“There is nothing so likely to produce peace as to be well prepared to meet the enemy.” – George Washington
Tag Archives: war
Some people have told me in the last couple of days that they couldn’t sleep after the first images started to come in from Paris on Friday night. Others have said that they had unexpected crying fits, or the shakes.
Of all the horrors that have taken place recently in the world, these massacres seem so immediate – because they are immediate: geographically, culturally, politically, spiritually. Paris is our sister city, just a couple of hours away on the train – a place you can go to for lunch, a city that in the last few years has despatched so many talented workers to London that I am the proud mayor of one of the biggest French towns in the world.
And so there is always one question that people want to ask me, even if – for fear of seeming selfish – they leave it unspoken. That question is: Could it happen here? Is London going to be hit by shootings on that scale?
The answer is that even though I think an attack of that particular type is unlikely, and even though we are doing everything in our power to prevent it, I am afraid that it would be impossible – and irresponsible – to rule it out completely.
How could we rule it out? Yes, of course the police and the security services are doing an amazing job – with the resources they have – in monitoring the thousands of potential suspects (perhaps 3,000-4,000), some of them clearly more dangerous than others. They foil all sorts of plots, half-baked or otherwise. They make arrests with great frequency. But it is plainly no use hoping that the problem of Daesh-inspired terrorism is going away.
Just in the last few months we have seen appalling loss of British life on the beach in Tunisia; we have seen a Russian passenger jet blown out of the sky; and now 129 people killed in Paris, in the most vicious and shocking fashion, and many others seriously wounded.
Several people over the weekend have echoed the sentiments of the excellent French ambassador to London, Sylvie-Agnes Bermann, who said that this massacre was qualitatively different from the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January. This, she said, was a 9/11 moment. This was an act of war. I agree. And as we deliberate on how to respond, it is essential to be cautious, and to be pragmatic – and yet to use every weapon at our disposal.
First of all we need to catch the bastards before they strike; and I am afraid that I have less and less sympathy with those who oppose the new surveillance powers that the government would like to give the security services.
To some people the whistleblower Edward Snowden is a hero; not to me. It is pretty clear that his bean-spilling has taught some of the nastiest people on the planet how to avoid being caught; and when the story of the Paris massacre is explained, I would like a better understanding of how so many operatives were able to conspire, and attack multiple locations, without some of their electronic chatter reaching the ears of the police. I want these people properly spied on, properly watched – and I bet you do, too.
Second, we need to be able to intercept them at frontiers. I know Molenbeek, the melancholy Brussels suburb that is said to have produced some of the Paris killers. I remember happy hours walking its bemerded and frituur-smelling streets, and alas I am not surprised to find – a generation later – that some of those scampering North African children have grown up to become jihadis.
What are the implications for the security of Europe, if you can load your car with Kalashnikovs in Molenbeek, and drive unimpeded not just to Paris but to any EU capital you please?
The Paris massacres – as the French have implicitly confirmed, by trying to control their own frontiers – have greatly strengthened the hand of David Cameron as he argues for better control at the borders. And yet it is not enough just to spy on them.
It is too late to try to catch them, once they have pupated into proto-terrorists. We must intercept them before the metamorphosis begins. We need to get the antidote down their throats before the poisonous death-cult takes over their minds. That means working ever harder to enlist the vast majority of Muslims who despise Daesh (so I propose to call them, since it is a shame to play their game and use the word Islamic in their title), and who can help most powerfully in differentiating their abominable doctrines from the teachings of the Koran.
It means working with the families, and coming down hard on parents who – all too often, alas – are allowing their kids, of both sexes, to go online and imbibe the jihadi madness: the ranting sermons, the home-made hydrogen peroxide suicide belts, and all the rest of the claptrap.
We need to be much faster and much cleverer in beating the absurd propaganda from Raqqa. How hard can that be? Their “caliphate” is savage, dysfunctional, and so scary that many British would-be jihadis end up pleading to come home. But there it is – a breeding-ground of terror; and it looks very much as if at least one of the Paris killers actually came from Syria, via Leros. And so we come to the last of our possible responses – the military one. All the generals I have talked to are leery.
They want to understand the mission, and how we propose to achieve it. Would we go in with Putin? Would we effectively be backing Assad? No choice looks attractive; no plan is perfect. But is doing nothing any better? It is more than two years since the government was defeated in its plan to intervene in Syria, and the rhythm of terror would appear to be increasing.
These people avowedly want to destroy us, and in those circumstances no military option can be off the table. This is a fight we will one day inevitably win – because in the end our view of the human spirit is vastly more attractive and realistic than theirs. But we won’t win if we don’t fight back.
Acts perpetrated during the course of warfare have, through the ages, led to significant environmental destruction. These have included situations in which the natural environment has intentionally been targeted as a “victim”, or has been manipulated to serve as a “weapon”.
On Friday the United Nations marked the “International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict”.
Throughout history the environment has been a silent victim of human conflict. The problem is ongoing. It is time we properly recognised crimes against the environment and made those responsible for such crimes fully accountable.
Scorched earth tactics
In the 5th century BC, the retreating Scythians poisoned water wells in an effort to slow the advancing Persian army. Roman troops razed the city of Carthage in 146 BC, and poisoned the surrounding soil with salt to prevent its future fertilisation. The American Civil War in the 19th century saw the widespread implementation of “scorched earth” policies.
In August 1945, we witnessed the destructive capability of weapons technology, when the United States detonated atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, resulting in massive loss of life and environmental destruction.
During the Vietnam War, the United States implemented Operation Ranch Hand to devastating effect to destroy vegetation used by the enemy for cover and sustenance, through the use of chemicals such as Agent Orange. Attempts were also made to deliberately modify the environment to create floods along vital supply routes utilised by the North Vietnamese forces.
More recently still, who can forget the haunting images of more than 700 burning Kuwaiti oil well heads, which had been deliberately ignited by retreating Iraqi forces during the Gulf War in 1991 – a scene that was likened to Dante’s Inferno.
Over the following ten years, the Saddam regime built barriers and levees to drain the al-Hawizeh and al-Hammar marshes in southern Iraq, an area some believe is the site of the biblical Garden of Eden. This effectively destroyed the livelihood of the 500,000 Marsh Arabs who had inhabited the area of this unique ecosystem.
Actions such as these demonstrate how the deliberate despoliation of the environment can have catastrophic effects, not only on human populations, but also in ecological terms. For example, nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, as well as having the potential to kill many thousands of people in a single attack, have effects that may persist in the environment, in some cases indefinitely.
The devastating effects of environmental warfare can continue long after the conflict is resolved, jeopardising or destroying the lives and livelihoods of those reliant on the natural environment.
Moreover, access to natural resources – or the lack of access – can itself be the trigger for conflict.
Approximately five million people were killed during the 1990s in armed conflicts relating to the exploitation of natural resources such as timber, diamonds, gold and oil. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has found that, over the last 60 years, at least 40% of all internal conflicts have been linked to the exploitation of natural resources.
Recent conflicts in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Angola were not only fought over natural resources, but the exploitation of those resources in turn funded the combating parties to acquire weapons. This has given rise to the phenomena of “conflict resources ”, where natural resources commercialise and prolong conflict. It becomes a vicious self-perpetuating cycle.
Defending the environment
Environmental degradation and exploitation can thus be both a cause and a consequence of armed conflict. The International Court of Justice has clearly recognised that damage to its environment may constitute an “essential interest” of a state. Such recognition will only increase as the world gains further insights into the broader state of the global environment, including the disastrous effects of climate change.
Despite all of the evidence, however, deliberate environmental destruction during warfare is still largely regarded, as rape once was, as an unfortunate consequence of war.
The existing rules under international humanitarian law, international environmental law and international criminal law purporting to limit deliberate environmental destruction have largely been ineffective and inappropriate. The impact of environmental destruction has paled when measured against perceived military advantages. The United Nations International Law Commission is currently looking at this issue in an attempt to establish the relevant applicable principles.
It is, of course, true that war and armed conflict are inherently destructive of the environment. But that is no reason to allow leaders to deliberately or recklessly target the environment in order to achieve their military goals. Deliberate destruction is no longer acceptable, particularly given the ongoing development of weapons capable of widespread and significant damage.
There is therefore much more that should be done. Just as international law has made great strides forward by classifying rape during armed conflict as a war crime, a crime against humanity, or even genocide in certain circumstances, we should recognise that intentional environmental destruction can also constitute an international crime. Proper modes of accountability should be incorporated into the mechanisms of international criminal justice.
“Crimes against the environment” should therefore be incorporated as a separate crime within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, in order to better protect our most cherished assets for future generations.
Steven Freeland is the author of Addressing the Intentional Destruction of the Environment during Warfare under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court published in 2015.
Moral equivalence is a form of equivocation often used in political debates. It seeks to draw comparisons between different, even unrelated things, to make a point that one is just as bad as the other or just as good as the other. Drawing a moral equivalence in this way is an informal fallacy, a special case of False equivalence.
A common manifestation of this fallacy is a claim, often made for ideological motives, that both sides are equally to blame for a war or other international conflict. Historical analyses show that this is rarely the case. Wars are usually started by one side militarily attacking the other, or mass murdering non-combatants, with or without provocation from the other side.
Some specific examples of this fallacy are as follows:
- Claiming neither side in World War II was morally superior because of the British firebombing of Dresden in Germany, or the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. This is despite the fact that Germany started the war in Europe and Japan started the war in the Pacific. Whilst the morality of the British fire bombing of Dresden is questionable, the aim of the US atomic bombings was to force Japan to surrender, without the necessity of a land invasion in which millions of people were expected to die on both sides. The purpose was to end World War II as opposed to starting it.
- Drawing a moral equivalence between 9/11 and U.S. policy in the Middle East, thereby attempting to justify or excuse the 9/11 atrocities against innocent non-combatants.
- PETA drawing a moral equivalence between the consumption of meat and the Holocaust in an ad campaign.
- The excuse that slavery in the southern United States wasn’t so bad because some slaves were treated better than workers in northern factories and company towns — or the counter-use of the same examples, that conditions during the early Industrial Revolution were not that bad because the people were at least free to choose their jobs, unlike under slavery.
An early populariser of the expression was Jeane Kirkpatrick, who was United States ambassador to the United Nations in the Reagan administration. Kirkpatrick published an article called The Myth of Moral Equivalence in 1986, which sharply criticized those who she alleged were claiming that there was ‘no moral difference’ between the Soviet Union and democratic states.
 Kirkpatrick, Jeane. ‘The Myth of Moral Equivalence’, Imprimis January 1986, Vol. 15, No.1.