Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Libya and wider matters 

Three points on Libya.

Germany abstained in the UN vote on the Libya intervention resolution and is apparently in hot dispute with France. We have not heard a lot in the UK about the German viewpoint. Perhaps we should. Maybe Clegg could ask them, in German to ensure clarity.

The BBC live update stream reported at 0544 on 22 March that:

The Financial Times reports on the tensions between the countries now ranged against Libya. It says French attempts to sidestep Nato at the start of the campaign have divided the coalition. Diplomats told the newspaper that the US and UK were angered by France's decision to launch the first attack without fully informing its allies. The paper says relations grew so tense that French and German ambassadors to Nato walked out of a meeting after criticism from the secretary general.

Secondly, I wonder what the Chinese Navy is making of this matter, and what it is learning. China has a warship in the Mediterranean, reminding us that Western Powers no longer have a monopoly of world-wide military outreach.

Thirdly and for the record: A fair summary of the possible objections to the Libya Intervention in this Blog posting on the Peace and Collaborative Development Network.

Libya - contradictions, foolish assumptions & flawed humanism

The author ( Ian Oberg) says his posting is:

……. a telegram-style short list of contradictions, foolish assumptions and flawed humanism. An equally short conclusion with prediction follows the list. I am presently working on a short piece on what could and should have been done instead of these terrible and counterproductive bombings.

Worth noting all sides on this one.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

The radical innovation in the UN authorisation 

An interesting debate over on the Crooked Timber website on the wording of UN resolutions authorising armed interventions.
Basically, the protection of civilian lives is coming more and more to the fore and resolution 1973 (2011) apparently breaks new ground.

The key statement in resolution 1973 is this:

‘Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General’ are authorized ‘to take all necessary measures , . . . . . to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.’

The lead author in the discussion thread, Conor Foley , sums up his analysis:

This is the legal basis of the military action that allied forces are taking. The wording is significantly different to the standard clause that has been appearing in UN Resolutions since the 1999 mission to Sierra Leone…….

The aftermath of the Kosovo conflict saw a flurry of reports and commissions on the question of the legality of humanitarian interventions and the drawing up of a set of principles on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) which received semi-endorsement at the UN millennium summit. The invasion of Iraq effectively killed off R2P, but work around the protection of civilians has continued under UN auspices and protection strategies are being increasingly integrated into the planning of most UN missions. This debate has probably had far more influence on the Security Council’s recent decision than any ‘western plot to invade another country in the Middle East.

The intervention over Libya undoubtedly opens a new chapter on this debate and, at the time of writing, none of us have any idea what its eventual outcome will be. However, Resolution 1973 is in its own terms a significant milestone in the evolution of the UN and the debate about the legality of the use of force for humanitarian ends.
Many interesting comments in the thread...

So basically the grounds for intervention are in detail unprecedented. Will the armed coalition commanders have the sophistication to appreciate and apply this rigorously amidst the public hysteria over ‘hunting down mad dogs in the desert’ and the target creep temptation to hit targets from the air just because we can?

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It is Northwood not Northholt for the UK Permanent Joint Headquareters.

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What happens if we run out of legitimate targets in Libya? 

This comment from the BBC ‘Breaking News live comment stream’ summarises some of my concerns on the Libya operations.

Wing Commander Andrew Brookes from the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London tells the BBC World Service the air strikes on Libya have "degraded" the country's defence system "very much". He says: "The trouble is that Libya is not a target-rich environment for that sort of weapon. So you probably end up very shortly with them running out of those concrete, bunker-type facilties. So the rebels are getting protected, Gaddafi's defence infrastructure is being hit. But if, as some suspect, he doesn't say 'it's a fair cop, I'm off' and digs in, what will be the response? That's what we're waiting to see."

BBC 1039 Monday 21 March.

Yes we can cause dramatic breakages to Libyan facilities for a day or so more. But then there will be no targets we can legitimately hit within the international terms of reference of the operation.

Indeed we may already be scrapping the target barrel – hitting ‘Command centres’ is an attractive ego-trip option for people sitting in KU military communications headquarters but is probably of no great relevance for protecting civilians. (1)

In a few days we may be sitting round saying ‘OK what do we do now?’ Will thre be target creep just to make the air forces look busy? That happened in Serbia and Afghanistan and Iraq...

Note 1 Frontline British troops get quite annoyed when the Joint Chief of Staffs command centre at Northolt describes itself as being ‘in the front line’ of whatever uproar is in progress.

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ruminations on the Libya complexities 

One thing about today’s military business in Libya – at least the UK government does not include anyone who, in office, inflicted on us such a shameful farrago of lies during the march to war in Iraq in 2003.

We can perhaps hope that the intelligence advice now being given to the government has drawn on the lessons of that time. And the various intelligence services have the confidence to give our current government accurate and sober advice, not fitting the evidence to the political requirements of the moment.

But are we repeating some more general mistakes?

Too many people seem to think that deploying air power settles matters in the streets. They point to the example of the Kosovo operation and the military actions against Serbia. But it was not the bombing of various bits of Serbia that stopped the genocide of the Kosovars and compelled Milosevic to step down. It was the fact that Hungary joined NATO and made it plain that it would allow NATO tank forces to enter Serbia from Hungary and fight on the ground.

At the moment there are plenty of real military targets in Libya that can be hit from the air. Without going near civilian areas. These attacks can be justified as degrading air defence capabilities. But in a few days there will be no targets left.

In Serbia the NATO forces continued the bombing campaign for weeks, and ended up hitting all sorts of useless ‘targets’ such as bridges, ‘command centres’, power stations, and low-grade military installations simple because there was nothing else left to hit and air power was all they had.

And like in Serbia the real capability for oppression in Libya will be largely untouched by air operations – the capability of armed men to enter peoples houses on foot and shoot whoever they want.

I hope there is some understanding of the deep limitations on what we are undertaking.

I hope that civilians will actually be protected.

I hope we know how we are going to get out of this place.

It is possible that some ‘rebel areas’ can be protected because this is a war in a desert, and history buffs will remember how air attacks on hostile logistics chains were crucial to the north Africa campaigns of 1940-1943 That however means more than a no-fly zone it means active search and destroy of moving vehicles and killing people moving in the open.

That leaves Tripoli and the west under government control, and the Saddam regime survived for years under a no-fly regime. If they dig in, do we acquesc to partition, or what?

I hope that our Government (including those of our LibDem ministers in the decision loop) are not in the same situation as the commanders of the Spanish Armada in 1588 who admitted that the sailed in the confident expectations of a miracle.

In short something else than air power will be needed. We need to think very hard on this.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Japanese nuclear dance and elsewhere 

The present uproar at Fukushima is not the first time a Japanese nuclear power station has suffered earthquake damage.

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant was damaged by an earthquake on 6 July 2007 which at 6.6 on the Mw scale was at the time the second largest ever to impact a nuclear generating station. Of the seven KK reactors three at this date are apparently still not returned to operations, one came back on line in May 2009 and the others at various dates after that in 2010.

The quake was reported to have imposed stresses greater than the designed safety limits. Design safety “needed to be improved by a factor of five”.

The plant is owned by the Tokyo Electric Power Company which also owns the Fukushima plant. Apparently TEPCO has a reputation for secrecy and covering up controversies.

The UK plans for new nuclear power stations here allows for no subsidy in construction costs, but according to Chris Huhne in October 2010 the UK government would have to pick up the bill for cleaning up any accidents. Wonder how attractive that sounds now. If the 2018 UK construction start deadlines are to be met the government has to legislate changes in UK planning law this spring to speed up reactor approval…That is, about now...

Open Democracy has a discussion on ‘Nuclear Follies’ which looks at the spread of nuclear power stations to countries like Libya. The French for example struck a deal with Libya in 2007 to supply new reactors, citing Col Ghadaffi’s ‘progress on the path of human rights’.

And what about the new nuclear facilities in Iran? Mostly discussed in terms of weapons grade materials but also in a severe earthquake zone…

Somehow I suspect that the core LibDem opposition to nuclear power expansion is on firmer political grounds that the Coalition policy of allowing new construction provided there is no taxpayer input…

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