UK unofficially participating in Syria airstrikes

The UK government appears to have covered up unauthorized participation in airstrikes in Syria (not just Iraq where it was approved in September 2014).

It did so by assigning personnel to fly under the command and flag of other countries — reportedly most likely the United States, but possibly also Canada. (Canada began participating in “coalition” airstrikes in Syria this past spring.)

Supposedly it’s just routinely part of a longstanding (early Cold War era) program to embed UK military observers into allied military forces, but this seems like quite a stretch for the intentions of such programs.

The UK parliament made it pretty damn clear under the last term that they didn’t want a Syria bombing campaign, effectively establishing a precedent requiring parliament to sign off on future military actions. Prime Minister David Cameron does have a Conservative majority now (unlike in 2013 or last September), but he hasn’t asked the new term’s members yet. So it seems fairly illegal to deploy UK armed forces members to participate in combat missions in an active warzone,
– with a hostile government (with air defenses and aircraft it could potentially use),
– and no UN support,
– where parliament had explicitly refused to authorize their actions.

Or at least it seems fairly illegal for now. He is widely expected to seek a new vote in parliament on Syrian airstrikes several months from now.

Aircraft participating in U.S.-led coalition airstrike missions in Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS. (Credit: Dept. of Defense via Wikimedia)

Aircraft participating in U.S.-led coalition airstrike missions in Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS. (Credit: Dept. of Defense via Wikimedia)

Exit polls paint bleak picture in UK for anti-Conservative bloc

According to current exit polling from the UK, the Conservatives surged way ahead of pre-election polling and will finish just 10 seats short of a majority. With Lib Dems, far-right UKIP, and conservative unionist Northern Irish parties supporting, they would be able to form a government. The Lib Dems got crushed but still are kingmakers — which is toxic for them since so many LD voters bailed because of their role in the coalition government last time, which would be even less powerful this time around. In fact, the Conservatives seem well positioned to just form a minority government, though I don’t know how long it could last even under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

Labour got all but swept in Scotland by the SNP (i.e. maybe one seat remains) and lost in England to add insult to desperation. They ended up finishing worse than in 2010, contrary to all pre-election polling.

Bottom line from the current exit polling: Conservatives outperformed expectations by quite a lot and will probably lead the next government. Labour screwed up badly on top of their Scotland problems.

The Globalist | Political Courage: Merkel Vs. Cameron

The following originally appeared in The Globalist.

In politics, doing the right thing should be done for its own sake, not for tactical reasons.

At the start of the New Year, the world leader who deserves praise in this regard is German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In the face of rising anti-Islamic protests in her country – a Dresden hate rally on December 22, 2014 reached a record 17,500 people – she chose to condemn the protests directly in her New Year’s speech.

“There is no place here for stirring up hatred and telling lies about people who have come to us from other countries,” she said.

Merkel added that the protest leaders had “prejudice, coldness or even hatred in their hearts” and observed that their clever rhetoric masks an ugly message that “You don’t belong, because of the color of your skin, or your religion.”

A spokesperson for the Chancellor followed up this pronouncement with the following statement:

“In Germany, there is no place for stirring up hatred against believers, for propaganda against religions of any sort, no place for right-wing extremism, and no place for xenophobia. The entire German government is united in its condemnation of any such thing.”

 
Lest readers believe this was an easy course of action requiring little thought, consider that a new poll by Forsa for Stern magazine. It found that 13% of Germans would attend an anti-Muslim rally in their own community — and 29% believed the rallies were justified.

Cameron’s response

Contrast Ms. Merkel’s determination in the face of a rising tide of xenophobic hate with Prime Minister David Cameron’s positioning. All that he has mustered is a weak rejection, even uncomfortable accommodation, of Britain’s mounting xenophobia and anti-immigrant views in the political sphere and general population.

Mr. Cameron has cowered before the growing power of UKIP and his own party’s more distasteful right wing, as the anti-outside-world politicians in Britain have surged to victories in the EU elections and parliamentary by-elections.

Conclusion

Chancellor Merkel deserves praise for standing fast against political extremism, anti-immigrant activists and anti-Muslim sentiments. Other elected global leaders would do well to learn from her example in the New Year’s speech and actually lead on this issue in 2015.

Pictured: Prime Minister David Cameron, President Barack Obama, and Chancellor Angela Merkel, May 2012, watching a Chelsea vs. Munich soccer match during the G8 summit. (White House Photo)

Pictured: Prime Minister David Cameron, President Barack Obama, and Chancellor Angela Merkel, May 2012, watching a Chelsea vs. Munich soccer match during the G8 summit. (White House Photo)


Additional note for clarity, for non-Globalist readers: Read more

The Incomprehensible David Cameron

David Cameron must have actually lost his mind. In the middle of all the sanctions, he just loaned one of the Elgin Marbles to Russia, further infuriating Greece (from whom they were originally, famously stolen) after Greece loyally backed up the rest of the European Union (and NATO) on anti-Russia policies this year.

It’s one thing to petulantly insist on keeping the British Museum’s stolen artifacts from the Parthenon. It’s quite another to loan them out to an active enemy country in a taunt to one’s ally.

Surviving figures from the East Pediment of the Parthenon, exhibited as part of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum. (Credit: Andrew Dunn)

Surviving figures from the East Pediment of the Parthenon, exhibited as part of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum. (Credit: Andrew Dunn)

More anti-EU plans from Cameron after another UKIP win

Following the earlier first-place nationwide triumph this year by the right-wing/anti-European “UK Independence Party” (UKIP) in the 2014 European Union elections, mainstream British politics suffered another serious blow last night, as the first elected UKIP member of the UK parliament was elected in a special election. As with his response to the EU election result, Prime Minister David Cameron yet again handled the situation by immediately ratcheting up rhetoric and policy plans against the European Union (and immigrants), according to the (pro-Conservative) Telegraph:

David Cameron will unveil tough plans to restrict immigration from the European Union within weeks to stop another Ukip MP being elected following Thursday night’s by-election [in Clacton].

Douglas Carswell, a former Conservative, yesterday became the first MP elected to Parliament for Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party following a huge swing in support.

Conservatives warned that the decision by traditional Tory supporters to vote for Ukip would allow Ed Miliband to become Prime Minister if repeated in the general election in 209 days.

Labour narrowly won a second by-election by just 617 votes [over the UKIP candidate] and Mr Miliband is also now facing a major challenge from UKIP in [Labour’s] traditional northern heartlands.

 
The party elite’s right-wing also trumpeted the defeat as a sign that the Conservatives must double-down on anti-immigrant, anti-EU policies and even break up the coalition government with the far more moderate and internationalist Liberal Democrats. While not going that far, Cameron and the ruling government did continue to recast the party toward the euroskeptic position:

The Prime Minister said: “If you vote Ukip, you’re in danger of getting a Labour government with Ed Miliband as prime minister, Ed Balls as chancellor and you’ll get no action on immigration, no European referendum, and obviously – most importantly – you won’t get a continuation of the plan that is delivering success for our economy and security for our people.”
[…]
Brandon Lewis, a communities minister, said that the Tories will put immigration “at the heart” of the renegotiation with the EU to be held before an in-out referendum scheduled for 2017.

He said: “What people are worried about though is migration from the EU, and the Prime Minister made very clear last week that has got to be one of the key things at the heart of renegotiation that we will have before that referendum which we will deliver in 2017.”

 
And after its own close shave in the other by-election, the Labour Party leader also made rumblings of rethinking Labour’s immigration policy:

Mr Miliband conceded that Labour now needs to address “specific concerns” about immigration and denied that he was “complacent”.

 
Miliband is undoubtedly keeping in the back of his mind the situation in France and elsewhere, where traditional far-left, working class communities have gradually abandoned the leftist parties in favor of ultra-right-wing nationalist parties that vow to halt immigration and restore protectionist industrial policies that once helped those workers. Labour is significantly more economically centrist than it once was.
Read more

Russia’s grip on the Tories (and London) remains strong

Former Labour MP and UK Minister for Europe Denis MacShane has a new article in The Globalist blasting the Conservative Party’s tightening relationship with top Russians, even as the United Kingdom (officially, at least) grows more cold toward Moscow.

In the latest controversy, the Conservative Party is refusing to give back £160k in campaign funds donated by Russian oligarchs and former Putin insiders, just ahead of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine (which killed UK citizens), but well after the annexation of Crimea. Last year, the Conservative Party accepted almost £900k in campaign cash from Russian high-rollers.

Adapted from Colin's photo on Wikimedia

“Russian Gherkin, City of London” by Arsenal for Democracy. Adapted from Colin’s photo on Wikimedia

Meanwhile London and the City (the country’s financial zone) continue to attract sketchy Russian investors and residents.

Even Vladimir Putin mocks London as the place where “the oligarchs have bought Chelsea,” a reference to Roman Abamovich, the owner of the top soccer club. Another oligarch, Evgeny Lebvedev, is the owner of two key newspapers, the Independent, and the respected London Evening Standard, as well as a London TV station.

One in ten of all London homes with a price exceeding $1.5 million was bought by a Russian last year. [Conservative Party donor] Mrs. Chernukin and her husband, Vladimir, a former director of Aeroflot, live in a $12 million dollar apartment.

Another Russian donor to the Conservative Party, Andrei Borodin, has fled to London after accusations of a $370 million fraud in Russia. He lives on a $235 million estate near London and paid $67,000 for a portrait of Margaret Thatcher at a Tory fundraiser last year.

The UK Electoral Commission reports $1.5 million in donations from rich Russians to Conservative funds last year. The UK has given visas to 433 Russians since 2008 who invested more than $1.5 million in Britain.
[…]
London courts are also where Russian oligarchs fight out their legal battles. London lawyers earned an estimated $150 million from just one court fight between Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky. Lawyers say that 60% of all the cases now heard by London senior commercial courts are linked to disputes over spoils from the ex-Soviet Union.

Another attractive legal market is divorce fights. Londoners have gaped at the fierce legal fallout as elderly Russian oligarchs trade in their wives for slimmer, younger beauties.

 
MacShane also noted the hypocritical and increasingly fact-challenged assertions by Prime Minister David Cameron regarding UK arms trade with Russia, a topic I’ve covered at some length previously.

I was going to note how odd it is that these foreign citizens can make political contributions directly to the parties in the United Kingdom, since that’s prohibited in the United States, but I suppose our equivalent is the heavy presence of “consulting” operations in Washington DC, advising — but not officially representing — a multitude of unsavory foreign clients on their relationships with various malleable forces in the U.S. capital.

UK has a real arms sales problem on its hands

No. 10 Downing St (Credit: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC - Ministry of Defense via Wikimedia)

No. 10 Downing St (Credit: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC – Ministry of Defense via Wikimedia)

A parliamentary report has found that the British government has not revoked arms sale licenses to Russia in compliance with sanctions against the country following its annexation of Crimea, despite bold claims by the Cameron government.

This comes on the heels of detailed allegations that UK firms sold dual-use (military or police) weapons to Turkey immediately following the vicious 2013 crackdown by Turkish police in several cities, and it echoes revelations that, in 2012, the UK government knowingly approved exports of a key ingredient in Sarin gas to the sanctioned regime in Syria during the Civil War (which were only blocked by the EU).

Details on the new Russia report, according to The Guardian:

More than 200 licences to sell British weapons to Russia, including missile-launching equipment, are still in place despite David Cameron’s claim in the Commons on Monday that the government had imposed an absolute arms embargo against the country, according to a report by a cross-party group of MPs released on Wednesday.

A large number of British weapons and military components which the MPs say are still approved for Russia are contained in a hard-hitting report by four Commons committees scrutinising arms export controls.

Existing arms export licences for Russia cover equipment for launching and controlling missiles, components for military helicopters and surface-launched rockets, small arms ammunition, sniper rifles, body armour, and military communications equipment, the committee says. They also include licences for night sights for weapons, components for operating military aircraft in confined spaces, and surface-to-surface missiles.
[…]
Sir John Stanley, former Conservative defence secretary and chairman of the Commons arms control committees, said there was evidence that appeared to directly contradict the prime minister’s claim that he had already stopped all arms exports to Russia.
[…]
Stanley had already written to Philip Hammond, the new foreign secretary, asking him to explain why, according to official figures given to the MPs, of 285 current licences for Russia, only 34 had been suspended or revoked.

 
Why can’t David Cameron’s government get it together to halt British companies from selling weapons to governments they shouldn’t be doing business with, by law? Is it intentional negligence to keep the arms and money flowing?

On Syria, the laughable line from the government was that the system had worked. This time:

“We will not a grant a licence where there is a clear risk the equipment might be used for internal repression.”

 
So when exactly does it become clear that Russia or Syria might use weapons for internal repression? Or what about Turkey, literally right after it engaged in internal repression?

And what do we make of this accusation in the Russia report?

It says the most significant change in the government’s policy on arms exports over the past year is the dropping of the wording in the arms sales criteria that: “An export licence will not be issued if the arguments for doing so are outweighed … by concern that the goods might be used for internal repression”.

You know, in the sense, that that action is exactly the opposite of the supposed policy stated by the government spokesperson.

The United Kingdom is the 7th largest arms exporting country in the world by dollar value annually, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.