeated propensity to look at the next war through the prism of the last one. Our failure to intervene in a timely manner in Bosnia was haunted by the over-hang of Vietnam and Somalia. Our failure to see the complexities of Iraq and Afghanistan sprang from blindness engendered by the easy successes of Bosnia and Sierra Leone. And now, because of the pain and failures in Baghdad and Kabul, our failure to understand that the right answer to our present predicament is not, never again intervention – but never again intervention like that!


We are moving into a world more turbulent, unpredictable, conflict ridden and fractured than at any time in the last half century. If now we are to abandon the will and fail to find the new means to intervene successfully where it is legal, possible and sensible, then that turbulence will only get worse at a time when, to paraphrase Yeats great poem “The Second Coming”, the best seem to lack all conviction and the worst burn with passionate intensity.


This is not to return to re-argue the proposition for action against Assad, or to seek to apportion blame. The Syrian case is finely balanced and has been badly handled. It is merely to note that, as important as the outcome of the argument, are its consequences. Nations which, will, in matters of security, now retreat away from multilateral solutions towards unilateral ones; and populations who, in this most inter-connected of worlds, think that nations like Syria, should be regarded as Neville Chamberlain’s regarded 1939 Czechoslovakia; just far-away countries of whom we need know nothing. If, as seems almost unavoidable, we are now to see a widening Middle Eastern religious war, then the consequences for us in this country will be imminent, real and painful – and all the more so if we are to see the commonplace usage of chemical and biological weapons.


Perhaps most grievous outcome of a decision not to act in Syria will be on the way we legitimise international action in future.


Up to now there have been two ways of doing this.


The first and much preferred is through a UN Security Council Resolution. But the West (and some others too, such as for instance Turkey) have accepted that there is pre-existing international law which has been enforced before the United Nations was born – the Geneva Convention is one example (used in the case of Kosovo) and the 1923 law outlawing the use of Chemical Weapons (a pillar of the proposal to act in Syria) is another. In the past a political road-block in the form of a veto on the Security Council did not make it impossible to act using these other provisions of international law. Now a veto, even if cast for purely political reasons, will be the end of the matter.


There will be many who welcome this too, for it asserts the primacy over all other law, of a decision of a Security Council.


But would the world really be a safer place if we were all held hostage to world politics, rather than adhering to international laws which have controlled the actions of nations since long before the UN was created?


Those who say it would might reflect on the case of Kosovo. There the West acted without a UN Security Resolution. One end effect was to strengthen international law and enable it to be developed. The Responsibility to Protect sprang directly out of the Kosovo action, where military action prevented a tyrant from abusing his citizens in ways which the world at large found abhorrent. If the West had been bound by paralysis in the UN Security Council, that country would still be under the heel of Milosevic and all the Albanians who lived there would have been driven out of their homes.


Would then the world really have been a safer place?





Syria The House Magazine 27 Nov 2015



David Cameron has asked Parliament to back him on military action in Syria. Perhaps we should. But there are some key questions that still need answering.


First, has the government put enough pressure on Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, who we know are, or have been, funding Jihadism?


Shutting off ISIS’s income has got to be a crucial part of our attempts to defeat them. Yet we know that rich Saudi businessmen have for some time funded, and may still be funding, the Wahabbists and Salfalists who are behind organised Jihad. They also funded Osama Bin Laden.


The Saudi Government are part of the international coalition fighting Jihadism. Surely the PM should be asking the Saudi and Qatari Governments why, with all their powers, they cannot not stop their citizens funding the Jihaddis?


If Mr Cameron wants to ask our pilots to risk their lives over Syria, surely he should be asking our allies why they are allowing their citizens to help those who want to shoot them down?


Second question. The Saudis and the Qataris are members of the international coalition which is currently bombing Iraq and Syria. But it seems they have withdrawn their planes from the fight. The last Saudi aircraft over the battlefield was in September, the last Qatari plane in February.


Perhaps this is because the current conflict has become a contest between Saudi Arabia and Iran. These sworn enemies do not want to do anything to help each other, so the Sunni Gulf states are unwilling to make any move that might advance the Shia cause in the region.


Or perhaps it is because all their planes are too busy bombing Yemen, causing terrible destruction and a humanitarian crisis which is, many believe, already acting, as a new recruiting sergeant for ISIL


If David Cameron wants us to endanger our own forces, he must be able to say he is at the very least, putting maximum pressure on the Gulf states to pull their weight too. Otherwise people will legitimately ask, why if we need to send our guys in, why are they pulling their guys out?


Question three. The EU have taken thousands of refugees from the Syrian battlefield. But the Gulf Sates have taken not single one. Let us be clear. More bombs will mean more refugees, at least in the short term. It may well be necessary for Britain to send its aircraft into Syria if the conditions are right. But if so then we should be prepared to play more of a role in helping the refugees that may ensue. The Gulf States should share that burden – but they are sharing none of it. Is that reasonable?.


If we, Europe are carrying the tragic consequences of this war, is it right that they should carry none?


I understand from someone who knows that, in a private conversation between one of the royal princes of Saudi Arabia and the Prime Minister, the prince said to Mr Cameron: “Our women are finding it uncomfortable to walk around the streets of London, knowing that the Muslim Brotherhood are operating freely.” The Saudis hate this organisation, and it is in their interests to portray them as a radical jihadist group. David Cameron agreed to conduct an inquiry into their activities in Britain, and committed public money to fund it.


That inquiry was completed a year ago. I understand it found that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a jihadist group. This is not what the Saudis want to hear – so the report has never been published. How can this be justified when taxpayers money was spent?


Lastly, many, in politics and out, have repeatedly called for an inquiry into the funding of Jihadism in the UK. Surely with what happened in Paris it is now urgent to know what money – and whose – is coming from outside to fund British extremism? So why has the Government refused this? Could it be that they fear this too might reach uncomfortable conclusions ?


I am not making accusations here. I am asking questions.


The Prime Minister has at last outlined the strategy he wants us to follow. Some may say better late than never. But that should not obscure that, in both tone and substance the Prime Minister hit the right note. In such a complex and dangerous situation it is right to give time for reflection. It would help us all if, before we decide whether our pilots should risk their lives over Syria, the Government could assure us that it was pressing our Gulf allies to do their bit too – and not making things worse.


There are close personal relationships between senior Tories and powerful Saudis. That may be a good thing. But its not an excuse to dodge questions that need to be asked.





Refugees The Guardian 8 Sep 2015


The Guardian 8 Sep 2015

Mr Cameron has highly developed skills in the political art of following where he should be leading. And so, after an excruciating few days having to endure being taught a lesson in compassion decency and political leadership by Angela Merkel – and sensing himself behind opinion again – he has produced “a plan to help the refugees”. But it is calibrated more by political expediency, than compassion.


And now he tells us that the answer to the problem is more bombing. But if the best part of two years of bombing with more than enough high explosive hasn’t solved this problem, how would Britain’s widow’s mite of a few extra bombs help?


First Cameron’s refugee “plan”.


Consider this. Mr Cameron choses to help those who are already housed and fed, not comfortably but safely, in refugee camps outside Europe, rather than those who suffer (and die too) for want of these inside Europe. Could it be that the toxic term here is not “suffering”, but “inside Europe”, because of the effect these words have on his back-bench Europhobes? If so then – irony of ironies – the desperate and the destitute tramping towards us on the dusty roads of the Balkans are hostages to Mr Cameron’s head-bangers – just as he is.


Consider also this. This is a Government policy costing, I suppose, several millions. How then do we measure its success? Not by assuaging the suffering of those currently fleeing from the Syrian battlefields, obviously – for it is in no way aimed at them. By its effect on reducing the number fleeing, then? But it won’t do that either.


Then consider this. Mr Cameron tells thus that NOT helping those in flimsy boats struggling to Europe will reduce the temptation for others to take this “lethal Journey”. This is exactly the same inhuman logic that Government Ministers gave us last Christmas when they insisted (albeit at Europe’s behest) that not saving drowning refugees in the Mediterranean was the best way to stop others following them. Hundreds had to drown before we finally saw that this immoral policy didn’t work. Do we really have to learn that lesson again? Mr Cameron seems to believe that being an asylum seeker is like going to the theatre – one only does it if one has a ticket for a seat. But fleeing for your family’s life, you will take any risk. You are not going to stay to die, because there may not be a comfortable bed in a place you can be safe.


But surely, the Government argues, shouldn’t we be discouraging the people smugglers? Of course we should. So attack the people smugglers directly, not their poor powerless clients.


Finally, consider this. We in Britain have a refugee problem as well – 3,000 of them throwing themselves at the gates of the Channel Tunnel. Whether that is a large number or a small one, measured against the 1.5 million in Turkey, or the 800,000 who will be accepted by Germany or the 68,500 who settled in France last year, depends on your point of view. But one thing is common to all these figures. The refugee problem is Europe-wide and can only be solved by a Europe-wide solution – our own British refugee “problem”, too. Yet Mr Cameron rejects any smell of a European solution (see above). And in doing so he undermines our national interest, makes solving our refugee “problem” harder, damages his own bargaining power with Europe and betrays the quality of compassion which is one of our true national characteristics, just as he does our age old, proud record as a nation of generosity to those in need.


Mr Cameron is a decent man. But he is also a deeply political one and in his “plan” announced yesterday, the politics has trumped the decency. This is not a strategy to give succour, it is a fig leaf to cover nakedness.


The public are ahead of the politicians in this – as they were on intervention in Bosnia. And so, in our myopia (or rather the Government’s) we fail to see what the cheering welcomers of Germany see so clearly. Those fleeing the Syrian battle-field are not “economic migrants” – they are, in large measure, the educated middle class (have you noted how many speak English?). They are the Ugandan Asians of our day. Remember how much they did for our country?


This is not to pretend that solving this refugee crisis is easy. It isn’t. It is excruciatingly difficult. The more so because it is not going away. The numbers we now see fleeing conflict ,will be dwarfed by the population movements we will see as global warming takes hold. But if this has to be so, then let it be done thoughtfully, within a Europe-wide context, and in a way consistent with our principles of free movement, decency and humanity. Not by spatchcock policies dreamt up on a Friday afternoon to cover political embarrassment.


And now to back a “refugee” plan that isn’t going to work. Mr Cameron wants us to get involved in a military plan which isn’t working either. Military strikes against ISIL are failing, not because we do not have enough high explosive, but because we do not have a diplomatic strategy which makes sense of the military action. The so-called “Coalition” waging the bombing campaign is too small, too Sunni and too Western. This is increasing the danger of a widening Sunni/Shia regional war in which the West is drawn into one side and Russia the other (as we have recently seen). The new rapprochement with Tehran offers us new possibilities to build a wider coalition which spans the Sunni/Shia divide in a way which strangles ISIL, and creates a better context in which military force makes sense. This is a framework into which Russia, with their own Sunni Jihadist problems, could be drawn too. ISIL will not be defeated by killing more Arab Muslims with more Western high explosive. What is needed here is more clever diplomacy not more pointless bombing – and that is where Britain should be putting its effort and taking the lead.




Mediterranean refugees -FT – 1 November 1943

Mediterranean refugees -FT – 1 November 1943 

Over the years, British politicians have clashed with EU officials on everything from the size of bankers’ bonuses to the power consumed by vacuum cleaners to how knobbly a carrot can be before it no longer counts as a vegetable. But this week Brussels put forward a conclusion on a matter of life and death that elicited harmonious murmur of agreement from Whitehall. It is that the best way to discourage refugees from north Africa from seeking a better life is to let them drown.


In 2013 700 people, many of them women and children, are believed to have died trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe. This year the figure is 3,000; the number of people setting out from the north African coast has probably increased by a similar proportion. About 180,000 have made it safely to European shores so far this year. Humanity and respect for life are basic European values. But in a crowded continent whose near neighbour is one of the world’s most impoverished and volatile regions, they are being tested.


Refugees travel far and wide after reaching dry land. The influx poses a problem for every European nation, but none has shown much interest in dealing with it. Or at least, none had shown much interest before last October, when the skipper of a stricken trawler squinted into the early morning sunlight and, seeing land, set fire to a blanket in hopes of alerting people on the shore. By the time help arrived the boat, crammed with fleeing Eritreans and Somalis and drifting about a mile off the Italian island of Lampedusa, had caught fire and sunk. More than 300 people are believed to have died.


That tragedy was the spur for Mare Nostrum, a yearlong Italian naval operation that has saved 150,000 lives. But Rome has had to shoulder the €9m a month cost alone. Other European capitals, content to benefit from the generosity and humanity of the Italians, have declined to lift a finger.


People-traffickers, many of them based in Egypt, have also been more than happy to take advantage of Italian compassion, often phoning the Italian navy to tell them about a leaky boat full of refugees off the north African coast. They know that under international law the Italians must then rescue those whom the smugglers have just abandoned. Not unreasonably, the Italians have concluded that they cannot continue to have their generosity abused.


And so the EU has been forced to act. It has chosen to do so, not by relieving the Italians or even by helping them, but by sending in the European border force. In place of Mare Nostrum will be an operation run by Frontex, the authority that polices the common frontier of the 26 nations participating in the Schengen area of passport-free travel. It will have only one-third of the funding of the Italian operation. And it will not be allowed to operate outside European territorial waters. It cannot rescue abandoned refugees in international waters, as the Italian navy has been doing; they will now be left to drown. This, it is suggested, will be helpful because it is considered that the salutary spectacle of women and children drowning in numbers could reduce the “pull factor” that is created when they are rescued.


Has Brussels really become so separated from common human decency that it can contemplate such arguments, let alone invite us to accept them?


The new European policy will not hurt the people traffickers, only one of whom has ever been arrested – in Egypt. Its intended victims are the hapless human flotsam those criminals have abandoned, who we now propose to leave to drown pour encourager les autres.


It will not work. The recent surge in Mediterranean refugees began after the sinking off Lampedusa, a tragic spectacle that did little to put people off. More deaths are unlikely to be much more effective as a deterrent. True, the Italian rescue operation also began after Lampedusa. But the passage is by any measure remains a dangerous one; the number of deaths has continued to increase. People attempt it because of the desperate circumstances they face. However grave the risks, little is more frightening than staying where they are.


This week the government said that Frontex ships would not be in breach of their international obligations to rescue those in peril at sea. The ships, ministers assured parliament, will be safely tucked away in European territorial waters, far away from the drowning refugees. It is a cynical justification, and one that belies the claim that this policy is motivated by a genuine care for the welfare of refugees


What should European nations, including the UK, be doing instead? Helping the Italians rather than abandoning them to do our dirty work would be a good start. Brussels could also do more to pressure the governments of Egypt and other north African departure nations to act against the traffickers – and provide them with the technical help to do so. In the 1960s the Special Boat Service was sent to the Caribbean to prevent drug traffickers from Colombia from reaching countries such as Jamaica and Barbados. If this worked in the Caribbean then why should it not in the Mediterranean now? People traffickers, too, are a grave threat to our security.


The EU should also invest much more development and diplomatic assistance in a region where conflicts have for too long been allowed to fester. Somalia is a failed state, Ethiopia close to one. And Eritrea is in the grip of a brutal regime that controls its citizens through open-ended “national service” for men and women from the age of 17. These are among the main sources of this caravan of human misery.


The UK should be pressing our EU partners to match the development assistance we have provided in north and east Africa. And we should all intensify our efforts. The west readily finds billions when it comes to fighting a war. But when it comes to preventing conflict or rebuilding peace, we offer little more than pennies.


Any of these – or all of them in combination – would be far better than the policy the EU proposes which, apart from being inhuman, immoral and potentially illegal, will also not work.


The Maghreb problem The Times 21 Jan 2013

The Maghreb problem The Times 21 Jan 2013


The so-called “War on Terror”, with all its sacrifices and failures, has lasted over a decade. Now the Prime Minister tells us it must go on for another. He is, unfortunately, probably right.


But it would be a strategic blunder to use what happened in the last decade as a template for the next.


There are three reasons for this. The way we have done it these last ten years hasn’t worked; Western defence cuts and public aversion to further conflict mean we can’t do it that way any longer, even if we wanted to. And with the old orders in The Middle East fragmenting and Western models being increasingly rejected, we are now engaged in a totally different kind of conflict.


So far the “War on Terror” (I hate the phrase; it re-enforces the Manichean view of the Islamic extremists) has been fought by primarily military means. Our weapons of choice have been invasions, main battle armies, lethal force, occupation and an attempt (failed) at government. The next phase will need to be regional in scope and based on partnership, intelligence, anticipation, political subtlety, close Western co-ordination and, perhaps most important of all the judicious use of aid and assistance to enable threatened Governments to cope for themselves. Where military action is required it will best be tightly targeted and small scale. Boots on the ground are a last resort because we have failed to act earlier – as in Mali, where Islamic extremism, its causes, consequences and connections have been very visible for ages – I wrote about them in this paper in early December. Watch Nigeria next.


In the struggle ahead, Libya, for all its deficiencies, is likely a better model than Afghanistan. Of course the Libyan outcome has been less elegant than we would have wished – but not less elegant than when we tried to do it ourselves. Of course, the empty spaces where Arab Spring Governments haven’t worked have been all too readily filled by arms they couldn’t control and the extremism they couldn’t suppress, as we have seen in Algeria – but has the consequent violence and instability really been greater than those created by our own mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan?


There are no comfortable ways of doing this – but enabling domestic Islamic governments to fight this battle for themselves, is likely to be better, safer and more effective than Western Governments trying to do it for them. Look at Somalia where careful patient western action (with Britain playing a key part) has enabled a democratic Somali Government to begin to recover their country from the ravages of al-Shabab extremism. It is far, far too early to declare a victory here. But in a region where the bright lights are few, Somalia at least provides a hopeful glow.


Perhaps the most important thing for our leaders to understand as they plan what to do next, is the true nature of the conflict in which we are now engaged.


In our usual arrogant Western way, we see this as a “war” in which we are the enemy. Thus, attacking the gas plant at In Amenas has been universally seen in the West as an attack on “us”. But it is much more likely to have been designed to turn an attack on a Western facility into a means to gain support in the world of Islam. In so far as the West was

the target, it was so by secondary consequence, not primary cause.


The underlying drive for most of what is happening in the world of Islam at the moment is not a war against the West, but a widening religious conflict between the Sunni and the Shia for the soul of Islam.


We have had such religious wars in Christianity, too. We can still see their distant echoes in Belfast and the Balkans. We should understand how destructive they can be.


Herein lies both a better understanding of the present danger and the possibility of epiphany.


Quietly, while we have been obsessing with Afghanistan, wringing impotent hands about oppression in Syria and fretting about the new Governments of the Arab Spring, a hidden revolution has been taking place in the world of Islam.


Join the dots and it is plain enough to see; in the recent elections in Egypt; in the growing influence of extremists amongst the Syrian rebels; in the contagion spreading into Lebanon; in the street slogans of Bahrain; in the rise of Al-Shabab in Somalia and in what is happening in Mali, where the real target of the Islamic extremists is not the Malian state but the quiet, tolerant doctrines of the Islamic suffis for which Mali is so famous.


Funded in large measure by the Qatari Government and private UAE and Saudi money (as Al Qaeda was in Afghanistan in its early days), salafist extremists have been building their influence right through the Islamic world from the Maghreb, south into sub-Saharan Africa, north through Syria and into the Russian Islamic republics. Their effect has been felt even as far away as Indonesia and – some say – amongst the Uighurs in China, too. The day was when this Islamic extremism defined itself by the war against the “Great Satan” in the West. Today they prepare for the conflict with the “Great Heresy” of the Shia. This is the context in which the deaths at In Amenas and the French intervention in Mali must be seen – a widening Sunni/Shia conflict in which the West is less prime mover than unwitting pawn, but which would have deadly consequences for peace of the Middle East region and so for us all. There is much more in play here than a tragedy at a desert gas plant, or the future of a small sub-Saharan country.


And the epiphany? It lies in understanding that in this struggle our most important allies will not be the armies of our Western partners, but our “moderate” Islamic friends who are trying to win back control of their region and religion. How we are able – sensibly, quietly and cautiously – to help them will determine the outcome of this struggle much more than boots on the ground or braggadocio in Western capitals.


The Times Libya 22 March 2011

The Times Libya 22 March 2011

Here are three uncomfortable truths which we need to get used to about the international operation in Libya.


First, unless we are very lucky, this will not end tidily. One of the truths about war is that, once launched, tidiness and predictability are frequently the first casualty. Bosnia is still untidy. So is Kosovo. So is East Timor. So is Sierra Leone. So for that matter – still – is Northern Ireland.


After the first Gulf war in 1991, the international coalition had liberated Kuwait. But they were left in a very untidy place, in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was still in power, there was de facto independence for Kurdestan in the north and a no fly zone that had to be sustained for 12 years to stop him slaughtering his people. Does that mean we shouldn’t have liberated Kuwait? Of course not.


The right question here is not, will there be a tidy outcome? but would it have been worse if we hadn’t done it?


And the answer to that – with Libya, as with Kuwait in 1991 – is unquestionably, yes. The alternative would have been the brutal crushing of free citizens, a slaughter of Arabs on a grand scale by a leader who, in his own words promised “no mercy”, the triumph of a tyrant and a check on the Arab Spring from which we all, and the Arab peoples in particular, have so much to gain.


I suspect that the end point of this will look a bit like the end of the Gulf war in 1991. International law will have been upheld. But a tyrant will remain in place, at least for the short term. Some Libyans will be free from mortal danger and able to make their own choices. Others will not. We may well then just have to wait and see whether the citizens of Gaddafi-land are prepared to live their lives without the freedoms of their fellow Libyans next door. That is not a perfect outcome – or a neat one. But it will better than things would otherwise have been and – for a bit at least – we may have to be satisfied with that. If, as in post 1991 Iraq, we have to maintain a no fly zone for as long as it takes until the situation is resolved, then that’s not going to be comfortable – or for that matter cheap – either. But as someone once said, if you think keeping the peace is expensive, try returning to war.


In Libya, however, one thing is not the same as Iraq in 1991.The enterprise to which we have set our hand, is only legal if what happens next is left exclusively to the people of Libya themselves to resolve. The UN Resolution makes it clear that this action is about protecting the Arabs of Libya, not pursuing western policy in the region.


Which leads us to the second uncomfortable truth.


People keep on asking, what’s the end game?


The blunt answer is, we don’t know.


Because the answer to that question is not in our hands. It’s for Libyans to frame their own end game, not us. Our job is limited to preserving their freedom to do so. That won’t be comfortable either. But it may prove easier than what we tried in Iraq and Afghanistan; forming up as a western cowboy’s posse to use force to pursue our policies and our armies to design other people’s governments. That approach has not, to put it mildly, been a great success.


If, in our increasingly dangerous and interconnected world, we are to succeed in developing an enduring framework of international law buttressed by the ability to assemble the wide international support necessary to enforce it, then this is the way its going to have to be in the future and we had better get used to that.


The third uncomfortable truth is about Gadaffi. Are we entitled to target him? Is regime change a legitimate aim?


Everyone, led by Jeremy Paxman, wants a straight answer to this. But it is not in our interest to give one. It is not helpful in war to tell your enemy what you are not going to do. Sorry, Jeremy, but his is one area where opaqueness has a purpose. It is no part of our job to help Mr Gaddafi sleep safer in his bed at night than he ought to.


As it happens – but whisper it quietly please – regime change, however achieved, is not at the moment, covered under Resolution 1973. But that may not always be the case. Resolution 1973 is dedicated to protecting Libyans and nothing else. But what if, to take the extreme example, Muamar Gaddafi were to put himself at the head of an armoured column which begins a new slaughter? Would he be immune form attack then? Clearly not.


We are dealing with a dynamic situation, not a fixed one.


Mr Gaddafi, unrestrained by law or any civilized code of behaviour, has all the flexibility he needs for action. I see no wisdom in making statements now which may limit ours in circumstances we cannot predict.


Four things take precedence over all others now. To keep our focus on the safety of Libyan Arabs. To keep Mr Gaddaffi guessing. To remain strictly within the legal limits of the UN Resolution. And to do whatever is necessary to hold the international coalition together, especially when it comes to the Arab League and regional support.


All other things, however uncomfortable, are secondary.



Libya News of the World 20 March 2012

The international community is right to take action in Libya. As was the case in Bosnia I have no doubt that the risks of taking action are far less than the risks of taking none.


Failure to act would allow a tyrant to win, send a message that we were not prepared to help protect people and enormously decrease the chances of a genuine democratic Arab world emerging.


I am not pretending for a moment that this is without risk.

The wise thing Gaddafi can do is to call an immediate and genuine ceasefire. The foolish thing would be to continue his attack on Benghazi. He will not win. Benghazi has a million people who are determined to hang onto their freedom and Gaddafi has only about 4,000 troops.


If he continues to kill his own civilians we must be prepared to stop him whatever it takes, including, if necessary using our air power to prevent him using his heavy weapons and tanks against them. The UN Security Council Resolution gives us the right to do that and we should prepared to use it if we have to.

Another danger is that Gaddafi divides the country in two and says to the international community ‘what are you going to do now?’

People have made comparisons with Iraq. The difference here is that you have a clear revolt against an existing government by people who want freedom. This time it is about what the Arabs want, not what the West wants. And this time we have got an international agreement under international law.


What we have seen in recent days is America being prepared to stand back and let others take the lead. We also see a British government that has confidence and a clear vision on foreign policy. Mr Cameron should take credit. He led. Others have followed.


We are also seeing a new international community emerging which can take tough decisions at the Security Council.


Sadly it is Europe, Brtiain and France excepted, which has been the disapaointment. Yet Europe has more to gain from the Arab Spring succeeding, rather than failing. If it does the threat of al Qaeda and Jihadism will be on its way out and we will have progressive states on Europe’s boundaries.



Libya – No fly zones FT 4 March 2011

Libya – No fly zones FT 4 March 2011

 Commenting on Libya the other day, ex-British Prime Minister John Major said “Events alter opinions”. He was right and he should know.


At the start of the Bosnian War very few were calling for military intervention (and John Major’s government was strenuously resisting it). By the end of the war, almost no-one wasn’t.


What changed the situation was events – and specifically Srebrenica and the infamous mortar bomb massacre in Sarajevo’s Markale market.
The problem is that between the two, around a quarter of a million people were killed, two million driven from their homes, the United Nations was humiliated and international rhetoric was shown to be sham.


There is a second parallel with today. In 1991 we were told that the Yugoslav crises would prove “The hour of Europe” had arrived. It hadn’t. Europe proved itself divided and impotent, even though the Balkan wars were in our backyard.


It is difficult not feel a wearisome sense of déjà vu watching European leaders on Friday saying something needed to be done in Libya, but failing completely to say what.


Libya is not our backyard. But what happens there and in the other countries of the Maghreb matter to us Europeans very much. If those who have overturned dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt (and hopefully Libya) in this “Arab spring” can create effective, broadly secular democratic republics on the model of Turkey, Europe’s crucial relationship with its southern (and oil-providing) neighbours will be fundamentally altered to the advantage of both. If they fail, then dictatorships will inevitably follow – and very likely extremist Islamist ones. The nature of our neighbourhood is being decided on the dusty streets of Libya’s towns and that matters to us very much indeed.


But now – again – time is not on our side. Muammer Gaddafi’s indiscriminate use of overwhelming force against his people – in flagrant contravention of his international obligation to protect them – is now having an effect. To do nothing is to acquiesce to the crushing of a people, which will almost certainly be accompanied – if it has not been already – by horrors which amount to crimes against humanity.


So what should we do? What can we do?


The answer is a lot in the long term – assistance, aid, trade, maybe visa liberalisation for new Arab democracies as they emerge.


But for Libya, there won’t be a long term unless we can do something quickly to stop Col Gaddafi slaughtering his people’s aspirations and killing many of them in the process.


It is clear that diplomatic pleading will not persuade him to halt or leave – the most impotent moment of the European summit on Friday was when leaders called on him to go, knowing he would do no such thing.


Of the other options available to us, only one makes sense and that is a no fly zone. Could it lead to us being drawn in further? possibly. Is that a risk? Certainly. But, as with Bosnia, we must calculate not just the risks of action, but also the risks of inaction. Here too, the risks of standing by and doing nothing are greater than those which will be incurred by a careful, graduated and proportionate response designed to assert the primacy of international law and enable the people of Libya to make their own choice about their government.


Thanks to the lead given by London and Paris we may assume the military preparations for a no-fly zone are broadly in place. We await only the right conditions to impose one.

First and most important there has to be a clear call from Libyans. This action must be at their initiation, not ours. They have already made this call.


The second is Arab regional support – perhaps even a regional face. The Arab League’s support for a no fly zone is remarkable and important. There now needs to be a diplomatic campaign to bring other Arab nations in.


It would be help this if Western leaders changed their language. To call for a no-fly zone as part of a revolution in favour of democracy not only sounds hypocritical given our past support for the region’s dictators, but is also very unlikely to attract the support of the those Arab nations who are neither democratic themselves, or very keen to become so soon. The case for action here needs to be framed around the urgent need to protect the ordinary Arabs of Libya and nothing else.


Third, the imposition of a no-fly zone will need at least the acquiescence, if not the active support, of the Security Council. The days when West could play fast and loose with the need for explicit UN legitimacy ended with Iraq and the new shift of power in the world.


There are currently discussions in train for a resolution to be put before the Security Council for the imposition of a no fly zone. It will be difficult of course to get China’s and Russia’s support, but not I hope impossible as the world continues to witness Col Gaddafi’s bloody progress in the desert. Given what is at stake for us, the right response of European leaders should not be to suck their teeth in indecision as they did last week, but to back this resolution and say they stand ready to enact it immediately if agreed.

Libya – The Times 25 Aug


Libya Article The Times 25 Aug


If you love sausages and respect the law, take care to watch neither of them being made”. There are worse starting points than Mark Twain’s aphorism for those trying to understand what’s happening in Libya.


The overthrow of Gaddafi has been messy and is very likely to get more so. For those used to watching armoured columns streaming in triumphant order across the desert to depose a dictator and pull down his statues, it doesn’t look very impressive.


But this is what the future probably looks like. Better get used to it.


Like it or not, the ramshackle Libyan rebel army are, with support of the NATO based coalition, creating a new way of intervening and giving strength to a new strand of international law.


Farewell Gladstonian Liberal Intervention with its foreign gunboats; hello People’s Liberal Intervention with its raybans, t-shirts and hastily converted pick-ups.


Of course Libya isn’t over yet. The last days of Muamar Gadaffi could be just as messy as the long days that led to his downfall. He is more than mad enough – and self-declared martyr enough – to do something very foolish at the end.


But even if, as we hope, the battle ends soon and cleanly, the peace that follows is likely to be just as confused and chaotic as the conflict which preceded it. How could it be otherwise? We have intervened this time to prevent a massacre and let the Libyan people shape their own peace, rather than to seek to impose ours – something which, by the way we ourselves weren’t very good at.


So, as we watch the Libyan National Transition Council struggle to build a Government (security should be its first priority), it would be in order to remember with humility that when we tried to do the same thing in Baghdad we didn’t exactly make a roaring success of it – nor in Kabul either, come to think of it. Nor indeed, in many places where we have tried to create a western peace after a foreign conflict.


We should, of course now do all that we can to help the Libyan rebels bring about order and government in their country. But we will need to do so with understanding and patience. Better for the mistakes that will inevitably be made to be local and regional ones, than our mistakes which they have to pay for, as in Iraq and Afghanistan.


In 1997, before the Kosovo war started, I was in the little Albanian villages south of Pristina being bombarded by the main battle units of the Serb army. The following day I met one of the Serb artillery commanders and found that he was more worried about being indicted by the then infant Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal, than he was of being bombed by NATO. The point about law, is that it exists not just to deliver justice after the event, but also to govern behaviour beforehand. Post-Kosovo, the World Summit of 2005 gave form to a new international legal concept – The Responsibility to Protect (R2P for short). This asserted that, under international law, there ought to be an obligation (note “ought” and “obligation”) on a Government to protect its people, not abuse them. Many of us thought R2P would never be more than a piece of well meaning rhetoric. But Libya has given R2P both form and precedent.


How the concept of R2P is carried forward post-Libya will also not be smooth or free of contradictions. R2P will be applied with force in places where it can be – Libya for example; but not be so applied in others, where it can’t be – Syria probably. But then this was true of classic Liberal Interventionism too. We did it in Iraq and Afghanistan because we could, but not in Chechnya or Zimbabwe, because we couldn’t. In the untidy age ahead, one of our mantras when it comes to intervention is likely to be “Just because you can’t do everything, does not mean you shouldn’t do anything.


In this way, international law is no different from most other bodies of jurisprudence. These do not spring from a single pen or a single piece of paper; they evolve over time confusingly, inelegantly and often in contradictory fashion. Libya has placed us slap bang in the middle of that messy process – better get used to it.


Many of us, me including, feared that, after the Iraq debacle, the multilateral system might never be able to be used again for good ends. But it has been – and triumphantly.


So now, thanks to Libya, we have three international interventions options to choose from.


We could abandon the notion of intervention altogether, recognizing that we can’t make a success of it and shouldn’t try. In this case the next turbulent decades will be much more dangerous, as power shifts in a world which is increasingly instable and interdependent and increasingly equipped with weapons of mass destruction.


Or we could continue to intervene as in Iraq and Afghanistan; exclusively western coalitions; massive western troop deployments; a cavalier attitude to international law; shock and awe; a quick victory; followed by the long, slow, flawed attempt to impose our systems on their countries at the point of a bayonet.


Now Libya has offered us a third alternative.


Support R2P with force where its possible. Find other means where it isn’t. Assemble a coalition wider than the west. Obtain the backing of international law. Accept this means constraints on military action during the conflict and on our ability to influence the outcome afterwards. Measure success by the horrors we prevent, rather than the elegance of the outcome. Recognise the importance of the regional powers. Act, not to impose our will, but to give the local population the freedom to exercise theirs. Understand that this may well be disorderly – and perhaps sometimes worse. And remember that it hasn’t been much less so when we have tried to do it ourselves.


Will this be comfortable to watch? No. But it’s probably as good as we’ll get. Better get used to it.



The Sunday Mirror Libya 24 March 2011

The Sunday Mirror Libya 24 March 2011


Here are three questions that need answering on Libya.


Why are we there? How will it finish? And when will it end?


We are there because Libya matters to us. Not just because upholding international law is vital for peace at a time of great turbulence in the world. I mean it REALLY matters to us – here in Britain. The Arabs nations of the Maghreb are our southern neighbours in Europe. They are a major source, not just of the energy we depend on, but also of one of the greatest threats to our safety – international terrorism. I had always imagined that the result of our foolish policy of supporting – and even arming – Arab dictators (including latterly that of Col Gaddafi), the Arab revolution when it came would bring in the Jihadists. Instead those brave protesters are demanding democracy and human rights. There is an irony in the fact that democracy has been brought to the Arab world, not by Western armies, but by Facebook, Twitter, and the courage of young Arabs on the streets. If the Arab Spring can now replace street demonstrations with effective democratic Governments, then we will have reliable neighbours to our south who share our values, and Al Qaeda will be more damaged than they ever could be by us.


If Col Gaddafi is allowed with impunity, to slaughter his people before our eyes (remember he promised to “show no mercy”), then this “Arab Spring” will be terribly damaged. And we will be showing that though we talk democracy, we aren’t prepared to defend it; that we say we value international law, but won’t uphold it. And a signal will go out to the other dictators in the region that the best way to stop demonstrations is to shoot them demonstrators in the streets.


However difficult and costly it is to do what we are doing now – doing nothing would in the end have cost us more.


So now we come to the more difficult bit? How will it finish?


The uncomfortable answer is, probably untidily. These things often do. When we liberated Kuwait in 1991, we had to leave Saddam Hussein in power next door, a no fly zone to stop him doing more mischief and a semi-independent Kurdish area in the north which we had to continue to protect. When you have to use force you may stop a greater evil, it does not mean you will always create a tidy outcome.


My guess is that this may end with a divided country. A free Libya to the east and Gaddafi-land to the west. My guess is that those Libyans who are left under the Colonel’s cranky dictatorship will not want to do so for long. But that is their choice, not ours.


Because that is what the UN Security Council Resolution says. This action is about protecting Arab lives and preserving their freedom to choose. No more and no less.


So how long will it last? I am afraid the straight answer is uncomfortable, too. As long as it takes. You cannot create a safe peace from such a situation overnight. But one thing is certain. Whatever the cost of protecting the lives of those who believe in freedom, the costs of allowing a dictator to triumph in blood in this region and at this time, would be far, far more.