Monthly political and economic
analysis of nations in transition
NEWNATIONS BULLETIN FEBRUARY 2014
Put Citizenship on the line
Since religious extremism looks to be here to stay, why should democracies not pass laws altering the conditions of citizenship that currently allow volunteers to return to their country of citizenship for a spell of R&R, or retirement from some particular centre of fighting?
The US, Canada and the European powers and no doubt Russia, are all exercised about the return to their lands of the survivors of those devout or adventurous young men who choose to join the Islamist armed struggle, eventually seeking to return, fully radicalised and trained in weaponry and explosives (thus a standing danger to their fellow citizens).
One way to influence them and to convince their families and friends to try harder to persuade them against such adventures (before they go), is to put their citizenship on the line. So if any citizen of military age entitled to a passport, should be seeking to travel to a warzone, then they should be formally warned and sign receipt of their understanding, that if they were to engage in military training, or active combat, or other scheduled warlike activities, for forces other than those of their current national citizenship, or formal allies, they would subject to appeal, forfeit their citizenship, be refused re-entry, be deported to the place of their return journey’s origin (which would cause the airlines before their return flights, to check their status before carrying them). Their passport will be cancelled and unless and until they get citizenship of another state, they would become stateless… but remain on every nation’s watchlist!
Since many of those who have travelled out of the UK and Europe to jihad, are the sons of N.African, South and Central Asian immigrant parents, whose birthplace in the west has hitherto automatically given them citizenship, they too along with any citizen, should have that citizenship similarly at risk.
The right to the appeal process would be the means to sort out genuine anomalies.
In the Overview of our 1st January publication World Audit, Democracy in the World (attached) we raised the issue of Drones in these terms:
"No democratic government in peacetime can legally kill people in other countries, let alone their own, simply because they choose to do so. " Yet the world is now witnessing exactly that happening in Pakistan and the Yemen, with whom the US is not at war, via military drones…”
In context we bring to your attention a rather poignant piece published in “The Guardian” which looks at this from another angle, that of the military operator, which speaks for itself. It does make clear that Drones as weapons are the cause of casualties, also amongst their despatchers.
Ukraine is sliding towards becoming Europe’s second dictatorship (after Belarus) and an out and out Moscow satellite, following a brief - and compared with other European former soviet republics and satellite states - a far from satisfactory trial run with western-style democracy. There is a healthy opposition- particularly after the earlier success of the Orange revolution - and the fundamental issue is simply this:
Should 21st C. Ukraine be looking west towards the European Union and the US - or East to Russia and the FSU?
The population there is divided on this –eastern Ukraine on the whole, leaning towards Russia with whom they share a long frontier (as also with Belarus), their history, and near enough, their language. Broadly, the western part of Ukraine favours moving towards a future in western Europe. There the country borders on Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary –with which neighbours they inevitably compare opportunities, standards of living, etc. All four of these former communist states are now members of the EU, providing national experience of improved economic outlook, plus political freedom, orthodox democracy and civil liberties.
The leadership of the Ukrainian government are in the pocket of Moscow, as was well known but freshly apparent, when Putin intervened with them, preventing them almost ‘at the last minute,’ from signing up to a formal relationship with the EU, which had been negotiated. True, he did not come empty-handed, the ‘goodies’ included an immense loan and a deep discount in the price of oil and gas, but being driven into such a fundamental choice between today’s and tomorrow’s East and West, determining the future of the nation no less, was the spark causing the massive and continuing street protests. This, plus the now lengthy and unjust imprisonment, on clearly political grounds, of the former Prime Minister and leader of the opposition, Yulia Tymoshenka, whose powerful voice is currently silenced.
Essentially most Ukrainians want a real democracy, not the manipulated version they are stuck with, which also reaches into the courts.
Ukraine’s problems are best understood as their being an important pawn in the strategy of Vladimir Putin’s so far successful mission, to recreate the territorial equivalent of ‘a non-communist’ USSR, through Russia as a renewed superpower. This would be to retain effective control over the choicest former Soviet states within the ambit of a Greater Russia via it’s Moscow controlled ‘Eurasian Economic Union,’ and through bi-lateral and regional Defence treaties.
White, slavic, ‘christian,’ Ukraine, with a 45 million population and much shared culture and history, is probably for Moscow the choicest of all FSU neighbours to be retained. It is unlike several other important former SSR’s that are historically Moslem, therefore now and in future targeted by Islamicists.
However, as can be seen, today’s Ukraine, unlike neighbouring Belarus, is not biddable via one dictator, as are several SSRs in central Asia, some of which are now being ruled by hereditary family members, effectively absolute monarchies.
Soon after the 1991 dissolution of the USSR, the newly independent government of Ukraine held a referendum, asking their citizens if they wanted to re-join a Moscow centred Greater Russia, or to remain independent. The very positive vote for independence was held by observers, as being due to two quite separate reasons: The professional Ukrainian politicians during the Soviet period were always subsidiary to Moscow. Corruption was already rife in both centres, but now since independence, the Kiev politicians promoting deals:
a) no longer have to get agreement from superiors in Moscow;
b) get to keep all the ‘back handers,’ instead of a small % after Moscow had been ‘fed’.
The choice of the Ukrainian people on the other hand, was heavily influenced by the fact that as Soviet citizens, they had just experienced the results of a terrible 10 year war and military occupation in Afghanistan. In those days the Red Army was a conscript force and many Ukrainian young men were sent to that long war and never returned. The citizenry in the referendum, declined to re-join a post-Soviet Russia for what was seen as feeding their sons into Russia’s imperialist ambitions. But also for the positive reason that many Ukrainians had observed how much better life had become in the neighbouring western former Soviet satellites – all three Balts; Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, let alone a re-united Germany. That hasn’t changed.
Belarus, neighbouring both Ukraine and Russia, back in 1991 moved from being an SSR of the Soviet Union into ‘independence, with Soviet characteristics.’ Lukashenko, the dictator has demonstrated how to keep power, to become (unremovable) President of Belarus with absolute powers (every parliamentary seat is occupied by a party crony).
Lukashenko earlier incorporated the former local branch of the KGB to become his own state security. He has elections punctiliously which are quite fraudulent, indeed Belarus has until now, been recognised as the last and only dictatorship in Europe - indeed he uses all the old Soviet tricks to terrorise his population.
Now Ukraine his neighbour, is close to joining the ranks of the FSU dictatorships*, in spite of large scale continuing street protests to the contrary, the difference being that Ukraine has tasted democracy – remember the Orange Revolution?
As can be seen, there is powerful resistance ‘on the street’ to the prospect of a return to Moscow’s hegemony. Physical thuggery, even murder is being deployed against some of the protest leaders. But Belarus never enjoyed any democratic option, since Lukashenko had his grip on all the levers of power before the failure of the USSR.
*others include: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.
Egypt, Iraq, Syria
Egypt 3 years in to the Awakening is now in a worse than ever position, having held a one year experiment with a democratically elected Moslem Brotherhood government. Once in power it was overwhelmingly Islamist and avoided or neglected the normal responsibilities of government. The army then brought down the government, this time apparently with the approval of many of the citizens. Now Egypt is experiencing terror tactics on the street in its cities, of the kind associated with Al Qaeda, with the army ready, willing and able to react with maximum force. At what point, if any, democracy can be re-introduced is hard to see. First, secular political parties need to become established and get organised, since in the election bringing the MB to power, the Brotherhood were the only nation-wide movement, long established in the one role that the military previously would allow, that of providing medical, dental and social services to the poor. Understandably, this popularised them in cities, towns and villages throughout the nation, once they were at last allowed to enter the political arena.
No overtly political parties had been tolerated under the military who have ruled since their coup, and the forced abdication of the former king in 1952! That has to change if Egypt is ever to become democratic. Indeed the army would be well advised to allow, indeed encourage the formation of secular political parties, which might need many years to mature. Otherwise, it would once again in the future by bottling-up protest against power, and its inevitable concomitant corruption, itself inevitably become subject to another mass uprising, perhaps less forgiving than that of Tahrir Square.
Iraq: The Shi’ite coalition that has ruled for most of the post-Saddam years, has known economic successes, unsurprising since during the occupation, there were revealed vast oil reserves, comparable to neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Politically however the uneasy relationship with the semi-autonomous Kurdish part of the nation always looks capable of a breakdown, with the greater informal ‘Kurdistan’ spreading over four neighbouring countries: Iraq itself; Syria- involved primarily defending their own, in the civil war; Iran; and Turkey, where there is an on-off understanding about the ceasing of hostilities with the Turkish army which have plagued the region and the nation for upwards of thirty years.
But currently Iraq’s biggest problem is the civil war fomented by the Sunni tribes of western Iraq stimulated by Al Qaeda Islamicists, who prior to the US occupation did not exist in Iraq. But they have long been a major factor in bombings, killing many innocents and disrupting life in Iraqi cities and now have claimed to have control over Fallujah and other towns in southern Iraq, as well as having linked up with other Islamic rebels in the border area with Syria. It seems obvious that Al Qaeda in Iraq and similar Syrian-based Islamicists, are trying to secure de facto control of a sizeable Iraqi/Syrian ‘Koranic space’ - a Sunni theocracy, that they can call their own - no matter what Al Assad and the rebels elsewhere in Syria might agree to, if at all, without them.
Syria: The year started with pious hopes for a January Syrian Peace Conference in Switzerland, but with very little in the way of an agreed agenda, except the generalised desire to stop the fighting (not shared by the Islamist groups who called those fellow rebels ‘traitors,’ whose representatives turned up at the Syrian conference).
It is a major, possibly overwhelming factor where peace is concerned, that the actual rebel groups are far from united, since many have quite separate and incompatible objectives, i.e. secular–v- fundamentally religious. Some groups are mainly Syrian, others largely or entirely foreign.
Theoretically, what started as a Syrian revolt against the government of the Al Assads, seen by many, mistakenly perhaps, as a part of ‘the Arab Awakening ‘in the region, was leapfrogged by a host of largely foreign religious militants, seeking an Islamic Imamate, to include neighbouring Iraq. A regime moreover which is absolutely intolerant of any form of religion, or government, other than that of Sunni Islam in its salafist Sharia extreme version, making even the Assad’s religiously tolerant, if ruthless regime, look like a better option where they are in control.
In the Geneva Peace talks, the first choke-point was the insistence of the US, European allies and such Arab League representatives as well as ‘rebel representatives’ that attended, was always going to be that al Assad must stand down immediately, and can play no further part in Syrian public life. Obviously the Syrian government he leads, far from defeated in this war, don’t accept that.
The US also insisted that Iran, supporters of the Syrian government, would not be invited to Geneva, whilst Saudi Arabia and Qatar the sponsors of the Islamists, are there. So of the two regional powers supporting opposing sides, only one is invited. The US position ‘was’ that this is not a civil war but the manifestation of a cruel dictator persecuting his country’s citizens - ‘was,’ because they now can hardly believe that themselves, since the Islamic influx has clearly made it a religious sectarian war. Sunni versus the rest!
There is no shortage of cruelty on all sides, that the blame falls on the al Assad Alawites, that is how Mrs Clinton, Wm. Hague et al, simply perceived it three years ago, whilst nothing in the middle-east is so simple.
Unfortunately their instant and ill-considered assessment of the civil war, led to President Obama echoing their call that ‘Assad must go’, now an ‘embarrassingly’ inflexible position, faced with what many would consider to be the wider, deeper, danger to stability threatening the region.
Were that position to have any chance of producing democratic government as a result, then we should all be shouting for it, but alas that is inconceivable. Not a single member of the Arab League is a democracy. The Syrian Alawites moreover, know they are fighting for their lives, a battle several centuries old.
The Islamicist fighters presence on the ground, were they to be successful over the government forces, having spread already into Iraq, might become the new reality further afield. Perhaps to Jordan, certainly and already to the Golan Heights border with Israel. Even Saudi and the Gulf states might find contagion coming their way.
It seems to have been forgotten that Osama bin Laden preached to his followers as their strategy, the necessary downfall of the existing Arab governments in the region, that he described as corrupted by their association with the US and the West, thus making the space for incoming religiously informed forces, to assume power, and apply Sharia law. His lieutenant, now leader of al Qaeda and it is said, leading dialectician, Al Zawahiri, is unlikely to forget that, nor forget to apply it.
Bashir Al Assad has in pre-conference declarations talked in terms of decisions about Syria’s future government, being ultimately decided by Syrians alone. Since no nation, as such, has ‘boots on the ground,’ but many foreign Arab and other fighters are present in the ranks of the several fundamentalist groupings, opposed to the Syrian government, why would Western governments insist that the incumbent should not be allowed to stand for the presidency?
By what right do western ministers say who shall and shall not stand in another country’s elections? It is surely an untenable position.
The important thing is to put in place whatever mechanisms could most closely guarantee a fair election, and look for nations who would be prepared, under the UN, to supervise it. But of course elections are not what the substantial body of foreign (non-Syrian) rebels are looking for, and they are not at Geneva.
The other attendee nations should certainly ensure as far as possible, a level playing field and provide observers at election times, but for other Arab nations to seek to emplace their own Sunni men in effective power, will not bring the war to a close.
Syria it should be remembered, has a high degree of religious autonomy and hosts several Islamic sects – Ismailis, Shia, Druses, Sufi, Alawite and more, without discrimination, but in addition at least six Christian sects. To force Syria into a strict Sunni mould would close down all other places of worship and drive out, or worse, the Christians and ‘heretical’ Moslems.
The horrors that have been perpetrated historically in the name of religion are stunning in their awfulness. There is nothing new about that. Disagree about many things but the west cannot be party to persecution by perhaps removing the only dam that can hold back the flood.
It appears that former Vice-President Dick Cheney was advocating bombing both Iran and Syria, before leaving office. NYT review of Robert.M.Gates: “Memoirs of a Secretary at War”
The US National Security Agency is involved in industrial espionage! Can this be?
Barack, tell us it ain’t so!
"The National Security Agency is involved in industrial espionage and will take intelligence regardless of its value to national security", Edward Snowden has told a German television network.
In a lengthy interview broadcast on the public broadcaster ARD TV Snowden said the NSA did not limit its espionage to issues of national security and cited the German engineering firm Siemens as one target.
“If there's information at Siemens that's beneficial to US national interests – even if it doesn't have anything to do with national security – then they'll take that information nevertheless,” Snowden said in the interview.