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America’s New Space Force

Despite being a third world country, as  judged many and varied social indicators of development, America is set to spend $8 billion on a new ‘space force‘ over the next 5 years.

China and Russia are currently competitors for military advantage in space, and it seems this has got America worried. In 2007 China successfully shot down one of its old weather satellites, orbiting 500 miles above the planet. In 2015, Russia launched a successful test of an anti-satellite missile.

Approximately 1800 active satellites currently orbit earth, half of them sent up by America, are vital to many of our day to day activities. We rely on satellites for the following:

  • Anything using GPS positioning for navigation – which includes various civil and military organisations
  • Financial markets depend on them for super-sensitive time-synchronisation
  • Weather forecasting
  • Traffic lights
  • Various mobile phone applications.
  • Some television and video conferencing.

It would seem that satellites have somehow become the ‘foundation’ of our daily postmodern, globally networked lives.

What might space war look like…

Besides firing missiles into space, there are other options: lasers could be used to blind or dazzle satellites in order to disrupt their functionality, or cyber attacks could be ‘launched’ to hack into them.

As with most things warfare, it seems that the USA is already years ahead of its competitors. The USA first launched a successful strike against an obsolete satellite in the mid 1980s, and they are already ‘hardening’ existing satellites against attack – by positioning redundant satellites to act as back ups, for example, and they are looking into giving them their own defensive capabilities.

What are the possible consequences of Space War?

If there was an all-out space war, it could create a debris-cloud which would render space unusable for future generations, however, if global relations deteriorated to this point, we’d probably be more worried about the radiation sickness from the previously deployed nukes!

Relevance of this to A-level sociology…

Quite a useful example of the continued power of the Nation State in a global age…. seriously, how many nations have the power to shoot down satellites…. really just a handful, and no other body besides them!

Sources/ Find out More

The Week, 25 August 2018.

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Comparing Military Blogs and Civil War Letters

This post outlines an interesting comparative research study of secondary documents (‘private’ letters and a more public blog) which could be used to get students thinking about the usefulness of such sources in social research.

I’ve taken the summary below straight from Bryman (2016) Social Research Methods:

It is tempting to think that the century and a half that separates a solider writing a military blogs and the letters and diary of a solider in the American civil war will be far apart in tone and content.

Shapiro and Humphreys (2013) compare the military blog of ‘Dadmanly’, who was in the US army for just over four years beginning in August 2004 and who served in Iraq for 18 months, with the letters and diaries of ‘Charlie Mac’, who joined the Union army in 1862, whose writings continued until 1865.

Dadmanly’s blog is looking like a bit of a historical artefact already. with its last update in 2012, but he did make some contributions to the more recent ‘blog of war’ book, which brings together different bloggers from the front-line of war.

There are clear differences between them:

  • Dadmanly wrote for a general audience the vast majority of whom he would never know
  • Charlie Mac wrote primarily for his large family, although he seems to have anticipated that that they would passed around to others, as they have a tone which implies they will have a more general readership than just his close family.

However, there are also various common elements:

  • Both writers show a desire to reassure family and friends about their safety and well-being.
  • Both expressed opinions about the progress of the war, and offered political commentary on them;
  • both wrote in large part to maintain contact with their families during the wars,
  • and the writing was therapeutic for both of them.

Shapiro and Humphries conclude that this comparison is significant because it shows that changes in communications technologies do not necessarily result in changes in the nature of the content of communication.

one question you might like to consider is whether Dadmanly’s blog is any less valid as a source of information about war than Charlie Mac’s letters?

 (Source: Bryman (2016) Social Research Methods)

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America’s War in Yemen

Given the correlation between Peacefulness and economic and social development, I’d say there’s a strong argument that the level of peacefulness in a country is one of the most valid indicators of that country’s level of development; it’s also important for the potential of other countries to develop further, given that violence in one country can so often retard development in other countries.

Unfortunately for America, it doesn’t do well on measures of peacefulness. According to the 2017 Global Peace Index (GPI), it ranks a dismal 114th out of 163 countries, down 8 places from the previous year, and bucking the general trend which is for more wealthier countries to be more peaceful (Scandinavia + Canada are towards the top!)

The Global Peace Index includes several indicators to establish its rankings, and so there are many reasons for America’s low peacefulness (and high violence) ranking – the high homicide rate being linked to the national addiction to guns, and neither does its high military and nuclear expenditure, or its involvement in drone-killings abroad.

One recent event, which won’t have been included in the 2017 GPI data, is America’s enhanced role in Saudi Arabia’s current war in Yemen – Following Donald Trump’s recent state visit to Saudi Arabia, The United States is set to become more complicit in this war. Saudi Arabia ranks 132nd on the GPI, Yemen 4th from bottom at 159th.

Amnesty International calls the conflict in Yemen the ‘forgotten war’ – it’s basically a conflict involving one group of Yemenis known as the Huthis who support the former Yemeni president, and a second group who, along with the Saudis, support the existing president. The conflict has been going on since 2015, with civilians caught in the middle.

Amnesty cites the following human toll of the conflict so far:

  • 4 600 Civilians have been killed, 8000 injured
  • 3 Million people have been displaced
  • 18.8 million people currently rely on humanitarian assistance

According to Time, Donald Trump recently agreed $110 billion worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia:

‘The weapons sale was one of the largest in history, totalling close to $110 billion worth of tanks, artillery, radar systems, armoured personnel carriers, Blackhawk helicopters, ships, …Patriot missiles”

The $110 billion figure is almost certainly exaggerated, as it includes the renewal of some existing deals with are ongoing (so no new money changing hands), and some potential, yet to be agreed, future arms-deals, but whatever the exact figure there is sufficient evidence of closer war-links between America and Saudi Arabia:

According to Al-Jazeera, what we do know is that Trump is ramping up arms-sales to the Saudis:

‘Trump is green-lighting sales of precision-guided, air-to-ground missiles that Obama had withheld because of concerns over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and civilian casualties. In addition, Trump is moving forward to replenish and expand the Saudi supply of battle tanks and armoured vehicles, replacing equipment damaged in the Yemen conflict. Separately, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon both announced major sales in connection with Trump’s trip but this seems more in the nature of a promise than a finished deal.”

Somewhat worryingly, is the rather blase attitude displayed to all this by the American politicians involved:

According to Time:

Policy advisor Jared Kushner high-fived National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster as he entered the room where they held talks with Saudi officials. Aide Gary Cohn told pool reporters the deals represented “a lot of money. Big dollars. Big dollars.”

According to Al Jazeera:

“The Saudis are in a war in Yemen and they need weapons. You want to win, you need weapons,” Senator John McCain, a Republican, told Al Jazeera. “We are in a war.”

More worringly still, according to the Ron Paul Liberty Report, the U.S. military is also directly involved in the Saudi – Yemen conflict through advising the Saudi’s on identifying and picking targets to bomb in Yemen and through fuelling Saudi war planes, (first few minutes in the clip below…)

Of course not everyone in America believes that the United States should be involved in the Saudi’s war against Yemen, so I’d hate to tar all Americans with the same violence-brush, but unfortunately for the rational peace lovers, the neoliberals in power are using the machinery of the America state (ironically for neoliberals) to escalate violence in the Middle East.

SO if  we are to include peacefulness in our assessment of how developed a country is, then on the most recent evidence of the Saudi arms deal, we’d have to conclude that the United States has regressed even further than the Global Peace Index suggests.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Global Peace Index – What is it and How Useful Is It?

The Global Peace Index uses 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators to measure the state of peace using three thematic domains:

  • the level of Societal Safety and Security;
  • the extent of Ongoing Domestic and International Conflict;
  • the degree of Militarisation.

Global Peace Index 2017.png

The data is collated by the Institute for Economics and Peace – a think tank which develops metrics to analyse peace and to quantify its economic value. It does this by developing global and national indices of ‘peacefulness’, analysing country level risk, and calculating the economic cost of violence, and the positive benefits of peace.

Some of the findings from the most recent 2017 report include an analysis of the most significant ‘positive peace’ factors which result in increasing peacefulness, and the finding that decreasing peacefulness is correlated with increasing populism in Europe.

The Institute for Economics and Peace says its aim is to ‘create a paradigm shift in the way the world thinks about peace. We use data driven research to show that peace is a positive, tangible and achievable measure of human well-being and development.’

You can explore the Global Peace Index and download the full 2017 report for free on the Institute for Economics and Peace’s dedicated website – Vision of Humanity

Selected Key Findings of the 2017 Global Peace Index

Trends in peacefulness since 2016

  • the global level of peace has slightly improved this year by 0.28 per cent, with 93
    countries improving, while 68 countries deteriorated.

world peace 2017

  • Iceland remains the most peaceful country in the world, a position it has held since 2008. It is joined at the top of the index by New Zealand, Portugal, Austria, and Denmark.

global peace index top 30

  • Syria remains the least peaceful country in the world, preceded by Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, and Yemen.

global peace index bottom 30

The Ten Year Trend in Peacefulness 

  • global peacefulness has deteriorated by 2.14 per cent since 2008, with 52 per cent of GPI countries recording a deterioration, while 48 per cent improved.

decline world peace

  • the domain that deteriorated the most over the ten-year period was Safety and Security, with 61 per cent of countries recording a deterioration.
  • the domain with the largest improvement was Militarisation where 60 per cent of countries became less militarised over the past decade.
  • Most of the detiororation in peacefulness is because of increasing terrorism and decreasing political stability in the MENA region; if this region were excluded from global peace indicators, the world would in fact be more peaceful!
  • The heightened media attention on conflict in the Middle East, refugee flows and terrorism in Europe has meant several positive trends have not been as widely covered. Two of the more positive trends from the last decade are decreases in the homicide rate and improvements in the Political Terror Scale which measures state sponsored violence and torture, where 2/3rds of countries improved.
declining militarisation
Reasons to be hopeful? The worldwide decline in militarization.

The economic costs of violence 

  • The economic impact of violence on the global economy in 2016 was $14.3 trillion in purchasing power parity (PPP),
  • This is equivalent to 12.6 per cent of the world’s economic activity (gross world product), or $1,953 for every person.
  • The economic impact of war was $1.04 trillion. Peacebuilding expenditure is estimated to be approximately $10 billion, or less than one per cent of the cost of war.
  • The impact of violence for the ten least peaceful countries was equivalent to 37 per cent of their GDP. This compares to only three per cent in the ten most peaceful.

NB – What’s above is just an overview – I strongly recommend you explore the data further at Vision of Humanity!

How Useful is the Global Peace Index in helping us to understand development?

Strengths

On the plus side, the data seems to be non-partisan, in the sense that there doesn’t seem to be undue influence in the data selection process from developed countries – there is a heavy peace-score penalty which some of the most developed countries pay for high levels of military expenditure – most notably the United States.

Also, if we can trust the data and the number-crunching, then there is a clear correlation between sustained peacefulness in a country and that country’s level of development, and so monitoring levels of peacefulness and violence seems to be one of the most important goals in global development.

The Global Peace Index covers a lot of indicators – and the reports break them down to look at individual indicators, so you get a certain level of insight into the levels of peacefulness and violence.

I do like the focus on ‘positive peace’ and the fact that the report recognizes high levels of military expenditure as retarding investment in more positive aspects of development.

Limitations 

On the downside, I’m not convinced that all of the data is 100% valid – there has to be a lot of differences in the way data is recorded from country to country, especially in war-zones, so lots of missing conflict-deaths no doubt. This means making comparisons is difficult.

Also, I’m not sure they’ve included a broad enough range of indicators – the fact that Qatar creeps in at number 30 makes me suspicious, also – is violence against women included?

Also, I’m not clear about how the data is weighted – there’s lots of talk in the report about ‘multiplying factors’, and I don’t know enough about the maths behind the indices to evaluate how valid these calculations are.

 

 

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The US bombing of Afghanistan – A $16 million distraction from the harms of neoliberal policies at home?

America’s two latest attacks on Syria and Afghanisatan have been headline news in the last fortnight – in case you missed either of them…

In Syria – the US launched 59 Tomahawk missiles to damage and air base in response to the claimed use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces against civilians.

In Afghanistan they deployed the biggest ever non-nuclear bomb, at a cost of $16 million, to take out an ISIS stronghold.

The US claims the Syrian attack was because Assad crossed a line in using chemical weapons, and much of the news has focused on the declining relations with Russia (who support Assad), and they claimed the scale of second attack was to get into the underground bunkers used by ISIS, and here the news has focused on the message this sends to North Korea.

But why is the Trump administration playing ‘global policeman’ when just 6 months ago they campaigned on a ticket of focusing on domestic policy and making life better for ordinary America?

Noam Chomsky offers an interesting perspective and answer…

Noam Chomsky recently claimed that the Trump administration would need some kind of scapegoat or distraction to disguise the fact that their neoliberal policies are clearly in favour of big business and against the interests of the ordinary working class American, whose side Trump claimed to be on during the election campaign.

One good example of a recent neo-liberal policy which will make life worse for especially poorer working class Americans is the abolition of Obama’s anti wage-theft legislation this required a company to publish details of any violations of minimum wage or health and safety law that they’d made. The regulation forced businesses to disclose each time they broke a law in the past three years, including violations relating to civil rights, health and safety, and minimum wage and overtime violations.

There was also Trump’s recent attempt to repeal ‘Obamacare’ – which would have left 20 million more (poor) Americans without health insurance, but that was defeated, however, the defeat is an embarrassment which fuels the need for a distraction according to Chomsky.

So maybe there is some truth in this? Maybe now the real Trump is showing his colours and enacting policies which support big business and make life worse for the working man, what’s needed is a distraction – and what better than to bomb a few people, which will obviously just generate more problems abroad and more terrorist attacks on US citizens, possibly all ending up in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you like this sort of Chomskian analysis, you might also want to check out Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine’, what’s going on here seems to be an evolution of what she argues too.

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War, Conflict and Development – Key Terms

War and Conflict, Definitions of Key Concepts

War – organized, armed, and often a ‘prolonged conflict’ that is carried on between states, nations, or other parties. It is intentional and widespread armed conflict between political communities

Civil War – a war where the forces in conflict belong to the same nation or political entity and are vying for control of or independence from that nation or political entity

Terrorism – “The use or threat of action designed to influence the government or an international governmental organisation or to intimidate the public, or a section of the public; made for the purposes of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause

Old Wars – e.g. WII – based around an alliance of Nation States involving the whole might of the nation in producing heavy scale military machinery (tanks/ fighter jets) and hundreds of thousands of troops.

New Wars – typical conflicts today which tend to be civil wars and are  much smaller scale than ‘old wars’ and involve small arms (guns), often fuelled by ethnic differences and funded by ‘shadow economies’

The global shadow economy – refers to the illegal trade in the trafficking or arms, drugs and diamonds.

War, Conflict and Development – Key Case Studies 

The Rwandan Genocide (1990s) Where Hutus massacred 800 000 Tutsis – a good example of ethnic tension resulting in mass murder

The Sierra-Leone and Liberian Civil Wars (late 1990s-2000s)– mainly explained through Paul Collier’s theory of the resource curse – very much fueled by the global shadow economy (‘blood diamonds)

The U.S. War on Iraq (2003) demonstrates how the West continue to use war to secure resources, just like in Colonial times according to Dependency Theory.

The Syrian Civil War (2010s) the latest civil war, mainly caused by political oppression, illustrates how civil wars can break out even in relatively developed countries

War, Conflict and Development – Key Theories

Paul Collier – 5 Main causes of civil war: primary product exporters, Diasporas, high male unemployment, ethnic conflict, dispersed populations (mountains/ desserts)

Paul Collier – Bottom Billion Theory – ethnic conflict, corruption, the resource curse – all linked with underdevelopment and conflict – e.g. Liberia/ Democratic Republic of Congo.

Noam Chomsky – The United States is the ‘world’s biggest terrorist’, based on its mostly illegal interventions in 50 countries since WWII – e.g. practically every Latin and South American country.

Naomi Klein – The Shock Doctrine – The United States uses war and its aftermath to advance neoliberal policies when people are in shock – e.g. Chile (1973) and Iraq (2003)

David Harvey – The war on Iraq was all about securing oil for the benefit of American consumers.

Modernisation Theory – there is less conflict in wealthy countries – people have more to lose, thus tend to sort out differences peacefully.

Dependency Theory – developed nations mainly drive war and conflict in conjunction with arms companies such as BAE systems.

Feminism – most wars are fueled by male aggression: governments, arms companies, and armies are predominantly male institutions.

Direct effects of war – include immediate effects such as higher death rates and the destruction of infrastructure.

Indirect effects of war – include the longer term effects such as displacement of people (refugees), and the destruction of the social fabric, and poverty.

Ending conflict as the primary development goal – conflict costs the global economy $13 trillion a year. It can send every other aspect of development (health/ education etc.) into reverse.

The Global Peace Index – measures the level of peacefulness in over 100 countries using over 20 indicators including number of battle deaths, number of terrorist incidents, arms expenditure and so on.

Related Posts

War, Conflict and Development – Test Yourself on Quizlet!

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The United States Military: Some Recent Examples of Their War Crimes

This material is relevant to the topic of ‘State Crime’ and ‘War and Conflict’ as an aspect of development. The point of it is to illustrate that the United States is pretty much the biggest military aggressor in recent world history, and thus a good candidate for the country which commits the worst state-crimes.  

The United States military is responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in The Middle East, South West Asia, and North Africa, as Part of the United States Government’s Ongoing War on Terror. Civilians are protected under International Humanitarian Law, which means that every single civilian death is potentially an example of a State Crime committed by the USA.

Civilian Deaths and the United States’ ‘War on Terror’

The United States uses cutting edge military hardware to kill what it believes to be terrorists. Most of the killing the U.S. army and air force do these days is remote, typically involving missiles released from drones many miles away from their targets, with the drones themselves being piloted by people even further away.

Increasingly, the weapons of choice, used throughout the Middle East, are Predator and Reaper drones, but the US Air force also still operates F16s, Apache attack helicopters and AC-130 gunships, in Afghanistan for example.

Reaper Drone.JPG
The Reaper Drone

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism tracks drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia and estimates the total number of civilians killed by drone strikes and other covert operations in the above four countries to be approximately 700-1400. The latest data is available here.

Deaths US Drone Strikes.jpg

Whether you go with the lower or higher estimate of deaths, the percentage of civilians killed in the War on Terror is somewhere in the region of 20-25% of the total (what the US would call ‘collateral damage’).

The U.S. claims that a combination of painstakingly gathered intelligence and precision-targeted missiles have enabled it to make sure that the people it’s targeting are actually enemy combatants and to minimise the number of civilian casualties, but nonetheless thousands of civilians have also been taken out by the United States in this process over the last decade and a half.

The United Nations has questioned the legality of drone strikes in countries such as Pakistan, with which the United States isn’t actually at war, and has further criticised the U.S. government for not releasing its own data on the numbers of casualties due its drone war – hence the need to rely on investigative journalism.

So it seems that at least  20-25% of these drone attacks are state-crimes in the sense that this is the proportion which take out innocent civilians; then there’s the possibility that the entire drone-campaign itself is illegal, given that the United States isn’t technically at war with most of the countries it’s operating its drones in.

The Destruction of the Kunduz Trauma Centre

On 3 October 2015, a United States Air Force AC-130U gunship attacked the Kunduz Trauma Centre operated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), in the city of Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan. At least 42 people were killed and over 30 were injured. This appears to be a pretty unambiguous example of a war crime committed by the U.S. military. 

Kunduz Medical Centre.jpg
The Kunduz Medical Centre after its destruction by the U.S. Military in 2015

The video below (5.20 – 7.00 minutes) will give you an idea of the capability of an AC-130 Gunship, basically  a very large plane which houses various different types of guns and missile and bomb launchers along with LOTS AND LOTS of ammunition. (NB these gunships cost somewhere between $130-190 million, depending on the model, at 2001 prices).

Médecins Sans Frontières condemned the incident, saying that the airstrike was a breach of international humanitarian law and a war crime. Cockpit recordings showed that the AC-130 crew questioned the strike’s legality.

On 7 October 2015, President Barack Obama issued a rare apology and announced the United States would be making condolence payments to the families of those killed in the airstrike.

Background to the Attack

On 28 September 2015, Taliban militants seized the city of Kunduz, driving government forces out of the city. After the reinforcements arrived, the Afghan army, backed by U.S. airstrikes, began an offensive operation to regain control of the city; after several days of fighting, Afghan forces claimed to have retaken the city. However, fighting continued, and on 3 October, a US-led airstrike struck and badly damaged Kunduz Trauma Centre operated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), killing doctors, staff members and patients.

Médecins Sans Frontières reported that on the night of 3 October, the organization’s Kunduz hospital was struck by “a series of aerial bombing raids” and that the building was “partially destroyed”. It further said the hospital had been “repeatedly & precisely hit” and that the attack had continued for 30 minutes after MSF staff contacted U.S. and Afghan officials during the strike.

MSF had informed all warring parties of the location of its hospital complex. MSF personnel had contacted U.S. military officials as recently as 29 September to reconfirm the precise location of the hospital. Two days prior to the attack Carter Malkasian, adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emailed MSF asking if the facility had Taliban militants “holed up” inside.

Legality

Attacks on medical facilities are forbidden under international humanitarian law unless the facilities “are being used, outside their humanitarian function, to commit acts harmful to the enemy”. Even if enemy combatants are inappropriately using the facility for shelter, the rule of proportionality usually forbids such attacks because of the high potential for civilian casualties. Human Rights Watch said the laws of war require the attacking force to issue a warning, and wait a reasonable time for a response, before attacking a medical unit being misused by combatants

At the time of the airstrikes, MSF was treating women and children and wounded combatants from both sides of the conflict. MSF estimates that of the 105 patients at the time of the attack, between 3 and 4 of the patients were wounded government combatants, while approximately 20 patients were wounded Taliban. MSF general director Christopher Stokes said, “Some public reports are circulating that the attack on our hospital could be justified because we were treating Taliban. Wounded combatants are patients under international law, and must be free from attack and treated without discrimination. Medical staff should never be punished or attacked for providing treatment to wounded combatants.”

It’s difficult to put a positive spin on this, but I guess you could say it’s better than when the United States unnecessarily nuked Hiroshima in 1945 where the civilian to combatant ratio must have been significantly higher – so while the US clearly isn’t respecting International Humanitarian Law by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, at least they’re doing better than in the past.

Postscript: International Humanitarian Law

What enables us to determine that the above acts by the United States military and government are in fact state-crimes is the existence of International Humanitarian Law.

According to Amnesty International ‘International law prohibits arbitrary killing and limits the lawful use of intentional lethal force to exceptional situations. In armed conflict, only combatants and people directly participating in hostilities may be directly targeted. Outside armed conflict, intentional lethal force is lawful only when strictly unavoidable to protect against an imminent threat to life. In some circumstances arbitrary killing can amount to a war crime or extrajudicial executions, which are crimes under international law’

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross

International humanitarian law is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. A major part of international humanitarian law is contained in the four Geneva Conventions (1864 -1949).

The basic principles of International Humanitarian Law include:

  1. Those who are not taking part in hostilities (e.g. civilians) shall be protected in all circumstances. Parties to a conflict shall at all times distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. Attacks shall be directed against legitimate military targets.
  2. The wounded and the sick shall be cared for and protected by the party to the conflict which has them in its power. The emblem of the “Red Cross,” or of the “Red Crescent,” shall be required to be respected as the sign of protection.
  3. Captured persons must be protected against acts of violence and reprisals. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
  4. Parties to a conflict do not have an unlimited choice of methods and means of warfare. Humanitarian law has banned the use of many weapons, including exploding bullets, chemical and biological weapons, blinding laser weapons and anti-personnel mines.

Once conflict has ended, anyone breaching any of the rules laid down by International Humanitarian Law can be tried through an international tribunal. However, it’s unlikely that any U.S. personnel will ever see justice for their part in killing innocent civilians.

Finally, just a quick reminder of the point of this post –  it’s not just Islamic Fundamentalists killing in the name of ideology, America does it too, and by the objective (ish) standards of International Humanitarian Law, many of these killings are state crimes. 

 

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The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein – A Summary

Naomi Klein is one of the leading thinkers in the anti-capitalist movement and this book is one of the most important historical narratives of this century.

Taken from the web site –

‘At the most chaotic juncture in Iraq’s civil war, a new law is unveiled that would allow Shell and BP to claim the country’s vast oil reserves…. Immediately following September 11, the Bush Administration quietly out-sources the running of the “War on Terror” to Halliburton and Blackwater…. After a tsunami wipes out the coasts of Southeast Asia, the pristine beaches are auctioned off to tourist resorts…. New Orleans’s residents, scattered from Hurricane Katrina, discover that their public housing, hospitals and schools will never be reopened…. These events are examples of “the shock doctrine”: using the public’s disorientation following massive collective shocks – wars, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters — to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy.’

 My summary –

The Shock Doctrine is the story of how “free market” policies have come to dominate the world. Klein systematically explores how neo-liberal economic policies have been pushed through following ‘shocks’ – typically either natural disasters or wars ore oppressive state apparatuses.

Klein argues that these policies work against the interests of the majority because they transfer wealth and power from the people to the global corporate elite, thus why elites need to implement these policies of in times of shock following disaster.

The book traces the origins of the ‘shock doctrine’ back fifty years, to the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman and follows the application of these ideas through contemporary history, showing in detail how the neo-liberal agenda has been pushed through in several countries following shocks

Some of the events Klein covers include –

  • Pinochet’s coup in Chile in 1973,  
  • The Falklands War in 1982,  
  • The Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989,  
  • the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991,  
  • the Asian Financial crisis in 1997  
  • The war in Iraq 2003 
  • Hurricane Katrina 2006 

All of the above are cases where the Corporate Elite, often in conjunction with the US government and oppressive regimes in some of the countries above have sought to profit out of times of disaster. Most of feel sympathy for people at such times – neo-liberalists see opportunity.

Once again, for me, the most important argument Klein makes is that Neo-Liberalists require situations of Shock to push through their policies of privatisation, deregulation and cut backs to public spending because the majority of people would not accept such policies because they mean a transfer of wealth and power to corporate elites.

Towards the end of the book, Klein talks about an extremely worrying trend in the USA – which is the privatisation of war and security – both of which are used in times of disaster – and we now have a situation where Capitalism benefits from disaster.

All in all this is an excellent book highlighting the links between advanced capitalism and growing human misery – as Klein says, you should read it and make yourself shock resistant.

NB – SOME MIGHT ARGUE THIS IS NOW GOING ON IN THE UNITED KINGDOM – WE ARE GOING THROUGH AN ‘ECONOMIC CRSIS’ (IN SHOCK) AND SO MILLIONNAIRE TORIES ARE NOW CUTTING PUBLIC SPENDING AND OUTSOURCING MORE AND MORE OF OUR PUBLIC SERVICES TO THE PRIVATE SECTOR!

See also –

http://www.naomiklein.org/shock-doctrine – the web site is an excellent resource that provides more contemporary examples of how neo-liberalism shafts the majority.

http://www.zimbio.com/watch/iIZMtUS-owU/The+Shock+Doctrine/The+Shock+Doctrine

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPTBZrBmlfI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dubkrQ7HfG8

Neo- liberalism is an economic and political ideology that believes state control over the economy is undesirable and seeks to transfer control of the economy from the state to the private sector. It gained popularity amongst politicians and influential economists following the economic crisis of the late 1970s. It involves three main policies –

  • Deregulation – Nation States placing less restraint on private industry. In practise this means fewer laws that restrict companies making a profit – making it easier for companies to fire workers, pay them less, and allowing them to pollute.
  • Privatisation – where possible public services such as transport and education should be handed over to private interests for them to run for a profit.
  • Cut backs in public spending – taxes should be low and so investment in public services would be cut back.