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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Sleepwalking into a Big War


Soldiers rehearsing for this year’s 9 May Victory Day parade in Moscow Sefa Karacan / Anadolu Agency / Getty
West fearful as it loses military advantage

The major powers are planning for war and claim that’s the best way to defend against war. Will this mutual hawkishness lead to armed conflict?

by Michael T Klare
Le Monde Diplomatique
September, 2016

As the US presidential race approaches its climax and European officials ponder the implications of the UK’s Brexit vote, public discussion of security affairs is largely confined to strategies for combating international terrorism. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are trying to persuade voters of their superior qualifications to lead this battle, while European leaders scramble to bolster their countries’ defences against homegrown extremists. 

But though talk of terrorism fills the news media and the political space, it is secondary in the conversations of generals, admirals and defence ministers: it’s not low-level conflict that commands their attention but rather what they call ‘big wars’ — large-scale, high-level conflict with great-power adversaries like Russia and China. Such major conflicts, long considered most unlikely, are now deemed ‘plausible’ by western military strategists, who claim that urgent steps are needed to deter and, if necessary, prevail in such engagements. 

This development, overlooked by the media, has serious consequences, starting with heightened tension between Russia and the West, each eyeing the other in the expectation of a confrontation. More worrying is the fact that many politicians believe that war is not only possible, but may break out at any moment — a view that historically has tended to precipitate military responses where diplomatic solutions might have been possible. 

The origins of this thinking can be found in the reports and comments of senior military officials (typically at professional meetings and conferences). ‘In both Brussels and Washington, it has been many years since Russia was a focus of defence planning’ but that ‘has now changed for the foreseeable future,’ states one such report, summarising the views at a workshop organised in 2015 by the Institute of National Strategic Studies (INSS), a branch of the US National Defence University. The report says that as a result of Russian aggression in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, many defence experts ‘can now envision a plausible pathway to war’ and this, in turn, ‘has led defence planners to recognise the need for renewed focus of the possibility of confrontation and conflict with Moscow’ (1).
‘A return to great power competition’
Such a conflict would be most likely to occur on NATO’s eastern front, encompassing Poland and the Baltic states, and would be fought with high-tech conventional weapons. But these planners also postulate that it could encompass Scandinavia and the Black Sea region, and might escalate into the nuclear realm. So US and European strategists are calling for a build-up of western military capabilities in all of these regions and for moves to enhance the credibility of NATO’s tactical nuclear options (2). A recent article in the NATO Review calls for the increased inclusion of nuclear-capable aircraft in future NATO military exercises, to create uncertainty in Russian minds about the point at which NATO commanders might order nuclear strikes to counter any Russian breakthrough on the eastern front (and presumably deter such an assault) (3). 

This way of thinking, though confined until recently to military academies and thinktanks, has begun to shape government policy in significant and alarming ways. We see this in the new US defence budget, in decisions adopted at the NATO summit in July, and in the UK’s July decision to renew the Trident nuclear missile programme. 

US defence secretary Ash Carter said the new budget ‘marks a major inflection point for the Department of Defence.’ Whereas the department had been focused in recent years ‘on large-scale counter-insurgency operations,’ it must now prepare for ‘a return to great power competition,’ possibly involving all-out conflict with a ‘high-end enemy’ such as Russia or China. These countries, Carter declared, ‘are our most stressing competitors,’ possessing advanced weapons that could neutralise some US advantages. To overcome this challenge, ‘we must have — and be seen to have — the ability to impose unacceptable costs on an advanced aggressor that will either dissuade them from taking provocative action or make them deeply regret it if they do’ (4). 

In the short term, this will require urgent action to bolster US capacity to counter a potential Russian assault on NATO positions in eastern Europe. Under its European Reassurance Initiative, the Pentagon will spend $3.4bn in fiscal 2017 to deploy an extra armoured combat brigade in Europe and to pre-position the arms and equipment for yet another brigade. To bolster US strength over the long term, there would be greater US spending on high-tech conventional weapons needed to defeat a high-end enemy, such as advanced combat aircraft, surface ships and submarines. Carter noted that, on top of this, ‘the budget also invests in modernising our nuclear deterrent’ (5). It’s hard not to be struck by echoes of the cold war.

The final communiqué adopted by the NATO heads of state and government in Warsaw on 9 July is also reminiscent of this era (6). Coming just a few days after the Brexit vote, the NATO summit drowned out any concerns over disarray in Europe with a stentorian anti-Russian attitude. ‘Russia’s recent activities and policies have reduced stability and security, increased unpredictability and changed the security environment,’ says the communiqué. As a result, NATO remains ‘open to political dialogue’ but must not only suspend ‘all practical civilian and military cooperation’ with Russia but also take steps to enhance its ‘deterrence and defence posture’ (7). 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Those Who Benefit from Endless War

 



Thursday, June 2, 2016

How Many Trillion More Will the Pentagon Spend on Middle East Wars Before They Confront the Disaster They've Created?



By Andrew Bacevich
TomDispatch via Alternet

May 31, 2016 - We have it on highest authority: the recent killing of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour by a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan marks [3] “an important milestone.” So the president of the United States has declared, with that claim duly echoed and implicitly endorsed by media commentary—the New York Times reporting [4], for example, that Mansour’s death leaves the Taliban leadership “shocked” and “shaken.”
But a question remains: A milestone toward what exactly?

Toward victory? Peace? Reconciliation? At the very least, toward the prospect of the violence abating? Merely posing the question is to imply that U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Islamic world serve some larger purpose.

Yet for years now that has not been the case. The assassination of Mansour instead joins a long list of previous milestones, turning points, and landmarks briefly heralded as significant achievements only to prove much less than advertised.

One imagines that Obama himself understands this perfectly well. Just shy of five years ago, he was urging Americans to “take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding.” In Iraq and Afghanistan, the president insisted, “the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance.”

“These long wars,” he promised [5], were finally coming to a “responsible end.” We were, that is, finding a way out of Washington’s dead-end conflicts in the Greater Middle East.
Who can doubt Obama’s sincerity, or question his oft-expressed wish to turn away from war and focus instead on unattended needs here at home? But wishing is the easy part. Reality has remained defiant. Even today, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that George W. Bush bequeathed to Obama show no sign of ending.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Barbara Lee Recognizes Vietnam Peace Movement In House Resolution


By Tom Hayden
Democracy Journal
 
April 21, 2016 - Rep. Barbara Lee has introduced a House Resolution (H.Res.695) recognizing the Vietnam anti-war movement as, “one of the largest and most prolonged efforts to achieve peace and justice in recent generations and was critical to bringing an end to the war.” Rep. John Conyers became a co-sponsor as an effort begins to seek endorsements from other congressional representatives.
 
The Lee resolution is a direct result of last year’s May 1-2 commemoration of the movement at a conference in Washington DC. 
The peace resolution will draw the ire of Republicans and reluctance of some Democrats. The Vietnam peace movement is the only Sixties movement that has been marginalized instead of memorialized. Yet it was a life-changing experience for many during the war, including thousands of soldiers and veterans, and the US government has tried to stamp out what they call “the Vietnam Syndrome.”

The Lee Resolution is an organizing tool for anyone wanting to respond to the Pentagon’s recent false narrative of history on its website. If grass-roots organizers visit, engage and petition their congressional offices, there is a strong chance for reinvigorating the continuing debate over Vietnam. 

Next site of the debate: April 26-28th in Austin, Texas, the Vietnam War Summit presented by the LBJ Presidential Library, with a keynotes by Henry Kissinger and John Kerry, and panel with Tom Hayden, Marilyn Young, and David Maraniss titled, "The War At Home".

Also join me May 7 at Skylight Books in LA for my conversation with  this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, author Viet Thanh Nguyen while we discuss his new book NOTHING EVER DIES: VIETNAM AND THE MEMORY OF WAR. (Text of Resolution Below)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Kurds are now key to a Middle East solution

 

 

Powers great and small must contend with group’s demands as never before, writes Henri Barkey

By Henri Barkey
Financial Times
 
Feb 25, 2016 - The Kurds have never been as influential in the Middle East as they are today. They hold the balance of power in Iraq and Syria, and are in the midst of an insurrection in Turkey. But this Kurdish awakening is different from previous ones — in Iraq in the 1970s or Turkey in the 1990s. Powers great and small have to contend with Kurdish demands as never before.

The US finds itself reluctantly drawn into this Kurdish denouement; it needs the Kurds as much as it needs the Turks in its efforts to defeat Isis, the jihadi group. Yet America’s primary ally in Syria, the Kurdish Democratic Union party (PYD), is being bombarded by its longstanding Nato ally, Turkey. The PYD has proven itself to be the most, if not the only, effective force against Isis; almost all the territory the jihadis have lost since conquering parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014 has been to PYD militias working in tandem with the US air force. The Turks consider the PYD, which is intimately linked to the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), as nothing more than a terrorist organisation.
While the US cannot satisfy all parties, the current conundrum also offers opportunities to Washington to push for a grand bargain between Turkey on the one hand and the Syrian and Turkish Kurds on the other that would benefit all sides involved in the region, as well as the US and its struggle against Isis.

There is also a sense of urgency as Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, mired in his own controversial effort to transform the Turkish republic from a parliamentary system into a presidential one that would give him wide if not unlimited powers, engages in a dangerous game of brinkmanship.

He has raised the political ante not just by shelling PYD positions in Syria — shells are designed to hurt the PYD as much as disrupt the PYD-American relationship — but also attributing a recent terrorist attack in Ankara to the PYD, despite the latter’s denials and the rest of the world’s disbelief. Turkey does not want to differentiate between the PKK and the PYD, despite the efforts of PYD leader Salih Muslim to convince the Turks that the group has no design on Turkish territory and, on the contrary, seeks to co-operate with Ankara.

What worries Mr Erdogan is that in three of the countries with sizeable Kurdish minorities — Turkey, Iraq and Syria — the Kurds are on the move. Only in Iran has the regime been more or less successful in holding down overt manifestations of Kurdish nationalism, and then only through repression.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

War, Peace, and Bernie Sanders

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard speaking in 2013 at the Civil Rights Luncheon during AFGE's annual Legislative Conference. (Photo: AFGE/flickr/cc)

By Robert C Koehler

Common Dreams

It’s the day after the big vote and I’m doing my best to dig Tulsi Gabbard’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders out from beneath the pile of Super Tuesday numbers and media declarations of winners and losers.

As a Boston Globe headline put it: “Clinton and Trump are now the presumptive nominees. Get used to it.”

But something besides winning and losing still matters, more than ever, in the 2016 presidential race. War and peace and a fundamental questioning of who we are as a nation are actually on the line in this race, or could be — for the first time since 1972, when George McGovern was the Democratic presidential nominee.

Embrace what matters deeply and there’s no such thing as losing.

Gabbard, an Iraq war vet, congresswoman from Hawaii and “rising star” in the Democratic establishment, stepped down as vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee in order to endorse Sanders — because he’s the only candidate who is not financially and psychologically tied to the military-industrial complex.

“As a veteran of two Middle East deployments, I know firsthand the cost of war,” she said, cracking the mainstream silence on U.S. militarism. “As a vice chair of the DNC, I am required to stay neutral in democratic primaries, but I cannot remain neutral any longer. The stakes are just too high.”

Because of Gabbard — only because of Gabbard — the multi-trillion-dollar monstrosity of U.S. militarism is getting a little mainstream media attention amid the reality-TV histrionics of this year’s presidential race, the Donald Trump phenomenon and the spectacle of Republican insult-flinging.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Bernie Sanders: The 2016 Peace Candidate




By Lawrence S. Wittner
History News Network


Feb. 12, 2016 - On February 10, 2016, Peace Action—the largest peace organization in the United States—announced its endorsement of Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination for President.

Peace Action is the descendant of two other mass U.S. peace organizations:  the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) and the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign (the Freeze).  SANE was founded in 1957 with the goal of ending nuclear weapons testing.  Soon, though, it broadened its agenda to include opposing the Vietnam War and other overseas military intervention, reducing military spending, and backing nuclear disarmament treaties, as well as supporting economic conversion from military to civilian production.  Among SANE’s early supporters were Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Walter Reuther, and Dr. Benjamin Spock.  The Freeze, initiated by Randy Forsberg, appeared in the late 1970s and reached a peak in the first half of the 1980s, when it led a widespread campaign to halt the Reagan administration’s dramatic nuclear weapons buildup and the dangerous slide toward nuclear war.  With much in common, SANE and the Freeze merged in 1987 to form Peace Action.  Like its predecessors, Peace Action devoted its efforts to building a more peaceful world.

Although the three peace organizations rarely endorsed Presidential candidates, they did so on occasion.  Appalled by the Vietnam War, SANE backed the peace campaigns of Eugene McCarthy in 1968 and George McGovern in 1972.  In 1984, challenging the Reagan administration’s bellicose approach to international affairs, SANE and the Freeze endorsed Walter Mondale.  Then, in 1992, fed up with twelve years of Republican hawkishness, the newly-combined organization threw its support behind Bill Clinton.
In its statement endorsing Bernie Sanders, Peace Action praised his opposition to both Iraq wars, support of legislation to reduce spending on nuclear weapons, strong backing of the Iran agreement, votes to curb military spending, and championing of diplomacy over war.  According to Kevin Martin, the executive director of the peace organization, Sanders “best represents the values that Peace Action and its 200,000 supporters have espoused.”  And, in fact, before Peace Action’s board of directors voted overwhelmingly to have the organization’s Peace PAC back the Sanders campaign, an online poll of Peace Action’s members revealed support for endorsement by 85 percent of the respondents.