Archive for the ‘Democracy – local & global’ Category

TFF PressInfo 417: The future of EU-US relations – The Debate

The Debate with Jim Walsh, MIT and Jan Oberg, TFF

Lund, Sweden – May 30, 2017

Last night “The Debate” on PressTV was devoted to the future of European-US relations in the wake of the NATO Summit, President Trump’s words and omissions and the – historic – words, in particular, of Chancellor Angela Merkel immediately after.

Undoubtedly, we are at a turning point in these relations in general and for the NATO alliance in particular.

To discuss these issues – past, present and future perspectives – were Jim Walsh, senior research associate at MIT’s Security Studies Program, Masschusetts, and Jan Oberg, director of TFF, Lund.

Thanks to PressTV’s excellently structured program and interviewer we touched upon a series of aspects and dimensions around which we found both agreements and slight disagreements – all in a sober tone fit for public education and personal reflection.

We hope this debate will stimulate your own thoughts about the future of war, security and peace.

We’d be grateful for your sharing it to media people, students and other academics as well as to decision-makers in the field that you may know.

See it here – The Debate

TFF PressInfo # 414 (A): Trump in Riyadh – A Gulf NATO to gang up against Iran and Syria

By Jan Oberg

Today, I am proud to say that NATO has a new home in the Gulf region. And that we have opened a new chapter in our deepening partnership.

NATO S-G, Jens Stoltenberg, in Kuwait on January 24, 2017

The Secretary-General also said this new home’s “potential is enormous”.

President Trump arrived on his first trip abroad to Saudi Arabia on May 19, 2017 and big things are supposed to happen, including Saudi Arabia presenting itself as a innovative, visionary leader of the region.

His visit must be seen in the light of a number of events and trends, and in what follows we do like the military when it scans the horizon for enemies: we look for patterns – not the least Saudi Arabia’s “surprising new military goals” as Forbes’ Ellen Wald appropriately calls them.

Or, as they say – we connect some dots that, invariable, Western mainstream media have no capacity and probably also no interest in connecting.

This pattern consists of at least these events and long-term trends:

1. The broadening of NATO cooperation with Gulf countries – one may even see a Middle Eastern NATO branch emerge.

2. Saudi Arabia’s evident leadership in building a new multi-national army announced a couple of years ago and allegedly having 100.000 troops as a goal. This is an extension of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s and its old to-be-replaced military arm, the Peninsula Shield Force

3. The intensified image in the US under Trump of Iran as a threat and a ‘ganging up’ against it.

4. The war on Syria’s territory with hundreds of foreign conflict participants including NATO country Turkey and allies such as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and NATO members such as England and France – all in support of anti-government/regime change and pro-terrorists.

5. The second Cold War – very different from the first – between NATO and Russia which also has a Middle East dimension in that Russia is a vital partner of the Syrian government and the Syrian Arab Army.

6. The conflict formation that has Israeli as it’s centre – Hezbollah, Iran, Syria (the Golan Heights), etc. If you want to know what Israel wants to use Trump’s visit for it’s clear from this analysis: More confrontation with Iran and cooperation with Saudi Arabia, also concerning Syria.

7. NATO’s obvious crisis – the new Cold War around Ukraine; its second largest military member, Turkey, working closely with arch enemy Russia, ongoing trans-Atlantic conflicts about burden sharing etc.

This will suffice as an illustration of the complex web of inter-connected issues. There are surely more and we can’t go through them all in this short article.

By way of introduction it should be mentioned that NATO has, as alliance, been engaged in the Middle East for a long time – through the Mediterranean Dialogue begun in 1994 and “elevated” to the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative ten years later in 2004.

What’s going on now is, however, on a quite different scale.

The US-Saudi Arabia arms deal

The US and Saudi Arabia are to sign a huge – yet another – arms deal, valued at US$ 110 billion and, over a ten-year period perhaps mounting to as much as US$ 300 billion. It’s been facilitated by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner in a rather unconventional way.

Given that Saudi Arabia is the world 3rd largest military spender – i.e. directly after the US and China and, thus, bigger than Russia – this project must be seen in the realm of irrational militarism outside any domain of policies for peace in the Middle East.

And it’s important to keep proportions and priorities clear in these affairs. OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) spent more than $135bn (£90bn) in 2015 – i.e. the world’s richest countries give about half of the value of this single arms deal to help poor countries manage and eradicate poverty.

It is a clear example of the vested interests of the Military-Industrial-Media-Academic Complex (MIMAC) that threatens the very survival of humanity and is way beyond democratic control. Western mainstream media’s very subdued coverage of this – extreme – dimension of US foreign policy in general makes them complicit and justifies their inclusion in the MIMAC concept.

It goes without saying that this deal is marketed to the world as promoting stability, security and peace and as an important element in the global War On Terror. Given all the other weapons that have been pumped into the Middle East region the last 4-5 decades and all the countries that have been more or less turned into ruins – it’s quite obvious why, as usual, there is no intellectual connection between this deal and the said goals.

For NATO and the mantras, media and marketing is everything.

Russia Today has done a rather decent piece of research on this (see below). Among other things, it makes clear that the deal includes weapons that have little, if anything, to do with fighting terrorism. One of them is the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system from Lockheed Martin that the US is also stuffing down the throat of South Korea.

To be able to win war, not to prevent them.

If for a moment one applies some kind of security political logics to this deal, it’s obvious that this build-up is directed – in the longer term perspective and with Israeli support, one must assume – against Iran and Syria. Israel’s official view is expressed here – official because otherwise this minister would have been fired for such statements.

The military expenditure “correlation of forces”

Military expenditures is not the only measure of military might. Neither is it an indicator of who would win a war; contemporary history is full of examples of big spenders losing wars when attacking countries with smaller military budgets.

That said, if you do a search on “world military expenditures” you’ll get a sense of who is willing and able to invest in the military and, also, a rough measure of both proportional allocation to the military sector and, above a certain level, an index of on dimension of militarism.

There are indexes by SIPRI and by the IISS and others – and here are the rough ‘correlation of forces’ pertaining to the countries we talk about here:

• Saudi Arabia is the 3rd or 4th largest military spender on earth after the US, China and perhaps Russia.

• Saudi Arabia spends about between US$ 64 and 82 billion annually (depending on source you consult), growing 20% per year and that is the extremely high 10 % of its GDP. Read the rest of this entry »

The dangers of populism waxing

By Jonathan Power

April 4th 2017

The long talked-about referendum in Turkey will happen on April 16th. In effect voters have to decide whether the president, Recep Erdogan, in theory the incumbent of a relatively modest political post, should now be given the powers of the president and prime minister together.

Combined with a large majority in Parliament he would have enormous power to shape Turkey around his pro-Islamic agenda. Although working within a democratic system Erdogan is in many ways a populist, rather in the mould of President Donald Trump.

Shortly after his Justice and Development Party first won an election in 2003 I was in Turkey and my first question to the people I interviewed was does the party have a “secret agenda”- that is was planning at some future date to make the country Islamist. “Definitely not”, was the almost universal response.

How wrong they were. Or perhaps they weren’t. Maybe over the years Erdogan has changed his spots.

Either way Turkey now confronts a situation where populism, Islamism and nationalism are becoming Turkey’s dominant forces. This is dangerous for Turkey.

Its highly educated, secular-minded, middle class will have less influence and indeed will be singled out and prosecuted, as many journalists, professors, novelists and judges are these days. Turkey will become even more anti the European Union – and what a mistake it was not to admit Turkey when twelve years ago it was knocking loudly on the door and was rebuffed.

The Islamist forces so strong today would have been Read the rest of this entry »

The US general in Europe is dishonest and beyond the rational

And a few words about Western mainstream media unwillingness to deal with NATO criticism

By Jan Oberg

It’s as amazing as it is frightening how the West – a group of countries allegedly fighting for truth against propaganda and fake news by others – leads exactly that game itself.

And so is the degree to which Western allegedly free media – meaning free also of political powers that be – continue to ask no questions and do no research. We are obviously living in the post-intellectual age, knowledge having been replaced by marketed and more or less invented, elite self-serving narratives. For instance…

Take a close look at what Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. European Command, says when testifying before the US House Armed Service Committee. He is also SACEUR – Supreme Allied Commander Europe, the man whose views and actions will decide the fate of 500+ Europeans should there be a major war in this region of the world.

What is says is plain irresponsible. It’s beyond the rational. While it may not be fake news, it’s an example of ignored, omitted news.

He blows up beyond recognition the so-called Russian threat. There is no single evidence of it in his statement – why it would happen, how, where, with what motives the Moscow would have and – in particular – how likely it is to become reality. He merely asserts it – based upon a wildly exaggerated estimate of his own authority: Read the rest of this entry »

TFF PressInfo # 411: Defending the UN against Trump’s erasing the UN

By Richard Falk

March 4, 2017

Donald Trump has articulated clearly, if somewhat vaguely and incoherently, his anti-globalist, anti-UN approach on foreign policy.

For instance, in late February he told a right-wing audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference that “there is no such thing as a global anthem, a global currency, or a global flag. This is the United States that I am representing. I am not representing the globe.”

A similar sentiment was expressed to Congress a few days later in a tone of voice and choice of words praised by media wonks as ‘presidential.’ On this occasion Trump said, “[m]y job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America.”

Such rhetoric coming from a normal American leader would probably be interpreted as an expression of geopolitical humility, implicitly rejecting the standard insistence on American exceptionalism, exemplified in recent times by the project to create and maintain the first global state in human history.

This potentially self-limiting language might even be understood as renouncing earlier claims to assert American global leadership as the keystone of world order.

George W. Bush in 2002 gave this bold leadership claim a sharp edge when he insisted that only the US model of market-based constitutionalism was a legitimate form of governance for sovereign states in the 21st century.

Or even more grandiosely, in the spirit of Michael Mandelbaum and Thomas Friedman, that the United States as a consequence of its martial strength, technological prowess, democratic values and institutions, and skills of leadership provides the world with the benevolent reality of virtual ‘world government.’

Let’s face it, Donald Trump is not a normal political leader, nor is he someone disposed to embrace humility in any form, so we should take his pledge to represent American interests while leaving the world to fend for itself with many grains of salt, especially if we consider the specifics of the Trump worldview.

What Trump seems to be offering is maximum disengagement from international and global arrangements designed to Read the rest of this entry »

Asking foolish questions about serious issues

By Richard Falk

When the Clinton campaign started bitching about Russia interfering in US elections by hacking into the DNC I was struck by their excesses of outrage and the virtual absence of any acknowledgement that the United States has been interfering in dozens of foreign elections for decades with no apparent second thoughts.

CNN and other media brings one national security expert after another to mount various cases against Putin and the Kremlin, and to insist that Russia is up to similar mischief in relation to the upcoming French elections.

And never do they dare discuss whether such interference is a rule of the game, similar to espionage, or whether what was alleged to have been done by the Russians might lead the US political leaders and its intelligence agencies to reconsider its own reliance on such tactics to help sway foreign elections.

Is this selective perception merely one more instance of American exceptionalism?

We can hack away, but our elections and sovereign space are hallowed ground, which if encroached upon, should be resisted by all possible means. It is one thing to argue that democracy and political freedom are jeopardized by such interference as is being attributed to Moscow, and if their behavior influenced the outcome, it makes Russia responsible for a disaster not only in the United States but in the world.

The disaster is named Trump.

Assuming this Russian engagement by way of what they evidently call ‘active measures’ occurred is, first of all, an empirical matter of gathering evidence and reaching persuasive conclusions.

Assuming the allegations are to some extent validated, it hardly matters whether by what means the interference was accomplished, whether done by cyber technology, electronic eavesdropping, dirty tricks, secret financial contributions, or otherwise.

What is diversionary and misleading is to foster the impression that the Russians breached solemn rules of international law by disrupting American democracy and doing their best to get Trump elected or weaken the Clinton presidency should she have been elected.

The integrity of American democratic procedures may have been Read the rest of this entry »

TFF PressInfo # 208: Why everybody but NATO live happily with Russia

By Jonathan Power

March 7th 2017.

The state of being vigorously anti the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is becoming out of control. It is in danger of becoming pathological and self-destructive. What does the West gain in the long run if it sees nothing ahead but being anti-Russia?

The West is in danger of having embarked on a journey to nowhere. Russia is not going to change significantly in the near future. The very close Putin/ Dimitri Medvedev team are going to remain in the saddle for a long time.

We are not yet in a second Cold War. Those who say we are don’t know their history.

The Cold War was years of military confrontation, not least with nuclear arms. It was a competition for influence that stretched right around the globe and it was done with guns. There was the Cuban missile crisis when nuclear weapons were nearly used.

If Putin is here to stay we have to deal with him in a courteous and constructive way. Russia is not a serious military threat. President Donald Trump’s proposal for an increase in US defence spending is larger than the whole of the Russian defence budget.*

Neither is Russian ideology. When the Soviet Union was communist there was a purpose behind Moscow’s overseas policies – it was to spread the type of government of the supposedly Marxist-Leninist workers’ state. No longer.

Today the militant anti-Putinists – I would include in this group Barack Obama, most of the big media in much of the Western world and most, but by no means all, EU leaders – believe they are defending the US-led “liberal democratic order”. They believe that Russia is intent on undermining it. In their eyes it is democracy against authoritarianism.

But it is not. Read the rest of this entry »

TFF PressInfo # 405: Keep focus on Aleppo and global dimensions of Syria

By Jan Oberg

Three perspectives on the Syrian conflict formation

The Syrian conflict formation is hugely more complicated than we’ve been told by Western politicians (all mainstream in spite of democratic features) and mainstream/dependent media.

To some there are only internal aspects and it’s called a civil war only. That’s a necessary but not sufficient aspect.

The same goes for the only regional perspective focusing on e.g. the Israel-Palestine conflict, Iran’s, Saudi-Arabia’s, Turkey’s roles and policies.

To others, everything can be explained from the point of view of Western interventionism/imperialism. That’s also a necessary but not sufficient aspect.

To understand anything of the Syrian conflict formation – and there are very many layers, dimensions and participants over the last 100 years – we need all three basic approaches.

But given that Westerners are likely to have been informed by Western media and politicians they are likely to grossly underestimate the third, the Western-global dimension.

And that narrative is likely to be politically correct, to underestimate the nasty sides of the West the last good 100 years in the region and present the West as basically good guys interested in peace, democracy and freedom.

This bias has been reinforced by what is probably the most massive marketing/public relation effort in any modern war – in the style of the fake news story about Saddam’s soldiers throwing out babies from their incubators in Kuwait City. In order words, pure invention/lies/planted stories/rumours and PSYOPs – psychological operations selling unverifiable stories to influence our hearts and mind in a single policy-promoting direction.

The US/CIA involvement in Syria over the last 68 years is well-documented and easy to access – but never pointed out by the intellectually lazy who think it is enough to just point out that everything is the fault of the “dictator” and his “regime”.

The US worked on deliberately de-stabilising Syria years before 2011 (as documented by WikiLeaks and others) when the peaceful demonstrations took place. The Western military support to RIOTs (Rebels, Insurgents, Opposition and Terrorists – most of the latter) was stepped up and while many point out that the US under Obama didn’t “do anything”, it can be argued that NATO countries acted in a variety of ways, too many and wrong-headed ways – none of them serving a politically negotiated solution, peace or democracy in Syria.

The agenda was foreign interference, promoted military foreign presence (aggression) in international law terms and regime change. One more regimes change, that is, after the earlier completely failed ones in Iraq and Libya.

A series of Western NGOs – no longer Non but NEAR-Governmental Organisations – were part and parcel of the policy, increasingly involved and funded by the Western/NATO/Turkish-Saudi-Gulf-Israeli strategy of de-stabilization – such as US-based Avaaz and French foreign ministry manufactured media outfits such as the Syrian Media Incubator Aleppo Media Centre, the SMART News Agency, the media work of the White Helmets which did humanitarian work only among RIOT fighters and relatives (and stole the name of Syrian Civilian Defence from Syria’s own organisation with that name from 1953).

They came in on the civilian media narrative-creating side. And there are others. Since the days of Yugoslavia, think tanks, human rights and humanitarian organisations have been drawn in – and accepted – to serve specific political interventionist agendas in spite of calling themselves independent, not-for-profit etc. This co-optations spells, potentially, the end of civil society as well as of the open and critical debate about governments’ policies.

All of this continued and was stepped up also after it had become clear that the legitimate, peaceful, democratic, anti-govenment opposition in Syria had been completely sidelined and/or overtaken by Syrian militants and foreigners with guns in their hands.

The West did not get cold feet, it stepped up it regime-change policies in all kinds of ways, regrettably also by massive NGO-investments in proxi- and other pro-war campaigns.

No one thought of the consequences for the huge majority of the innocent Syrian people who had never touched a gun, or thought of doing so.

From the Jibrin Reception Center, note the footwear © Jan Oberg 2016

And two more perspectives: Don’t focus on the violence and the evil guy only – it’s war-promoting

No one seems to even have asked the question Read the rest of this entry »

Evolving democracy

By Johan Galtung

February 13, 2017

What is the essence of democracy?

“Rule with the consent of the ruled” implies two classes of people, Rulers and Ruled; concretely State and People, Statism. “Free and Fair Elections” implies voting for a Parliament; Parliamentarism. Together, a three-tier power structure State-Parliament-People; with People controlling Parliament, and Parliament controlling State.

In 2016 some voting differed from what State-Parliament expected; leading to talk about elitist vs populist democracy – from statism and parliamentarism to peopleism. A crisis. And talk about post-democracy.

Another answer about democratic essence is “one-tier self-ruling units”; no rulers vs ruled, and decisions are made by general assemblies for all. This is often referred to as Anarchism, “no structure”. A misnomer: there is no State and no Parliament, but many assemblies. A concrete interpretation would be Localism, the units being local authorities – LAs, municipalities; the assemblies being their municipal councils.

A key dimension then becomes the level of state control of LAs. In Spain, with an anarchist ideological tradition, the LAs are strong.

A different, not institutional – more philosophical, intellectual in general – answer would pick up words like transparency and dialogue.

Democracy is a context with everything in the open, no closed doors, available to everlasting people dialogue: by way of the word, logos. Fine for people who are good with words.

How about those who are not, Read the rest of this entry »

New year – old wishes left and right

By Johan Galtung

This New Year announces itself with bangs all over, not whimpers.

Pope Francis made a tour d’horizon on all continents, strongly denouncing the violence in favor of his alternative: negotiation.

Much violence is copycat or copyrat; violence being a la mode. Copying–aka learning–is not wrong. But it depends on what is copied.

Here my 10-11 wishes:

Wish no. 1: copying peace rather than violence, for instance from ASEAN and the Nordic Community, making peace self-reinforcing.

Wish no. 2: reporting violence less prominently, more toward the end of newspapers-TV-radio news, and reporting peace upfront.

Wish no. 3: understanding war better, not only how many killed but how many bereaved; understanding peace better as model for others.

Wish no. 4: introducing Yin/Yang in Western thought: no totally good or bad humans or states around; they are all improvable mixtures.

Wish no. 5: linking the good in ourselves to the good in others for peaceful cooperation, yet keeping the bad in mind, for security.

Wish no. 6: identifying unsolved conflicts and unconciled traumas that may lead to violence; solving the conflicts, healing the traumas. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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