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A Useful Example of a ‘State Crime’ – The British Government’s Illegal Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia

The British government has been accused of breaking international law by selling weapons to Saudi Arabia.

A recent report by the International Relations Committee (made up of members of the House of Lords) has concluded that it’s highly likely that British Weapons are the cause of significant civilian casualties’ in Yemen, where Saudi-backed forces are fighting Houthi rebels.

A few stats on the Saudi-Yemen conflict and Britain’s role in it…

  • Britain has sold £4.5 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia since the conflict in Yemen began in 2015.
  • Independent experts have estimated that around 150 civilians died every month in autumn 2018 as a result of Saudi airstrikes.
  • 85 000 children have died of famine or disease since the conflict began, and a further 14 million people are at risk of famine.

The report concluded that the UK government is just on the wrong side of international humanitarian law, because on balance of evidence it believes that the Saudis are using British weapons to kill civilians.

The report recommends that the UK government should be making independent checks to see if UK- arms are being used illegally by the Saudis, instead relying on ‘inadequate’ investigations by the Saudis themselves.

Germany and Norway have already banned arms sales to Saudi Arabia, based on their own independent assessments of the Saudi’s killing of civilians in Yemen.

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is a contemporary example of a state crime – the UK government selling arms to a country which then uses them to kill non-combatant civilians, which is in breach of international humanitarian law.

It’s also a good example of how ‘money trumps human rights’, or at least how it trumps the human rights of the 100s of civilians being killed each month in Yemen. £1 billion a year in arms sales is a LOT of money, it represents a lot of UK jobs, and a lot of tax revenue for the UK government.

It’s also a good example of selection-bias on the part of the UK government – they choose not to listen to certain independent reports of Saudi Arabia’s illegal use of UK weapons, because then it makes it possible to carry on profiting from selling them arms.

It’s also worth pointing out how agenda setting in the media works to keep the Yemen tragedy out of the news – this is largely a conflict which is hidden from view. To give you some idea of how long this has been going on for, Dianne Abbot pointed the illegality of the conflict back in 2016!

Finally, it’s evidence of the continued importance of nation states in our globalised world… Saudi Arabia depends on the UK government to legitimise its war in Yemen.

 

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Contemporary Sociology: The poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal by the Russian State

The recent poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, allegedly by the Russian State, is relevant to many areas of the A-level sociology specification.

Details of the poisoning 

On 4th March 2018 Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33 were poisoned by a nerve agent called Novichok. The pair were found collapsed on a bench in Salisbury in the late afternoon, following what seems to have been a pretty ordinary ‘afternoon of leisure’ involving a trip to a pub and lunch in Zizzi’s. Four weeks later, they remain in a critical condition. 

Sergie Skripal.png
Sergie and Yulia Skripal

Much of the news has focused on just how deadly the nerve agent ‘Novichok’ is – basically a tiny, practically invisible amount was sufficient to render two people seriously ill, and even the police officer who first attended Sergei and Yulia Skripal was taken seriously ill just from secondary contact with what must have been trace elements of the nerve agent.

Pretty much everywhere the pair had visited that afternoon was shut down, and any vehicles that they had been in contact with were quarantined while they were cleared of any trace of the nerve agent and total of 250 counter-terrorism officers are at work investigating the case.

Theresa May has accused the Russian State as being complicit in this attempted murder, which seems plausible as Colonel Sergie Skripal is a retired Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted of passing the identities of Russian intelligence agents working undercover in Europe to the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. He was jailed for 13 years by Russia in 2006. In July 2010, he was one of four prisoners released by Moscow in exchange for 10 Russian spies arrested by the FBI. He was later flown to the UK. It seems that the poisoning is the Russian State passing its ‘final sentence’ on this poor guy.

HOWEVER, Russia strongly denies these allegations, so this might just be a hypothetical state-crime!

The international reaction to the poisoning has also been dramatic: to date 26 countries have expelled Russian diplomats, and Russia, which of course denies any involvement in the poisoning, has done the same as a counter-response.

Links to the A-level sociology specification

sociological perspectives russia.png

Probably the most obvious link to the A-level sociology specification is that this is a primary example of a state crime – it seems extremely likely that the poisoning was carried out by an agent of the Russian state – The UK condemned Russia at the United Nations Human Rights Council as being in breach of international law and the UK’s national sovereignty.

Secondly, this case study reminds of us that nation states are still among the most powerful actors in the world – nation states are the only institutions which can ‘legitimately’ manufacture chemical weapons such as Novichock.

Thirdly, you could use this as an example of how ‘consensus’ and ‘conflict’ exist side by side. he existence of global values allows various nations to show ‘solidarity’ against Russia and express ‘value consensus’ but it also reminds us that there are conflicting interests in the world.

Fourthly, media coverage aside, it’s hardly a post-modern event is it! Having said that, we don’t know for certain who did the poisoning, so all of this could be a good example of ‘hypperreality’.

There’s lots of other links you could make across various modules – for example, the way the media has dealt with the event (it’s very news worthy!) and the ‘panic’ surrounding it, it fits with our ‘risk conscious society’ very nicely!

Sources 

Spy poisoning: Highest amount of nerve agent was on door (BBC News)

UK slam Russia over spy poisoning (Washington Post)

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Does Globalisation mean the Decline of the Nation State?

In the early stages of Globalisation (1600 -1950s especially) Nation States were very powerful – Colonialism for example was led by European governments and monarchies and the most serious conflicts tended to be between nation states – culminating in World War 2. However, since then, many globalisation theorists argue that increasing global flows in trade and communications have reduced the relative power of Nation States…..

Evidence for the power of Nation States declining

  • National Governments increasingly face problems that are too big for them to deal with on their own – examples of such global problems include – dealing with these problems increases the need to co-operate and reduces the power of individual nation states environmental problems, international terrorism, drug and people trafficking and the threat of global pandemics.
Are nation states too small to deal with the problem of global warming?
  • The United Nations and The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – limits the power of Nations to restrict the freedoms of individuals. Linked to this we have an international court where some dictators have been tried for crimes such as genocide.
  • Global Social Movements such as the green movement and the occupy movement are increasingly interconnected – which are critical of nation states – also part of ‘cultural globalisation’.
  • Some Transnational Corporations are bigger than Nation States – and so wield power over them – BP for example makes £25 billion profit every year and employs thousands of British workers – it is so crucial to the UK economy that the government has little choice but to keep it sweet, and the same is the case with many of our largest banks.
  • The power of United Nations to make any real change in the world is limited. The recent war in Iraq shows that powerful nations will go to war even when the United Nations does not back these wars.

Evidence for Nation States still retaining power

  • The World’s leading Nation States still maintain huge military capacity – the US spends more than $680 billion in 2010 on its military and Britain maintains a standing peace-time army of around 100 000 troops.
Only the richest nation states can afford these
  • Pessimists argue that the World Trade Organisation simply represent the interests of the most powerful nations – namely America.
  • ‘National Identity’ is still important to billions of people – there is a trend to more nation states – as present nations divide.
  • Brexit and the election of Donald Trump also suggest an increase in the number of people wanting to restrict the free-migration of people, no other institution can realistically do this, other than the nation state.