All posts by James O'Neill

The MH17 Show Trial Destroys What Remains of Dutch Credibility

On 17 July 2014 a Malaysian airlines flight MH 17 was shot down while transiting Ukrainian airspace, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. All 298 passengers and crew on board were killed. The Netherlands had the largest number of casualties, followed by Australia, Malaysia, and a small smattering of other nationalities.

In 2020 a criminal trial began in the Netherlands. The four accused were three Russian citizens and one Ukrainian. None of the four defendants have been present at the trial, although one of the accused, a Russian national, has been legally represented. That lawyer, whose career history suggests minimal exposure to criminal law and certainly nothing of this magnitude, has sought to present her client’s case within the limits imposed by the trial procedure.

To describe this trial as a farce and a disgrace to the legal history of the Netherlands would not be an overstatement. The Australian citizen and Moscow resident John Helmer has been diligently following the trial and reporting on the proceedings on his blog site Dances With Bears. For those interested in following what can only be described as the bizarre proceedings they are urged to read Mr Helmer’s website. The purpose of this brief note is to comment on several features of the trial that appear to the objective observer to be a total farce that violates several fundamental principles of judicial procedure, especially as they are applied in the context of a criminal trial.

The first oddity is that the investigation and evidence gathering appears to have been the prerogative of the Ukrainian Secret Service. To describe this as a basic conflict of interest in the circumstances of this trial would be an understatement.

At the time of the tragedy, the Ukrainian government, which came to power in an American inspired and financed coup d’état earlier in 2014 was, to put it mildly, far from a disinterested party. At the time of the tragedy Kiev was engaged in a civil war (that continues to this day) against the predominantly Russian speaking eastern region of Donbas. The province of Crimea had seceded from Ukraine and voted overwhelmingly to re-join Russia, which it had been an integral part of since the 18th century.

It had never been part of what today is called Ukraine. Crimea was also the site of a Russian naval base that the United States coveted, and had the Kiev regime succeeded in re-taking Crimea there is little doubt that Crimea would have become another United States naval base aimed at Russia. To call that result intolerable would be an accurate description.

One of the bizarre features of the rampant political posturing at that time was the vow by the then Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to assist the Ukrainians in re-taking Crimea by force. That this could have involved Australia in a war with Russia appears not to have featured in his mindset. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed

The allegation that the plane had been brought down by a missile fired by Russian troops from Ukrainian territory was always an allegation that lacked any rational basis. That it also lacked actual physical evidence was also a fact, but one which has been consistently ignored by the Dutch prosecuting authorities.

It is in fact even worse than that. As is well known, Ukraine was once part of the USSR, a political entity that dissolved in 1991. Prior to that dissolution, Russia had provided the bulk of the weaponry within the armoury of the member states of the USSR. This included the BUK missile allegedly used to shoot down MH 17.

The Ukrainian investigators had provided some limited information to support their allegation that the plane was shot down by “Russia”. They exhibited what was claimed to be two pieces of debris from the remains of the missile said to have a shot down MH17. That this “evidence” fundamentally violated basic principles of evidence such as a record of location, preservation and identification was one of the many violations of criminal investigation procedure. This lack of basic procedure is one of the more troubling features of the trial of the four accused and why the term “farce” is not an overstatement.

Worse was to come for the Dutch prosecutors however. On 17 September 2018 (nearly 2 years ago it should be noted) the Russian authorities made a significant announcement that also is conspicuous by its absence from western reporting. The Russians announced that they had identified the missile from the numbers that were part of the two exhibited remnants. The missile to which those numbers were a part had been given to the Ukraine authorities back in USSR days of 1986. The missile had remained in Ukrainian custody ever since.

In any criminal trial worthy of the description of proper procedure in accordance with long established principles of evidence, that should have meant the collapse of the prosecution case. The fact that this evidence has essentially been disregarded by the Dutch prosecution confirms beyond reasonable doubt that the trial proceedings are an utter sham.

That is not the only fatal flaw in the prosecution case, the entire detailing are which is beyond the scope of this brief comment.

Multiple eyewitnesses have come forward to give their account of what they observed in the sky over Donbass that day. Those witnesses are unknown to each other, have no known affiliation with any separatist or anti-government forces, and no determinable reason to lie. They all say they saw the same thing: that they both saw and heard Ukrainian fighter jets in the vicinity at the relevant time.

That evidence is not conclusive of any major point of itself. There may have been an innocent explanation for their presence. That innocent option however, is fatally undermined by two points. The first is that there was no logical reason for the Ukrainian authorities to lie about the fact that they had military aircraft in the air at that time and in that place. If there was an innocent explanation, why not say so?

The second point however, is also fatal to the prosecution case. The evidence of the structural damage to the aircraft is unmistakably evidence of bullet damage that could only have come from a fighter aircraft, and given the location on the civilian aircraft of the bullet damage, came most probably from two aircraft firing from different directions.

Again, there is no innocent explanation for this evidence. MH 17 was brought down by aircraft fire directed at the pilot’s location in the aircraft cockpit. Further indirect evidence of this point is that the bodies of the crew were examined medically, but they were neither shown to family members nor were the results of the autopsies released.

The final brief point that evokes scepticism about the bona fides of accusers of alleged Russian malpractice is the satellite data. The United States Secretary of State John Kerry boasted at the time that because of their overhead satellites the Americans knew exactly what had happened. Again, the appropriate course of action is blindingly obvious: release the satellite data and resolve the contentious issue of what exactly shot down MH17. The Americans have refused to do so.

Again, given the likely definitive nature of such evidence there is no good reason to withhold the data unless it fails in fact to support the anti-Russian allegations. Neutral observers will again draw a negative inference from the Americans refusal and would be justified in doing so.

There is much else about this trial that reveals it to be a total legal farce. Apart from the aforementioned website of Mr Helmer, the actual evidence has been painstakingly gathered by the Dutch academic Kees van der Pijl (2018). To one’s total lack of surprise the results of these independent investigators have been censored from the western mainstream media.

It is this censorship of independent evidence that is perhaps the final telling blow to the credibility of the official inquiry. The trial currently underway in Amsterdam is a sham and a disgrace to the memory of nearly 300 victims of Western power politics. They deserve a better epitaph than this shoddy mockery of western justice.

The Victims of MH17 Deserve More than the Shoddy Lies Perpetrated by Politicians and Media

The ABCs Insider program broadcast each Sunday morning is one of the ABCs most watched and most important programs. The three guests are drawn from the country’s mainstream media outlets. This is perhaps itself a limitation considering the broad range and frequently high standards of much political analysis in the country are non-mainstream outlets. The invited person subjected to questioning by the show’s host is almost invariably a politician drawn from either the Liberal or Labor parties.

One would be unwise to expect much more than a partisan view from the weekly political guest. It is, however, not unreasonable to think that the members of the panel might be expected to offer a factual analysis, albeit tempered by the political stance of their employee newspapers.

On the program broadcast on 7 June 2020 both the political guest, Labor deputy leader Richard Miles, and one of the panelists, the Sydney Morning Herald’s David Crowe offered an opinion that was stunning in its disregard for the body of information that is now available on the topic of the comment.

That topic was the shooting down of Malaysian airlines MH 17 in July 2015 with the loss of life of 298 passengers and crew. The Dutch lost the largest proportion of the passengers, followed by Australia with 38 citizens and residents, then Malaysia and a smattering of citizens from a number of other countries.

An inquiry team was immediately established led by the Dutch, with other representatives coming from Australia, Belgium and Ukraine. There were three surprises in this contingent. The Dutch and Australians were not unexpected as having lost a significant number of their citizens. The inclusion of Belgium was puzzling and perhaps, in the light of subsequent events, only explicable in their role as the host of the NATO military alliance.

The second surprise was the inclusion of Ukraine. Although the tragedy occurred over Ukrainian territory it was clearly not an accident but the result of unfriendly criminal activity by a party or parties then unknown. Ukraine was at the very least a possible culprit.

The third surprise was the exclusion of Malaysia which as the owner and operator of the flight would normally be an automatic inclusion in any inquiry. Their exclusion was unexplained at the time. It was only later that it emerged that the four investigating countries had reached an agreement between themselves, the details of which have never been fully disclosed.

What is known however, is that part of the agreement provided that no statement on the investigation would be released without the unanimous agreement of all four members. To describe this as astonishing would be an understatement. It was one of the early clues that the investigation would not be an impartial investigation, but would in effect follow a political agenda. This has indeed proven to be the case.

What was also unknown at the time, but revealed relatively recently by the Malaysians, was that they had sent a team to the Ukraine immediately. Thanks to the assistance of Ukrainian rebels then (and now) engaged in a bitter war with the Kiev government, the plane’s black boxes had been retrieved. The rebels handed those over to the Malaysians who returned to Malaysia where they were examined before being in turn given to the British for further analysis.

It was with this information that the Malaysians then negotiated their entry into the inquiry team in late 2015. It was one of the features of this case that the Malaysian viewpoint has been almost entirely absent from the Dutch and Australian reporting of the case.

It did not take long for the Dutch, Australians and Ukrainians to blame Russia for the tragedy despite the fact, then and now, of anyone being able to offer even a remotely plausible reason for Russia to have shot down the civilian airliner of a friendly country. The improbability was compounded by the fact that the tragedy occurred over Ukrainian territory.

The implausibility of this version of events was enhanced when a British organisation known as Bellingcat published what they claimed to be pictures of a Russian missile firing weapon system returning to Russia from the area where the alleged missile had been fired from.

It is one of the telling features of this case that later evidence was disclosed, but not reported in the Australian media, that there were no Russian weapons capable of firing a BUK missile (the alleged weapon used) in the vicinity of the area it would have to be in to have fired the allegedly fatal missile. Neither for that matter was there any Ukrainian BUK missile facility within range, although the Ukrainians certainly possessed such missiles, a left over from the days when it was a part of the old Soviet Union and used Russian supplied weapons.

The other relevant point about the shoot down was the claim by then United States secretary of state John Kerry that United States satellites overhead at the time (observing what was a war zone) had seen exactly what had happened. There is no reason to doubt Mr Kerry’s claim. It is also likely that the Russians had overhead satellites, for exactly the same reason.

The important point, however, is that the United States has never produced that evidence to the Dutch led inquiry or anybody else. Given that such photos would in all probability be conclusive of the argument, their nonproduction leads to an irresistible inference. They do not support the Dutch-Ukrainian version. It is a safe assumption that if they did, we would have been inundated with those pictures, ad nauseam, ever since.

What the Russians and the Ukrainian rebels have said all along was that the plane was brought down by the actions of two Ukrainian jet fighters observed by independent eye witnesses at the time. The presence of multiple bullet holes in the plane’s recovered fuselage further confirms this interpretation of how MH 17 came to its tragic end.

There is no obvious reason as to why the Ukrainians would shoot down a civilian airliner. The first of the three most likely possibilities are that it was a genuine accident, but if that was the case why not admit it, plead accident and pay appropriate compensation.

The second possibility is that it was a case of mistaken identity. It is known that a plane carrying Russia’s President Putin was in the general vicinity at that time, returning from an official trip to South America. Putin’s official plane carries very similar markings to Malaysian airlines.

The third possibility, which frankly is rather horrible to contemplate, is that it was a deliberate attempt to frame Russia, the major supporter of the Ukrainian rebel groups (overwhelmingly Russian speaking). It should not be forgotten also that the former Russian territory of Crimea (gifted to Ukraine by Khrushchev in Soviet days) had voted overwhelmingly to return to Russia.  This had outraged the Ukrainian government who had vowed to retake Crimea by force. The United States also had plans to take over the Russian naval base on Crimea, thereby depriving Russia of a vital warm water port.

All of these facts make the rather ludicrous threat by then Australian prime minister Abbott of military action in support of Ukraine’s attempt to force Crimea back within its fold all the more ridiculous. More importantly, it makes the allegations of Messrs Marles and Crowe completely unsupportable. Australian government policy towards Ukraine, then as now, completely ignores the fact that it is a neo-fascist regime that came to power by violently overthrowing the legitimate Ukrainian government.

Both men ought to have known better. Indeed, it is probable both do know better but because Australia is a loyal supporter of the West’s official anti-Russian line, have gone along with helping perpetrate a manifest fiction, unsupported by the five years of evidence that have been accumulated in the interim. The Moscow based Australian journalist Jphn Helmer is one of the very few to have consistently followed this Dutch led travesty and disclosed the evidence as it has emerged.

That the Australian mainstream media have chosen to ignore that evidence, to actively conceal the investigative role played by Australian forces in the early stages, and to perpetuate a gross falsehood does neither Mr Marles nor Mr Crowe or any organisation they represent any credit at all.

The families of the victims of this tragedy do not need the perpetuation of shoddy lies for geopolitical purposes. Messrs Marles and Crowe do neither themselves, their country, nor the organisations they represent any credit by helping to perpetuate a shameful lie.

Western Reaction to China Shows the Bad Old Days Haven’t Passed

US cartoon from 1899: Uncle Sam (US) demands Open Door access to trade with China while European powers plan to cut up China for themselves. Color lithograph by J.S. Pughe. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3b00548.

One of the most tiresome clichés uttered by the western nations, including Australia, is their alleged commitment to the “rules based international order”. By this they generally mean a set of rules of supposed international authority, to which all developed nations are expected to adhere.

Those who allegedly failed to do so are labelled as rogue states, or deviant states, and in some way a threat to good government and a peaceful world. The myth has always had trouble confronting the reality. Australia has been one of the most assiduous articulators of the myth. As recently as this week it was accusing China of breaching the said rules by China asserting its authority over Hong Kong.

When one reads the mainstream media of all the events in Hong Kong what is immediately striking is that Hong Kong’s history seems to go back no further than the 1990s when the United Kingdom and China signed an agreement whereby the United Kingdom would release its rule of Hong Kong.

Conveniently overlooked in these accounts is the slightest hint of real history. Hong Kong had been part of China for more than 2000 years until the 1860s. We will leave to one side what sort of history the United Kingdom could boast of that goes back two thousand years.

The United Kingdom acquired Hong Kong by conquest during the first of the two opium wars, another feature of British colonial history that the mainstream media glides over as though it did not exist. The British invaded Afghanistan three times during the 19th century. They were not bringing the dubious benefits of British civilisation to the Afghanis. They wanted to control the opium production source, then as now, producing the bulk of the world’s heroin production.

China unsurprisingly did not appreciate Hong Kong being used as the entry point for Afghan heroin under British control. They fought back, but lost. Hence the ceding of Hong Kong to British rule. The heroin was therefore able to be imported freely by the British to the extent that by 1900 one in seven adult Chinese males was a heroin addict.

The 1949 revolution changed the government of China but it was several decades before they began to assert their wish that Hong Kong be returned to the mainland. By 1998, when the handover agreement was finally signed, China was still not strong enough to refuse to accept what was a manifestly unequal bargain.

There is no other historical precedent that I am aware of that land colonised by an imperial power and eventually returned to its rightful owner is done so conditionally.

The Chinese are now accused by the British, the Americans, and the Australian governments of not complying with the terms of the handover. That allegation is made by people who have never bothered to read the terms of the agreement.

Even more critically, those same governments are alleging that the people of Hong Kong are being deprived of their “democratic rights” to self-government. This was an argument that was never heard during the entire century plus of British rule.

Among the various benefits that the Hong Kong people have enjoyed since liberation from British rule is that they now have the right to vote. That the people of Hong Kong had no democratic means of determining how and by whom they were governed during British rule, not even having the right to vote, is another inconvenient fact glided over by the present erstwhile defenders of so-called Hong Kong democracy.

It is a fundamental principle of international law that countries are entitled to govern their own affairs. It is also a fundamental principle that the British, and particularly the Americans since 1945, have simply ignored the principle when it suited them.

Where was the West’s “respect for international law” when the United States and its allies (including Australia) sanctioned, bombed, invaded, occupied and otherwise destroyed to a greater or lesser extent at least 70 countries over the past 70 years? The death toll from those illegal activities has been variously estimated at between 50 and 70 million people.

Current illustrations of that point, all of them involving the willing compliance and assistance of Australia, include Afghanistan (invaded 2001 and still there); Iraq, invaded 2003 and still there despite the clearly expressed view of the Iraqi parliament that all uninvited foreign troops should leave; and Syria, invaded in 2015 after years of supporting terrorist proxies in that country by their invaders. The United States currently occupies Syria’s oil region, stealing its oil and keeping the proceeds of sale. Not a word of descent from its Australian ally who clearly has a flexible definition of what the “rules based international order” actually means.

In the case of China, Australian adherence to the United States line goes far beyond the current situation in Hong Kong. Australia was being the loyal United States proxy when it alleged that China was the source of the coronavirus currently causing economic havoc around the world.

On instructions from Washington, Australia proposed a motion for international consideration that the origins of the virus should be investigated in China. Had the proposal being neutrally worded, for example suggesting an investigator of all countries that might have been the source, the proposal might not have been ignored as it was.

All countries obviously include the United States, where a growing body of evidence suggests it is the real source of the pandemic. That, however, would not suit the current suicidal Australian campaign to attack China on various fronts on behalf of its American masters.

Why Australia would want to attack such a vitally important nation, whose importance to the Australian economy extends far beyond being a market for Australian goods, defies rational explanation. The Chinese, unsurprisingly, and in my view completely justifiably, have begun to take measures in response, the result of which will be extraordinary pain to the Australian economy.

The current pandemic should be seen as an opportunity for Australia to discard its colonial status and actually take decisions that enhance rather than hinder Australia’s vital interests. The history of the past 70 years however, suggests that is a vain hope.

Israel and the Golan Heights: A Wider Geopolitical Game

In the recent autumn session of the United Nations General Assembly a number of resolutions involving the Syrian Golan Heights occupied by Israel came up for debate and voting. A familiar pattern emerged. The first of the votes to be noted was UNGA Resolution A/C.4/73/L.20. The wording of this resolution was that the general Assembly “reaffirmed that Israel’s settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem are illegal and an obstacle to peace and social development”.

The second resolution, A/C.4/73/L.22 said that the General Assembly “determines that all legislation and administrative measures taken by Israel, the occupying Power, that purport to alter the character and legal status of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights are null and void.”  The wording of this resolution echoed the wording of United Nations Security Council resolution 497 of 17 December 1981, which was 37 years previously. That earlier resolution was passed unanimously; i.e. the United States included.

The third resolution, L/73/L.30 expressed the General Assembly’s deep concern “that Israel has not withdrawn from the Syrian Golan, which has been under occupation since 1967” (i.e. 51 years).

The voting on each resolution respectively was 154 in favour (with 6 No votes and 15 abstentions; 149: 2: and 22; and 99: 10: 66.

The United States, which was part of a unanimous Security Council vote in 1981 condemning Israel’s actions in the Golan Heights as “null and void” was one of the two ‘No’ votes in the second resolution referred to above. The other No vote, unsurprisingly, was Israel. The United States and Israel both voted ‘No’ to the other two resolutions as well. Australia abstained in respect of each of the three votes.

This voting pattern and the debate that surrounded them is significant for a number of reasons.

The first reason is that it unequivocally demonstrates that where Israel is concerned there is a different standard applied by the United States (and Australia) where breaches of international law are concerned.

It is indisputable that land occupied by conquest cannot be returning by the occupying power, much less incorporated into the administrative regime of the occupying power. Yet this is precisely what Israel has done, first by maintaining its occupation post the 1967 Six Day War, and then in 1981 purporting to incorporate the Golan Heights into its own administrative territory.

It is not difficult to envisage the rhetoric from the United States if Russia or China had made any similar moves. One has only to recall the incessant barrage of propaganda from the United States and its allies about “Russian aggression” when Crimea was reincorporated into the Russian Federation following an overwhelming popular vote.

The United States is similarly making threats against China after President Xi made a speech recently pointing out that Taiwan was part of China and that reunification was a goal for the near future. The United States accepted that Taiwan was part of China until 1949 when the Nationalists were defeated in the civil war.

As the Americans showed by voting against a resolution that they had previously been part of a unanimous Security Council in accepting, consistency is not their strong suit. The withdrawal from the antiballistic missile treaty in 2001, and from an INF treaty in 2018, and their abandonment of the JCPOA in 2018 are further illustrations of that point.

It also lays bare, yet again, the hypocrisy of western political leaders, notably in the United States and Australia, who forever trumpet their alleged commitment to the “rules based international order”.

There is no clearer example over a sustained period of time of Israel’s total disregard for international law than in their treatment of the Palestinians and the continued illegal occupation of the Golan Heights. Neither of these examples is the subject of public criticism by American or Australian politicians, and judging by their voting behaviour in the United Nations, support for Israel’s actions is either tacit or explicit.

Earlier in January 2019 two United States Republican Senators, Cruz and Cotton, went public in a joint statement that was remarkable for its complete disregard for international law, its equally cavalier disregard for the factual situation in the Middle East, and for its display of what is best described by the Hebrew word “chutzpah” (insolence, cheek or audacity).

Cruz and Cotton’s statement said, in part:

Responding to the threat posed by Iran and its proxies requires ensuring that Israel can defend its territory and its citizens from attack. To support Israel’s right to self defence, Washington should take the long overdue step of affirming Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

This is a frankly bizarre departure from reality and a number of commentators have already pointed this out.1  It came at the same time as National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were making equally absurd statements on their recent foray to Middle Eastern capitals.2

Even if Israel had legitimate self-defence concerns, occupying the territory of a neighbouring state is neither feasible nor legal. There must therefore be an alternative explanation for Israel’s continued disregard for international law, the extraordinary public comments of two senior members of the Trump administration, and the pattern of behaviour of United States in the region, notwithstanding the recent erratic and contradictory behaviour of its leadership.

One possible explanation that fits the known facts, and which incidentally also helps explain the extraordinary lack of criticism by Western nations of Israel’s continued illegal occupation of the Golan Heights, can be found in the activities of an American company called Genie Energy.

This little-known company is headquartered in Newark, New Jersey. Its strategic advisory board includes such luminaries as Dick Cheney (former US vice president under Bush Jr); James Woolsey (former CIA director); Larry Summers (former head of the US Treasury); Rupert Murdoch (chairman of News Corporation among other media interests); and Jacob Rothschild. It would be hard to nominate a better-connected group of people, all of them noted for a strong pro-Israel bias.

Genie Energy, through its subsidiary Afek Oil and Gas, was granted an oil exploration license for the occupied Golan Heights by the Israeli government. Needless to say, the Syrian government was not consulted.

As far back as October 2015 Afek discovered oil reserves in the Golan Heights, with a potential yield estimated at billions of barrels3 Actually developing those vast reserves would require the solidification of Israel’s control over the occupied territory.

It cannot legally do that, although lack of legality has never been a hindrance to Israel since 1948. Its de facto control of the Golan Heights, however, is key to understanding Israel’s moves in the Middle East since 1967. In recent years Israel’s support for terrorist groups fighting the Assad Government in Syria is destined in part to keep the Syrian army and Iranian supported Hezbollah from challenging Israel’s control of the Golan Heights. It is not a coincidence that Israeli territory proper has not suffered a single ISIS inspired attack although prima facie one might have thought that a Jewish state would be anathema to Islamic fundamentalists.

The evidence is now overwhelming that Israel has been one of the main supporters of ISIS because it suited their own wider geopolitical ambitions.4  When a jihadist group occupied some small towns in the Israeli controlled Golan Heights in February 2017, the Israeli army and air force took no steps to oppose them.

Israel’s ambitions for the Golan Heights are matched by the United States in northern Syria where the area it occupies (also illegally) provided 90% of Syria’s pre-war oil production. Both the United States and Israel have long intended to build a pipeline to provide gas to Europe, supplanting Russia as Europe’s principal supplier.

As Robert Kennedy Jr pointed out5 US plans began in 2000 with a $10 billion 1500 km pipeline from Qatar through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. It was when Syria rejected their proposed role in the plan in 2009 (as it would jeopardise their relationship with Russia) that the CIA began funding terrorist groups in Syria.

Seen in this broader context, the blatant ongoing illegality of Israel’s occupation of the Golan, the US deep state’s strong desire to remain in northern Syria, the sanctions against Russia, the overt threats against German companies involved in Nord Stream 2,6 and the suppression of most of this material in the western mainstream media (in which Murdoch is a dominant figure) all form part of a long-term set of plans hatched in Washington and Tel Aviv that have nothing to do with the rights and freedoms of the Syrian people.

As courageous independent journalists on the ground in Syria such as Vanessa Beeley have amply demonstrated7, the ordinary people of Syria are but pawns in a wider geopolitical game. In the extraordinary chaos and destruction that the illegal western intervention in Syria has caused, Australia has played a small but significant role.

Actually detecting a benefit to Australia in all of this is more than elusive, but as John Menadue recently pointed out8 for all their protestations about the rule of law and shared western values, the reality is that western politicians have always sacrificed principle for geopolitical expediency.

In the rapidly changing geopolitical framework brought about by Russia’s intervention in Syria in 2015 and a consequent shifting of alliances by key players such as Turkey, it remains to be seen whether the untenable ambitions of Israel and the United States can be brought to fruition. 2019 looks to be no less dangerous than the year just past.

  1. Moon of Alabama 10 January 2019.
  2. See, for example, Strategic Culture Foundation 15 January 2019.
  3. The Economist, ‘Black Gold Under the Golan, 7 November 2015.
  4. Haaretz, 8 September 2018.
  5. Ecowatch, 25 February 2016, Another Pipeline War.
  6. DW, 14 January 1019.
  7. 21st Century Wire, 17 October 2018.
  8. John Menadue, 15 January 2019.

Cold War Mentality Alive and Well in Australia

Writing in The Australian newspaper under the headline “Red Threats to Render White Paper just about Passé” (18 May 2018) ANU emeritus professor Paul Dibb offers a commentary that exemplifies much of what is wrong with Australian strategic thinking. The problem is all the more acute because Dibb is regularly quoted in the mainstream media and his views are considered influential. In this latest article he calls for a re-evaluation of the premises underlying the Foreign Policy White Paper released only six months ago.

That White Paper was certainly flawed, although not in the manner that Dibb suggests in underestimating what Dibb calls “an aggrieved and newly assertive Russia, as well as an aggressive rising power in China.”

The White Paper failed to grasp the realities of a newly emerging multipolar world, and in particular failed to perceive how Australia might best respond in a manner consistent with both its national security and economic interests.

That challenge is not assisted by Dibb’s contribution, which is full of faulty assumptions, factual errors, and grievous misinterpretations, not only of post-World War II history, but the current inevitable realignment away from the singularly dangerous exercise of hegemonic power by the United States.

Dibb quotes United States Secretary of Defence James Mattis with evident approval, saying “China and Russia wanted to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian models.”  China is alleged to be seeking “regional hegemony and the displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future.”

The “evidence” Dibb cites for these assertions are China’s buildup of its military capabilities in the South China Sea; Russia’s territorial expansionism in Crimea and Ukraine; Putin’s aggressive attitude in defending Syria and its use of chemical weapons; and Moscow’s State sponsored assassination attempts in Britain reflecting Putin’s contempt for the sanctity of State borders. He even cites the “reports” of Beijing seeking to develop a military base in Vanuatu.  That the Foreign Minister and Prime Minister of Vanuatu and also the Chinese government have denied the latter report is of little consequence to Professor Dibb.

There is much more in Professor Dibb’s commentary in this vein, but those examples illustrate not only the fact free environment that strategic advisors such as Dibb operate in, but also are reflective of “strategic thinking” in the Australian defence, foreign policy and defence establishments.

In the cited example of China’s buildup of its military capabilities in the South China Sea there are several components of this allegation that put it in a different context from the viewpoint usually advanced in the Australian media. The so-called Nine Dash Line within which China has made unspecified claims was, in fact, the first formulated in 1946 by the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai Shek. That government’s successors now rule Taiwan, and the Taiwanese government makes the same South China Sea claims as does the PRC.

Taiwan similarly rejected the findings of the UNCLOS Tribunal they ruled on a complaint by the Philippines1, a con complaint incidentally that was arguing exclusively by American and British lawyers.

It is correct that the PRC has fortified some of the eight artificial “islands” it has constructed in the South China Sea, but so has Vietnam, about which Dibb is silent. Taiwan has also fortified Taiping Island in the Spratly Group, more than 1000 km to its south.

Dibb makes no attempt to analyse why China should be taking steps to increase its military presence in the South China Sea. Those reasons would include China’s defensive reaction to being encircled by 400 US military bases; the US declaring that China is a major threat to the US, as it did and last year’s National Defence Strategy document; and the carrying out of provocative military exercises by the US in the South China Sea.

Australia, along with the United States, carries out a regular joint military exercise (Operation Talisman Sabre) which practices blocking the narrow (2.5km) Malacca Straits through which more than 80% of China’s oil imports currently pass.

Dibb claims also that Russia engaged in “territorial expansionism” in Crimea and Ukraine. Crimea is an example of consistent misrepresentation in the Australian media. It was for centuries part of Russia until 1954 when Soviet leader Khrushchev unilaterally “gifted” Crimea to Ukraine without consulting anyone, least of all the Crimean people.

Following the US organized and financed coup against the elected government of Ukraine in 2014, the Crimean people, who are predominately Russian speaking and culturally aligned with Russia, held a referendum. More than 90% of Crimeans voted in that referendum, and more than 90% of them voted for reunification with Russia. Crimea’s request to Russia for reintegration into the Russian Federation was in due course voted on in the Russian Parliament.

People’s right to self-determination is enshrined in the UN Charter, and was recognised by the West, for example, in supporting the independence of Kosovo from Serbia. Quite apart from illustrating the extraordinary demonization of Russia, the treatment of the Crimea question is a classic illustration of western hypocrisy.

There is zero evidence of any Russian territorial expansionism in Ukraine. There is obviously profound concern about Ukraine’s treatment of its Russian speaking eastern region of Donbass. An attempted resolution of the Donbass problem brokered by Germany, resulting in the Minsk Accord of 2015, has been repeatedly violated. According to the OSCE, more than 80% of the violations of the Minsk II Accord have been by the Ukrainian government. This is a government where neo-Nazi elements have undue influence, a fact of obvious legitimate concern to the Russian government given the history of 26 million Russian deaths at the hands of the Nazis during World War II.

Dibb also refers to Putin’s “aggressive attitude in defending Syria and its use of chemical weapons.”  This is simply bizarre. It was Russia who negotiated Syria relinquishing its chemical weapons and the OPCW has verified that the disarmament of chemical weapons by Syria is complete.

The alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government have been comprehensively debunked by independent experts.2

Dibb does not mention it, but Russia is in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate sovereign government of Syria. Thanks to Russia’s intervention in 2015 the US-Israeli-Saudi Arabia backed terrorists are on the verge of being completely defeated.

Russia is acting entirely within international law in their support of the Syrian government, unlike the United States and its ally Australia who have no legal justification for being in Syria at all. It is an illustration of the United States’ imperial agenda that they have set up military bases in Syria where they are neither invited nor wanted.

Dibb is completely unable to recognise that the greatest sponsor and perpetrator of terrorism in the world is the United States. Since 1945 it has been almost continuously engaged in warfare against self defined “threats” and “enemies;” has bombed, invaded, or overthrown the governments of more than 70 nations; and killed more than 30 million people in the process.3

In many of these activities, for example, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, it has been actively supported by Australia, whose “joined at the hip” alliance with the United States is arguably Australia’s most dangerous and counter-productive foreign policy.

Dibb further claims “Moscow’s state-sponsored assassination attempts in Britain reflects Putin’s contempt for the sanctity of state borders.”  This is presumably a reference to the recent Skripal case, although with Dibb’s casual and sweeping defamatory denunciations one cannot be sure.

If it is the Skripal case to which he refers, then not only have the United Kingdom claims been both ludicrous and overblown in their multiple variations, there is absolutely zero evidence of Russian involvement and considerable evidence of motivations by other actors.

Since the admission to hospital and now with the discharge of both of the Skripals the British government has refused to permit consular access by Russian officials. This is a direct violation of, inter alia, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and a separate treaty between Russia and the United Kingdom. The British are also in violation of the International Convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance (23 September 2005). The United Nations Human Rights Committee has also held that for persons to be held incommunicado for 15 days or more constitutes a violation of human rights law. In Dibb’s world these factors never rate a mention.

As for Mr Putin’s alleged contempt for the sanctity of state borders, he might like to compare the respective records of Russia since 2000 (when Putin first came to power) and his US counterparts over the same period.  There is simply no contest.

What Dibb and similar commentators in Australia fail to recognise is that the American dominated unipolar world order of the past 70 years is rapidly being transformed into a multipolar world.4

Australia’s adherence to the Pax Americana view, however, is potentially greatly to Australia’s detriment, economically and politically. If the new Cold War policies being pursued by the Trump administration deteriorate to a hot war, which is far from unrealistic, the devastation wrought upon Australia will be, to borrow Trump’s phrase, fire and fury like in the world has never seen.

  1. Shannon Tiezzi, Taiwan: South China Sea Ruling ‘Completely Unacceptable‘, The Diplomat, 13 July 2016.
  2. Dr. Theodore Postol, “Assessment of White House Intelligence Report About Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria“, Global Research, November 18, 2017.
  3. William Blum, Americas Deadliest Export: Democracy, Zed Books, 2013.
  4. Alfred W. McCoy, In the Shadows of the American Century, Haymarket Books, 2017.

Selective Reporting Increases the Risk of a Greater Middle East War

The mainstream media news in recent days has carried reports of an exchange of rockets between forces based in Syria and what has been generally characterized as an Israeli “response.”  The Israelis claim that Iranian forces fire the rockets aimed at the Golan Heights. There are conflicting accounts as to whether or not the Iranian’s are responsible or whether the rockets were in fact fired by Syrian forces.

The claim and counterclaim have obscured more significant points that are not mentioned by the mainstream media. The first of these is that the latest round of attacks by the Israeli forces on military positions in Syria is not the first such attack.

Israel has long taken to itself the right to attack Syrian military positions. These attacks have intensified in recent years and are part of Israel’s dual aims with regard to Syria. The first aim is to expedite the overthrow of Syria’s President Bashar al Assad. The Israeli attacks generally benefit the various terrorist groups fighting the Syrian army and its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies.

Israeli support for the terrorist groups further extends to the use of Israeli military hospitals in the Golan Heights treating wounded terrorists.

The second important factor is that the Iranians, like the Russians and Hezbollah, are in Syria at the request of the legitimate sovereign Syrian government, recognised as such and by the United Nations and other international bodies. The almost invariable use of the pejorative nomenclature “Syrian regime” is a non-subtle attempt to propagandize the view of the US government and its lackeys that the Syrian government is in some way illegitimate.

The third omission in the news reports is that the area being shelled by the Syrians and/or Iranians is that the sole target is the Golan Heights. This is a significant (700 mi.²) piece of land, the western two thirds of which has been occupied by Israel since the six-day war in 1967.

It is a fundamental principle of international law that territory conquered in a war cannot be retained by the conquering power, in this case Israel. This principle is restated in Security Council resolution 242 (1967) which in the preamble emphasized “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war,” and further emphasized the requirement of all member states “to act in accordance with article 2 of the charter” (prohibiting force in the resolution of disputes).

The resolution went on to require (clause 1 (i) the “withdrawal of Israel Armed Forces from territories occupied in the recent (6 Day War) conflict.” Israel simply ignored this resolution is it ignores all obligations under international law that do not record with its geopolitical goals.

On 14 December 1981 Israel went further and purported to annex the territory it had illegally occupied since 1967. Three days later on 17 December 1981 the United Nations Security Council unanimously (with no abstentions) in Resolution 497 declared that Israel’s Golan Heights Law, which gave effect to  the annexation, was “null and void and without international legal effect”, and called on Israel to rescind its action.

Again, that was ignored by Israel, as was a later General Assembly resolution on 29 January 2007 which expressed the General Assembly’s deep concern that Israel had it not withdrawn from the Syrian Golan, contrary to relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, and stressed the illegality of Israel’s settlement constructions and other activities in the occupied Syrian Golan since 1967.

The resolution went on to state that the occupation and de facto annexation constituted a “stumbling block in the way of achieving a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region.”  It demanded once more that Israel withdraw to the pre-June 1967 lines.

In a familiar pattern, voting was 107 in favour, 6 against and 60 abstentions.

Apart from ignoring Israel’s continuing disregard of UN resolutions condemning its occupation and annexation of Syrian Golan, the media also fail to examine why Israel should continue its defiance of the overwhelming wishes of the international community.

There are two major factors in operation here. The first is that the geographical expansion of Israel’s territory has been a central plank of Israeli policy since at least the publication of the Yinon Plan in February 1982, which set out the blueprint for a “greater Israel.”  The Plan envisaged the incorporation into Israel wholly or significant parts of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

There is no possible legal basis upon which such a plan could be an advanced, but as noted, considerations of international law are rarely factored into Israel’s geopolitical considerations.

The second factor in operation here is that the Syrian Golan is, according to a November 2015 article in the UK journal The Economist (7 November 2015) the site of three test drillings conducted by a subsidiary of the US company Genie Energy. These drillings indicated oil reserves “with a potential of billions of barrels.”  Again according to the Economist, the Israeli government is being urged by lobby groups to take advantage of the chaos in Syria to demand international recognition of Israel’s annexation.

One clue as to why Genie Energy should receive so little media coverage of its activities, including the potential theft of Syrian resources, can be found in the composition of the board of directors. That board includes Jacob Rothschild of the UK banking dynasty, Dick Cheney, former US vice president under GW Bush, James Wolsey, a former head of the CIA, and Rupert Murdoch. The latter’s media empire ensures that coverage of Israel is rarely critical. Murdoch, whose 1700 worldwide newspapers unanimously editorialized in favour of the 2003 Iraqi invasion, also ensures that the public is not given vital relevant information.

That was never clearer than in the current (non) coverage of the sustained illegal interventions in the Syrian war by the United States, United Kingdom, France, Saudi Arabia and Australia or the astonishingly one-sided coverage of the current massacre of Palestinian civilians by Israeli soldiers as they protest the theft of their land and destruction of their human rights. Also completely missing from the media commentary is a discussion of what Robert Kennedy Jr aptly called “another pipeline war” ( 25 February 2016).

The Syrian war is a highly relevant component of the wider geopolitical issues affecting the region. These include, but are not limited to, the US plan to use Qatari gas via a pipeline to Europe with the overall objective of reducing or eliminating European reliance upon Russian gas. This pipeline necessarily transits Iraq and Syria. The hybrid war waged on Iran since 1979, and most recently including the unilateral withdrawal of United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is also part of this wider geopolitical framework.

Iran and Syria are also key elements in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a transformative infrastructure program that the US and some of its key allies are seeking to undermine.

The Australian government is very fond of proclaiming its belief in and support for the “international rules based order.” The disjunction between the rhetoric and the reality is again something that is ignored by the mainstream media. By its continuing failure to fully and accurately inform its readership of Middle Eastern realities, the risk of a wider war is measurably increased.

Iran Forging a New Path in Spite of the US’s Best Efforts at Sabotage

Prior to his election as President of the United States Donald Trump had been highly critical of the agreement reached between China, France, Germany, Russia, the US, the UK and Iran and the European Union aimed at preventing Iran from enriching uranium to the point where is could manufacture nuclear weapons.  He repeatedly referred to the agreement as “a horrible agreement”, the “stupidest deal of all time” and “the worst deal ever.”

At his now notorious address to the United Nations General Assembly in September he extended his attack to Iran itself, calling it a “corrupt dictatorship” and a nation “on a path of poverty, bloodshed and terror.”

The vast majority of the delegates present treated such overblown rhetoric with the contempt it deserved.  Only Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu voiced support, as one would expect given Israel’s hostility to the Iranian government and Netanyahu’s cartoonish presentation to the UN some years earlier, as well as more serious actions such as the assassination of Iranian scientists and electronic warfare through the Stuxnet virus.

Trump and Netanyahu are not alone among the neocon establishment in voicing what Iran’s President Rouhani, a Ph.D. from Scotland and democratically re-elected in a landslide earlier this year, called “”ignorant, absurd and hateful rhetoric.”

In June of this year Trump’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley addressed the influential American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in a speech remarkable for its lies, distortions and obfuscations about Iran and its politics.

The nuclear issue that Trump and his ilk find so distasteful is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated by the abovementioned group of nations, including the US, and endorsed unanimously by the Security Council (again including the US) in July 2015.  That agreement established a rigorous inspections framework within Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for which the US and other nations were to remove sanctions that had significantly hindered Iran’s development and modernization.  In fact, Security Council Resolution 2231 of July 2015 specifically removed all the earlier sanctions resolutions (1696, 1737, 1747, 1803, 1835 and 1929).

Under the JCPOA the IAEA carries out regular inspections, the last as recently as September 2017.  It has found Iran to be in compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA, a view echoed by General Paul Selva, the Vice-Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, in July 2017.  Following Trump’s UN speech the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini made a point of stating that “the nuclear agreement was working.”

The JCPOA provides a mechanism for investigating alleged violations by Iran.  All a complaining nation has to do is provide evidence to the IAEA of a reasonably based suspicion that Iran is in violation of the agreement and the IAEA has wide and intrusive powers to investigate.

In fact, no evidence has ever been provided.  Wild, politically motivated allegations with neither a factual nor even a reasonable suspicion basis do not constitute the faintest foundation for abrogating an agreement that enjoys overwhelming international support, and as Mogherini says, “is working.”

What then, lies behind Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric?  There are, I suggest, a number of factors at work.  The first of these is the troubled relationship between Iran and the US in the post World War 2 period.  In 1953 a joint CIA-MI6 operation overthrew the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh on behalf of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now BP), which the Iranian government was planning to nationalize.  The Americans installed the regime of Shah Pahlavi, and also, significantly, trained the brutally ruthless Savak Secret Police that enforced the Shah’s dictatorship.

The Islamic Revolution of 1979 in turn overthrew the Shah.  Relations between the US and Iran have ranged from poor to abysmal ever since.  The US has inspired, financed and trained a series of anti-government groups, including the MEK, a group designated as terrorist by the State Department. Iranians are very mindful of America’s support for Saddam Hussein in the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s when Iran suffered a million casualties.  That history needs to be remembered when reading American allegations about Iran’s alleged sponsorship of terrorism.

A second factor arises from the US’s hegemonic ambitions in the greater Middle East region, and control of its vast oil and gas reserves.  General Wesley Clark revealed in an interview in September 2011 the existence of a plan he had seen dating back to at least 2001 of a policy intention of overthrowing seven countries in the region in five years (Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Syria).  Confirmation of the plan is found not least in the fact that six of the seven have already been attacked by the US or Israel, with only Iran thus far relatively unscathed.  The attack on Iran has been of a hybrid warfare nature, including sanctions and sponsorship of terrorism.

Quite apart from Clark’s Pentagon list, there is also a 2009 report by the Brookings Institution entitled “Which Path to Persia.”  That report clearly indicates that the US should engineer a situation that would portray Iran as a party squandering a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue and therefore having to be attacked “more in sorrow than anger”, thereby keeping the international community on side.

Bear in mind that this cynical ploy was set out six years before the JCPOA was signed.  Trump’s current policy stance of which the rhetoric is a vital part, clearly has its genesis in the Brookings Institution report.

The third factor arises out of the beating that the US and its terrorist proxies are currently receiving in Syria.  The attempt to overthrow the sovereign government of Syria began in earnest in 2011.  The former Vice President of the US, Joe Biden, acknowledged in October 2014 that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE and Turkey were the first foreign countries to intervene in Syria’s war.  He should have also acknowledged the US’s role. While lacking direct military intervention the US was certainly a major player in training, arming and financing various terrorist groups, whom they ridiculously claimed were the “moderate opposition” to the Assad government.

Iran, which has had a mutual defence treaty with Syria since 2006, did not intervene until 2015, along with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Russia.  All three are in Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government, unlike the presence of the US, Australia, the UK and others whose presence is in violation of international law.  The Australian government, for example, has made various spurious claims as to the justification for its involvement in the so-called “coalition” but has refused to release the legal advice it falsely claimed it was seeking before making a decision.

The fourth factor is perhaps the most significant.  After UN Security Council Resolution 2231 was passed in July 2015 Iran was able to begin re-establishing its central role in Eurasia.  Apart from a number of European Union countries rushing to sign deals with Iran, there has been a progressive rapprochement with Turkey, itself orientating away from the European-NATO axis, and more particularly with Russia and China.

Iran is a crucial link in the North South Transportation Corridor (NTSC), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) where it will convert from associate membership to full status, most likely within a year, and also the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

China and Russia are both making major investments in Iran and closer defence links will be an inevitable corollary.  Some defence agreements have already been reached with Russia, and the superior S400 anti-missile system is being installed.  With Chinese and Russian military support a direct American attack on Iran is even more unthinkable than in the past.

It is this relative impotence in the face of a rapidly changing geopolitical structure that frustrates Trump, Haley, Pompeo and Mattis, all of whose visceral dislike of Iran is well documented.

This is not to say that Trump will unilaterally withdraw the US from JCPOA.  Given the US’s well-documented contempt for international law and Trump’s cavalier disregard for treaty obligations some unilateral move cannot be discounted.

The major difference this time is that the Europeans, the Turks, the Chinese and the Russians will simply ignore this latest illustration of America’s self-destructive behaviour and, as the JCPOA says (Preamble viii) work “in good faith and in a constructive atmosphere based on mutual respect, and to refrain from any action inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the JCPOA that would undermine its successful implementation.”

Trump at the United Nations: Derangement and Delusion Reign Supreme

If any further proof were needed that the United States has descended into the realm of magical thinking, there could be no clearer example than Donald Trump’s speech to the UN General Assembly on 19 September 2017.

In 40 minutes of what can only be described as a barely coherent and dangerous rant, Trump revealed how the United States has totally lost its grip on reality.  Some brief extracts from the speech illustrate its essential horrors.  Trump argued that:

America does more than speak for the values expressed in the UN Charter…..America’s devotion is measured in the battlefields……..from the beaches of Europe, to the deserts of the Middle East to the jungles of Asia… is an eternal credit to the American character that even after we and our allies emerged victorious from the bloodiest war in history, we did not seek territorial expansion or attempt to oppose and impose our way of life on others.

Trump and the neocon clique that dictate American foreign policy probably believe that nonsense.  It is delusional in the extreme.  The US, for example, was a latecomer to World War 2.  What fighting it did in the “deserts of the Middle East” or the “jungles of Asia” is unclear. The total western contribution to the war was no greater than 20% of the total, and much less in terms of casualties. The great battles and the vast bulk of the casualties were incurred on the Eastern front between Germany and Russia, and in Asia between Japan and China.

Even the use of the atomic weans that ended the war against Japan were militarily unnecessary, as Japan had been seeking peace since at least late 1944, their only condition being the retention of the emperor, which happened anyway.  The use of nuclear weapons was instead a warning to the Soviet Union.  We now also know that the US and its western allies had three separate plans to continue the war against the Soviet Union, using atomic weapons to annihilate both its populations and industrial capacity.

As far as not seeking to impose its way of life on others, the US has been a regime change exponent and practitioner without parallel.  It has bombed, invaded and overthrown the governments of at least 50 nations since 1945, killing at least 30 million people in the process.  The one route to avoiding this attention has been to subscribe to US dictates without deviation.  The claim by Trump is so at odds with reality that it is beyond even being a sick joke.

As for doing more than speak for the values of the UN charter, Trump also said:

The US has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.

The US has been there before.  In the Korean War of 1950-53, the US totally destroyed every town and city of any size; destroyed its infrastructure; waged chemical warfare to destroy its agricultural capacity; and killed at least three million of its citizens.  It has, ever since the armistice, refused to sit down with North Korea to discuss a peace treaty; waged war by other means such as sanctions; regularly issued threats of annihilation; and carried out massive military exercises near its borders.  It has also denied North Korea access to its exclusive economic zone that it is entitled to under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea by the idiosyncratic and illegal drawing of maritime boundaries.

The UN Charter that Trump says the US “does more than speak for” actually has a number of provisions that are applicable to North Korea and other parts of the world subject to US attentions.  Article 2(4) of the Charter, for example, enjoins all nations to refrain from the use or threat of force in its international relations.  The Bush Junior, Clinton, Obama and Trump administrations breach that provision on a regular basis.

The fig leaf of qualification that Trump used in his rhetoric, “if forced to defend itself or its allies” is also constrained by Article 51 of the UN Charter, which requires every military response to an armed attack by another State to be proportional to the actual threat posed.

The threat to “totally destroy” North Korea is, in fact, advocating the crime of genocide which unsurprisingly is also contrary to international law.

Australia’s Prime Minister apparently sees no problem with these threats and their consequences.  When asked about Trump’s remarks, he told Channel 7’s Sunrise program that Australia was ready to assist the US.  He again (wrongly) invoked the ANZUS Treaty, but sought to diminish the consequences of Trump’s threat, saying, “many, many thousands will die.”  No, Mr Turnbull, millions will die, including civilians in South Korea and Japan. As well as North Korea.

Trump also claimed at the UN that:

Last month I announced a new strategy in the fight against this evil in Afghanistan.  From now on our security interests will dictate the length and scope of this military operation, not arbitrary benchmarks and timetables set up by politicians.

To call what is happening in Afghanistan a “new strategy” is delusional.  There is no discernible “strategy” that would lead to either the US winning the war, or indeed even concluding a peace settlement.  It is doubtful if there ever was such a strategy.

The invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 had nothing to do with the fight against terrorism.  It was, and remains, an illegal war under international law.  It had more to do with securing the rights to a gas pipeline from the Caspian Basin; establishing military bases as part of its “containment” strategy of China and Russia; and ensuring control of the opium crop that the Taliban had succeeded in virtually eliminating.  A further motive for staying developed later when the US Geological Survey identified about $3 trillion of valuable mineral assets in Afghanistan, including rare earths essential in modern technology.  Trump openly claimed that these should be the preserve of US corporations.

According to the UN Drug Agency, Afghanistan now accounts for 93% of the world’s heroin supply.  US soldiers protect the growing of the opium poppies; NATO planes fly in the chemicals needed to process the opium into heroin; and the CIA takes care of its worldwide distribution, as it has done for most of its existence.

Trump also claimed US success in Iraq and Syria, saying:

We have made big gains toward lasting defeat of ISIS.  In fact, our country has achieved more against ISIS in the last eight months than it has in many, many years combined. The actions of the criminal regime of Bashar al-Assad, including the use of chemical weapons against its own citizens, even innocent children, shock the conscience of every decent person.  No society could be safe if banned chemical weapons are allowed to spread.  That is why the United States carried out a missile strike on the airbase that launched the attack.

Again, the reality is completely different.  Trump is either unaware, or more likely (in common with the Australian government and mainstream media) simply ignores the overwhelming weight of evidence that the Assad government was not responsible for the Sarin gas attacks.  Even if they had been, that would still not have allowed the US to use cruise missiles against a Syrian base.  That also is against international law.

To claim credit for making “big gains toward lasting defeat of ISIS” also requires a rewriting of history.  The various terrorist groups that have battled the Syrian government have been created, trained, financed and armed by the US and its allies, notably Israel (which also treats ISIS wounded in its hospitals) and Saudi Arabia.  Neither of those countries warranted a mention in Trump’s speech.

The various terrorist groups were in danger of defeating the Syrian government forces until the intervention of the Russians in September 2015.  The Russian support for Syria, together with their Hezbollah, Iranian and Iraqi allies, all legitimately in Syria, are the ones who have successfully defeated ISIS and various other terrorist groups.

Trump unsurprisingly made no mention of the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US and its allies, including Australia, on the fake pretext of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.  He similarly ignored the fact that the US (and Australia) have absolutely no legal right to be in Syria at all.  I have elsewhere described the lies and obfuscations that led Australia into joining the Syrian war (I the same month as the Russians).  Australia, like the US, has done nothing to support the legitimate sovereign government of Syria ever since.  Until the recent apparent change of policy by the US, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was also vociferous in her demands that “Assad must go”.  In the light of Trump’s UN speech, and the continued US interference in the Kurdish areas of Syria, it is extremely doubtful if the regime change policy has truly been abandoned.

In the fact of Trump’s embarrassing and frankly unhinged diatribe, all Australia has done is to offer pathetic noises in support.  One can expect no better from the present government.  It is to Australia’s great disadvantage that the Labor Opposition shows a similar lack of integrity and commitment to Australia’s real national security interests.

Australia and North Korea: Dangerous Illusions Place Australia at Risk

The war of words between North Korea and the United states reached new heights last week.  US President trump pledged to meet any further threats by North Korea to the US “with fire and fury like the world has never seen”.  North Korea’s response was a threat to vaporize Guam, a US colony and important military base in the Pacific.

Such an escalation of rhetoric carries its own risks, including miscalculations by either side that could rapidly lead to a shooting war.  In such a situation what is needed is a period of clam reflection, especially by the American President, and the use of diplomacy rather than military action.  For all Kim Jong Un’s faults, his position is at least grounded in a knowledge of past American actions toward North Korea, and an overwhelming desire to preserve the Kim regime.  There is no such certainty with the American leader or his country’s policies.

Since 1945, when the Americans following the defeat of Japan arbitrarily divided Korea at the 38th Parallel, the peninsula has been bedeviled by constant tension, including a devastating war in the early 1950s that killed more than 2 million North Koreans (20% of its population) and destroyed cities, towns and villages, as well as their infrastructure.

That war never formally ended.  An important step toward reducing tensions would be a commitment by both sides to seriously negotiate a peace treaty.  Post war history is not encouraging in that regard.

Notwithstanding the absence of a peace treaty, North Korea and the United States have entered a series of agreements.  North Korea signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in December 1985, and a further non-proliferation agreement came into force in May 1992.

A further wide-ranging agreement was made in October 1994 between North Korea and the Clinton administration.  The US reneged on that agreement almost immediately.  A further preliminary agreement was reached in September 2005 following the six party talks (China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the US).

As recently as November 2010 North Korea was willing to end its nuclear program, accept IAEA inspections, and conclude a peace treaty to replace the 1953 armistice.  The US has consistently refused to sit down with North Korea and engage in negotiations.

Instead, the US has engaged in a series of continual provocative moves.  In this century alone, North Korea has been labeled part of the “axis of evil” in George W. Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address; held regular military exercises in South Korea and the adjoining sea; flown nuclear armed bombers over the Korean peninsula; and recently installed the THAAD missile system, allegedly for defence purposes but in reality part of the military encirclement of China, one of North Korea’s few friends.

US conduct elsewhere, including the invasion and destruction of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, as well as continuous military interventions either directly or by proxy in a host of nations, and most recently the illegal entry into the Syrian war are a clear signal of the steps the US is prepared to take in pursuit of its geopolitical objectives.  Kim is right to be skeptical and to seek a nuclear capability.  He knows that ever since the American humiliation in Vietnam the US has never attacked any country capable of fighting back.

The noted US war hawk, Senator Lindsay Graham, has said that he told Trump that if all else failed (unspecified) Trump must order a military strike, which although bad for the Korean peninsula, China and Japan, would have the virtue of occurring “over there.”  Graham claimed that Trump made similar statements to him, and that since then Trump has said nothing to indicate that Graham’s account of their conversation was inaccurate.1

Graham is correct at least in saying that a war would be “bad for” both Koreas, China and Japan.  North Korea has a formidable armoury of non-nuclear options, including biological weapons able to destroy Japan and an artillery capability that could flatten Seoul within an hour of an outbreak of war.  China would likely face a huge influx of refugees that it does not want.  North Korea also has the capacity to put nuclear bombs on civilian ships and sail them into American harbours.  So a war would not only be “bad for” North Asia.

It is in this context that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has made what must rank as one of the most stupid and ill-considered remarks since former Prime Minister Harold Holt’s infamous “all the way with LBJ” preceded Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, and another former Prime Minister John Howard’s fatuous claim to being the US’s “deputy sheriff in the Pacific” during the GW Bush era.

In comments made to a Melbourne radio station on 4 August 2017, Turnbull said:

Let’s be very clear.  If there is an attack on the US by North Korea, then the ANZUS Treaty will be invoked and Australia will come to the aid of the United States, just as if there was an attack on Australia the United States would come to our aid.

Be under no misapprehension, in terms of defence we are joined at the hip.

That statement assumes a number of things, none of them carrying the degree of certitude Turnbull professes.  It is common for Australian politicians to invoke the ANZUS Treaty as the “bedrock” or the “cornerstone” of Australia’s defence strategy.  But is that valid?

The Treaty was signed in 1951 and came into force on 29 April 1952.  It has been invoked only once, by John Howard in response to the events of 11 September 2001.  As a result of those events, the US and Australia attacked Afghanistan, which manifestly had not attacked the United States, and sixteen years later we are still there and showing no signs of leaving.

Despite the false premise upon which that attack on Afghanistan was justified, the appalling carnage wrought on the Afghan people and the current conditions there, Australia shows absolutely no sign of having learnt a single lesson.

Howard’s intervention in Iraq, done without invoking ANZUS, was, if anything, even worse, both in the lies upon which it was based, and the carnage it has created throughout the whole Middle East and elsewhere.  The Abbott-Turnbull government’s own illegal intervention in Syria has fared no better.  Neither Iraq nor Syria had attacked the United States, yet Australia joined both wars that manifestly held no strategic interest for Australia and exist solely for American geostrategic reasons.

On what possible basis therefore does Turnbull think that intervening in Korea “to come to the aid of the United States” will be other than another disastrous and unnecessary foreign adventure?  Given that North Korea is nuclear armed (unlike all other previous American victims) the actual consequences for Australia could be very much worse.

The ANZUS Treaty itself does not carry the weight imported to it by successive Australian governments.  Firstly, the preamble makes it clear it is concerned with strengthening the “fabric of peace in the Pacific Area”.  North Korea is not in the Pacific area.  It also reaffirms the faith of the parties in “the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

Article 1 of the ANZUS Treaty then undertakes to settle “any international disputes in which they may be involved by peaceful means…and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.”

Nobody listening to the blustering and threats of Trump over the past few weeks and blatant illegality such as the cruise missile attack on Syria could possibly conclude that the US was “refraining from the threat or use of force,” let alone acting in compliance with the “purposes and principles of the UN Charter.”

Article III of the ANZUS Treaty obliges the parties to “consult together” whenever in the opinion of any of them “political independence or security of any of them is threatened in the Pacific.”

Article IV is commonly seen as the key clause, but is misunderstood and widely misused. It recognises that any armed attack would be dangerous to its own peace and security, and that it would act to meet the danger “in accordance with its constitutional processes.”

There is noting in either clause that requires any party to respond militarily to any armed attack upon one of the parties.

Importantly, that same Article requires both the attack and the measures in response to be reported to the UN Security Council.  Such retaliatory measures taken “shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.”

Article IV reinforces the obligations of the parties to act in accordance with its obligations under the Charter of the UN and “the responsibility of the UN for the maintenance of international peace and security.”

In other words, Australia is not only under no obligation if the US is attacked to do other than “consult” in accordance with “constitutional processes”, it is under a positive obligation to comply with its obligations under the UN Charter.  None of these obligations have formed part of Turnbull’s rhetoric.

Articles I and IV of the ANZUS Treaty echo similar provisions in the UN Charter.  Article 2(3) of the Charter says that all members “shall settle their disputes by peaceful means. Article 51, while recognizing the right to individual or collective self-defence in the event of an armed attack upon a member, may only take such measures “until the Security Council has taken measures to maintain peace and security.”

Nothing in either the Treaty or the Charter permits the making of threats.  Even more certainly, nothing in either permits a pre-emptive attack, such as is seriously contemplated, planned for, and espoused in the United States as a way of resolving what they see as the North Korean “problem.”  Similar threats and military plans have been made against Iran, although thus far Australia has refrained from pledging its allegiance to the Americans in that scheme.

Turnbull’s ill-considered remarks show that Australia has learned nothing from its experiences with the misuse of American military might over the past 70 years. Turnbull’s statement puts Australia in the position of in effect underwriting the actions of a dangerously unpredictable “ally” whose statements and actions over many decades show a cavalier disregard for the sovereign rights of other nations,2 let alone its obligations under the UN Charter.

Turnbull appears to think that this latest pledge of Australian allegiance is actually in Australia’s interests.  The evidence for that is completely lacking.  Rather, it has left Australia yet again completely exposed to a retaliatory strike against which it has no effective defence.  That strike would not necessarily come from the North Koreans.

China has already stated that in the event of an American attack upon North Korea it will come to North Korea’s aid.  Does Australia really want a war with China?  China’s superior military technology, including but not limited to the Dong Feng 41 ICBM would mean that Australia’s involvement in such a war would last no longer than 30 minutes.

The recently passed sanctions Bill by an almost unanimous US House and Senate, apart from breaching international law, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (P+5) agreement with Iran, and infuriating America’s “allies” in Europe with its blatant self-interest, also contained a clause that the western mainstream media have failed to note.  That clause withdrew the United States from its obligations limiting intermediate range nuclear missiles, originally agreed between Reagan and Gorbachev.

Together with the blatant war mongering out of Washington, that single act alone should have raised serious alarm in Australia about the United States’ real commitment to settling disputes by peaceful means.  Australia’s servile obeisance to American actions, as personified in Turnbull’s remarks, means that Australia will yet again be dragged into another illegal war.  This time we are unlikely to escape with only damage to our international reputation.

  1. Jonathon Marshall. “Hurtling toward fire and fury“, 10 August 2017.
  2. William Blum. America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy, Zed Book (2nd ed.) (2015).

North Korea’s Nuclear Missiles: The Fantasy and the Reality of Australia’s Response

On 4 July 2017 North Korea fired a missile from their territory that landed in the Sea of Japan.  Western commentators immediately labeled it an ICBM with the capability of reaching Alaska, and by implication, the north of Australia.

The “threat” posed by North Korea’s missile test has dominated the strategic commentaries ever since.  It was personified by a major article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 8 July 2017 by political editor Peter Hartcher.  Hartcher quoted a number of defence “experts”, all of whom assumed:

  • That it was, in fact, an ICBM;
  • That North Korea had, or would shortly have, the capacity to fit a nuclear warhead to the missile;
  • That such a development posed an existential threat to Australia; and,
  • That Australia had no current defence against such a development and there was therefore an urgent need to acquire an anti-missile defence system to protect Australia.

In support of that last point, Hartcher quoted Foreign Minister Julie Bishop saying that “North Korea is a threat directly to Australia,” and former G.W. Bush adviser Mike Green, now of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, that Australia should “absolutely” be considering setting up a missile defence system.

There is an acknowledgement, quoting Labor defence spokesman Richard Marles, that there is doubt that the Defence Department has any confidence in the efficacy of American anti-missile defence systems, and that for Australia the “risk is too small and the cost too great.”

The North Korean missile test raises a number of geopolitical and defence issues, none of which have been adequately addressed.  Some of the more important of those issues will now be addressed within the framework of the four assumptions (a) to (d) above.

  • Was it an ICBM? Despite the claims of the Americans in particular, and the assumptions of the Australian commentators, there is doubt that the missile was, in fact, an ICBM.  In a report provided to the UN Security Council, the Russian Ministry of Defence stated that the missile flew only 535km and reached an altitude of 510km before falling into the Sea of Japan.

Confirmation or rebuttal of the Russian claim is readily available, not least from the Americans themselves from their satellite and radar tracking facilities, but they have neither confirmed nor denied the Russian report.  Instead there has been an escalation of tensions, with US warships being dispatched to Korean waters, and American UN Ambassador Nikki Haley issuing direct threats of unilateral US military action.1  That such threats are neither justified nor have any basis in international law seemingly leaves Australian commentators untroubled.

By contrast, the Russian and Chinese governments issued a joint statement on 4 July condemning the North Korean missile test as unacceptable and a breach of relevant Security Council resolutions.  More importantly, however, the two governments propose a specific set of measures aimed at defusing tensions on the Korean peninsula and creating the terms for a peaceful resolution of the problem.2

These proposals were based on earlier proposals put forward by China that required a “freeze” on missile activities by both North Korea and the United States, a stop to large scale joint South Korean and US military exercises that directly threaten North Korea; and steps taken to progressively demilitarize the Korean peninsula.

The US rejected the proposed action, just as it had earlier rejected the Chinese proposal.  As has been detailed elsewhere, there is a long history of US actions sabotaging a potential resolution of Korean issues.

It is a legitimate question to ask as to why there has been this prolonged negative history, and why the US would not welcome the proposals put forward by Russia and China as marking at least the beginning of an opportunity for a genuine reduction in a dangerous situation.  They are questions the Australian government, and their echo chamber in the media, are unwilling to ask.

  • North Korea’s Nuclear Delivery Capability. We do not know if North Korea currently has the technical capability or not to deliver a nuclear armed ICBM to a distant target, although the weight of evidence would suggest not. It would be unwise to assume that the technical capability will not be reached sooner or later.  The more important question for Australia is, does it matter either way, and what is the appropriate policy response?

There are a large number of countries between North Korea and Australia, a distance of more than 5000km, but there is a conspicuous lack of evidence that with the possible exceptions of South Korea and Japan, any of them are rushing to develop an anti-missile capability.  The most probable reason for that is that they have no legitimate reason to fear that they might be a target.  Even if there was a remote hypothetical threat, they are also aware that embarking on an expensive anti-missile program would have no practical effect.

In the case of South Korea and Japan, their proximity to North Korea would mean that the radioactive fallout would also contaminate North Korea itself.  There are also a large number of US military bases in South Korea, Okinawa and the Japanese mainland that any attack on them would result in massive retaliation by the US, reducing North Korea to rubble again, whether radioactive or not.  There is no evidence that Kim is suicidal.

  • Is There a Threat To Australia? Technically yes, at least once North Korea actually does have an ICBM capability and the warhead technology to match.  The more important question, however, is why would Australia be a target?  Kim has apparently made remarks about Australia being targetable on the basis of Australia’s relationship with the US.  Again, that is a theoretical possibility, but what would it achieve in practical terms?  There is no evidence that any benefit would accrue to North Korea by attacking Australia.  A remote possibility is apparently insufficient to reassure Australian defence planners.

Instead, Australia’s historical defence strategy has been to rely on the US as its security guarantor, repeated as recently as 16 July when Julie Bishop appeared on the ABC’s Insiders program.  This strategy assumes in effect that an attack upon Australia would result in retaliation by the United States. That is an increasingly heroic assumption.

From a strategic point of view that assumption creates two major possibilities.  The first is that if the US does, in fact, respond to an attack upon Australia by North Korea with a response using, as Nikki Haley would have it, full American military might, then North Korea would suffer the same outcome as described under scenario (b) above.

Alternatively, however, if the US decided that it was not in its own national security issue to retaliate, than what has been the point of the past seventy years of blind obeisance to the US’s geopolitical ambitions?

Australia has joined a whole series of US inspired wars, including but not limited to the ongoing disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and before them in Vietnam.  These wars have had no strategic value to Australia, notwithstanding the mainstream media propaganda and the absurd claims of politicians to the contrary.

Joining such wars, ignoring the atrocities perpetrated by allies upon Palestine and Yemen, and joining in the ill-founded demonization of Libya, Russia and Iran among other places have all essentially been the payment of insurance premiums.  ANZUS, the alleged cornerstone of that insurance policy, is in reality no more than a promise to “consult”.  It is not a guarantee than an attack upon one will be regarded as an attack upon the all, which characterizes the NATO Treaty.  Trump’s refusal to reaffirm that particular point in a recent speech was treated with alarm the US’s NATO allies, but its obvious implications for ANZUS, which is much weaker, was completely ignored in Australia.  The actual terms of the ANZUS Treaty and its implications is one of the cruelest deceptions perpetrated upon the Australian public over many decades.

  • Australia Therefore Needs its Own Missile Defence System? There are three major anti-missile defence systems on the world market. Two of them would probably work in the Australian context, and the third almost certainly not.  Of the former two systems, the better known is the Russian S400 series, recently purchased by Turkey, nominally at least still a member of NATO, as well as India.  The other anti-missile system, almost certainly not available to Australia, is the Chinese High Powered Microwave System (HPM).  As an article in The Diplomat (11 March 2017) recently explained this system “undermines the efficacy of even the most advanced US missiles.”

This fact points to two related vulnerabilities of the third anti-missile option and the one most likely to be favoured by Australia in the event of a decision to buy such a system, the US Patriot system.  The version of this system that is even remotely useful for Australia is the PAC-2..  The PAC-2, however, relies upon a satellite in orbit to provide it with data necessary for its guidance.  Australia does not have such satellites and would therefore be wholly reliant upon the Americans for such access.  Even if access were granted, the satellites could be disabled by the Chinese HPM defences.  In short, a very expensive white elephant, much like the F35 fighter and the submarines recently contracted for with France.

What if a Real Enemy Attacked Us?  Posturing about the potential North Korean “threat” to one side, the country that possesses the real capacity to attack Australia is China.  Such an attack is highly unlikely and would only enter their strategic equation because of Australia’s military links to the US, particularly through the spy base at Pine Gap, and several other US military bases in Australia.

The Chinese missile system applicable here is the Dongfeng41, which has 8-10 independently targetable nuclear warheads; has an operational range of 12,000-15,000km; and a top speed of Mach25.  There is no western system capable of defending against it.

A related weapon in the Chinese armoury is the Dongfeng21D, which according to the US National Air and Space Intelligence Centre, is the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile. It has a range of 1450km and can be fired from mobile land based systems.  Its speed, accuracy and a variety of other technical features render US aircraft carriers, the cornerstone of US military projection, into expensive death traps.


Given the inability of Australia to defend itself against a real missile attack, the question then becomes, why is there such a drumbeat about the alleged danger of North Korea to us?

The evidence suggests two possible explanations, not necessarily incompatible.  The first is that manufacturing a dire threat offers a golden opportunity to promote the sale of American weaponry.  There are plenty of examples of this tactic, a recent one being the “Iranian nuclear threat” being used to justify the installation (20/11/13) of expensive anti-missile systems and other military-based measures in several European countries. The Iranian nuclear furphy has long since been exposed for what it was.  It has now been replaced by a resurrection of the “Russian threat”, accompanied by an unpararelled demonization of that country and its President Vladimir Putin. One consequence has been the eastward march of NATO to the Russian borders.  Just who is threatening whom is not a question the Australian media are willing to address.

The other principal purpose served by constant reiteration of the “North Korean threat” is that it justifies the continued US military presence in East Asia, an area geographically remote from the US.  Australian politicians persist in calling that presence a force for stability and peace in the region, apparently without a hint of irony.  Again, the rhetoric and the reality are a mismatch.

All of the US’s actions and statements with regard to Asia, from the Korean War, through Vietnam and up to and including Obama’s “pivot” to the present rhetoric can be understood within the framework of a single strategic concept: the maintenance of American hegemony and with it the encirclement and containment of the greatest threat to that hegemony, China.

That policy is doomed to fail, but it carries inordinate risks to Australia.  Instead of confronting that risk and formulating defence and foreign policy priorities that reflect Australia’s national interest, Australia is clinging to policies that no longer resonate in a changing world.  In the words of  Stuart Rollo (10 July 2017) Australia is “sleepwalking along a path of military confrontation, incapable and unwilling to diverge from American security priorities where they do not reflect our own.”

Instead of having a rational and informed public dialogue about these issues, our politicians, urged on by the mainstream media, seem instead to continue with manifestly failed policies of the past.  Where our very survival as a nation is at issue, a major rethink is long overdue.

  1. Sydney Morning Herald, 6 July 2017.
  2. Statement of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Number 1317, 4 July 2017.