Daily archives: September 30, 2009

Independent World Report

There is a new international affairs magazine called International World Report. The first issue has a very interesting focus on Central Asia, The article on the Uighurs is a good introduction to the subject. There is also an interview with me. This is perfectly accurate, but as always when you read back a verbatim transcript you think of things you might have put better or explained further.


I don’t know if future issues will maintain a Central Asian focus, but in any event the magazine looks like it could be a good source on lesser known foreign policy areas.

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Iain Dale’s Bracknell Campaign

If I were a resident of Bracknell, I would not vote in the Tory Open Primary as I think the concept of choosing candidates of your political opponents is silly. Taken as given that I am not a Conservative and disagree with him on many points, I would hope that they choose Iain Dale, who is harmless by Tory standards and can be fun.

One person I would not vote for is the crusading neo-Conservative Rory Stewart. It is particularly annoying that he is constantly referred to as a former diplomat. Stewart was an MI6 officer and not a member of the FCO.

Three years ago I received a message from the FCO asking me not to mention this as, at that time, Stewart was still very active for MI6 in Afghanistan and his life could have been endangered. I agreed, and even removed a reference from my blog. However now that he is safely and lucratively ensconsed at Harvard, I see no reason to conceal the truth. I is necessary to reveal this so that people can correctly evaluate his political pronouncements on Iraq and Afghanistan, and his motives in making them.

In putting himself forward for election, Stewart has forfeited the right to conceal his background from the electorate.

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Losing Murdoch May Help Find Their Soul

I cringed throughout Gordon Brown’s speech yesterday. I retain, despite all, a soft spot for Gordon Brown. I know enough people who know him from Edinburgh, to be convinced that Brown basically means well. He is very wrong, but he means well. That is in sharp contrast to Blair, who is just a very talented charlatan devoid of any core belief other than his own self enrichment.

The Labour conference is attended by people whose standard of living depends upon their party having control of the state apparatus. Blair delivered on their personal craving for power and position, but self-evidently cared about none of the social justice issues which the party’s founders really did believe in, and which the conference members like to think they believe in, when they are maudlin drunk. So they followed Tony without loving him, and reserved warmer cheers for Gordon who they sensed was not actually a bad person.

Now, with no Blair to contrast with, Brown’s appeal of being well meaning but crap is less obvious. Watching him make a conference speech is like watching Eddie the Eagle plunge down a ski ramp – he is plucky but utterly unsuited. Indeed these are qualities which are fundamental to Grodon’s world view, as evidence by the execrable ghost written books he churns out, on themes like Courage and Britishness. It as though he is stuck in the Boy’s Own Paper. No wonder he believes he saved the world.

Yesterday’s speech was just excruciating to watch. The “Highlight” was a list of New Labour’s alleged achievements. He emphasised each by an extraordinary jerky hunch of the shoulders accompanied by a swivel of the head. It looked really weird – like a Gerry Anderson puppet, but without the warmth.

It was almost as weird as the previous day’s Mandelson performance. That was the most self-regarding speech I have ever heard, returning again and again to Mandelson himself as the reference point of success. His culminating point – “If I can come back, we can come back” deserves more analysis. What does it mean? “Because this government is so dodgy that a Minister twice sacked for corruption can come back a third time, then people will vote for us”?

Brown has promised us Magdalen homes for pregnant teens and an unspecified further crackdown on yobs. Here again Brown moved into superhero mode. “Whenever and wherever there is anti-social behaviour, we will be there to fight it.” That is plainly not true. It lacks any connection with reality. To seek to reduce anti-social behaviour is a good thing. Much more attention needs to be paid to the causes of the loss of family and community cohesion, and less to immediate recourse to the criminal legal system. But the idea that superheroes will descend “whenever and wherever” goes beyond the realm of legitimate rhetorical aspiration into the realm of delusion.

Brown’s empty rhetoric on banking bonuses could not conceal the fact that he intends to do nothing practical about them.

There is no real connection between yesterday’s speech and the announcement that the Sun will no longer support New Labour, other than being timed to endear Murdoch to the Tories.

New Labour should not be sorry to have lost Murdoch’s support. They should be deeply ashamed that they ever had it. At the last election, the Sun made plain that it was only endorsing New Labour because of Iraq and the “War on Terror” agenda.

Should New Labour ever recover electoral support, it will be after a period in opposition in which it must decide whether to try to outflank the Tories from the right and try to ally again with Murdoch, or try to remember something of what it was founded for.

How long will the “New Labour” brand be retained? It is associated with the liberalisation of banking regulaton and the disatrous collapse that followed, and with the horror of Bush foreign policy. If “New Labour” were a car, it would be eligible for Mandelson’s scrappage scheme.

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Iran, Israel and The Law

One of my passionate convictions is a belief in international law to govern relations between nations and to establish basic rules of humanitarian conduct within nations.

A comment on my last posting asked by what right the Royal Navy was intercepting vessels carrying narcotics on the High Seas. In one sense the answer is straightforward, and contained in Article 108 of the UN Convention on The Law of The Sea:


Illicit traffic in narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances

1. All States shall cooperate in the suppression of illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances engaged in by ships on the high seas contrary to international conventions.

2. Any State which has reasonable grounds for believing that a ship flying its flag is engaged in illicit traffic in narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances may request the cooperation of other States to suppress such traffic.

That is slightly more complicated than it sounds. It is rather ambiguous about whether you need the permission of the flag state (the state where the ship is registered) before you can board a vessel on the High Seas. The most obvious interpretation might be that para 2 indicates you do need permission, and para 1 indicates the flag state should give it.

In most cases you would try to get permission of the flag state before acting against one of its ships, but that may not be practicable in a fast moving operation. The situation is complicated by the fact that the law presumes flag states to be responsible. Although the some of the worst of the abuse has been ameliorated, that is of course far from the case. Liberia and Panama were the most famous examples where the corrupt government of a petty or failed state

sold the right to register ships to unscrupulous businessmen, who granted the flag to any owner who wished to escape serious regulation of the safety of the vessel and crew, qualification requirements for officers, union recognition, and environmental and other regulation which may be practiced by a “real” flag state. The Liberian shipping register was not based in, and had no connection to Liberia other than the formal payment and larger backhanders for the rights.

For those with a Third World Good, First World Bad view of international relations, it is worth noting that attempts to reform the blatant abuse were frustrated for decades by the G77 in the UN.

I am not aware of any case law on the subject. It seems improbable that any flag state would want to go to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea over an intercept on the High Seas which did net a haul of drugs. But if an innocent vessel – let’s say a Venezuelan one – is boarded without permission of Venezuela on the High Seas, the law may be clarified.

The point is an important one; an example is the Proliferation Security Initiative. This was a Bush Blair plan to intercept ships going to North Korea on the High Seas and search them for nuclear components. Interestingly the initial plan adopted in September 2003 was for an international naval patrol by UK, US, Australia and others to intercept ships going to North Korea to prevent passage of “Narcotics and WMD”.

Now there is no right at all in international law to stop vessels on the High Seas and search them for WMD components. But there is the duty under UNCLOS to co-operate against narcotics trafficking. Bush and Blair cannot seriously have expected anybody to believe that their scheme was designed to prevent narcotics being smuggled into North Korea. Plainly the inclusion of narcotics was intended to abuse the powers under that head in order to search for something else. In fact, the Proliferation Security Initiative plainly required a Security Council Resolutin, and China made plain that Bush/Blair were not going to get away with that one.

Another comment on the same thread alluded to the Israeli ramming of an aid/campaigning ship en route to Gaza, and suggested there is no such thig as international law.

Well, the Israeli action was plainly illegal in any number of ways. A naval attack on a peaceful civilian ship not in time of war, a denial of innocent passage or freedom of the High Seas (depending exactly where it took place) and a subsequent failure of the duty to render assistance to a vessel in distress. It is not that there is no international law; the problem is enforcing it.

From 1945 for the next 50 years, international law made tremendous strides in establishing basic rights and norms and regulating relations between states. International judicial institutions made hundreds of landmark judgements, which were indeed in the vast majority of cases complied with. The US had a history of holding out against such developments and then, a couple of decades after everyone else, signing up (as with the Convention on the Law of the Sea).

Then came the Bush/Blair disaster. With Russia in near catatonic economic shock and China just starting to emerge, Bush/Blair argued that the might of a single military superpower equalled right, and that the moral convictions of divinely inspired leaderhip overrode international law. The illegal invasion of Iraq, the use of torture, the abjuring of the Geneva Conventions, were just part of the Bush/Blair attack on the whole concept of being bound by law. It was a Neitzschean view of the US President as Hero.

With the UK and half of Europe following the money, the pier of the largest bulwark of support for the concept of international law was fatally corroded.

One key aspect of the development of international law prior to this was a growing acceptance of the notion that at some point international law obtains a universality, whether or not states have signed up to the specific instrument. This is separate to the question of the number of ratifications needed to bring the Treaty into force, though that is a necessary prior step. Put another way, notions encapsulated in treaties pass into customary international law.

This is, in fact, common sense. Nuremburg confirmed the principle – it would not have been taken as a defence for the Nazi leaders to say that they did not subscribe to the same system of morality as the rest of the world.

Which brings me to Israel. The fact that Israel is one of the handful of countries not to have ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, does not make it any less illegal for Israel to ram civilian vessels. Equally – and contrary to the point made by another commenter on an earlier entry – Israeli nuclear weapons are not legal, just because Israel has not ratified the nuclear non-proliferation treaties. Israel has no more right than Nazi Germany to choose to be an aggressive rogue state, and cannot simply claim to be above the framework of international law.

It is, of course, perfectly possible for behaviour to be legal yet still reprehensible. It is worth noting that it is perfectly legal for Iran to develop medium range missiles. But to test fire them now is an obvious provocation from a regime that is fanatical and deeply irresponsible.

The annoying thing about Ahmadinejad’s speech at the UN was that there were whole swathes of it with which I was entirely in agreement. At least he did not get into holocaust denial on this occasion: if he could have further refrained from the couple of sentences which were indeed anti-semitic, he would have made the walkout appear unjustified and puerile, But the man is plainly deranged. (I expect that Roman Polanski, whose mother died in Auschwitz, would be surprised at the claim that the Holocuast was an invention.)

While Iran is entitled to develop its missiles, to develop nuclear warheads is illegal. I have maintained all along that Iran is indeed seeking to do this, and the admittance of its secret nstallation is pretty hard to construe as part of peaceful nuclear power development.

Incidentally, this is what a secret nuclear installation looks like.


I can think of no justification at all for taking any measures against Iran over its nuclear programme, that we do not take against Israel for its major illegal nuclear arsenal.

The signs are good for the developing US/Russian rapprochement on Iran, and I regard that as a good thing. It moves us further from a scenario in which the US may be involved in a military attack on Iran, and leaves Gordon Brown out of line in the ferocity of his anti-Iranian rhetoric. I expect that New Labour feel they could use a war before the general election, but I don’t think they will get one.

Thanks to Tony for the link.

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