Libya: How the West learnt the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan

December 3, 2011 Leave a comment

With the news of the capture of Saif al Islam Gaddafi and the death of Muammar Gaddafi it appears that the long Libya conflict is finally at end with a victory for the NATO-backed rebel forces. How did this come about when the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan descended into Vietnam style guerrilla conflicts after the decisive victory? Will this happen in Libya now the stability of Gaddafi has gone?

Not to make too much of a premature prediction and hopefully not to become a Michael Fish type figure, I don’t think the situation in Libya will turn into Afghanistan number 2, like Iraq did. This is because the West learnt from their mistakes in these conflicts. This was not a Western intervention to depose an unpopular leader like in Iraq, but a movement which started in Libya, by Libyans. Moreover instead of rushing in with all guns blazing to support the rebels, the West played a supporting role – giving them all the tools and support needed to defeat the Gaddafi regime without bringing the government down itself. The effect of this was two-fold:

  1. It didn’t undermine the legitimacy of the rebels by accusations of Western imperialism. This was a Libyan movement – by Libyans for Libyans
  2. The West gained credit for its role in supporting the democratic movement. As I argued in my last post the West needed to finally back up its avocation of democracy with support for the democracy movement, and in this instance it has done and done it well. This has helped to gain some credibility in the region which will help with the war on terror and the achievement of liberalisation.

Furthermore as well as learning that not getting directly involved helped increase the legitimacy of the movement, the way in which the West did involve itself helped too. This was that the unpopular US (after their actions in Iraq and Afghanistan and their ties to Israel) has taken a back seat. Efforts were made to include other Arab countries as well and were successful in getting them to condemn the Gaddafi regime. Thus all legitimacy and possible allies lost, the war for Libya was only going to end one way, and so it did.

 

What next for Libya? Who knows, but for the first time in 42 years its people and not one man are master of its destiny and to an extent they have the Western support to thank, which can only help when a new government is eventually formed.

What next for the region? The situation in Syria seems to be taking a similar course with its expulsion from the Arab League. With the West and the Arabs condemning Assad and imposing sanctions on Syria, it must only be a matter of time before either he goes or the West also intervenes there (a UN resolution for armed involvement was vetoed in October by China and Russia but if the current atrocities continue it is only a matter of time that China and Russia can prevent the action which Turkey and the US are vying for.) Once again the West needs to be involved in some level in order to avoid accusations of hypocrisy but needs to be involved in the way it was in Libya and not Iraq.

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Categories: The Middle East

Infrastructure Investment: Privatisation

November 28, 2011 1 comment

George Osborne, ahead of Tuesday’s Autumn statement on the economy, has announced that there will be a £30bn investment in UK infrastructure. £25bn to come from pension funds and the China Investment Corporation and the remaining £5bn to be provided by central government funded by cuts elsewhere in the budget.

As a Keynesian, I favour a demand led approach but I also recognise that there is also a shortfall in the supply side, such as re-skilling of the unemployed. As Sam Bowman tweeted earlier: “Ha ha. £30 bn of infrastructure spending. Good one. That will help people to reskill for the future, won’t it? #jesuswept” I also recognise that the two are symbiotic, but that’s for another blogpost.

Investment in the UK infrastructure could be handled much better and it could also draw in more short-term capital for the Treasury. I’m referring to privatisation. Fixed Phone Lines, made of copper, need to be replaced by fibre optics to cope with increased demand on bandwidths due to a recent surge in people and products using and requiring broadband. BT currently has a de facto monopoly on this aspect of telecommunications infrastructure, with Virgin offering a cable based alternative in limited areas. The liberalisation that often comes with privatisation will provide more choice to the consumer, remove BT’s Universal Service Obligation as it has, in my opinion, failed in its obligation to provide access to advanced communications (broadband) across the nation, and create a more efficient broadband service thus aiding in growth.

Motorways could be sold off and made toll roads based on a Vignette. This would increase the immediate short-term access to capital that the UK government needs to reduce deficit and debt, remove its obligation for maintenance of the system and collect a revenue stream through a tax on the toll charges.

The attraction to these types of investment would be that the return of investment would be almost immediate and it would be of benefit to most of the citizens of this country. If the Chinese are looking to invest in the west, then the UK must be open to investment. With $410bn, that is a lot of capital to invest and the UK could do with all of it.

Retort to the Telegraph

November 18, 2011 Leave a comment

On Friday, The Telegraph ‘reported’ on “Germany’s secret plans to derail a British referendum on the EU”. The plans aren’t that secret. The think tank, Open Europe, has provided an English translation of the document, entitled:  The future of the EU: Necessary integration policies for progress towards establishing a Stability union.

The document itself mainly concerns itself with changes to Article 126 of The Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union. Article_126 is largely about maintaining a resemblance of balanced budgets amongst member states.

The document proposes that paragraph 10 of Article 126 be deleted. Paragraph 10 states “The rights to bring actions provided for in Articles 258 and 259 may not be exercised within the framework of paragraphs 1 to 9 of this Article.”

Article 258 and Article 259 deal with legal proceedings being brought against a member state by either another member state or the Commission if a Treaty is deemed to have been broken.  This would allow direct intervention into the affairs of the offending member state by the Commission or, in this case, a European ‘Stability Commissioner’.

The crux of The Telegraph’s argument comes as a note at the bottom of the penultimate page.

“Limiting the effect of the treaty changes to the Eurozone states would make ratification easier, which would nevertheless be required by all EU member states (thereby less referenda could be necessary, which could also affect the UK).”

The proposals in the document are a change to a part of a treaty which only affects Eurozone members. However, as all treaties have to be ratified by members of the EU Britain would need to ratify the changes. The changes would only affect Britain if it were to join the Eurozone.

I recall the public being offered a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU if there was a fundamental treaty change which affected its relationship with Europe. This proposed treaty change doesn’t affect Britain in the slightest.

The ECB won’t save the day, but Germany might

November 14, 2011 1 comment

As things stand in the Eurozone the European Central Bank (ECB) is incapable of providing the much needed status of Lender of Last Resort. It is prohibited from printing money by the Maastricht Treaty, but it is able to buy government bonds as part of its function to maintain price stability. As had been experienced last week when there was a run on Italian and Spanish bonds, the ECB bought bonds to force the price down, and thus stable (for a short period of time).

As has been pointed out by Paul Krugman, the crisis that is currently striking the Eurozone is a result of an imbalance of payments. Germany, thus, needs to spend. It’s very rarely that I praise George Osborne, but he has said:

“If you think of currency unions, here in the United Kingdom or in the United States, we do transfer money around the country in order to try and get greater equality in the economy. I’m afraid that needs to happen in the euro, because we are not there yet and the instability is having a huge effect.”

This is crucial for the survival of the Euro. A monetary union requires a fluid movement of capital across the union. So far, the Euro has been a disappoint. A monetary union without the necessary sacrifices to make it work. I believe it has only worked through a series of fortunate circumstances, such as a prolonged period of growth. 2008/9 was the the first time the Eurozone had experienced a recession in its 10 plus year history. Now that a sovereign debt crisis has struck the southern economies of Greece, Italy and company – which was created by the cheap and easy credit of the noughties – it is the first time where the Euro has been tested to its limits. Its limits have proven to be woefully weak.

But progress is being made, on the political stage. On Monday, at a Christian Democrat Union (CDU) Conference, Merkel was reported to have pressed for an economic and political union in the Eurozone. @EPPTweet tweeted earlier: RT @SMuresan#Merkel at #CDUpt11: “We have to complete monetary and economic union and pave the way for political union in #Europe” #epp

This is a step in the right direction, but there also remains a stumbling block – the German constitution. We shall see what happens, but progress is being made and the faults of the Euro are, apparently, in the process of being corrected.

 

Europe, China and the odd one out

October 27, 2011 Leave a comment

On Wednesday night the Eurozone summit convened and passed a motion agreeing to a €1 trillion European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) top-up. It has already become obvious that this €1 trillion fund is not enough and negotiations will now start between the Eurozone, led by Nicolas Sarkozy, and China ahead of next weeks G20 meeting. It is expected that China will supply a further €1 trillion bringing the total fund to €2 trillion.

The summit also imposed certain conditions.  Banks will be limited in paying dividends and bonuses until they meet capital thresholds of 9%, or €106bn. This is the equivalent of another HSBC. No mean feat. Britain’s banks, having been forced by the Bank of England and the FSA to raise this amount will be spared the task.

Greece’s debt will be partially written off, reducing the debt burden from 180% GDP to 120% GDP. The next woe for the Eurozone is more than likely to come from Italy. Before the summit Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, declared he would resign by the new year. A welcome announcement for pretty much everyone.  For months the Italian economy has been without leadership and this was openly declared by Steinmeier in the Bundestag on Wednesday.

The situation in the Eurozone, as is evident, is not contained to the Eurozone. Britain’s largest trading partner is the Eurozone. China holds €2.4 trillion in currency reserves. If the Euro collapsed China would be stuffed. As it is, China has had to resort to boosting domestic demand in anticipation that demand in EU27 will drop off, despite an increase of China to EU27 exports of 20% in 2010. China’s help, however, will not come from China’s desire not to lose any money. It is expected, and one would be surprised if they didn’t, that China will demand that Europe acknowledge China as a market economy and thus drop some of the trade barriers on Chinese products.

Britain, in the whole situation, is the odd one out. On Sunday, Sarkozy told Cameron “You are missing a good opportunity to shut up. If you wanted a say you should have joined the euro.” On Monday, Britain was the only Parliament to debate holding an in/out/renegotiate referendum on EU Membership. The Eurosceptics of Cameron’s Conservative Party threatened to tear his party apart. In the end, only 81 Conservative MPs (including the two tellers) rebelled against Cameron’s three line whip to vote in favour of the motion calling for the referendum.

Cameron has done well to isolate Britain from the European Community, and Germany in particular. The withdrawal of the Conservative Party from the European People’s Party in 2009 in favour of setting up a right-wing bloc in the European Parliament consisting of European fringe parties from the former Soviet bloc. Since becoming Prime Minister, Cameron has moved closer to France without German involvement. France and Germany are inseparable in Europe and to snub Dr. Merkel is an unwise decision.

In the Bundestag, on Wednesday, Kauder (CDU) said : we’re prepared to reach in our pockets, but expect solidarity from Britain & agreement on financial transaction tax. Was that solidarity given? No. Osborne stated that Britain would not give any money to the EFSF but did not rule out giving indirectly via the IMF. The same result will occur – Britain will give money to the Eurozone. The route that Britain has taken, however, will only serve to further isolate the island nation.

On Thursday morning, the Daily Express jumped on comments made by Merkel in the Bundestag on Wednesday:  “If the Euro falls, so does Europe.. No one should assume that another 50 years of peace in Europe are a given.” The Express took this for an implied declaration of war, thus cooling the frosty nature that Britain currently has with Germany. Britain is fast becoming the ‘odd ball’ of Europe.

Britain’s isolationism beside, will the current round of funding to the EFSF work? In the short-term it will. In the long-term it is unlikely. As a European Federalist, tinkering with the Euro will not save it. Fiscal and further political union will save it.

Norway Attacked

It transpired on Friday afternoon that Norway had been attacked by terrorists. With a huge bomb going off in the Governmental quarter of Oslo. An hour later a gunman opened up at the Labour Party Youth Camp at Utøya killing around 90 people in total.

Late on Friday, Norwegian Police released information they had on the apprehended gunman, Anders Behring Breivik. Theory of an attack from Islamists was rejected, even though Abu Suleiman al-Nasser claimed responsibility for the bombings. The theory that it was retribution of Norway’s involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya as well as a Norwegian newspaper reprinting the cartoon on Muhammed in 2006, was also rejected.

The press, and others, are asking themselves who is Anders Behring Breivik and why did he choose his target? Obscurely, his Facebook profile was made public and the profiling began. He was a right-wing Christian who was interested in the environment, who’s favourite books include On Liberty by John Stuart Mill. His only Twitter update was a quote from Mill:  “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100 000 who have only interests.”

There is doubt, however, to the validity of Breivik’s Facebook and Twitter accounts as they were both activated on the 17th July 2011.

It is possible that the Labour Party was targeted. With bombs going off near their headquarters in Oslo and their Youth Camp targeted in Utøya. But the question is still why? The Red-Green Coalition is Norway is successful, but also an anomaly in Scandinavian politics which has seen a shift to the right in recent years. Norway is not unknown to right-wing violence, but it is on this scale.

Breivik considers himself a Nationalist and an Islamophobe. His targeting of the Labour Party could have something to do with Støre, the Norwegian Foreign Minister, who in the past week has endorsed Palestine’s bid for membership of the UN and opening negotiations with the banned Islamist terror group Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Breivik is currently being investigated and questioned by Police.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Equality Before the Law

July 22, 2011 2 comments

In the history series, I have come across a proposal from 1943 on rejuvenating the legal system. I wonder what Legal types out there think of it…? Comments are welcome.

We must provide an efficient legal system which not only protects society against the anti-social activities of individuals, but safeguards individual liberty against the State. In a planned order, where the State has become more highly organised, it is more than ever necessary to ensure that no encroachments are made on the proper freedom of the individual. The Courts must be within the reach of all. No one must be handicapped from obtaining justice because he cannot pay the costs. Probably it will be found desirable to make the legal profession a national service under a Ministry of Justice which will be subject to democratic control.

Categories: Uncategorized