Showing posts with label war. Show all posts
Showing posts with label war. Show all posts

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Yet another reason why the Warringah electorate should forcibly retire Tony Abbott at the 2019 federal election


It is an open secret that sacked former prime minister and Liberal MP for Warringah Tony Abbott would not be averse to taking over leadership of the Liberal Party again if it finds itself on the Opposition benches after the May 2019 federal election.

However, it is well to remember that his judgement is flawed and his influence, if it exists at all, is rarely positive.

Take his interaction with Ukraine.......

RT.com, 22 March 2016:

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has joined the list of ex-politicians invited by President Petro Poroshenko to advise him on how to rule Ukraine as a member of the so-called ‘international advisory council'.

Abbott unexpectedly popped up in the Ukrainian capital on Monday.

Comprised mostly of foreigners, the Kiev-based council was officially established last December. Previously called the International Advisory Council on Reforms, it aims to “facilitate the implementation of reforms in Ukraine on the basis of the best international experience.”

While still in office, the ex-PM had the third-lowest career-low approval rating of 24%, according to a February 2015 Newspoll. After losing Liberal leadership challenge back home last September and becoming vacant for political endeavors, Abbott was quickly invited to visit Ukraine.

Abbott and Poroshenko certainly have one thing in common – their dislike of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The former Australian leader said he would “shirtfront” the Russian head of state on the sidelines of 2014 G20 summit over the MH17 tragedy.

According to Poroshenko, Abbott was one of the most popular foreign politicians in Ukraine back in 2014. Abbott even joked about it saying that the “shirt-front must have translated well.” However, Abbott’s threat never materialized and Putin ended up cuddling a koala at the conference.

ABC News, 23 March 2016:

Former prime minister Tony Abbott has stepped up his support for Ukraine, joining a meeting of international figures headed by the country's president, Petro Poroshenko.

Mr Abbott has travelled to Kiev as part of a Ukrainian-led "international advisory council", which includes the former prime ministers of Slovakia and Lithuania.
"It is an honour to be in Kiev, Ukraine as a member of President Poroshenko's International Advisory Council," Mr Abbott said in a Facebook post.

"Also great to see the development of Kiev since I was last here 30 years ago."

The aim of the council is to "help build a strong and prosperous Ukraine", according to a statement on the Ukrainian President's website.

"Each of you were an author of economic or democratic miracle in your countries. You are true friends of Ukraine," the statement said.

"That's why I would like to unite our efforts in order to achieve the results and bring positive things to Ukraine.

"I am sure that this Council will help us outlive the period of dramatic events and Ukraine will become stronger."

The following years......

Times of Israel, 14 October 2017:

An activist against fascism who sued a Ukrainian municipality for naming a street for a Nazi SS officer has come under a campaign of intimidation, he said.

Mikhail Voroniak, a Red Army veteran, in summer sued the western municipality of Kalush near Lviv for deciding to name a street for Dmytro Paliiv, a commander of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, also known as the 1st Galician.

Voroniak told the Russian news site Primechaniya that he has come under a “aggressive pressures and threats of murder” since he sued. A local court last month dismissed his motion against the honor to Paliiv but Voroniak appealed to the Lviv Administrative Court of Appeals, which was scheduled to review the appeal last week.....

The Guardian, 2 March 2018:

Neo-Nazi groups involved in the fighting in Ukraine are actively seeking to recruit British far-right activists, a leading anti-fascist watchdog has warned.

At least two Britons are thought to have travelled to the war-torn eastern European country in recent months after encouragement by people linked to the Azov battalion, a notorious Ukrainian fascist militia, according to Hope Not Hate.

The warning comes only four days after the outgoing head of UK counter-terrorism policing, Mark Rowley, revealed that four far-right terror plots had been foiled in 2017 and extreme right groups were seeking to build international networks.

According to Hope Not Hate, a group named the Misanthropic Division, which is linked to the Azov battalion, is working with representatives of UK-based far-right groups, including the proscribed terror organisation National Action and a London-based Polish ultra-nationalist group, to recruit activists to travel to Ukraine.

Reuters, 20 March 2018:

As Ukraine’s struggle against Russia and its proxies continues, Kiev must also contend with a growing problem behind the front lines: far-right vigilantes who are willing to use intimidation and even violence to advance their agendas, and who often do so with the tacit approval of law enforcement agencies….

A January 28 demonstration, in Kiev, by 600 members of the so-called “National Militia,” a newly-formed ultranationalist group that vows “to use force to establish order,” illustrates this threat. While the group’s Kiev launch was peaceful, National Militia members in balaclavas stormed a city council meeting in the central Ukrainian town of Cherkasy the following day, skirmishing with deputies and forcing them to pass a new budget. 

Many of the National Militia's members come from the Azov movement, one of the 30-odd privately-funded “volunteer battalions” that, in the early days of the war, helped the regular army to defend Ukrainian territory against Russia's separatist proxies. 

Although Azov uses Nazi-era symbolism and recruits neo-Nazis into its ranks, a recent article in Foreign Affairs downplayed any risks the group might pose, pointing out that, like other volunteer militias, Azov has been “reined in” through its integration into Ukraine’s armed forces. While it’s true that private militias no longer rule the battlefront, it’s the home front that Kiev needs to worry about now.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea four years ago first exposed the decrepit condition of Ukraine’s armed forces, right-wing militias such as Azov and Right Sector stepped into the breach, fending off the Russian-backed separatists while Ukraine’s regular military regrouped. Though, as a result, many Ukrainians continue to regard the militias with gratitude and admiration, the more extreme among these groups promote an intolerant and illiberal ideology that will endanger Ukraine in the long term. Since the Crimean crisis, the militias have been formally integrated into Ukraine’s armed forces, but some have resisted full integration: Azov, for example, runs its own children’s training camp, and the careers section instructs recruits who wish to transfer to Azov from a regular military unit.

A set of postage stamps named "Master Sergeants of SS Galician Rifle Division" was printed for the 75th anniversary of the division which took place in April 2018.

Monday, 24 December 2018

A letter foreshadowing a politically unstable world in 2019


In the early hours of 20 December an increasingly unstable US President Donald J. Trump without consulting his own government tweeted; We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.

He followed that some some nine hours later with a series of tweets as a surprised world began to react.

Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer. Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing there work. Time to come home & rebuild. #MAGA


Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever? Time for others to finally fight.....

....Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us. I am building by far the most powerful military in the world. ISIS hits us they are doomed!

Trump's own Secretary of Defense, former General commanding United States General Command James Norman Mattis, resigned within hours.......

Secretary of Defence
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301.1000

December 20 2018

Dear Mr. President:

I have been privileged to serve as our country's 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.

I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department's business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong U.S. global influence.

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO's 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model - gaining veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic, and security decisions - to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department's interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability Within the Department.

I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensures the needs and interests of the 2.15 million Service Members and 732,079 DoD civilians receive undistracted attention of the Department at all times so that they can fulfill their critical, round-the-clock mission to protect the American people.

I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform.

James N. Mattis


Two days later it was reported that Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL Brett H. McGurk had also resigned in protest.


Friday, 14 December 2018

Human Rights 2018: when forgetting is not a good thing



The Guardian, 11 December 2018:

As those who lived through two world wars die out, taking with them real memories of past atrocities, the world is back on a path to self-destruction, a leading authority on torture has warned.

Human rights are facing a “worrying backlash” from a global community that has failed to “learn the lesson” of the past.

Speaking exclusively to the Guardian, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, said the global community had become “complacent” in the face of injustice because the world no longer understood why human rights should be protected or what the world would look like without them.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that 70 years after world war two, when the last witnesses of past atrocities are dying away, we start to see human rights being questioned on a broad scale,” said Melzer, a Swiss law professor who assumed the UN post in 2016.

“The generation that had the answer is almost gone. They left behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for us, but it is as if its message is no longer understood, and it looks like we will have to learn the same lesson the hard way again.”

Melzer’s comments mark the 70th anniversary of the declaration in a week when world leaders are in an uproar over global migration flows, with numerous countries backing out of a UN compact in Marrakech seeking to make migration a universal right.

Melzer pointed to the grave human rights violations occurring in key migration routes as proof that the global community now considers human rights a “luxury” instead of a right….

The first major dismantling of human rights began after 9/11, said Melzer, who worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) at the time. He said that the “global war on terror” saw the use of torture increasingly tolerated in public opinion as well as in mainstream entertainment….

The global erosion of human rights is just one crisis among many, said Melzer, from migration and the environment to financial instability, energy, poverty and cyber security. Rather than provide solutions to these problems, however, world leaders are instead “promoting regressive policies focused on national interests and decrying human rights as a threat to national sovereignty and security”.

Melzer added: “We must understand that, in a world full of globalised challenges, human rights are the very basis for our safety, stability and prosperity, and that any significant erosion of these rights will cause the collapse of our modern civilisation.


Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Scientists issue a final warning to humanity



THEN……

1992 World Scientists' Warning to Humanity

Scientist Statement: World Scientists' Warning to Humanity (1992) (PDF document)

Some 1,700 of the world's leading scientists, including the majority of Nobel laureates in the sciences, issued this appeal in November 1992. The World Scientists' Warning to Humanity was written and spearheaded by the late Henry Kendall, former chair of UCS's board of directors.

Introduction
Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.

NOW……

WILLIAM J. RIPPLE, CHRISTOPHER WOLF, THOMAS M. NEWSOME, MAURO GALETTI, MOHAMMED ALAMGIR, EILEEN CRIST, MAHMOUD I. MAHMOUD, WILLIAM F. LAURANCE, and 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries

Twenty-five years ago, the Union of Concerned Scientists and more than 1700 independent scientists, including the majority of living Nobel laureates in the sciences, penned the 1992 “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” (see supplemental file S1).

These concerned professionals called on humankind to curtail environmental destruction and cautioned that “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.” In their manifesto, they showed that humans were on a collision course with the natural world. They expressed concern about current, impending, or potential damage on planet Earth involving ozone depletion, freshwater availability, marine life depletion, ocean dead zones, forest loss, biodiversity destruction, climate change, and continued human population growth. They proclaimed that fundamental changes were urgently needed to avoid the consequences our present course would bring.

The authors of the 1992 declaration feared that humanity was pushing Earth’s ecosystems beyond their capacities to support the web of life. They described how we are fast approaching many of the limits of what the biosphere can tolerate without substantial and irreversible harm. The scientists pleaded that we stabilize the human population, describing how our large numbers—swelled by another 2 billion people since 1992, a 35 percent increase—exert stresses on Earth that can overwhelm other efforts to realize a sustainable future (Crist et al. 2017). They implored that we cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and phase out fossil fuels, reduce deforestation, and reverse the trend of collapsing biodiversity.

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of their call, we look back at their warning and evaluate the human response by exploring available time-series data. Since 1992, with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse (figure 1, file S1). Especially troubling is the current trajectory of potentially catastrophic climate change due to rising GHGs from burning fossil fuels (Hansen et al. 2013), deforestation (Keenan et al. 2015), and agricultural production— particularly from farming ruminants for meat consumption (Ripple et al. 2014). Moreover, we have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century.

Humanity is now being given a second notice, as illustrated by these alarming trends (figure 1). We are jeopardizing our future by not reining in our intense but geographically and demographically uneven material consumption and by not perceiving continued rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats (Crist et al. 2017). By failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperilled biosphere.

As most political leaders respond to pressure, scientists, media influencers, and lay citizens must insist that their governments take immediate action as a moral imperative to current and future generations of human and other life. With a groundswell of organized grassroots efforts, dogged opposition can be overcome and political leaders compelled to do the right thing. It is also time to re-examine and change our individual behaviors, including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most) and drastically diminishing our per capita consumption of fossil fuels, meat, and other resources.

Read the full Second Notice here.

ALL THE WHILE THE DOOMSDAY CLOCK IS TICKING.......

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 25 January 2018:

It is now two minutes to midnight

Editor’s note: Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and new technologies emerging in other domains. A printable PDF of this statement, complete with the President and CEO’s statement and Science and Security Board biographies, is available here.

To: Leaders and citizens of the world
Re: Two minutes to midnight

Date: January 25, 2018

In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II.

The greatest risks last year arose in the nuclear realm. North Korea’s nuclear weapons program made remarkable progress in 2017, increasing risks to North Korea itself, other countries in the region, and the United States. Hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions by both sides have increased the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation.
But the dangers brewing on the Korean Peninsula were not the only nuclear risks evident in 2017: The United States and Russia remained at odds, continuing military exercises along the borders of NATO, undermining the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), upgrading their nuclear arsenals, and eschewing arms control negotiations.

In the Asia-Pacific region, tensions over the South China Sea have increased, with relations between the United States and China insufficient to re-establish a stable security situation.
In South Asia, Pakistan and India have continued to build ever-larger arsenals of nuclear weapons.

And in the Middle East, uncertainty about continued US support for the landmark Iranian nuclear deal adds to a bleak overall picture.

To call the world nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger—and its immediacy.
On the climate change front, the danger may seem less immediate, but avoiding catastrophic temperature increases in the long run requires urgent attention now. Global carbon dioxide emissions have not yet shown the beginnings of the sustained decline towards zero that must occur if ever-greater warming is to be avoided. The nations of the world will have to significantly decrease their greenhouse gas emissions to keep climate risks manageable, and so far, the global response has fallen far short of meeting this challenge.

Beyond the nuclear and climate domains, technological change is disrupting democracies around the world as states seek and exploit opportunities to use information technologies as weapons, among them internet-based deception campaigns aimed at undermining elections and popular confidence in institutions essential to free thought and global security.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board believes the perilous world security situation just described would, in itself, justify moving the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight.

But there has also been a breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent US actions. In 2017, the United States backed away from its long-standing leadership role in the world, reducing its commitment to seek common ground and undermining the overall effort toward solving pressing global governance challenges. Neither allies nor adversaries have been able to reliably predict US actions—or understand when US pronouncements are real, and when they are mere rhetoric. International diplomacy has been reduced to name-calling, giving it a surreal sense of unreality that makes the world security situation ever more threatening.

Because of the extraordinary danger of the current moment, the Science and Security Board today moves the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to catastrophe. It is now two minutes to midnight—the closest the Clock has ever been to Doomsday, and as close as it was in 1953, at the height of the Cold War.

The Science and Security Board hopes this resetting of the Clock will be interpreted exactly as it is meant—as an urgent warning of global danger. The time for world leaders to address looming nuclear danger and the continuing march of climate change is long past. The time for the citizens of the world to demand such action is now:

#rewindtheDoomsdayClock.

The untenable nuclear threat. The risk that nuclear weapons may be used—intentionally or because of miscalculation—grew last year around the globe.

North Korea has long defied UN Security Council resolutions to cease its nuclear and ballistic missile tests, but the acceleration of its tests in 2017 reflects new resolve to acquire sophisticated nuclear weapons. North Korea has or soon will have capabilities to match its verbal threats—specifically, a thermonuclear warhead and a ballistic missile that can carry it to the US mainland. In September, North Korea tested what experts assess to be a true two-stage thermonuclear device, and in November, it tested the Hwasong-15 missile, which experts believe has a range of over 8,000 kilometers. The United States and its allies, Japan and South Korea, responded with more frequent and larger military exercises, while China and Russia proposed a freeze by North Korea of nuclear and missile tests in exchange for a freeze in US exercises.

The failure to secure a temporary freeze in 2017 was unsurprising to observers of the downward spiral of nuclear rhetoric between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The failure to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program will reverberate not just in the Asia-Pacific, as neighboring countries review their security options, but more widely, as all countries consider the costs and benefits of the international framework of nonproliferation treaties and agreements.

Nuclear risks have been compounded by US-Russia relations that now feature more conflict than cooperation. Coordination on nuclear risk reduction is all but dead, and no solution to disputes over the INF Treaty—a landmark agreement to rid Europe of medium-range nuclear missiles—is readily apparent. Both sides allege violations, but Russia’s deployment of a new ground-launched cruise missile, if not addressed, could trigger a collapse of the treaty. Such a collapse would make what should have been a relatively easy five-year extension of the New START arms control pact much harder to achieve and could terminate an arms control process that dates back to the early 1970s.

For the first time in many years, in fact, no US-Russian nuclear arms control negotiations are under way. New strategic stability talks begun in April are potentially useful, but so far they lack the energy and political commitment required for them to bear fruit. More important, Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea and semi-covert support of separatists in eastern Ukraine have sparked concerns that Russia will support similar “hybrid” conflicts in new NATO members that it borders—actions that could provoke a crisis at almost any time. Additional clash points could emerge if Russia attempts to exploit friction between the United States and its NATO partners, whether arising from disputes on burden-sharing, European Union membership, and trade—or relating to policies on Israel, Iran, and terrorism in the Middle East.

In the past year, US allies have needed reassurance about American intentions more than ever. Instead, they have been forced to negotiate a thicket of conflicting policy statements from a US administration weakened in its cadre of foreign policy professionals, suffering from turnover in senior leadership, led by an undisciplined and disruptive president, and unable to develop, coordinate, and clearly communicate a coherent nuclear policy. This inconsistency constitutes a major challenge for deterrence, alliance management, and global stability. It has made the existing nuclear risks greater than necessary and added to their complexity.

Especially in the case of the Iran nuclear deal, allies are perplexed. While President Trump has steadfastly opposed the agreement that his predecessor and US allies negotiated to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons, he has never successfully articulated practical alternatives. His instruction to Congress in 2017 to legislate a different approach resulted in a stalemate. The future of the Iran deal, at this writing, remains uncertain.

In the United States, Russia, and elsewhere around the world, plans for nuclear force modernization and development continue apace. The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review appears likely to increase the types and roles of nuclear weapons in US defense plans and lower the threshold to nuclear use. In South Asia, emphasis on nuclear and missile capabilities grows. Conventional force imbalances and destabilizing plans for nuclear weapons use early in any conflict continue to plague the subcontinent.

Reflecting long decades of frustration with slow progress toward nuclear disarmament, states signed a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, commonly known as the ban treaty, at the United Nations this past September. The treaty—championed by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work—is a symbolic victory for those seeking a world without nuclear weapons and a strong expression of the frustration with global disarmament efforts to date. Predictably, countries with nuclear weapons boycotted the negotiations, and none has signed the ban treaty. Their increased reliance on nuclear weapons, threats, and doctrines that could make the use of those weapons more likely stands in stark contrast to the expectations of the rest of the world.

An insufficient response to climate change. Last year, the US government pursued unwise and ineffectual policies on climate change, following through on a promise to derail past US climate policies. The Trump administration, which includes avowed climate denialists in top positions at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department, and other key agencies, has announced its plan to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. In its rush to dismantle rational climate and energy policy, the administration has ignored scientific fact and well-founded economic analyses.

These US government climate decisions transpired against a backdrop of worsening climate change and high-impact weather-related disasters. This year past, the Caribbean region and other parts of North America suffered a season of historic damage from exceedingly powerful hurricanes. Extreme heat waves occurred in Australia, South America, Asia, Europe, and California, with mounting evidence that heat-related illness and death are correspondingly increasing. The Arctic ice cap achieved its smallest-ever winter maximum in 2017, the third year in a row that this record has been broken. The United States has witnessed devastating wildfires, likely exacerbated by extreme drought and subsequent heavy rains that spurred underbrush growth. When the data are assessed, 2017 is almost certain to continue the trend of exceptional global warmth: All the warmest years in the instrumental record, which extends back to the 1800s, have—excepting one year in the late 1990s—occurred in the 21st century.

Despite the sophisticated disinformation campaign run by climate denialists, the unfolding consequences of an altered climate are a harrowing testament to an undeniable reality: The science linking climate change to human activity—mainly the burning of fossil fuels that produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases—is sound. The world continues to warm as costly impacts mount, and there is evidence that overall rates of sea level rise are accelerating—regardless of protestations to the contrary.

Especially against these trends, it is heartening that the US government’s defection from the Paris Agreement did not prompt its unravelling or diminish its support within the United States at large. The “We Are Still In” movement signals a strong commitment within the United States—by some 1,700 businesses, 250 cities, 200 communities of faith, and nine states, representing more than 40 percent of the US population—to its international climate commitments and to the validity of scientific facts.

This reaffirmation is reassuring, and other countries have maintained their steadfast support for climate action, reconfirmed their commitments to global climate cooperation, and clearly acknowledged that more needs to be done. French President Emmanuel Macron’s sober message to global leaders assembled at December’s global climate summit in Paris was a reality check after the heady climate negotiations his country hosted two years earlier: “We’re losing the battle. We’re not moving quickly enough. We all need to act.” And indeed, after plateauing for a few years, greenhouse gas emissions resumed their stubborn rise in 2017.

As we have noted before, the true measure of the Paris Agreement is whether nations actually fulfill their pledges to cut emissions, strengthen those pledges, and see to it that global greenhouse gas emissions start declining in short order and head toward zero. As we drift yet farther from this goal, the urgency of shifting course becomes greater, and the existential threat posed by climate change looms larger.

Emerging technologies and global risk. The Science and Security Board is deeply concerned about the loss of public trust in political institutions, in the media, in science, and in facts themselves—a loss that the abuse of information technology has fostered. Attempts to intervene in elections through sophisticated hacking operations and the spread of disinformation have threatened democracy, which relies on an informed electorate to reach reasonable decisions on public policy—including policy relating to nuclear weapons, climate change, and other global threats. Meanwhile, corporate leaders in the information domain, including established media outlets and internet companies such as Facebook and Google, have been slow to adopt protocols to prevent misuse of their services and protect citizens from manipulation. The international community should establish new measures that discourage and penalize all cross-border subversions of democracy.

Last year, the Science and Security Board warned that “[t]echnological innovation is occurring at a speed that challenges society’s ability to keep pace. While limited at the current time, potentially existential threats posed by a host of emerging technologies need to be monitored, and to the extent possible anticipated, as the 21st century unfolds.”
If anything, the velocity of technological change has only increased in the past year, and so our warning holds for 2018. But beyond monitoring advances in emerging technology, the board believes that world leaders also need to seek better collective methods of managing those advances, so the positive aspects of new technologies are encouraged and malign uses discovered and countered. The sophisticated hacking of the “Internet of Things,” including computer systems that control major financial and power infrastructure and have access to more than 20 billion personal devices; the development of autonomous weaponry that makes “kill” decisions without human supervision; and the possible misuse of advances in synthetic biology, including the revolutionary Crispr gene-editing tool, already pose potential global security risks. Those risks could expand without strong public institutions and new management regimes. The increasing pace of technological change requires faster development of those tools.

How to turn back the Clock. In 1953, former Manhattan Project scientist and Bulletin editor Eugene Rabinowitch set the hands of the Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight, writing, “The achievement of a thermonuclear explosion by the Soviet Union, following on the heels of the development of ‘thermonuclear devices’ in America, means that the time, dreaded by scientists since 1945, when each major nation will hold the power of destroying, at will, the urban civilization of any other nation, is close at hand.”

The Science and Security Board now again moves the hands of the Clock to two minutes before midnight. But the current, extremely dangerous state of world affairs need not be permanent. The means for managing dangerous technology and reducing global-scale risk exist; indeed, many of them are well-known and within society’s reach, if leaders pay reasonable attention to preserving the long-term prospects of humanity, and if citizens demand that they do so.

This is a dangerous time, but the danger is of our own making. Humankind has invented the implements of apocalypse; so can it invent the methods of controlling and eventually eliminating them. This year, leaders and citizens of the world can move the Doomsday Clock and the world away from the metaphorical midnight of global catastrophe by taking these common-sense actions:

• US President Donald Trump should refrain from provocative rhetoric regarding North Korea, recognizing the impossibility of predicting North Korean reactions.

• The US and North Korean governments should open multiple channels of communication. At a minimum, military-to-military communications can help reduce the likelihood of inadvertent war on the Korean Peninsula. Keeping diplomatic channels open for talks without preconditions is another common-sense way to reduce tensions. As leading security expert Siegfried Hecker of Stanford University recently wrote: “Such talks should not be seen as a reward or concession to Pyongyang, nor construed as signaling acceptance of a nuclear-armed North Korea. They could, however, deliver the message that while Washington fully intends to defend itself and its allies from any attack with a devastating retaliatory response, it does not otherwise intend to attack North Korea or pursue regime change."

 • The world community should pursue, as a short-term goal, the cessation of North Korea’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile tests. North Korea is the only country to violate the norm against nuclear testing in 20 years. Over time, the United States should seek North Korea’s signature on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty—and then, along with China, at long last also ratify the treaty.

• The Trump administration should abide by the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for Iran’s nuclear program unless credible evidence emerges that Iran is not complying with the agreement or Iran agrees to an alternative approach that meets US national security needs.

• The United States and Russia should discuss and adopt measures to prevent peacetime military incidents along the borders of NATO. Provocative military exercises and maneuvers hold the potential for crisis escalation. Both militaries must exercise restraint and professionalism, adhering to all norms developed to avoid conflict and accidental encounters.

• US and Russian leaders should return to the negotiating table to resolve differences over the INF treaty; to seek further reductions in nuclear arms; to discuss a lowering of the alert status of the nuclear arsenals of both countries; to limit nuclear modernization programs that threaten to create a new nuclear arms race; and to ensure that new tactical or low-yield nuclear weapons are not built and that existing tactical weapons are never used on the battlefield.

• US citizens should demand, in all legal ways, climate action from their government. Climate change is a real and serious threat to humanity. Citizens should insist that their governments acknowledge it and act accordingly.

• Governments around the world should redouble their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so they go well beyond the initial, inadequate pledges under the Paris Agreement. The temperature goal under that agreement—to keep warming well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels—is consistent with consensus views on climate science, is eminently achievable, and is economically viable, provided that poorer countries are given the support they need to make the post-carbon transition. But the time window for achieving this goal is rapidly closing.

• The international community should establish new protocols to discourage and penalize the misuse of information technology to undermine public trust in political institutions, in the media, in science, and in the existence of objective reality itself. Strong and accountable institutions are necessary to prevent deception campaigns that are a real threat to effective democracies, reducing their ability to enact policies to address nuclear weapons, climate change, and other global dangers.

• The countries of the world should collaborate on creating institutions specifically assigned to explore and address potentially malign or catastrophic misuses of new technologies, particularly as regards autonomous weaponry that makes “kill” decisions without human supervision and advances in synthetic biology that could, if misused, pose a global threat.
The failure of world leaders to address the largest threats to humanity’s future is lamentable—but that failure can be reversed. It is two minutes to midnight, but the Doomsday Clock has ticked away from midnight in the past, and during the next year, the world can again move it further from apocalypse. The warning the Science and Security Board now sends is clear, the danger obvious and imminent. The opportunity to reduce the danger is equally clear.

The world has seen the threat posed by the misuse of information technology and witnessed the vulnerability of democracies to disinformation. But there is a flip side to the abuse of social media. Leaders react when citizens insist they do so, and citizens around the world can use the power of the internet to improve the long-term prospects of their children and grandchildren. They can insist on facts, and discount nonsense. They can demand action to reduce the existential threat of nuclear war and unchecked climate change. They can seize the opportunity to make a safer and saner world.

They can #rewindtheDoomsdayClock.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

International Criminal Court: cause and effect?


“As detailed in previous reporting, the Office has found that the information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that crimes under articles 7 and 8 of the Statute have been committed in the situation in Afghanistan, including crimes against humanity of murder under article 7(1)(a), and imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty under article 7(1)(e); murder under article 8(2)(c)(i); cruel treatment under article 8(2)(c)(i); outrages upon personal dignity under article 8(2)(c)(ii); the passing of sentences and carrying out of executions without previous judgement pronounced by a regularly constituted court under article 8(2)(c)(iv); intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population or against individual civilians under article 8(2)(e)(i); intentionally directing attacks against personnel, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance under article 8(2)(e)(iii); intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to education, cultural objects, places of worship and similar institutions under article 8(2)(e)(iv); and treacherously killing or wounding a combatant adversary under article 8(2)(e)(ix).” [International Criminal Court (ICC), The Office of the Prosecutor, Report on Preliminary Examination Activities (2015), p27]

It is hard not to suspect a link between the International Criminal Court and Austraiian Defence Force investigations, given that the preliminary ICC investigation would have begun sometime between 2013 to 2015 and the Australian Government would have been aware that it might become one of the nations under formal criminal investigation.

CAUSE?

On 30 October 2017 the Presidency of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague was notified by the Prosecutor and on 3 November the situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan was assigned to Pre-Trial Chamber III with the following composition: Judge Antoine Kesia-Mbe Mindua ,Judge Chang-ho Chung and Judge Raul C. Pangalangan.

The New York Times, 3 November 2017:

The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor said Friday that she would request permission to open an Afghanistan investigation, a step that may lead to the court’s first indictments of Americans for war crimes.

The prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has been collecting information on the war in Afghanistan for years. She has suggested before that she has evidence for a prosecution — not only of allegations of atrocities committed by combatants in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, the Afghan armed forces and the United States military, but of related crimes in other countries where C.I.A. operatives once held and tortured Afghan prisoners.

Ms. Bensouda said she would ask the judges in the court, which is based in The Hague, for authorization to pursue a formal investigation. If they agree, the Afghanistan investigation and any resulting indictments could pose a legal test for the United States — which does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction — to cooperate with it, especially if any defendants are American.
“In due course, I will file my request for judicial authorization to open an investigation, submitting that there is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in connection with the armed conflict in Afghanistan,” Ms. Bensouda said in a statement.

Should the judges grant her request, she said, her office will conduct an independent and impartial investigation into accusations of atrocities “committed by any party to the armed conflict.”

EFFECT?

ABC News, 11 July 2017:

Hundreds of pages of secret defence force documents leaked to the ABC give an unprecedented insight into the clandestine operations of Australia’s elite special forces in Afghanistan, including incidents of troops killing unarmed men and children.

The ABC can reveal that some of the cases detailed in the documents are being investigated as possible unlawful killings.


The documents, many marked AUSTEO — Australian Eyes Only — suggest a growing unease at the highest levels of Defence about the culture of Australia’s special forces as they prosecuted a bloody, secretive war against insurgents across a swathe of southern Afghanistan.

One document from 2014 refers to ingrained “problems” within special forces, an “organisational culture” including a “warrior culture” and a willingness by officers to turn a blind eye to poor behaviour.

Another document refers to a “desensitisation” and “drift in values” among elite Special Air Service soldiers serving in Afghanistan, while others allude to deep divisions between the two elite units which primarily comprise the special forces - the SAS based in Perth and 2 Commando Regiment based in Sydney.

A large proportion of the documents are reports on at least 10 incidents between 2009-2013 in which special forces troops shot dead insurgents, but also unarmed men and children.

The Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force is investigating at least two of the incidents as part of its inquiry into the conduct in Afghanistan of special forces, which includes alleged unlawful killing.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Just in case you missed it: civilian deaths in Mosul


Crikey.com.au, 2 October 2017

The Australian Defence Force revealed on Friday its troops had been involved in incidents in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul that are believed to have resulted in the deaths of eight civilians, including two children. The first incident was in March this year. An aircraft that was part of the coalition forces (that include Australia, the US, the UK and others) bombed a residential building in Mosul, which resulted in the deaths of seven civilians. Australian aircraft weren’t involved, but a member of the ADF was part of the “decision making chain” that authorised the strike, which was targeting Islamic State forces thought to be 300 metres from Iraqi forces. In an incident in June, Australian hornet aircraft were called to assist Iraqi forces, with a strike on a residential building. 

“They [the Iraqi forces] found themselves within 20 metres of a building in which Daesh fighters were,” Vice Admiral David Johnston told the media.

“They were engaged by small arms fire and were pinned down, unable to move.

“We had a pair of hornets that were airborne at the time … they performed a strike, it was a single precision guided weapon, a low-collateral weapon.”

It is believed a child was killed in that incident.

This was covered on the front page of The Age (after an AFL wrap-around of 20 pages) and the The Australian — we’re not in any way suggesting journos weren’t doing their jobs. But issues like this don’t stick in the minds of the public when there’s footy to watch and barbecues to attend. The report was embargoed until midnight on Saturday. It’s also possible the announcement, while coming months after the actual incidents, was timed to coincide with an announcement from the US’ Combined Joint Task Force, which detailed investigations of civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria.