The risk of all-out war between the US and Russia is greater than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
The threat is heightened by the staggering levels of incompetence on all sides and a demonstrable lack of statecraft that mimics the stupidity and hubris that led to the First World War.
At a time when the US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines is warning Congress Putin could use nuclear weapons if he felt Russia was under attack the US Secretary of Defense admits that America wants to see Russia weakened by the war in Ukraine.
This latter statement alone provides the Kremlin with the evidence it needs to claim that America and NATO are using Ukraine to put Russia’s existence under threat, and we know where that scenario leads.
That Kremlin view is of course strengthened by the endless flow of advanced weaponry from Western nations in support of Ukraine, a fact which seems motivated less by a desire to support the beleaguered Ukrainians than by a determination to try out military equipment in real battlefield conditions - all with a view to future weapons sales and the profits that will flow from that.
There are suggestions that those in US intelligence and the State Department and even within the recesses of the Pentagon are alive to the possibility of pushing Putin too far but these voices are muted in contrast with the mouthy politicians, media pundits and armchair generals calling for bigger and deeper involvement in the war.
Articles appear claiming that the US is helping the Ukrainians to target and kill Russian generals yet US intelligence claims this is specifically prohibited. After the Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin uttered his weakening Russia claim we are then told he is in contact with his Russian counterpart to calm things down.
Meanwhile the usual useless suspects, the Johnsons and the Trusses on this side of the pond, carry on with their mindless mutterings hinting at Russian regime change, while sending British forces ever closer to the frontline and signing deals with Sweden and Finland to support them militarily if Russia attacks them. Is Johnson trying to out-NATO NATO?
And shortly before KP News went to press Liz Truss is all over the Daily Telegraph pushing the idea of sending/selling arms to Moldova – another county not in NATO – on the grounds that it might be invaded by Russia.
Columnist Patrick Cockburn sums it up in the ‘i’: “It is frightening that a government of sloganeers with such a record of blundering should be deciding issues of nuclear peace and war.”
And, he goes on, “what are the West’s war aims in Ukraine as mission creep expands to ‘mission gallop’ towards a policy of defeating Russia”.
He comments: “Arms limitation treaties, once lauded for averting the risk of nuclear war, are discarded as if they were irrelevant museum pieces.
“In expanding their war aims the US and the NATO powers are doing Ukrainians no favours, but they are dooming them to live in an arena where outside powers fight each other over issues that have nothing to do with Ukraine.”
And he concludes: “The international atmosphere today is close to 1914 with nations on the march, but without having much idea what they are marching towards. During the Great War more than a century ago decisions affecting the lives of tens of millions of people were taken by nincompoops like Kaiser William II and Tsar Nicholas II. But are we much better off with leaders as weak as Joe Biden or as frivolous as Johnson?”
Whether or not Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu actually said “leave your enemy a golden bridge” over which to withdraw, the essence of his writings and that of many students of war since has been the same; leave your enemy a way out.
Most relevant to the present Ukrainian conflict with Russia is President John F Kennedy. Reflecting on the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy warned that nuclear powers "must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war."
Such vital considerations seem lost in the rhetoric being directed against Russia in general and Putin in particular. He is a ‘mass murderer’, a war criminal who must be brought to trial, he must be deposed. He must be defeated and humiliated. This is language heard, understandably perhaps from Kyiv, but also most frequently from the US, Britain and NATO. Virtually absent is the call for peace negotiations, until most recently when some Western European leaders, whose focus on the war is more acute given their physical proximity to it compared with the Americans, have begun to speak up.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who tried unsuccessfully to convince Putin not to invade Ukraine, condemned the Russian leader's bellicose Victory Day rhetoric. But he also said that eventually Ukraine and Russia would have to sit down and talk peace -- a cause that would not be served by Moscow's "humiliation."
Newly re-elected Macron then spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping, after which the Élysée Palace said they had agreed "on the urgency of a ceasefire."
CNN also reported what it described as “a striking moment in the Oval Office … when Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, after lauding Western unity on Ukraine and condemning the Russian invasion, had this to say to Biden before the cameras:
"I have to tell you that in Italy and in Europe now, people want to put an end to ... these massacres, to this violence, this butchery that's happening. And people think about what can we do to bring peace.
"At least they want to think about the possibility of bringing a ceasefire and starting again some credible negotiations. That's the situation right now. I think that we have to think deeply on how to address this."
The New York Times commented: “Diplomatic efforts ought to be the centrepiece of a new Ukraine strategy. Instead, the war’s boundaries are being expanded.”
These utterances reflect a growing nervousness that without some kind of concerted effort towards peace, Putin could well get pushed into the kind of corner that Kennedy was talking about in his speech at American University in June 1963.
Only months before that speech the world had held its breath in fear of nuclear war but Kennedy had engineered a way for Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to stand down without losing face in the standoff over Cuba.
Russia is the indispensable enemy in Europe. You can’t justify new Trident submarines or ICBMs against Yemen or ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Only Russia has the targets and sophisticated arms to fight against.
So says former Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg in a hard-hitting interview on Al Jazeera’s Up Front discussion programme.
The West was busy painting Russia and China not just as rivals but as enemies. Of course, he said, Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine was entirely illegal but the effect of that decision had been a “bonanza for the arms manufacturers”. And, of course, Russia has its military industrial complex too.
Up Front presenter Marc Lamont Hill asked “What happens when these conflicts are over, where do the weapons go?”
“Well, it’s a long time before these conflicts are over,” said Ellsberg. “Afghanistan was 20 years. In Libya we supplied a lot of weapons to people who, in turn, sold them to other insurgencies and terrorist groups and others throughout Africa and elsewhere. Our efforts in Afghanistan spawned Al-Qaeda and later ISIS.”
Of course it was not the arms industry that invaded Ukraine, said Ellsberg. “Putin did but the arms industry and the military in the US were influencing government which was willing to risk a war like this coming from their policies, provocative in terms of making it likely that any Russian leader would eventually act against it, however illegally.” He added: “As we reacted when Khrushchev put missiles in Cuba.”
He went on: “Those missiles did not threaten that security and I say that as someone who was looking at precisely that problem in the Pentagon at that time. As McNamara (US Defense Secretary) said it’s not a security problem, it’s a political problem.”
The interviewer asked: “What consideration is given to what happens to these weapons?”
Ellsberg responded: “A failing war is just as profitable as a winning one. In some ways better because it goes on for ever. Libya is a prime example where the weapons fanned out to other people. But multiple adversaries are also good for the military industrial complex, not only in our country but in Europe as well.”
Lamont Hill commented: “Last year the average America taxpayer gave about $2000 to the military with $900 going to corporate military contractors. Compare that with $27 to the centres of disease control and prevention and barely $5 to renewable energy.
How do you advocate for peace when so much taxpayer money is going to let’s call it defence?
And he then asked: You have many former security and military people becoming defence and security analysts on media stations when they retire. How much does this compromise what the public is told about what’s at stake?
Ellsberg replied: “In times of war the purpose of the media in a militarised society is to sell the public on the need for more weapons. In this country our media is ultimately controlled by major corporations. It’s natural for them to hire these people if their message is to get propaganda out. Who better to do it? If you want endless war which is what in effect the US has wanted.”
He added: “As a result of the Pentagon Papers I was put on trial for a possible 115 years in prison. I didn’t see any other big leaks like that until Chelsea Manning. She spent seven and a half years in prison. Ed Snowden is essentially a lifetime exile. I didn’t go to prison because Nixon committed so many crimes that became revealed towards the end of my trial I didn’t go to prison as he had intended.”
Speaking of Julian Assange he said: “This threatens to create a US press that is now indistinguishable from Russia’s. If Assange is tried and imprisoned here we will have had the first case of a journalist imprisoned for putting out the truth. No journalist has been put on trial thanks to our First Amendment. It will be effectively rescinded if Julian Assange is successfully prosecuted and we will then approach the state control of information.”
UK and US fail to call out Israeli perpetrators of latest lethal assault on media
The murder of respected Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and the brutal attack on her funeral procession by Israeli security forces brought a pathetic response from the British Government determined as ever not to annoy Israel.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tweeted 24 hours after the killing that she was “saddened to hear of the death” of the “respected journalist”.
You might say you were saddened to hear of the death of someone who had passed away from illness or old age, not when a journalist clearly identified as such is deliberately shot in the head by a sniper in a state where dozens of reporters and cameramen have been killed by the security forces. You might just manage to offer a more robust response.
A junior Foreign Office minister later made a half-hearted effort to sound more concerned. Vicky Ford said the Government supported an investigation that was “immediate, thorough and impartial” into the killing. This sounded remarkably like the formula adopted by a US State Department spokesman who said the Israeli authorities were able to carry out a “thorough, comprehensive” investigation.
Labour MPs in the Commons were more forthright. “The Labour Party unequivocally condemns the violence of Israeli forces,” said Shadow Minister for the Middle East and North Africa Bambos Charalambous during a debate. “International law and human rights must be upheld and we stand with all those demanding accountability for the killing of Shireen.
“There must be an urgent, independent and impartial enquiry,” he added.
This call was reinforced by other Labour MPs.
Stella Creasy said independent fact checkers had pieced together open source evidence “which points clearly to the responsibility of the Israeli forces for the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh.”
Naz Shah said Israel continued to act with impunity. “This isn’t just a story of Shireen either, but many other journalists including the 55 Palestinian journalists killed since 2000,” she told the Commons.
You may have looked in vain for coverage of this debate in the mainstream media because it only appears to have been picked up by Al-Jazeera. And if you Google ‘condemnation of the killing of Palestinian journalist’ you will discover a range of voices speaking up including the UN Security Council, UNISON and the NUJ. Not Boris Johnson, not Joe Biden.
The despicable scenes where mourners carrying the journalist’s coffin were attacked and beaten by Israeli police were characterised as “intruding into the funeral procession” by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. The White House went as far as to say they were “deeply disturbed.”
The Security Council resolution, which was agreed unanimously, was specifically aimed at Israel’s actions, at the insistence of the Chinese. A bland statement referring to the need to protect journalists worldwide was opposed by China. Some would argue because China itself has a negative reputation in its dealings with the media.
But a Chinese official told Al-Jazeera that it wanted the focus of the resolution to be Israel’s security forces so as to avoid “whitewashing” the issue.
The impunity with which Israel attacks journalists is strengthened by years of international inaction, argues Elizabeth Tsurcov in an article in The Guardian. The country’s leadership has not faced any repercussions for its action in the occupied territories in years.
She reported that data collected by the Israeli NGO Yesh Din shows that only 0.7% of claims filed by Palestinians against soldiers lead to prosecution. Some 80% of cases are closed without a criminal investigation.
To Israel’s embarrassment their police officers beating mourners at what, by the way, was a Christian funeral, was filmed and broadcast around the world. The scenes were condemned by the Catholic Church with the Vatican’s representative in Jerusalem accusing the Israeli authorities of “brutally violating” a decades old agreement to uphold religious freedom. Israel’s response? It accused religious leaders of making “extreme” statements.
Would they say the same if there was condemnation from Joe Biden, a Catholic?
Well, there’s no danger of that happening, is there?
Dichotomy of a small town in Germany by Phillip Cooper
The name Oberammergau conjures up images of a picturesque fresco-adorned German town nestling among the Bavarian alps and world-famous for its unique once-a-decade Passion Play that recounts the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What a surprise, what an irony in fact, to discover that this benign hamlet is also home to NATO’s major education and training college in Western Europe. Not only that, but the town’s association with matters military stretches back to before the Second World War during which it housed a secret Nazi aircraft factory. Names associated with the charming, picture postcard backwater include Himmler, Werner von Braun, Dwight Eisenhower and Henry Kissinger.
None of these connections are what put Oberammergau on the map. That was the bubonic plague that was ravaging the region in the 1630s. The villagers vowed that, should God spare them from the onslaught of this pestilence, they would every ten years perform a play recounting Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. Miraculously the village was spared and the Passion Play was duly performed in 1634 and has been, with hardly an interruption, every ten years since. Ironically, it was another ‘plague’ – Covid 19 – that disrupted the cycle in 2020, so the production is now underway again, two years later than originally scheduled.
The Allies’ interest in the town for other than religious reasons was sparked in April 1945 when advancing American troops discovered that hidden beneath a German barracks there was a secret aircraft factory where, under the direct orders of Heinrich Himmler, engineers had been frantically attempting to complete one of Hitler’s so-called ‘wonder weapons’, a jet-propelled fighter plane. One of the engineers billeted in the town was the Nazi’s chief rocket scientist Werner von Braun, who was hastily spirited away to work for the Americans.
The barracks complex was briefly requisitioned as a displaced persons (refugee) camp but then the US Army found other uses for it, setting up the European Theatre Intelligence School. Among army officers posted there was a young Henry Kissinger who worked on de-Nazification programmes while also researching the Soviet influence on post-war Western Europe.
By 1948 the Americans had established the Military Police School for the European Theatre at the barracks complex and other official roles followed evolving into the NATO School which was finally granted a charter in 1975 as a bilateral establishment run by the governments of the USA and Germany. An occasional visitor during the Fifties had been General, later President, Dwight Eisenhower who would take a bit of RandR there to spend time painting, drawing and hunting.
The school’s academic portfolio showed the principal subjects to be taught which included planning the ‘employment of NATO’s nuclear weapons’, instruction on defence against nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and electronic warfare.
Even the Russian military got involved in 2011 when the school hosted a visit from the Russian All Arms Academy and subsequently a Russia Council Nuclear Doctrine Seminar where NATO representatives from the US, Britain and France together with Russian counterparts discussed nuclear policy.
The school’s website proudly proclaims that the NATO School Oberammergau had by 2012 become the ‘global leader in multinational individual training’ with over 10,000 military and civilian personnel being trained there each year.
Sited just one kilometre from the town’s Passion Play Theatre the School’s presence is indeed loaded with irony; the Prince of Peace cheek by jowl with a college teaching the art of war
The cause of the so-called Gulf War Syndrome which has dogged the lives of more than 30,000 British troops who served during the 1991 conflict has been uncovered, US scientists believe.
They have decided that the cause was the nerve gas sarin which was released into the atmosphere when American and British Forces bombed caches of Iraqi chemical weapons.
The conclusion follows a study – mainly funded by the US Government – into the cases of 1,000 randomly selected American Gulf War veterans.
The finding has been welcomed by the UK’s National Gulf Veterans and Families Association. It issued the following statement: “For 30 years they have been disowned, ignored and lied to by consecutive governments, with no positive answers to their questions about exposure to toxic substances and gases and the affect it had on them both physically and mentally.
“We hope the UK government takes this report on board and will respond by offering Gulf veterans access/opportunity to have the tests. This will hopefully lead to more meaningful and proper medical treatment which they have for too long been denied.”
The Royal British Legion said there had been “little meaningful research” on Gulf War Syndrome in the UK.
“As a company our collective mindset is of immense pride in what we do . . .”
Sir Roger Carr, Chairman BAE Systems.
The citizens of Yemen don’t have much opportunity to put their views to the directors of BAE Systems, their staff and shareholders. We do, and I feel that next year we should work with CAAT to make sure we get together to attend the company’s AGM.
This year the meeting was both in person and online. The people attending were rather younger than usual and my guess is many of them were employees rather than shareholders. Sir Roger Carr, was delighted to answer questions about BAE’s role in helping with ‘levelling up’, providing apprenticeships and the company’s work on sustainability.
There was one online critical question about the situation in Yemen. Mine was the only question on Yemen from those present in the hall. I said:
“In spite of the bravery of the people of Ukraine the future looks pretty dark for Ukraine and for any thought of a rules-based international order.
The UN and international opinion agree Russia should be held accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the bombing of hospitals, schools, and residential areas and attacks on civilians. Russian intellectuals and journalists have said that when history is written their country will be a byword for its barbaric attacks. In Yemen at last, after seven years, there is a temporary peace but when the history is written won’t those seven years of Saudi bombing, fuelled by planes and weapon produced by BAE Systems, be seen as a dreadful stain on a world that allowed this to happen?
Just as in Ukraine: hospitals, schools, school trips, and homes were constantly bombed.
Around 400,000 people have been killed - either directly by the conflict or indirectly by starvation and disease. Many of them children. 75 % of the population is in need of aid, 17.4 million facing starvation.
Lack of funds has made the World Food Programme cut food rations to 8 million people by half. That’s a population the size of London on starvation rations.
The infrastructure has been destroyed. The economy has collapsed. Hospitals and schools are not functioning. Of course BAE will point out that all this was perfectly legal and OK by the UK’s ‘robust’ laws about weapons sales.
And one more point, no one thinks all this destruction has made the Yemen or Saudi Arabia safer or more secure. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular and ISIS have become more powerful. The country is more fractious and divided than when the war started back in 2015. Of course, too, when food and resources are so limited the people who eat are the people with guns.”
I leave readers to imagine the reply – sorrow at the suffering but no feeling of responsibility.
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND