The voice of young liberal democrats

How the European Constitution Imperilled European Security by londonliberal
October 23, 2008, 2:51 pm
Filed under: defence, Foreign Affairs

I wrote this post for Eurodefense UK –

Few reforms are needed more urgently in Europe today than the forging of a coherent and, as far as possible, single EU foreign policy and yet few reforms are less likely to see the light of day in the current political climate. The blame for this must lie squarely at the feet of the European Council, ultimately responsible for trying to insert the proposals for an enhanced decision making process and an EU foreign minister, amongst others, into a confusing constitution that never had much chance of being approved by an angry electorate.

When the citizens of the EU were asked to rank the most serious problems facing the continent earlier this year by the German Marshall Fund, they naturally put terrorism and the credit crisis at the top of the agenda. However, a large majority also expressed grave concerns about the resurrection of the Russian bear and its use of its energy supplies as a weapon, not to mention its tanks and warships, whilst almost as many said they wanted closer relations with America and that NATO was still essential to their security.

It’s safe to say the ‘masses’ were on the money in their assessment of the most immediate threats to European security. Indeed, their concerns, along with illegal immigration, cyber-crime and climate change, have featured heavily in the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy’s drive to establish a new security strategy for Europe. Central to formulating a single European response to these challenges, therefore, has been the push to update the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP).

As they are, the policies have failed to unify the EU in its dealings with the rest of the world, rendering the Union inefficient on the occasions when member states do take a common approach, such as in the Balkans, and wide open to manipulation by foreign powers when they don’t, such as the United States during the Iraq war and Russia now. The reforms envisaged by the constitution went some way to addressing these problems: a single foreign minister to represent the EU abroad; a legal personality to allow the EU to conclude international agreements; EU-wide investment in research and development; an EU equivalent of NATO’s clause 5 committing all states to collective “aid and assistance by all the means in their power”; the agreement of all member states to make available troops assigned to other multi-national task-forces to European battle-groups too; as well as a refined decision making process with opt-outs for any member state opposed to any EU decision to deploy troops.

So why then, if European electorates agreed on the supra-national nature of the threats and challenges facing their countries and their governments agreed on a set of measures to tackle them, were the proposed reforms thrown out by the Irish this year when they voted in a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, seen by many as simply a watered down version of the constitution? The answer is simple. The EU’s attempts to package these paramount changes within a vast and unreadable document that few wanted made it impossible to pass them. Indeed a poll taken of voters immediately after the Irish referendum revealed that the majority of those who voted ‘no’ did so because they did not understand what they were voting on.

However, Europe’s electorates lost faith in their elites long before then. The reasons behind the French and Dutch ‘no’ votes on the constitution proper in 2005 were far less kind than the Irish and revealed a deep-seated resentment of European elites and indeed their own. And for what? A flag and an anthem that we already have and that nobody cares about. Since then, any attempt to do the sensible thing and try and pass the reforms necessary to create a single coherent foreign policy has been viewed with suspicion and contempt. Indeed if the Lisbon Treaty hadn’t been voted down by the Irish it probably would have fallen at a later hurdle. Of course, the peddling of half-truths and even outright lies by the Europhobic press in countries most likely to need a referendum on such treaties like Ireland and the UK hardly helps.

What hope remains for a single European foreign policy then? Ironically, it would seem that the security of the continent now lies in the hands of national leaders regaining their people’s trust and convincing of the merit and the need for a unified approach. The election of a President in the United States with a respect for the transatlantic alliance and an understanding of the importance of a multi-lateral approach to the world’s most serious problems would go a long way too.

Iran Halted Weapons Program “Years Ago” by georgeinwashington
December 4, 2007, 5:49 am
Filed under: Foreign Affairs, iran, nuclear weapons, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

A rare news item that tells us that today the world is really a better place. Have a great day everyone.

Now one really has to wonder why Brown approved a strike on Iran in June of this year if this is all true.

Cameron Needs a Geography Lesson by georgeinwashington

Cameron’s mistake could not have been mere slip of the tongue, as, whilst speaking about the need to stop redrawing ‘lines on a map’ he placed parts of Moldova and Georgia within the Russian Federation. During his visit to Washington last week, David Cameron visited the Brookings Institution to give a speech on the Balkans. Brookings, an influential and highly respected think tank always draws many of the top experts to its events and the question and answer is guaranteed to be thorough. It was here where David revealed his shaky grip on some of the major problems facing Europe. Mr Haltzel of the Center for Transatlantic Relations of John’s Hopkins University asked Cameron’s opinion on Russia’s attempt to relate the situation in the balkans to Transnustria Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Cameron answered,

You’re absolutely right, there should be no parallel between what is happening in Kosovo — where, clearly, the Kosovo people are not going to accept being part of Serbia. There’s no parallel between that, which is a special situation, and anything that might be happening in parts of the Russian Federation. And we should reassure the Russians about that. There should be no linkage between those things.

Unfortunately, as someone flying to Washington to give a major speech on foreign policy should know, Transnistria is in Moldova and Abkhazia and South Ossetia are break away republics of Georgia.Later he was asked about the ideas floated about partitioning Kosovo above the Ibar. His reply again,

There are a large number of ethnic Serbians, if you like, living in Kosovo, but not in areas contiguous to Serbia, so an attempt to redraw the boundary doesn’tsolve that problem.

The Mitrovica region, which the questioner was referring to, and contains the largest proportion of Serbs, borders Serbia. This is of course a very difficult region to master, but if you do have to take the trouble to fly to Washington to talk about it, some swotting up in the plane would have been a good idea.The full text of the speech and question and answer session can be found here

Liberal’s European Russian Roulette by georgeinwashington

I just can not find it within myself to understand the Liberal Democrat’s insane policy towards Europe. In supporting a referendum on membership of the Union we are risking the biggest policy disaster of a generation and playing into the hands of the lunatic elements of the far right. This policy is just stupid.

As a pro European party the leadership seem to be banking on the fact that they will win any election on EU membership. This vote will validate membership and silence the far right. In the end it will be a positive thing for Europe. The tactic is nothing more than a game of chicken, with the winner taking all and the loser crashing and burning. It is nothing less than irresponsible.

The latest eurobarometer polls show that 39% of people in Britain view EU membership as a good thing and 30% as a bad thing. This is shaky ground to hold a referendum on, notwithstanding the fact that with a media establishment strongly opposed to EU membership any referendum will be a tough battle and victory by no means certain. Yes, pro EU parties are overwhelmingly in the majority in parliament and UKIP is insignificant but that is because for voters Europe is a marginal issue. However this makes a referendum even more dangerous those who are anti EU tend to be much more vocal and motivated. By isolating a marginal issue for the majority of voters in this way a referendum on Europe risks being won by a narrow margin by a minority of hard core right wing activists getting out the vote.

The result of a lost referendum will be catastrophic. Leaving the EU would jeopardize security and police cooperation putting us at greater risk of a terrorist attack. We would put at risk millions of jobs and the health of the economy, through disintegrating our economy from our largest trading partners. In terms of foreign affairs, the UK will see itself quickly fading into irrelevance.

Some might criticize my argument as anti democratic, what can be more democratic than a referendum? What could be more democratic than a referendum after all? Well they would be wrong. Firstly it is not democratic to have a small elite in the media coupled with a small minority of hard core racists, mobilize against the best interests of the people.

Secondly, we have fallen into believing the tory propaganda that the EU is poses a serious constitutional change to the UK and so it needs to be validated by the public. The EU is an intergovernmental organization. A highly developed one indeed, but still, not a government or a nascent federation. This is important to understand because it means that all power still rests with our national elected officials. The greatest PR coup of the right was to convince the British people that every new expansion of EU cooperation was a hand over of power to Brussels.

Nothing can be father from the truth. Through the council of ministers our ministers have a veto on all matters of importance and an effective veto on all unimportant measures. Decisions made in Brussels are approved and passed by our elected officials, and if someone has a problem with a certain law, they should take it up with their government and not with Brussels.

Demands for a referendum are not present because the EU is expanding its power, they come from people who only think that it is. Fed by propaganda from a few who are following their own agenda. In fact the new Treaty introduces many additional checks on power.

If the EU did pose a fundamental shift in the structure and functioning of our democracy, I would support a referendum also. Indeed fundamental constitutional changes should only be made with the consent of the people, but on more minor matters there is a reason why we have representative democracy. In this case the Liberals are simply fighting the wrong fight.

Iran: No Evidence of Nuclear Weapons Program by georgeinwashington
November 5, 2007, 2:14 pm
Filed under: defence, Foreign Affairs, iran, nuclear weapons | Tags: , , ,

From the McClatchy group today. An article strongly contradicting the belligerent tone of the West recently. Experts seem to agree that there is no firm evidence of a nuclear program, only cause for suspicion. Read the full article by clicking on the link above. The McClatchy were the only news organisation that raised serious questions about Iraq’s WMDs before the war.

Chris Would Tear Up The NPT by georgeinwashington

A number of comments on my last post drew me also to the completely illogical policy of Huhne’s nuclear policy, and since I have been criticized already for attacking Clegg’s policies I hope this post will go some way to prove my independent spirit.

Chris says that the UK should scrap trident and decide whether we should decommission entirely or keep a smaller deterrent after the non proliferation talks in 2010. He also argues that we should be less dependent on the United States militarily.

The implications are clear, if we were to have a “smaller deterrent” Britain would have to develop an entirely new generation of nuclear weapons.

No matter what the outcome of the talks in 2010, it is inconceivable that they will not prohibit the entirely new development of new nuclear weapons systems. Therefore if Britain attempts to do this, it will tear up the regime from the moment of it’s conception. Secondly the development of an entirely new system would most probably require testing violating the comprehensive test ban treaty.
This claim that this new deterrent will cost less is just plain stupid. For now the UK is entirely dependent on the US for Trident, the missiles are built maintained and designed in the US. This would mean that the UK would have to pour literally billions of pounds into research and development, before we even started building the weapons.

Chris also seems under some delusion that the UK possesses some sort of massive nuclear arsenal, he talks in his policy on nukes that Trident was built to counter the Soviet Union’s potentially massive use of force. Currently the UK has 48 nuclear missiles and probably around 200 warheads. It also only has one submarine on patrol at any one time. It is difficult to see what the point would be of reducing this stockpile drastically as this already makes the UK one of the smaller nuclear powers. By contrast the US has some 7,500 missiles.

Both candidates, whilst committing to the NPT are publicly advocating positions that would undermine it. If they are committed to a goal of universal nuclear disarmament, they will have propose their ideas for a fundamentally system, or pay more attention to the current NPT. Most of all they should credit the public with a little more intelligence.

Liberals Could Learn a Lot From Old Man Biden by georgeinwashington

At the latest democratic debate last night once again it was the rank outsider Joe Biden who impressed me the most. His arguments, that were at the same time compelling, intelligent, clear and original displayed just the kind of thinking required in the White House. His statement that he was running not against Hillary but to be leader of the free world and his thirty some years on the Senate foreign relations committee shows that he understands the responsibility to act responsibly that the President of The United States has to the world and not just to his own people if he wants to ensure peace on Earth.

On complex international issues, Joe Biden has the depth of understanding to be creative and cogent. British liberals could learn a lot his arguments and would do well to listen to him. In trying to present a clear alternative to Labour and the Conservatives we too need to have the same courage to present ideas that break the mold of convential wisdom and attack the heart of an issue.

To give one example, Iran, which has become an obsession of the current US administration. In order to avoid looking weak, many Democrats have avoided taking on Bush’s sabre rattling and 75 Senators the other week voted to designate Iran’s Revolutionary guard as a terrorist organisation. Last night the candidates were asked whether the would give a guaruntee to the people of the US that Iran would not get a nuclear weapon. Biden’s answer was magisterial, reminding people that more important than that was to make a commitment to protect the American people, and an preemptive attack on Iran to stop Iran gaining nuclear weapons could be far more dangerous to the people of the United States as it would likely bring chaos in Pakistan, a country with an already substantial nuclear arsenal. The genius of Biden’s answer was to take the reasoning for why an attack would be a terrible idea out of the abstract and emphasise how it would affect the personal safety of people living in the States.

By contrast the Lib Dems statements on Iran have implored the US government to show restraint and have talked about how threatening force is not the best way to dissuade the Iranians. All true, but firstly why are we concentrating on the US and not forcefully attacking Brown for supporting such a strike. According to Seymour Hersh, Brown this summer had told Bush privately that he would support a strike against Iran. Secondly although it is true that threatening force would not be the best idea to disuade Iran, it would be much better make the argument in terms of the effect it would have on the safety of Britons. Although the issues in the Middle East are interesting in themselves, and the Lib Dems have consistent been right were it matters, we have also been poor at answering the question, how does this effect me? And in the end, this is probably the most important question in politics.

Many of the issues facing Britain today are too facing America, whilst we would do well to concentrate our focus on pressuring our own government, at the same time we can learn a lot from the US political dialogue happening in preparation for the coming presidential elections. I enclose Senator Biden’s full answers last night below.

RE: Nuclear Policy by londonliberal
October 28, 2007, 11:50 pm
Filed under: Foreign Affairs


First of all, a couple of clarifications in light of the much welcome comment on my last post. Whilst I concede that I was mistaken in asserting that the US was installing boost phase missile defence in Czech Republic and Poland, and am thankful for the correction, I still maintain that potentially the Czech Republic and especially Poland would make ideal locations for boost phase defence sites. The aim of such installations though would not be to deter Iran, but to deter Russia. Middle Eastern missiles could be deterred through erecting similar sites in friendly countries such as Azerbaijan.

Additionally, my point about sovereignty is still being mis-interpreted. I have not at any point challenged the statement made several times now about Trident and how it is more under American control than British. My point is simply that Britain should not dispose of this mightiest of arsenal which still exists to defend the United Kingdom even it not at its own behest for the reasons outlined in my previous post.

Now to return to my rebuttal of your last post. I always get nervous when people justify groundbreaking decisions such as nuclear disarmament on the grounds that they can’t imagine anyone actually using them. This is clearly not the point. Faced with an adversary who has nuclear weapons when you have none makes you distinctly less inclined to play Russian roulette with your nation’s security and more inclined to accede to their demands.

Indeed if the history of international relations is anything to go by then predicting a state’s actions on the basis of its perceived intentions, as opposed to merely its power to achieve its own objectives at the expense of yours, is a one way ticket to oblivion. Hence the political power of the nuclear weapon.

Whilst it is true that accidents do happen, again this is more an argument for halting proliferation, with which I wholeheartedly agree, than disarming completely. In any case, the risk is justified by the unpredictability of such an accident as this means that one is neither imminent, nor necessarily beyond our scope to control. The same cannot be said of disarmament equipped merely with the hope that others will follow suit. We can draw up all the international law we want, but -whilst I am a committed multi-lateralist- like domestic law which benefits from the existence of sovereignty within specific geographical boundaries, distinctly absent from the international system, international law has to be enforced for it to work. Bottom line, if we drop our gun whilst everyone else’s remain pointed at our head, then all the diplomacy in the world will not get them to follow suit without extreme concessions on our part.

Finally, to address the ‘moral’ aspect of your argument. There are no morals in the international system as there is no stable and enforcable body of law to reflect such moral norms as no one country has sovereignty over the world. It may sound blunt and cliche, but ultimately only the national interest should decide what action a state takes within the international community. Entangle those interests through binding agreements such as the European Steel and Coal Community example from my last post and then you have a chance of persuing efective multi-lateralism. This ultimately has to be the core pre-condition of any viable disarmament agreement.

Iraq Not the Last Front in the War on Terror by georgeinwashington
October 26, 2007, 3:51 pm
Filed under: America, defence, Foreign Affairs, war on terror

In the Washington Mayflower last night the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, gave an insight into the future strategic outlook of the United States. “We have to realize that the the Middle East is larger than Afghanistan and Iraq, and the World is larger than the Middle East.” It would seem that that the US is far from ready to recede to the sidelines in international affairs.

The Admiral went on to remind us that we are in a generational war, and that he foresees a series of continuing engagements in the future. As belligerent as this sounded the Admiral did qualify himself by noting that these engagements would not necessarily be of an offencive nature. The US, he said had to utilise all of its efforts in future interventions, in diplomacy, foreign aid and the private sector as well as the military.

This kind of commitment will require a substantial financial commitment. When the Iraq conflict finally ends there will be no peace dividend. The Admiral told the audience that the current defence spending of the US of 4% of GDP should be considered an absolute minimum.

The Admiral was also candid about the kinds of stresses the military is currently facing. Whilst the Army is not as some claim broken, but it is breakable, the current troop rotations had to be shortened.

These goals will surely be a challenge for the Admiral who faces international suspicion of US military motives, declining enrollment, a large budget deficit and a hostile public. In the end his most pressing problems may be political rather than military. Whilst the US Military may say it stands ready to undertake a larger role in the world. It will have to rely on the White House and Congress to rebuild the political goodwill that will allow it to do so.


RE: Nuclear Policy by georgeinwashington
October 25, 2007, 5:19 pm
Filed under: Foreign Affairs, nuclear weapons

London Liberal,

In terms of the prisoners dilemma and the development of nuclear weapons there are two arguments that I would use to say that the argument still does not hold. Firstly, although revealed to the public by a whistle blower in 1986 the Israeli nuclear program was known to the French, (who built the reactor) since the early 50′s and by the CIA since 1960, both log before any weapons were produced. The fact that these programs were kept secret by these governments was a product of the strategic situation of the time, but in a nuclear free world these secrets would immediately become public knowledge in order to build public anger against the program. Secondly even if a country managed to develop a bomb in complete secrecy, which I still find implausible, and I might add that Stalin knew about the Manhattan Project before Truman, the country would face two immediate problems. Firstly, only having a small arsenal it would not be able to attack Britain or the US without a serious conventional attack that it would lose. If the US and the UK still had nukes at this point it would lose more quickly, in other words, it would not be a credible offensive threat. Secondly there is the problem of delivery systems. The method of delivery would be problematic. Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles require space technology, the other means of long distance delivery, a plane, would be impossible to implement against a country with modern air defences. The type of rockets that were are needed to deliver a nuclear weapon are also difficult to conseal.

Secondly, yes the NPT is undermined by countries not participating, but at the moment is is the best prospect we have. We should concentrate therefore on bringing in the very few people who are not part of the regime rather than disposing of it altogether. One way we could start to do this, would be to uphold our end of the bargain.

A point I would make which you fail to address is the possibility for a nuclear accident. With all of the stockpiles of nuclear weapons in the world the possibility of an accident is real, and its consequences catastrophic. The scenario presented the film Dr Strangelove, although satirical was not entirely without foundation and the the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction was not given the acronym MAD without reason. The only way to really prevent this disaster happening is to work towards a nuclear free world.

Finally, I believe that the crucial moral argument here is with the intended use of the weapon. The threat they pose and any political advantage you gain from their possession can only be realized if others believe you will use them. Even though you may not explicitly threaten their use, I could only ever see any political advantage in the implicit threat carried that you have them and that they are available for use. People will only believe you will use them if you do not rule out using them and leave that possibility open. However I believe that the use of nuclear weapons is immoral. If you believe that they are immoral than you should rule out their use, making their utility redundant. With the further possibility of an accident happening I see therefore no reason why we should keep them. Yes of course I understand that there are others throughout the world with out such scruples, but if they can be prevented from gaining the weapon in other ways and if they controlled by other means, as I think is clearly the case, than this should be our policy, rather than to act as the world’s bully.

As an update, and keeping on the subject of defence, I will be attending an event with Admiral Mike Mullen, the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff tonight in Washington, which I will be blogging on tomorrow.


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