Recent Foreign affairs Articles



Reality check: cutting off American aid to Israel won’t make much difference

by Sunny Hundal     July 24, 2014 at 5:47 pm

If I had a penny for every time someone said this to me on Twitter, I’d have bought myself a min-island in the Bermuda by now.

Yes, the United States supports Israel with military aid every year. It also licenses American companies to sell Israel military equipment every year.

But Israel won’t collapse tomorrow if the US cut off their aid. Let’s just go over the numbers to explain.

The United States gave approximately $3.2 Billion to Israel last year. Here’s the breakdown

That includes a sum of $3.1 billion as military aid.
It provides another $504 million in funding: for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket system ($235 million) and the joint US-Israel missile defense systems David’s Sling ($149.7 million)
And there are a few other systems that amount to around $100m. There’s a breakdown here (PDF)

As a proportion of Israeli spending that used to mean a lot – sometimes as much as a quarter of Israel’s defense budget.

It doesn’t any more, primarily because Israel has had a healthy and growing economy. In 2000, Israel GDP was $124.9 Billion. Last year it was more than double that – $291.3 Billion. In comparison, Egypt has a smaller GDP ($271 BN) even though it has 10x the population (more comparison: India’s GDP: $1.8 Trillion; UK $2.5 TR; USA $16.8 TR).

In other words, US military aid to Israel is now worth merely 1% of its GDP. It’s a bonus, not essential money.

The country is doing so well it has more cash than needs, thanks to the recent discovery of gas reserves. It is discussing setting up a sovereign fund and discussing where to invest that surplus.

In fact, this situation has even led some pro-Israelis to call for the military aid to be cut to Israel, on the basis that Israel would then have to rely even less on its ally. They don’t want Israel to be seen as subservient to US interests and clearly think Israel will do just fine without American money.

The point is, US military aid to Israel has largely become an irrelevant factor in this war or the future. Cutting it off won’t hobble Israel. If America abruptly withdraws it over illegal Israeli action, then it may force a change in behaviour but that is a highly unlikely scenario.

Thinking of abandoning your wife in Pakistan or India? Think again

by Sunny Hundal     July 23, 2014 at 3:20 pm

A court judgement out this week sheds light on a very under-reported and rarely-discussed problem within South Asian communities in the UK.

In 2007 I reported for BBC Asian Network on women who come to the UK as brides from South Asia, and the potential problems they face. Since many don’t speak English (and are sometimes discouraged from learning it!) – they are more vulnerable to being abused, exploited, beaten or abandoned. One way to help, I argued, was to make it compulsory for them to learn English, so they could more easier seek help when needed and play an active role in British society.

Here are the facts of the case, as laid out in the court judgement. What’s extraordinary about this case is that a British law-firm (Dawson Cornwell) fought on behalf of this woman and won a judgement against the man. I hope it sets a precedent and serves as a warning to other men thinking of abandoning their wives.

* * * * * *

A very young wife was lawfully brought to the United Kingdom, where she was dependent upon her husband and his family, and where she gave birth to a child who has major disabilities. Her husband made little effort to secure for her the immigration status to which she was entitled and when the marriage got into difficulties, she was then sent out of the country with no right to re-enter. The result is that she and her child have been separated for the past three years, a situation that is a wholesale breach of their right to respect for their family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The child, S, was born in 2005 and is nearly 9 years old. He has very severe learning and communication disabilities. His parents are both of Pakistani origin. The father was born in England while the mother came here in June 2002 after an arranged marriage that was celebrated in Pakistan in 2000 when she was around 15 years old.

In December 2012, the father pronounced a talaq. In August 2013, the mother remarried in Pakistan. She says that this marriage was a marriage of convenience. Her father was planning to arrange for her remarriage to a person of his choice and she went through a ceremony of marriage with someone else to prevent this. Her evidence is that she has never lived with this “husband” and has no intention of doing so in future or of bringing him to the United Kingdom.

The mother described several occasions on which the father and his mother would slap and kick her and pull her hair. These did not cause major injury and she did not seek medical treatment or, in general, complain to the authorities. However, on 7 February 2011, she did make a police report and went overnight to a refuge. She explains this as being because the father struck S on that occasion. The father denies any violence whatever.

The judge also writes:

The father’s failure to secure the mother’s immigration status was a gross dereliction of his responsibility towards her and towards S. In his evidence, he claims that he was unaware of her precarious position, having left matters of that kind to his own father. He says that when she left the country in July 2011 he did not know what the position was. I found the father’s evidence incredible and I reject it. He knew perfectly well that if the mother left, she could not return. The reason why the father and his family were so careless of the mother’s position was because it suited them.

Having considered all the evidence on this issue, the judge found that the mother was tricked into going to Pakistan. He also made it easier for her to travel back to the UK and see her son, and forced the father to give her some visitation rights.

Well done on the judge on handling this so well.

It may be that this case also sets a precedent for other ‘stranded’ spouses. As the judge said right at the beginning:

Where one party to a failing marriage has secure immigration status and the other does not, the opportunity arises for the former to exploit the latter’s weakness by taking advantage of immigration controls. This case is a bad, but by no means unique, example of what has come to be known as the stranded spouse.

Indeed.


If you are being affected by this (or other issues like a forced marriage) and need some support, get in touch with Sharan Project

It doesn’t matter if Hamas ‘started it’, they’ve back Israel into a losing corner

by Sunny Hundal     July 22, 2014 at 3:59 am

The other day, in a discussion among friends on Israel’s attack on Gaza (I generally avoid them, even on Twitter), one said Hamas started the latest round of shelling by bombarding Israeli towns and inviting a response.

I have no way of verifying this, so I shrugged. Its irrelevant who started it.

On social media I’ve seen Israelis blame Hamas and say they’re merely defending themselves, so they’re justified in attacking Gaza. Israelis ask “what would you do if someone attacked you with rockets?“. Its a really counter-productive question to ask, and it misses the wood for the trees.

Palestinians are a desperate people who live in an open-air prison camp controlled by Israel. Their lives are lived in squalor and poverty. This is beyond dispute; even Israelis know it. Israel blocks drinking water and proper sanitation even when its not attacking Gaza. It keeps building illegal settlements when there isn’t a war going on.

Palestinians aren’t stupid – they can see Israel wants to slowly annex their land until its too late for independence. In fact, its PM Benjamin Netanyahu stated quite explicitly in a (very under-reported) speech just last week that Palestinian weren’t going to get independence.

That makes it even more likely that Hamas will provoke Israel into an angry response. They see it as the only real option available to them.

Every time Israel responds it is goaded into spending money, becoming more extreme, killing more Palestinians children and becoming more isolated from international opinion.

Sooner or later something has to give. The Palestinians have little to lose by carrying on by goading Israel. They already live their lives in squalor and under occupation.

Israel on the other hand has over-stepped the mark already to the point it has alienated most of European public opinion. A few more missteps, coupled with the rise of social media, and American opinion could rapidly turn against them too.

Once that happens Israel really will face an existential crisis.

The question for Israelis shouldn’t be “what would you do?“, but “how do we break out of this cycle?“. But they’re not asking that. Benjamin Netanyahu has stoked up his country enough that the majority want immediate respite and instant revenge. They’ve lost sight of the broader picture.

Israel may be winning the battle on the strength of its military now, but Hamas is winning the longer strategic war.

al-Qaeda has lost: it will eventually be absorbed by ISIS in Iraq

by Sunny Hundal     July 3, 2014 at 1:49 pm

The Washington Institute recently published a note titled ‘The War Between ISIS and al-Qaeda for Supremacy of the Global Jihadist Movement’ – on tensions between the two movements.

Its worth emphasising briefly that there are differences between the two, mostly that ISIS are even more brutal than AQ and freely break many rules that Osama Bin Laden set for his own people.

But I think al-Qaeda has effectively lost the battle for terrorism supremacy to ISIS / Islamic State already.

All the world’s focus, the momentum and the expansion is on side of ISIS, not al-Qaeda, which matters to the impressionable men who want to be on the side of winners not losers (like most people, really).

Plus ISIS is based in the Levant, which has much bigger symbolic value for Muslims than the mountains of Afghanistan. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, Al Qaeda militants have to hide from US drones or the Pakistani army. In Iraq and Syria, they have near free rein and their opposition is melting away (for now).

Most importantly, ISIS claim to have established an Islamic State – which has even more symbolic and religious value for the kind of impressionable men who want to get involved in jihad. I suspect more fighters will abandon Al Qaeda and join ISIS over coming months, effectively finishing off Osama Bin Laden’s brainchild.

But what prompted me to write this short note was news of heightened security warnings across US airports. I suspect that US Homeland Security officials have come to the same conclusion and know this infighting has grave consequences.

Al-Qaeda leaders will be making the same calculations about ISIS and will likely re-double their efforts to regain momentum and attention. And in the terrorist world there’s only one way to do that: by launching terrorist attacks in the West.

British foreign policy is dead

by Sunny Hundal     June 19, 2014 at 10:01 pm

A few observations on the ongoing crisis in Iraq and Syria.

1) British foreign policy is dead
Ed Miliband’s fairly gentle questioning of Cameron yesterday in PMQs illustrated the obvious: there is consensus among the three main parties that there will be no military intervention in Iraq again. The same goes for President Obama, who has been proceeding far more carefully than he is given credit by the left and right. In one sense Syria has sealed the fate of military intervention: when a humanitarian and strategic disaster on that scale cannot elicit a US-UK response, its highly unlikely Iraq will. For better or for worse, we have given up major on military interventions in other countries. The American and British public are firmly against them, despite what commentators in the press say.

2) China is more worried about Iraqi oil than the USA
Less than a quarter of American oil imports are from the Middle East. The US isn’t just a net energy exporter now, some say it may become the world’s largest producer of oil by next year. Meanwhile, a majority of oil exports from the Middle East now go to Asia, and China is particularly exposed. If oil prices shoot up because of ISIS, I suspect China will throw money towards Iran to send more troops into Iraq and wipe them out. The geo-political plates have shifted significantly over the last ten years.

3) We’ll look back at ‘stable’ ME dictatorships
The US supported dictatorships across the Middle East because they provided stability. I suspect we are about to see commentators on the left and right, who earlier wanted to see democracy across the Middle East, going back to supporting dictatorships for the same reason. To take one example, Mehdi Hasan would like the US government to prop up Bashar al-Assad in Syria. I’ve debated other lefties too who would prefer to see Assad propped up in Syria. The same may soon apply to Iraq, and will be an argument against popular uprisings in Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere.

4) Kurdistan may arise
The strength of ISIS has strengthened the hand of Iraqi Kurds who, in the face of a disintegrating national Iraqi government, may demand an independent Kurdistan. This is on balance a good thing because the Kurds are a persecuted minority and don’t have a homeland. But it may also increase sectarian tensions and there will be questions of how an independent Kurdistan would protect itself.

In my view there is little doubt the invasion of Iraq in 2003 lit the tinderbox across Iraq, but the conflict has taken a life of its own because its driven by deep-rooted sectarian differences. There is no appetite for military intervention in the foreseeable future, among politicians or the public, unless we are under provable, imminent threat. Whether that means we see a more peaceful world, or one where other countries (Russia, China) try and take advantage, remains to be seen.

ISIS has grown because we sat around doing nothing to stabilise Syria

by Sunny Hundal     June 13, 2014 at 1:38 pm

A group called ISIS, which even some in the al-Qaeda leadership have disassociated themselves from, are now rapidly taking over large parts of Iraq. There is a sense of panic in the air because it obviously means more conflict in the Middle East, and more refugees trying to escape their brutal control.

But it has also sparked an odd debate here in the UK.

In the Guardian, Owen Jones writes: ‘We anti-war protesters were right: the Iraq invasion has led to bloody chaos’.

But this has been obvious for a few years now. I opposed the invasion from the start and was at most of the demonstrations against it (including the big one in Feb. 2003). Only a few deluded idiots now believe the invasion of Iraq has gone well. In fact the invasion was a disaster from day one, despite attempts by Americans to stage a few stunts to pretend it was going OK.

So that’s an old debate, while the one about ISIS is a new one.

Firstly, ISIS has grown out of the chaos in Syria, which we sat by and watched instead of working with Arab countries to end. We should have joined a military coalition with other Arab countries to bomb Assad’s military installations and weaken him – thereby driving him out into asylum in Iran or elsewhere.

I wrote about ISIS in January this year, saying: “as these groups become prominent, the fallout is being felt in surrounding countries like Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and even Pakistan”.

Sitting by and watching has made things worse. We’ve gone from 20,000 dead in Syria (“if we intervene now, we’ll make it worse”) to nearly 200,000 dead (*silence*). The ongoing chaos has helped ISIS grow and destabilised surrounding countries. And all that is about to get worse.

As I said:

Intervention in Syria is not a matter of ‘If’, but a matter of ‘When’. Do we wait until the situation spirals further out of control, and Al-Qaeda re-establish a powerful base, or go for damage limitation earlier?

Secondly, are we meant to be against countries militarily intervening in other countries? I ask because Iran is now sending troops into Iraq (without official invitation) to fight ISIS. What if those troops are used to suppress Kurds? Will people on the left raise their voice then?

Basically, we are sitting around watching the situation get worse, as many predicted. ISIS hasn’t grown because we invaded Iraq (though we definitely wrecked the country and Saddam Hussain would have been better placed to quell them)… they’ve grown because Syria was allowed to spiral out of control.

Since we have now committed to sitting around and doing nothing, the situation in the Middle East is about to get much worse.

Addendum: in case it isn’t clear, I’ve given up on the prospect of any military action now. We’re now committed to sitting around on our hands and pretending it could be worse.

Why Ukraine is past the point of no return with Russia, and we have to get involved

by Sunny Hundal     April 15, 2014 at 4:16 pm

It feels like the calm before the coming storm. The situation in Ukraine is likely to escalate very quickly, and yet there seems to be worrying lack of urgency about it everywhere.

Three things happened over the last week that have set the stage.

1) Rather than going home after taking over Crimea, Russia started amassing troops on the Ukranian border. It also started directing its people inside Ukraine to take over various towns and cities in the east of the country. There are obvious examples of this: well-armed and well-trained ‘militias’ have sprung up everywhere; the newly appointed police chief in Horlivka admitted to being a lieutenant colonel in the Russian army.

2) In response, Ukraine said it would launch a military operation to take back its own territory unless the militias left peacefully by Monday morning. Fair enough: any government would want to fight back against armed (and foreign) militias who have taken over its towns without any democratic mandate.

3) The deadline passed and the Ukrainian govt did nothing. Then, it asked for UN peacekeeping forces to maintain order. Today, the Ukranian govt belatedly launched military operations, but there are reports that some troops in the east are defecting to the pro-Russian side. Meanwhile, the Ukranian economy is near collapse.

The key problem here is that Ukraine is too weak against Russia. If Ukraine gets bogged down in a long battle against pro-Russian forces in the east, it would only hasten a collapse of its economy.

Putin is betting that the Ukranian economy collapses before his does, which would trigger a crisis for the EU and force them to agree to his demands.

This is why we have to get involved now rather than later. This could mean all out trade sanctions, UN peacekeeping forces or NATO forces. If Ukraine collapses then Europe will feel the full force and force us to agree to Putin’s demands. It would be the worst crisis for Nato and the EU in a generation.

Hoping that Russia will back off from strong words is foolish – Putin’s only hope now is that Ukraine goes down before him. And he’s doing his utmost to make that happen.

What do UK and USA do if Ukraine goes to war with Russia?

by Sunny Hundal     April 14, 2014 at 3:13 pm

‘Ukraine stands on the brink of a possible military showdown with Russia this morning,’ says Human Rights Watch today.

This isn’t an exaggeration either – the acting President of Ukraine issued a warning to pro-Russian forces yesterday, calling on them to lay down their weapons.

That deadline has now passed and there are no signs that the militants are giving up. In fact, they are bolstered by Russian money and weapons and the build-up of Russian troops on the border.

So what happens now? This is where confusion reigns and why Putin is resting easy for now.

Ukrainian forces will try and take back government buildings occupied by pro-Russian forces, but are likely to face heavy resistance and won’t be able to take them back quickly.

That will give Putin more time to create disorder and to reiterate his claim that Ukrainian forces are harming ordinary ethnic Russians. It would give him internal justification for more explicit military action in Ukraine.

If Putin then takes stronger military action in Ukraine, what do the UK and USA say then?

Calling on him to withdraw is not enough clearly, Putin has ignored them so far. I suspect Ukraine is looking for promises of military backing from the United States and European states before it continues.

But sooner or later we will have to confront the question: what do the USA and UK do is Ukraine goes to war with Russia? We cannot just sit on the sidelines and watch because it has huge security and energy implications for us.

But there seems to be no appetite for such promises from the West to guarantee Ukraine’s safety. Our politicians want to avoid answering such questions. Some of them are busy holidaying in Lanzarote. I don’t suspect Vladimir Putin is too worried for now.

Even the neo-Nazis from Golden Dawn should get due process

by Guest     September 30, 2013 at 9:05 am

by Jonathan Kent

The test of democracy and of the rule of law, both here and in Greece, is not how it treats the best of us but how it treats the worst.

That doesn’t mean we should be complacent. There are real threats to justice in Britain, such as cuts to legal aid. However the battle is clearly not yet lost here.

Meanwhile in Greece the authorities have moved to arrest members of the Neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, including its leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos and four other Golden Dawn MPs. They’ve been charged with belonging to a criminal organisation and it’s claimed that guns and ammunition were found in Michaloliakos’ home.

Recent posts by reservists belonging to elite Greek military units calling for a coup, the killing of a prominent leftist musician, sustained attacks on immigrants and left wing protesters, had all brought things to a point where the state seems to have felt obliged to act.

I feel obliged to say two things. Firstly that I believe in muscular democracy; in other words I do not believe that a democracy, in the name of democracy, should hand the means of its own destruction to non-democratic forces.

When Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared at one point that he saw democracy as a bus, you use it to get to your destination and then get off, he associated himself with autocrats everywhere who have exploited democracy from Hitler onwards.

The minimum qualification for seeking power democracy must be a commitment to surrender power democratically when citizens demand it. For that reason it’s hard to justify allowing Golden Dawn or any other anti-democratic group an electoral platform.

The other thing I would say is this; however odious Golden Dawn the party and its members may be they must get due process and a fair trial. It’s not so much a concern about creating martyrs. Most knuckle dragging far right thugs would fetishise a rotting dog’s carcass if it served their warped cause. Nope, it’s because the damage done to Greek democracy by further degrading its already damaged institutions would be almost as bad as letting Golden Dawn damage them.

There’s a passage in A Man For All Seasons, where Sir Thomas More is debating with his son-in-law Wiolliam Roper, that puts it better than I could.

Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

Bang ‘em up, throw away the key and all that, but do it proper and do it so a better, more confident, more self respecting, more honest, more democratic Greece can come out of this.


this blog was originally posted here.

David Attenborough and other food facts about Africa you probably didn’t know

by Guest     September 19, 2013 at 11:58 am

by Jonathan Kent

Many, but by no means all Greens are worried about population. It’s a multiplier on many of the problems we face. But it’s a very sensitive subject, as David Attenborough has discovered.

When I heard Attenborough say: “what are all these famines in Ethiopia, what are they about? They’re about too many people for too little piece of land. That’s what it’s about,” I hear the echoes of generations-old, lazy thinking about Africa and Africans summed up in the notion of the White Man’s Burden.

A little while ago there was a row about whether Green World, the magazine for Green Party members, should take an ad from the group Population Matters of which Attenborough is a prominent supporter. I argued, quite vociferously that it should; I dislike any attempt to stifle debate.

The anti-Population Matters lobby, among them Lib-Con regular Adam Ramsay, pointed out that the carbon footprint of a country like Mali is so small compared to Western nations that the population could double, treble or more without having much impact on the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

True, though unless we keep Malians poor or we can roll out clean energy fast that may not remain the case. And every African needs to eat the same minimum as every European, and even people in the rich West can only eat so much. Over-population results in countries hitting a food production buffer long before they hit an energy buffer.

But David Attenborough and others also need to stop blinding ourselves with stereotypes about Africa.

Firstly, in simple terms of density sub-Saharan Africa is far less populated than North West Europe, the Indian subcontinent, China and Japan.

Then, when one looks at which nations import and which export food, an even more interesting picture emerges. Many West and East African nations are net food exporters – Ethiopia included.

What do they export? Well next time you pick up a packet of mange-tout check out its origin. Chances are it’ll come from Kenya along with cut flowers and other products that drink up water and use valuable agricultural land.

Yes, populations outstripping the ability of the land to support them is a problem; but not in Africa. It’s a problem in Japan, and Saudi Arabia and Russia. It’s a problem in South East England and potentially across most of Europe too. But those are wealthy countries, so we don’t tell people there to stop having children.

Africa’s problem, on the other hand, is one of economics and justice; debt, balance of payments, the need for foreign currency and poverty. It’s about foreign governments and corporations (the Chinese prominent amongst them) buying up land because they know that rich nations consume more food than they can.

If only David Attenborough were as knowledgeable about the human as he is about the animal world he might have talked about the Black Man’s Burden – part of which involves feeding Europeans who are quick to advise, slow to listen and who, for the most part, simply don’t seem to care.


Jonathan Kent blogs here.


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