Book review: Ukraine in the Crossfire

Who’s to blame for the war in Ukraine? The great majority of Western politicians and security experts have no doubt. It’s Russia. The war in Donbass is not a civil war, but ‘Russian aggression’. If enough pressure can just be exerted on Moscow to get it to change its behaviour, the violence would stop, Donbass would rejoin Ukraine, and the country could march happily towards its inevitable future as a prosperous, free, and democratic member of the community of European nations.

A minority of commentators has a different point of view. One of them is Dutch journalist Chris Kaspar de Ploeg. In his new book Ukraine in the Crossfire, de Ploeg does not seek to whitewash either Russia or deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich, and admits that Russia has provided significant support to the Donbass rebels. Nevertheless, he points the finger of blame for Ukraine’s problems quite firmly at the United States of America. ‘The war in Ukraine serves to keep the EU [European Union] in line with the wider US agenda,’ he argues.

deploeg

Continue reading Book review: Ukraine in the Crossfire

Missile non-defence

Remember how, back in 2001, George W. Bush abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, previously one of the cornerstones of the international security system? It was one of the first American steps to annoy the then relatively new Russian president, Vladimir Putin, helping launch US-Russian relations on their long downward trajectory. The Americans claimed that it was worth the price, however, because they foresaw a danger from ‘rogue states’ armed with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, and by reneging on the ABM Treaty the US could develop a means of defending itself. And thus was born the National Missile Defense boondoggle.

Sixteen years later and, if we are to believe the CIA and the press, the predictions have come true, and North Korea has finally developed a miniaturized nuclear bomb which can fit inside a ballistic missile, and has also developed missiles capable of hitting the continental USA. Donald Trump is threatening ‘fire and fury’ the likes of which the world has never seen. Something must be done, he shreaks. The United States faces a terrible danger, we are told.

But why? Aren’t the Americans safe by now behind their missile shield? It hasn’t been cheap, and surely given how much has been spent, it must be able to shoot down those North Korean nukes? After all, we are told:

According to Missile Defense Agency (MDA) estimates, Congress has appropriated roughly $190 billion for the agency’s programs between fiscal years 1985 and 2017. That total does not include spending by the military services on programs such as the Patriot system or the many additional tens of billions of dollars spent since work on anti-missile systems first began in the 1950s.

So, why are the Americans running around like headless chickens and threatening blue murder? There is only one answer – they don’t believe that their beloved missile defence system actually works. And they’re right. National missile defence’s latest manifestation is the so-called Ground-Based Mid-Course Defense System. This alone has cost $40 billion. But according to a report issued last year, it is ‘simply unable to protect the public’ – in other words, it’s a dud.

In a world of rational policy making, somebody would ask why such vast sums of money had been wasted on a project which to date has failed utterly to produce what it promised, and which has also incurred broader political costs, such as those associated with the abrogation of the ABM Treaty. In such a world, policy makers would decide that it was long past time to put an end to this fiasco and stop funding immediately. That, of course, is most unlikely to happen. The progress made by the North Koreans will almost certainly instead be used to argue that missile defence has never been more critical, and so to demand even more money to throw even deeper into the hole.

If this were the only such example of massive waste, one could perhaps forgive it (if one was a particularly generous soul). But, of course, it isn’t. In other posts I have, for instance, highlighted the $100 billion plus which the USA has spent on economic aid to Afghanistan, which the American government’s own auditor admits hasn’t achieved any positive results he can identify. And then, there’s the trillion or so dollars the US has spent on its military campaign in Afghanistan, similarly without success. And, I’m sure, it would be pretty easy to find other, equally outrageous examples.

I’m going to say it straight. The military industrial complex is a system of scandalous profligacy and inefficiency, the primary effect of which is not to make the USA (or other countries with similar MICs) any safer but rather to redistribute wealth out of the pockets of the general taxpayer and into the pockets of select constituencies (military personnel, defence contractors, and the like). It also largely beyond democratic control. The foundation of a liberal democratic system is accountability. But the MIC is not accountable. The large and more wasteful its failures, the more it is able to claim that it needs more money: smash up the Middle East and then the resulting disorder enables one to claim that the world is dangerous and one needs more funding; spend $190 billion failing to produce a workable missile defence system, and the fact that you don’t have a workable system justifies even more money in order to try to create one. And so on. In the world of military affairs, nothing is as rewarding as failure.

Will anybody in a position of power now start asking what’s happened to the $190 billion which was meant to protect the USA against North Korean missiles? Don’t bet on it.

 

 

 

 

 

Gweriniaeth pobl o sir fynwy

Dinner conversation at the ancestral pile in the People’s Republic of Monmouthshire:

Why do kids have to waste their time learning Welsh when they could be doing something far more useful? It’s getting silly. All the signs in Welsh and the villages suddenly getting Welsh names. Shirenewton’s always been Shirenewton. Suddenly it’s Drenewydd Gelli-farch. What the ‘farch’ is that? You can’t even pronounce it. Besides, has anyone ever called it that? Yes, but you know there are a few people who’ve gone native. Diane’s learning Welsh, for God’s sake. Why? It’s not like she knows anybody she could speak it to. If she tried speaking to the bank teller in Barclays in Welsh, she’d just get a blank stare. But she’s not the only one, Elizabeth the other day said something like ‘Oh John’s gone over to England’. Like it’s somewhere foreign! Time to stop this stupid nonsense. It’s not like Monmouthshire’s Welsh anyway. It was part of England from Henry VIII’s Act of Union in 1536. And then the Labour government just one day decided to give it to Wales as a gift. Just like Khrushchev! 1969 wasn’t it? Or was it 1970? I think it was the Tories, actually. Keith Joseph, surely, when he reorganized the counties? Nobody imagined it actually meant anything, that there’d be devolution and it would end up in a different country. You know that Donetsk was founded by a Welshman? A miner wasn’t he? No, a steel man, but you can’t have steel unless you have coal as well as iron ore. There wasn’t anyone living in Donetsk till Hughes turned up, and then the Russians arrived to work in the mines and steel works. Just like in the valleys here – they’re all English really. Came in the nineteenth century. If Wales ever secedes from England, we’ll just have to secede from Wales. I’ve applied for an Irish passport, by the way. It will be really useful after Brexit.

Gotta give those weapons to someone

Back in 2013, the CIA carried out an internal study to examine the history of the agency’s covert support for foreign rebel movements. It determined that covert intervention in foreign conflicts rarely if ever produced positive results. In fact, it could produce only one example of ‘success’ – the support given to the mujahideen in Afghanistan, although even that didn’t look too good given what happened later.

Despite having this information at hand, the Obama administration went ahead and decided to support the rebels in Syria. The results are now in: total, abject failure. Remember the 70,000 ‘moderate rebels’, which British Prime Minister David Cameron said existed in Syria? Where are they now? Nowhere to be seen. Yesterday, the last outpost of the alleged ‘moderates’, Idlib, fell to the armed group Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is often described as an ‘affiliate’ of Al-Qaeda. As Gareth Porter reports in The American Conservative, the main consequence of the US decision to arm the Syrian ‘moderates’ has been to funnel thousands of weapons into the hands of Al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, far from being overthrown, the government of Bashar al-Assad is rapidly increasing its control over the central and eastern parts of Syria, pushing deep into ISIS-held territory. American policy is in tatters.

Donald Trump’s decision last week to stop arming the Syrian rebels is, therefore, a welcome recognition of reality. The question which now arises is how far reality has managed to intrude into the thinking of the American security community. Is this just an admission of defeat in this particular instance, or is a different view of the world now beginning to make itself felt on US policy more generally?

Many non-interventionists supported Trump in last year’s presidential election because they hoped that he might make the second option a possibility. So far they have been disappointed, and sadly the evidence suggests that the decision on Syria represents a tactical retreat not a strategic rethink. A large segment of the American foreign policy community continues to think that every internal conflict everywhere in the world is somehow its business, obliging it to pick one side or the other as its ally and to support it by sending it weapons.

So it was that less than a week after the US said it would no longer supply arms to the Syrians, the new US ‘special representative for Ukraine’, Kurt Volker, said that the American government was reviewing whether to send weapons to Ukraine. American foreign policy thinking is clearly in a state of confusion. On the one hand, a US official said that the decision on Syria was ‘a signal to Putin that the administration wants to improve ties to Russia.’ On the other hand, the same administration is considering a policy designed precisely to damage ties. It’s hard to make sense of it all.

Giving some details of what he had in mind, Volker said: ‘defensive weapons, ones that would allow Ukraine to defend itself, and to take out tanks for example.’ I’m guessing that would mean anti-tank weapons, like the TOW missiles which used to be supplied to the ‘moderate rebels’ in Syria. After all, you can’t just keep them sitting in storage boxes. If you’re not sending them to Syria, you gotta send them somewhere else. Right?

 

Russia, the West, and the world

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