Tag Archives: Jonathan Manthorpe

For Britain, friendless desert looms behind Brexit door

Dear Readers, I am taking a sabbatical from my weekly columns in Facts and Opinions in order to finish writing a book that I started a few months ago. The book is on matters very much in the news, so it needs to be finished as soon as feasible, with the aim of publishing in the fall of 2018. I plan to return to these pages when my desk is clear again. — Jonathan Manthorpe

 

The author would appreciate a contribution, at least equal to the coffee you might enjoy while reading the column below, to help fund his ongoing work and pay for this site. Click on paypal.me/JonathanManthorpe to be taken to his personal PayPal page.

A combination of pictures shows Queen Elizabeth during the State Opening of Parliament in central London June 21, 2017 and a European Union flag. REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
June 24, 2017

 

Thersay May speaks after losing her party majority in the snap UK general election. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

It has taken 100 years for Britain to sink from being the world’s premier super power to the increasingly inconsequential cluster of off-shore European islands it is today.

The slide into irrelevance has been slow and genteel, until the last few months, and especially since the debacle for the governing Conservatives in the June 9 election. The view from the White Cliffs of Dover is now of a vast and unwelcoming no-man’s-land.

Britain’s long road to reality came to a bleak climax on Thursday and Friday this week. Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, her political wounds still fresh and suppurating from her drubbing in the election two weeks ago, attended a summit of the 28 European Union leaders in Brussels.

She wanted to talk about the fate of British subjects living and working in Europe, and European counterparts in Britain, once Brexit is achieved in about two years. Also on her list was what to do about Northern Ireland, which will suddenly have a hard border with the EU at the crossing points into the Irish Republic once the separation is complete. And then there’s the cost of the divorce. How many billions is Brussels going to demand in compensation from Britain for backing out of future obligations?

Theresa May found, however, there is no interest among the 27 other EU leaders in talking to her about these things. For them, Brexit is a done deal. The details are for Eurocrats and whatever woefully inadequate team London manages to field – Whitehall is so bereft of experienced negotiators, the British government has been forced to bring in Canadians and New Zealanders on contract.

The EU leaders have already moved on. That was evident in what the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, told reporters ahead of the summit. Asked about the state of play between the EU and Britain, Tusk said:

“We hear different predictions, coming from different people, about the possible outcome of these negotiations: hard Brexit, soft Brexit or no deal. Some of my British friends have even asked me whether Brexit could be reversed, and whether I could imagine an outcome where the UK stays part of the EU.

“I told them that in fact the European Union was built on dreams that seemed impossible to achieve. So, who knows? You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

Tusk’s channelling of John Lennon has been widely interpreted as a sign that there is still an opportunity for the British government to change its mind, and to stay in the EU. That looks like wishful thinking. Tusk looked and sounded as though he was waffling because he had nothing to say.

Indeed, Tusk moved on smoothly but speedily to say that the mood of optimism in the EU is now higher than it has been for a long time and that it is ready for the challenges ahead. The EU has major issues to address, such as the continued pressure of migration from Africa and the Middle East, defence in the age of Donald Trump, and the economy, which is doing well with some notable exceptions like Greece.

Emmanuel Macron at the France 2 television special prime time political show, “15min to Convince” in Saint-Cloud, near Paris, France, April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Martin Bureau/Pool

The EU also has a new and interesting generation of leaders – at least for the moment — who have surfaced since the British voters opted, by a slim margin in a referendum exactly a year ago, to leave the common market. There’s Emmanuel Macron in France and Leo Varadkar, the homosexual son of Indian immigrants, in Ireland. They embody commitment to European cohesion, the virtues of multi-culturalism, and the withering of old partisan establishments in the face of a renaissance in political thought.

For many Europeans, and not just their leaders, Britain was always an unwilling and troublesome partner. There was much anger in Europe when former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron called the referendum on EU membership last year, and even more when the British voted to leave. There was justifiable fear that Brexit would encourage “Eurosceptic” voters in other member states to demand their own referenda. But, having found in subsequent elections in Holland and France that Brexit is not an infectious disease spreading right-wing demagogy throughout the EU, most of the remaining members are happy to see Britain go.

On the British side, the whole grim saga of Brexit is like an episode of Fawlty Towers, but without the jokes.

It began with a raft of delusional Conservative backbench MPs yearning for a British Golden Age that never existed. They persuaded themselves, and convinced many of their constituents that silly, interfering bureaucrats and unelected EU pooh-bahs in Brussels were destroying the British – or, more precisely, the English – way of life with footling rules and regulations.

Petty gripes took on a large swig of Basil Fawlty racism when the free movement of people and their families within the EU became a perceived problem. Free movement was enshrined in the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992, but at that time the EU was still just a club of western European nations.

The full impact of the phasing out of internal borders wasn’t felt until the rule was extended under the 2004 Schengen agreement. And that coincided with the intake into the EU of 10 new members, most of them from the former Soviet East Europe bloc. The 10 are Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

In a perverse way, it was to Britain’s credit that it became the preferred destination for very many Eastern Europeans seeking opportunity. But the arrival of plane, bus, and ferry loads of Manuels willing to work harder, and for less money, than the British sent the country’s Basil Fawltys into paroxysms of rage. Chief among them was Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the very epitome of the pub bore. But pub bores, if they are gloomy enough, have a way of attracting Eeyores. So it was with Farage.

At the same time, globalization was gobbling up jobs and spitting them out in Asia and other low cost manufacturing centres. Farage’s tirades that it was all the fault of the bloody foreigners in Brussels found a ready audience. UKIP made something of a breakthrough in 2013 municipal elections, 2014 European elections and the 2015 general election for the Westminster parliament. In that election UKIP made its best showing ever when it won 12.6 per cent of the vote, but that translated into only one seat in parliament.

Even though UKIP’s standing remained inconsequential, its progression out of the ranks of fringe parties scared a lot of the Conservative backbenchers. Some feared losing significant support to UKIP. Others, no doubt, were scared of UKIP because they agreed with its declaration that Britain’s problems stemmed from its membership of the EU.

In an attempt to silence his rebels, Prime Minister Cameron promised ahead of the 2010 election that if elected he would oversee a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU. It was a ploy to try to discipline his Eurosceptic backbenchers for the election campaign. But then he reneged on the promise, in large part because he had not won a majority and was in a formal alliance with the pro-Europe Liberal-Democrats.

As the 2015 election approached, Cameron felt forced to renew his pledge, and said a referendum would be held in 2016 if the Conservatives won a majority, which they did.

History will undoubtedly heap much blame on Cameron for the farce of the last two years. First, he should never have allowed himself to be bullied into calling a referendum. Referenda do not sit easily with the Westminster parliamentary style of government. This is based on the concept of electing MPs, who are expected to understand and reflect in parliament the views and concerns of their constituents. If the MP fails in this mandate, he or she is chucked out in the next election. Referenda, which circumvent the supremacy of parliament and ask voters to decide by a simple yes or no vote on complex and often far-reaching questions, are an alien approach.

Referenda used by governments in the Westminster parliamentary system are usually a way out for political leaders who don’t have the guts or decisiveness to make up their minds about difficult issues.

So it was with the Brexit referendum in June last year. On top of the sin of calling a referendum in the first place, Cameron then ran an appalling campaign, arguing with only tepid enthusiasm that the future for Britain is better inside the EU. Not only was the campaign feeble, Cameron and other political leaders, the Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn most prominent among them, failed to perceive how deeply anti-EU sentiments had taken hold among committed Tories in rural England and blue collar voters in traditional Labour Party strongholds.

When the referendum results came in after the June 23 vote last year, it was Conservative country folk and abandoned rust belt workers in traditional Labour regions who pushed the results to 51.89 per cent in favour of leaving the EU and 48.11 per cent against.

Dawn breaks behind the Houses of Parliament and the statue of Winston Churchill in Westminster, London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Brits vote for Brexit. Dawn breaks behind the Houses of Parliament and the statue of Winston Churchill in Westminster, London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

To his discredit, Cameron immediately left the field. He resigned both as Prime Minister and party leader almost as soon as the last ballot was counted. This helped entrench the view in Britain, which still holds in some quarters, that there had been a conclusive vote for Brexit and that democracy had spoken. That was not true. Voter turn-out was 72 per cent and was especially low among young Britons. Also, it was mainly voters in England that voted for Brexit, and their numbers overwhelmed those in Scotland, Northern Ireland and much of Wales who wanted to stay in the EU.

With the swift departure of Cameron, events in the Conservative Party took on a surreal tone. It was evident to all that Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London who had just returned to the Commons in the 2015 election, lusted after the leader’s post. A well-known figure from his frequent appearance on television, his newspaper columns, and his penchant for politically incorrect buffoonery, Johnson had made himself the champion of the Brexit campaign, and now expected the pay-off.

He was well-placed to win under the Tories’ system for choosing a leader. First, the parliamentary caucus, through a system of informal and backroom polls, picks two candidates, who are then put to a nation wide vote among party members to make the final choice. It looked to be a choice between Johnson and the pro-remain Theresa May.

But then, at the last moment, one of Johnson’s most prominent supporters and backers, Michael Gove, decided that he wanted to be a candidate. There were a few hours of confusion before Johnson and Gove did the maths, realised they counted each other out, and both withdrew.

Theresa May became Tory leader and Prime Minister by default.

Despite her support for Britain remaining in the EU, May was seen as a safe pair of hands. Comparisons were made with Margaret Thatcher and cartoonists starting portraying May in a suit of armour, much as they had the Iron Lady 30 years ago. But cartoonists are often the most sensitive of social commentators, who spot trends and moods well ahead of others. It soon became noticeable that May’s suit of armour was not the Thatcherite pristine battlewear of St. George, but more the bashed and battered cast-offs of Don Quixote.

May proclaimed that “Brexit means Brexit,” though what that meant was and continues to be a mystery. It also remained a mystery on what terms she wanted to leave the EU and what she wanted Britain’s post-Brexit relationship with Europe to be. There was much bandying around of the phrases “hard Brexit” and “soft Brexit,” though what these inferred about Britain’s departure from and future trade and other ties with Europe is difficult to say.

A rough guide is that “hard Brexit” means Britain will entirely sever relations with the EU, and only then seek a new free trade agreement. “Soft Brexit” means Britain seeking to keep the existing free trade relationship with the other 27 countries, while jettisoning the things it doesn’t like about the EU, such as the ultimate sovereignty of the European Court and the free movement of people.

Theresa May started off by advocating for a hard Brexit. But the calamities that have befallen her in the past year – most of them self-inflicted — have confiscated almost all her political authority. She is now plaintively asking for a soft Brexit, but will have to put up with whatever Brussels gives her.

After taking office, May delayed starting the process of Britain leaving the EU, by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, until the end of March. Part of the delay was undoubtedly because the government came face to face with the difficult realty that Britain no longer had enough experienced trade and constitutional negotiators in its civil service to field a team in Brussels. In February a call went out from Whitehall asking Canada, Australia and New Zealand to please lend Britain some of their negotiators.

Until the triggering of Article 50 there was some hope that May might follow her own preferences, and those of the majority of members of the House of Commons, and somehow reverse what was, after all, far from being an overwhelming vote to leave the EU.

At the same time, public opinion in Britain did an about turn. It was now a slight majority who favoured staying in the EU and a minority still backing Brexit. There are a number of reasons for this, most of them the usual hangover in the cold light of dawn after a night of revelry.

The campaign for Brexit a year ago contained a largely unspoken piece of wishful thinking that saw Britain’s departure from the EU as the moment when there would be a revival of the club of English-speaking nations. This dream envisaged an alliance of Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand against the world. It was only after the Brexit win, when the yearned-for alliance did not materialize, that Brexiteers began to see what a cold and unwelcoming world awaited their arrival.

The current Canadian government is a firm believer in multilateral institutions and regional free trade agreements. It has just completed a major free trade agreement with the EU. Australia and New Zealand are similarly inclined and both, after much internal struggle, now self-identify as Asian nations. Former U.S. President Barack Obama was upfront in urging Britons to vote to remain in the EU, but the arrival of Donald Trump changed the equation.

Many Brexiteers were cheered and heartened by Trump’s denigration of the EU and his support for the British, French and anyone else to quit the alliance. But once Trump became President it became obvious to even the most hidebound Brexiteer that Trump has no political philosophy or fixed convictions, and that he is motivated entirely by flim-flammery and whatever he thinks the crowd wants to hear. It was also clear that Trump has nothing but disdain for the UK, and any dreams in Britain of a revival of the trans-Atlantic “special relationship” is worse than fanciful.

With the air heavy with confusion, Theresa May then made another appallingly bad decision. She chose to call a snap election, saying the country needed to demonstrate “strength and stability” by giving her a majority in the House of Commons and clear mandate to negotiate Brexit.

Well, it is true that her political legitimacy was tenuous. She was Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party only because she was the only surviving candidate after Cameron resigned. But her timing was terrible, and she misread the mood of voters just as badly as Cameron had in 2016.

Jeremy Corbyn, then the new leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party greets supporters after speaking in a pub in London, Britain September 12, 2015. REUTERS/Neil Hall

To very many people, May’s calling of the election looked like a crass piece of opportunism. Polls indicated that the Labour Party and its leader Corbyn were unpopular beyond belief, and that May and the Tories could not only dramatically increase their majority, but even perhaps kill off the Labour Party as a political force for a generation.

Voters didn’t like being taken advantage of by the Tories. More than that, many of them objected to May and her advisers trying to dictate the issue as them being given a strong hand with which to confront Brussels. During the course of the campaign the voters decided the issue they preferred was the whole question of austerity cuts in government spending under the Tories, and what this was doing to social services. Jeremy Corbyn during the course of the campaign transformed from a loonie leftie leftover from the 1960s, to a principled swan gliding majestically and calming the ruffled waters of British public life.

Corbyn didn’t win, of course. However, he brought the Labour Party roaring back into contention and drove May and the Tories into minority. In order to continue governing she is now dependent on the support of the 10 members of the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland.

These are not savoury or compatible bedfellows. DUP political philosophy, such as it is, is rooted in Protestant triumphalism over Catholics in Ireland in the 17th century. To say that the DUP is not housetrained in the social issues of the 21st century is to be excessively polite. That might be manageable for May and the Conservatives were not Northern Ireland a key issue in the Brexit negotiations.

In 1998, at the end of the 30-year guerrilla and terrorist war launched by the Irish Republican Army in the 1960s to try to unify Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic, a central element in the Good Friday Agreement was the opening of the border between the two jurisdictions. This was eased by both Britain and the Irish Republic being members of the EU. But when Britain leaves the European community, customs and immigration barriers should go up again along the border between the two Irelands, with potentially serious consequences for the peace process. That process is already churning through dangerous seas with the collapse of a power sharing agreement between the republicans and unionists in the provincial government.

Moreover, the revived border will be the only land link between Britain and the EU. It will be the place illegal migrants congregate in the hope of getting into Britain, as they do in the French port of Calais now.

That’s assuming, of course, that after Brexit, Britain is still an attractive destination for refugees and migrants from Africa and the Middle East. In a speech this week, the Canadian governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, warned Britain is heading for difficult and uncertain times that will see weaker real incomes. He said that monetary policy implemented by the bank can go only so far to alleviate the impact of job losses and inflation that are likely to be part and parcel of the Brexit process.

He mocked the idea that Brexit is launching the UK on a “smooth path to a land of cake and consumption.” This was clearly a jibe at Boris Johnson, now Britain’s foreign minister, who in the course of the Brexit campaign said he was in favour of “having our cake and eating it too.”

No head of the Bank of England in living memory has been the target of so much public criticism as Carney, who headed the Bank of Canada before taking over in London in 2013. So his tilt at Johnson will probably be water off a duck’s back, as most criticisms of Johnson prove to be. The man is not known for his sensitivity.

Johnson probably still wants May’s job and to be Prime Minister, but there is a lot of opposition to him within the party, and there seems to be a consensus among Tories that now is not the time to remove her. A comment by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister), George Osborne, that May is a “dead woman walking,” looks to be off target. She has shown contrition for her failure in the election, and fired the advisers who pushed her along that path. This week she produced a legislative agenda for the new parliament that can draw widespread acceptance from both Tories and others in the House of Commons.

Theresa May’s fate will turn on the progress and direction of the negotiations on Brexit. While it is not impossible that a putsch is attempted over the summer, the most likely scenario is that an assessment of her leadership will be made by Tory party members at the annual convention in October. If May survives that, there will probably be an inclination to let her carry on until Britain leaves the EU in March 2019 or thereabouts.

By that point, it looks very much as though the leadership of Britain will be a grim and thankless inheritance.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact Jonathan Manthorpe, including for queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.” Return to his column page.

 

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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After looking into Trump’s soul, Japan’s Abe seeks new allies

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
December 31, 2016

It is now pretty clear that when Shinzo Abe rushed to meet Donald Trump, even while the votes were being counted in November, the Japanese Prime Minister didn’t have a Margaret Thatcher or George W Bush moment.

After Thatcher met then-Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1984 she said to a BBC interviewer: “I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together.”

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) puts his arm around Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after they laid wreaths in front of a cenotaph at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan May 27, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Shinzo Abe’s actions since the U.S. election suggest he has little or no faith in Donald Trump’s capacity to be President of the United States, writes Manthorpe. Above, U.S. President Barack Obama (R) puts his arm around the Japanese Prime Minister after they laid wreaths in front of a cenotaph at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan May 27, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

And after the junior Bush met Russia’s new President Vladimir Putin in 2001 he remarked: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy.”

Well, we now know that Bush was easily conned by Putin, and there’s good reason to think that Trump, who also waxes lyrical about the vulpine Russian leader’s soul, is also being played for a sucker. But let’s leave that aside.

Abe has reacted with what can only be called horror at what he saw in Trump’s eyes during their hastily arranged 90-minute meeting on November 17 in the President Elect’s New York penthouse.

For sure, after the meeting Abe spouted the usual verbiage in these situations. “The talks made me feel sure that we can build a relationship of trust,” he said. But in the six weeks since, all Abe’s actions suggest he has little or no faith in Trump’s capacity to be President of the United States, or that Trump will be trustworthy for even five minutes.

Abe has been scouting in all directions to strengthen other alliances among Japan’s Asian neighbours, and even Russia. Although Moscow and Tokyo have yet to resolve territorial disputes left over from the Second World War, Japan is a major investor in the industrial development of the sparsely-populated Russian Far East. And both countries are deeply suspicious about the power ambitions of the current regime in Beijing.

Having a trustworthy President in the White House matters to Japan more than many other countries. For nearly 70 years the U.S. has been Tokyo’s firm ally and the guarantor of Japanese security in a very dangerous neighbourhood.

That alliance has become more significant and important in recent years. The immediate threats to Japan in particular, but other U.S. Asian allies too, are the rogue North Korean regime with its nuclear weapons and missiles, and China’s emergence as an expansionist fascist state.

On several occasions North Korea has underlined the threat it represents by test firing unarmed missiles over Japanese territory. After some fumblings and setbacks, Pyongyang now seems to be close to being able to make a nuclear weapon small enough to mount on an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Meanwhile, the Beijing regime of President and Communist Party boss Xi Jinping has moved on from claiming Japan’s Senkaku Islands, into whose territorial waters and airspace its ships and warplanes regularly intrude. Beijing has now promoted claims to Japan’s Ryukyu Islands chain, which includes Okinawa, home to the base for over half the 54,000 US military personnel stationed in Japan.

Copyrighted free use, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=901053

Japan’s Ryukyu Islands chain, also called the Nansei Islands, are on the boundary of the East China Sea and the Philippines Sea. Creative Commons/Wikipedia

Interviews with senior Chinese military officers challenging Japan’s ownership of the Ryukyus have been published in several Communist Party-controlled newspapers. When China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been confronted with these claims it has refused to confirm that China recognizes Japan’s ownership of the Ryukyus and Okinawa.

Beijing is even attempting to create a political split within Japan by supporting and cultivating independence activists among the people of Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands. In a statement last week, Japan’s Public Security Intelligence Agency said it is closely watching the activities of Beijing’s agents of influence – principally academics from Chinese universities and think tanks – on the Ryukyus.

This latest slice in Beijing’s salami tactics comes as it has crowned its 20-year campaign to exclusive sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, by building seven military bases on islands in the sea and taking effective control over seaways that carry a third of all maritime trade.

Japan has responded to Beijing’s evident lust for the Ryukyus by fortifying 200 of the islands, which stretch in a 1000-kilomtre-long chain south-west from Japan’s main islands. As well as defending Japanese territory, the fortifications are intended to keep control of one of the main passages into the Pacific Ocean for China’s new and modern navy, which now includes an aircraft carrier and the world’s largest submarine fleet.

Japan is a much tougher nut for Beijing to crack than the squabbling littoral nations of the South China Sea. But the severing or weakening of the strong political and military links between Washington and Tokyo works only in Beijing’s favour.

So Trump’s questioning during the presidential campaign of the value-for-money Washington gets from its Asian alliances, and suggestion that Japan and South Korea should acquire their own nuclear deterrents, came at a tender moment. Trump’s off-hand attitude towards Washington’s Asian alliances conforms to his often crudely expressed disdain for most other U.S. treaty-backed friendships and the international institutions that have underpinned global security and development since the Second World War.

Uncertainty about Trump comes at a time when Abe, with the quiet backing of the Barack Obama administration, has already started to remove the pacifist constraints on Tokyo’s uses of its military that are embedded in Japan’s constitution.

Abe and many of his supporters feel that the time has come when these limitations, imposed by occupying U.S. forces after 1945, should be removed. Under the U.S.-drafted constitution Japan’s forces can only be used to defend against an attack on Japanese territory. This constraint has prevented Japan from being a full partner in operations with allies in such places as Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as in United Nations peacekeeping operations.

With about half of Japan’s population supporting pacifism, attempting to amend the constitution would be a politically dangerous reach for Abe. So he has “reinterpreted” the constitution instead. His main aim has been to provide a legal framework for the Japanese military to use force to protect allies and thus become a reliable partner. That has been achieved. In November, Japanese troops were deployed on a peacekeeping mission in South Sudan with permission to use lethal force if necessary to protect United Nations and other aid workers.

Abe is also moving to convince countries among the 10 nations of Southeast Asia that Japan is a reliable partner in the growing confrontation with China over power and sovereignty in the region. In the middle of December, Tokyo made a significant advance with the creation of a joint maritime forum with Indonesia, the largest and potentially most influential of the Southeast Asian Nations.

Under the agreement, Tokyo will support Jakarta’s efforts to protect the maritime sovereignty of its archipelago of over 17,000 islands. Japan will help Indonesia enhance its maritime security, as well as assisting in the development of ports, other maritime infrastructure and the economic development of outlying islands. This is a strong pre-emptive move against Beijing. The Chinese regime doesn’t claim any Indonesian maritime territory at the moment. But Chinese fishing boats, many of which act also act as seagoing “militia” for Beijing, regularly poach in Indonesian waters. And China’s navy has sent warships to areas hard up against Indonesia’s massive Natuna submarine natural gas fields.

Abe appears to have been less successful in his overtures to Putin. The Russian President visited Japan in mid-December, but the talks didn’t lead to a breakthrough in relations that many Japanese observers had expected.

That’s not entirely surprising. The major bone of contention for decades between Moscow and Tokyo has been the fate of the Kuril Islands, which the Japanese call the Northern Territories. These Japanese islands were occupied by what was then the Soviet Union in the final weeks of the Second World War, and have been held and administered by Moscow since.

The dispute has blocked Tokyo and Moscow from signing a peace agreement formally ending their conflict in the Second World War. The next opportunity for a resolution is when Abe visits Russia early in 2017, but a major breakthrough remains unlikely. Putin has hinged a great deal of his political credibility on regaining and holding territory and influence Moscow lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union 25 years ago. His impetus is to grab territory like Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and enclaves in Georgia and Moldova.

Ceding territory is not Putin’s style, and even suggestions for joint Tokyo-Moscow economic management over some of the disputed Kuril Islands will be difficult to seat comfortably with the Russian leader’s prickly self-esteem.

However, apart from the Kurils, Moscow and Tokyo have significant common interests. Both worry about Beijing’s expansionism, which for Moscow is seeing a flood of illegal Chinese immigrants into the Russian Far East. At the same time, there is an exodus of Russians from the region to the country’s west in search of jobs.

Japan is a major partner with Moscow in trying to reverse this flow. Japanese banks are putting up money for investment in resource development in the Russian Far East, and Japanese industrial conglomerates producing everything from cars and trucks to medical equipment and pharmaceuticals are establishing manufacturing plants in the region.

Even so, there would be a delicious irony if Japan were driven out of the arms of Trump and into the arms of Putin because of Abe’s suspicions about the reliability of the man who U.S. intelligence agencies unanimously believe was helped into the Oval Office by Putin’s spy agencies.

 

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

 

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Venezuela’s drawn-out agony nears crisis

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
May 21, 2016

A non-operative water tank is seen in a neighbourhood called "The Tank" in the slum of Petare in Caracas, Venezuela, April 3, 2016. Although their nation has one of the world's biggest hydroelectric dams and vast rivers like the fabled Orinoco, Venezuelans are still suffering water and power cuts most days. The problems with stuttering services have escalated in the last few weeks: yet another headache for the OPEC nation's 30 million people already reeling from recession, the world's highest inflation rate, and scarcities of basic goods. President Nicolas Maduro blames a drought, while the opposition blames government incompetence. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

A non-operative water tank is seen in a neighbourhood called “The Tank” in the slum of Petare in Caracas, Venezuela, April 3, 2016. Although their nation has one of the world’s biggest hydroelectric dams and vast rivers like the fabled Orinoco, Venezuelans are still suffering water and power cuts most days. The problems with stuttering services have escalated in the last few weeks: yet another headache for the OPEC nation’s 30 million people already reeling from recession, the world’s highest inflation rate, and scarcities of basic goods. President Nicolas Maduro blames a drought, while the opposition blames government incompetence. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

This weekend’s largest military exercises ever by Venezuela may reveal whether the country is heading merely for an accelerated political and economic melt-down, or a full-blown civil war.

Besieged President Nicolas Maduro authorised the demonstration of military might as public clamour mounts for a referendum to depose him. Nearly two million people have signed a petition demanding his recall. Four million signatures are needed under the constitution — and polls show about 70 per cent of the country’s 30 million people want Maduro out of office this year.

Maduro has dismissed the referendum call, and he imposed a state of emergency a week ago, giving himself added powers to impose civic order and control the economy. On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that Maduro’s emergency decree is constitutional in the face of “the extraordinary social, economic, political, natural and ecological circumstances that are gravely affecting the national economy.”

Maduro was also responding to a tidal surge of street demonstrations sparked by shortages of even the most basic commodities, regular power cuts, and water rationing. Protesters have been dispersed by riot squads using truncheons and tear gas.

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On Thursday, Maduro warned that the country faces “a state of internal upheaval,” and threatened to ratchet up the response by security forces. In this climate, the military exercise and the Supreme Court ruling are far more likely to heighten tensions, with the prospect of expanding violence, than to damp them down.

One element of the economic crisis is that many factories have stopped working, saying they cannot buy the necessary components and ingredients for their products. Even the country’s main brewery has pulled down the shutters because the owners say they cannot import the barley they need to make beer. On Friday, Coca Cola announced it is suspending production in Venezuela because of a shortage of sugar.

Maduro this week threatened to take control of closed factories if their owners do not re-open them. The factory closures, he says, are part of a right-wing conspiracy to eject his government. Maduro, blames the country’s ills on opposition to his party’s socialist revolution by Venezuela’s conservative business and industrial classes, and United States “imperialism.” He accused the U.S. of sending spy planes into Venezuela’s airspace, an echo of past accusations by Caracas governments that Washington is attempting to engineer regime change.

Venezuela’s simmering political discord came to a head in December when the opposition Unity Movement won a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. That win came after a campaign in which the opposition pledged to remove Maduro from office before his six-year term is up in 2019. The plan is to demand a referendum to recall Maduro, and to trigger a new election rather than have him succeeded by his Vice-President, Aristobulo Isturiz.

Maduro is a former bus driver and union leader who rose to be Vice-President in the United Socialist Party administration of the buffoon braggart, President Hugo Chavez. When Chavez died in 2013, Maduro succeeded him, but won only a shade over 50 per cent of the vote in a special election held soon afterwards. Since then, Maduro has ruled by decree, though to say he has “ruled” is overgenerous. His three years in power are marked by an extraordinary inability to come to grips with any of the ills besetting Venezuela.

But then, he inherited a poisoned chalice.

Chavez, an army captain, dreamed-up the authoritarian socialist “Bolivarian Revolution” that has destroyed what was once one of Latin America’s best performing economies. This socialist theology was based on a selective and myth-infused reading of the story of South America’s 18th and early 19th century “liberator,” Simon Bolivar. Chavez first used his soap opera philosophy to try to launch a military coup in 1992. When that failed, he went semi-legit, and won the presidential election in 1999. He remained president until he died of cancer in 2013. In a move worthy of the iconography of North Korea’s ruling Kim family, Chavez in July, 2014, was declared Venezuela’s “Eternal President.”

As he struggles to cling to power, Maduro is evoking the revolutionary imagery and verbiage of the 1960s and 1970s that inspired Chavez and made him the best friend of the withering Castro brothers’ regime in Cuba. “We are going to tell imperialism and the international right that the people are present with their farm instruments in one hand and a gun in the other … to defend this sacred land,” Maduro said this week.

Venezuela, which has the world’s largest oil reserves – larger even than those of Saudi Arabia – has one of the world’s worst-performing economies. The economy shrank by about 10 per cent last year according to the International Monetary Fund. The economic performance is expected to be even worse this year.

Seldom, if ever, has there been a more pitiable example of the perils of the “Dutch Disease” – the deplorable effects on the economy or over-reliance on the export of natural resources. Oil accounts for 95 per cent of Venezuela’s exports and 50 per cent of its gross domestic product. The Caracas government formerly needed international oil prices of only about $US50 a barrel to cover all its spending obligations. While the price has been up around $US100 a barrel for the last few years, Chavez and Maduro should have been stuffing money away for non-oil economic development and a sovereign wealth fund. Instead the money wafted off into clouds of corruption and ideology-inspired economic nonsense. The result is that the government now needs the international price of oil to be up around $US120 a barrel in order to cover its budget. That is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future.

The fall-out from nearly 17 years of this comic opera is tragic.

Inflation is running up around 300 per cent, and could approach 1,000 per cent by next year. Unemployment is at 17 per cent, is much higher among younger work-age Venezuelans, and will probably reach at least 21 per cent this year.

More than 70 per cent of Venezuelans live below the World Bank poverty line, of incomes worth less than $US2 a day. This too will likely get worse over the course of this year.

One social consequence of the government’s gross ineptitude is that Venezuela has the second highest murder rate in the world, just behind Honduras. The capital, Caracas, has the worst murder rate of any city outside declared war zones.

What is surprising is that the ruling United Socialist Party has not removed Maduro to try to avert the looming crisis. One reason is that the party’s name is inaccurate. It is not united. It is a grab-bag of querulous factions who, like their strutting rooster founder Chavez, are unable to demean themselves to compromise, even as the driverless bus rushes towards the cliff.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said this week Venezuela is “a time bomb that can explode at any given moment.” His Unity Movement and other opposition groups have promised further demonstrations demanding Maduro’s departure, even in the face of Maduro’s threat to use the army against protesters.

Capriles says Venezuela is approaching a “moment of truth.” Truth has little to do with it. What will determine the outcome is what the army decides to do in the next few days and weeks.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016
Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

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You might also enjoy these stories:

Venezuela’s struggle to keep the lights on, by Reuters  Report/Photo-essay

Residents of Venezuela’s southern city of Puerto Ordaz enjoy pleasant views of the Orinoco and Caroni rivers and are a half hour’s drive from one of the world’s biggest hydroelectric dams. Yet most days they suffer water and power cuts.

Oil slump devastates Venezuela, by Jonathan Manthorpe, column

Venezuela’s grey and featureless President, Nicolas Manduro, the default successor to that preening, strutting rooster Hugo Chavez, is set to become the first head of government felled by tumbling oil prices. It’s just a matter of who gets their boot lined up first to kick him out the door.

Venezuelan opposition fractures over ballots or bullets to win power. by Jonathan Manthorpe, column (from our 2014 archives)

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Canada’s Navy: Dying From Neglect

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
May 14, 2016

One highly desirable result of an isolationist Donald Trump presidency is that it would expose in short order the philosophical, economic, political and moral corruption that has been at the heart of Canadian defence policy since the year dot.

Trump says he wants to jettison those allies who are freeloading on the United States and its taxpayers. By any measure, Canada is the worst freeloader of the whole lot. What is almost worse, successive Canadian governments of all political stripes have been utterly shameless in the eagerness with which they suckle the American taxpayers’ milk.

HMCS Toronto flies a Canadian flag in the Arabian Gulf during Operation Altair with the US Navy, a 2004 mission to monitor shipping in the Arabian Gulf. Photo by MCpl Colin Kelley, Canadian Armed Forces

HMCS Toronto flies a Canadian flag in the Arabian Gulf during Operation Altair with the US Navy, a 2004 mission to monitor shipping in the Arabian Gulf. Photo by MCpl Colin Kelley, Canadian Armed Forces

According to NATO figures, Canada’s defence spending amounted to one per cent of gross national product last year, and is already lower this year. In NATO’s league table, that puts Canada down among bottom feeders like the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia. Mind you, the country is still a bit ahead of Luxembourg’s defence spending of 0.47 per cent of GDP, but heading in that direction.

If President Trump took the U.S. out of NATO and the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), the corridors of power in Ottawa would echo with politicians shrieking like stuck pigs, while deputy ministers and the mandarinate of the Privy Council Office would be overcome by apoplexy and faint away in their corner offices.

In its purest form, Trump’s vision of the U.S. as a self-sufficient, gated community decorated with an endless supply of Stepford Wives would for the first time cast Canada out into the cold. For the first century of Canada’s nationhood we relied on Britain to keep us safe. Since the Second World War we have happily clung to Washington’s coattails.

In Trump’s world, Canada’s model for maintaining its security and defending its sovereignty would be Australia. That’s not such a bad thing. Canada doesn’t pay nearly as much attention to Australia as it should. The countries have the same cultural and political heritages. They both have small populations relative to vast landmasses. They are both now immigrant societies wrestling with the challenges of multi-culturalism. Both economies are anchored by resource industries at one end and some of the world’s leading and innovative technological industries at the other.

The big difference is that Canada has got fat and lazy because easy access to the U.S. market has driven the competitive and entrepreneurial genes out of its national DNA, and it’s handed over responsibility for its sovereignty and security to Washington.

Australians, in contrast, have always had to be lean and mean. Their continent is out there at the end of the world. In trade, diplomacy and defence they have never had anyone to rely on but themselves. They have risen to the challenge with fortitude, pragmatism and imagination. In most aspects of international relations, Canada looks naïve, irresolute and terminally short-sighted in comparison.

Australia currently spends 1.8 per cent of its GDP on defence, according to the World Bank. The Canberra government announced in February it intends to increase that to 2 per cent by 2021. There will probably be an election well before then, but one of the significant differences between Australian and Canadian defence policy is that in Australia it tends to be a bi-partisan issue. Defence policy, and especially equipment purchases, tends to carry on relatively seamlessly despite changes of government.

An excellent account of the criminal neglect of its armed forces by successive Canadian governments of both major political stripes was set out by Jack Granatstein in his 2004 book “Who killed the Canadian Military?”

In Canada, of course, cancelling a previous government’s plans to purchase new military equipment has become an almost essential demonstration of machismo. Thus when Jean Chretien became prime minister in 1993 he ostentatiously cancelled the previous Tory government’s contracts to buy new naval helicopters to replace the ageing and dangerous Sea Kings. Officially that cancellation cost about $500 million — though my contacts in the defence business say the real number was about twice that – and 23 years later Canada still doesn’t have replacements for the Sea Kings. It now takes 30 hours of maintenance to keep them in the air for one hour.

The truth is Canada lacks a fleet air arm of any utility. Indeed, it doesn’t have a blue water navy any more. What is left of the Canadian Navy cannot operate independently, and the only warships of any significance  left –  12 Halifax Class frigates – are too limited in their range, armaments and surveillance capabilities to be allowed out alone. The best that can be said is that Canada has a coastal defence force on a par with that possessed by Bangladesh.

The full horror of what has happened to the Canadian Navy was set out last year in a thorough and depressing article in Macleans Magazine by Scott Gilmore. It is worth nailing up this article and seeing what the Australians have done when confronted by very similar demands and pressures as Canada.
As Gilmore describes, fulcrum moments in the destruction of the Canadian Navy came last year. One tipping point was the death form old age and infirmity of the three remaining Iroquois-class destroyers — HMCS Athabaskan, HMCS Huron and HMCS Algonquin. With their superior weapons and radar, these warships were essential to putting a battle group to sea. But, like the Sea King helicopters, the destroyers had got to an age when they just didn’t work properly any more. Without them, the Halifax-class frigates are of limited utility.

The second important development was the beaching of the two supply and replenishment ships – HMCS Protecteur on the west coast, and HMCS Preserver on the east. Without these ships it is impossible for Canada to deploy vessels for a prolonged operation, such as the anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia. But these supply ships were so old that it was no longer possible to get parts for them. Members of the crews are reported to have even resorted to eBay in their hunt for spares.

Protecteur hastened its trip to the knacker’s yard by having a terminal engine fire while off the Hawaiian coast. An American tug was persuaded to tow her back to Esquimalt in return for the value of the fuel oil in her tanks.

The ignominy doesn’t stop there and this is a good point to start looking at what the Australians are doing – and in this case the British Navy as well — when they needed new supply ships in a hurry.

For some years successive governments in Ottawa have been rabbiting on about replacing the supply ships. But they are still only in the design phase and sea trials won’t be until 2021 at the earliest. So, when confronted by the brutal reality last year that the Canadian Navy couldn’t go far out of the sight of land, the then Conservative government rushed to adopt a two-pronged rescue bid. One prong was to rent a supply ship from the Chilean Navy for the west coast and another from the Spanish Navy for the east coast for around $1 million a month each. Meanwhile, Davie Shipyards of Levis, Que., was contracted to convert a commercial tanker into a naval supply and refuelling ship. This will not be ready until 2017 at the earliest.

This is all a classic piece of Canadian defence procurement tomfoolery. While failing to renew equipment in time, governments also insist for reasons of patronage, if not outright corruption, that new ships must be built in Canada. But by the time Ottawa gets around to each contract for more ships, the shipbuilding industry has died, because its last round of construction was a generation prior. So task number one, every time, is to rebuild a Canadian ship-building industry. To put it politely, that doesn’t make much sense.

In 2012 the British Navy decided it needed four modern, twin-hulled resupply and refuelling ships, known as Fleet Auxillaries, and it needed them quickly. So it went to the South Korean shipbuilders Daewoo Shipbuilding and Engineering and bought four tankers. The basic ships were then taken to Britain where they were kitted out with all the value-added, high-tech stuff that made them part of the Royal Navy.

The lead vessel in the class, called Tidespring, was laid down in December 2014 and launched in April 2015 – four months. The second vessel was laid down in June 2015 and launched in November last year. The keel for the third vessel was laid last December and it was launched in March. The first steel for the fourth ship was cut last December and it will be in the water any day now. All four ships will be in service with the Royal Navy by the end of this year.

When a navy needs ships quickly it makes perfect sense to buy hulls and power plants from countries that make them fast and well, such as South Korea, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany, and then focus on adding the CanCon high-tech components here at home.

The Australians have become masters of this approach to building and sustaining their navy.

Canberra also needs to replace supply ships that will come to the end of their usefulness in 2021. Australia is doing a deal with the Spanish naval shipbuilder Navantia to supply two fleet auxillary supply and refuelling ships. Navantia will deliver the basic ships and then Australian companies will supply and fit the combat and communications systems.

Canberra has considerable experience of dealing with Navantia. It has already bought what are euphemistcally called “landing helicopter docks,” or “amphibious assault ships.” Again, Navantia supplied the hulls and the Australians put in the clever stuff.

And to you and me these ships look like aircraft carriers, which is what they in fact are. Australia is only equipping them with helicopters at the moment. But that ski-jump over the bow is not there just for fun. If it ever needs to, the Australian Navy can fly warplanes off these ships, some of the 100 F35s Australia plans to buy, for example. But for now they will be used as, in essence, large and capable supply ships that can move large numbers of troops, equipment and humanitarian aid to wherever they are needed.

Navantia is also a partner in the building of three, and perhaps four new Hobart-class destroyers. Again, Navantia is building the hulls in segments, which are then shipped to Australia for welding together and fitted out. The first of what are described as “air-warfare destroyers,” but which in reality are fully capable air, submarine and surface warships, will be delivered in June next year and the third by mid-2020.

The Canberra-class aircraft carriers and the Hobart-class destroyers are good examples of the Australian Navy’s aspirations and the seriousness with which it takes its responsibility to sustain the country’s security and sovereignty. A major element in any naval fleet for a maritime country is submarines. These vessels provide security at many times their value because any potential intruder can never be sure they know exactly where all the submarines are.

Australia gets this. Canada has never quite managed to make two and two add up to four. In the 1980s, when I was working in the Ottawa Bureau of what was then Southam News, I was given a copy of a letter from the Australian Ministry of Defence to the Canadian counterpart. At the time, then Canadian Defence Minister Perrin Beatty was toying with the idea of buying nuclear-powered submarines from either the French or the British. The Australians, meanwhile, were in the process of developing the program for what became their Collins-class submarines. The letter that I saw from Canberra asked if Ottawa would like to sign on to a joint venture with Australia to produce, use and perhaps sell the Collins-class boats. I was told the Australians never got an answer to their letter.

Since then the Collins-class boats have been produced, served with mixed reviews and are now approaching the time when they must be replaced.

Over the same 30-year period Canada went off the whole idea of submarines for a decade. Twenty years ago Ottawa finally plucked up the courage to again contemplate buying submarines. But instead of doing the sensible thing, Canada somehow got itself bushwacked into buying four old conventional boats laid up as surplus by the British Navy. Well, someone should have spent a little longer kicking the tires and checking the mileage. From the moment they were rolled off the lot the submarines suffered a series of breakdowns, including a deadly fire while one was in passage across the Atlantic. The repairs and equipment changes to make them compatible with other Canadian warships have cost twice the original sticker price on the British used boat lot of $750 million for the four. These modifications included, believe it or not, having to change the entire torpedo tube assemblies so they can fire Canada’s stock of veteran Mk48 torpedoes.

It is a feature of submarines that every time a hole has to be cut in the hull and patched it weakens the whole structure, and limits the depths to which it can dive thereafter. It also affects the life expectancy of the vessel.

The four Victoria-class boats all finally got to sea last year, but what use they are will remain a question. In the Macleans article, Gilmore quotes the commander of the navy, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, as saying the capabilities of the Victoria-class submarines are “fragile.”

That’s just what one needs in a warship.

Australia, meanwhile, is pressing ahead with a $US38 billion program to acquire 12 long-range submarines to replace the ageing Collins-class boats.

It looked for a while as though Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in partnership with Kawasaki Heavy Industries had a lock on the contract for their highly-regarded Soryu-class submarines. So it came as a surprise late last month when the Canberra government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the contract will go to the French armaments company DCN for a conventionally powered adaptation of its Barracuda nuclear-powered attack submarine.

The Japanese made many mistakes in the campaign against the French and the other competitor, Germany’s Thyssen-Krupp Marine Systems. Arms sales abroad is new territory for Japanese companies. Laws have been re-interpreted only recently to allow it to happen, so Japanese companies are still neophytes in the field. Their major mistake, however, was not to appreciate that Australia wanted between 70 and 80 per cent of the construction work to be done in Australia, even if it is under the supervision of the winning company. The Japanese companies have no experience of this kind of offshore build, and their negotiators shrank from putting this option on the table. Instead, the Soryu salesmen relied on the growing strategic partnership in Asia between the Australian and Japanese navies in the face of Chinese aggression.
It was not enough. Australian governments of all parties are keen to keep their shipyards functioning and the shipbuilding skills constantly renewed. So while Canberra is never slow to buy in ready-made ships when it makes sense, it also realises that maintaining and sustaining an effective navy needs foresight and nurturing the necessary store of skilled workers.

Ottawa finds that thought impossible to grasp.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016
Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com
Links:
NATO: http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_49198.htm
World Bank: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/MS.MIL.XPND.GD.ZS
The Sinking of the Canadian Navy, Macleans, by Scott Gilmore

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and relies on the honour system: enjoy one free story. If you value independent, no-spam, no-ads,expert journalism, support us with a minimum of .27 per story, a $1 day site pass, or $20 per year. Donate below. Please respect our copyright. Details here.

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

Real journalism is not free. If you value evidence-based, non-partisan, spam-free information, please support Facts and Opinions, an employee-owned collaboration of professional journalists.  Details here.

 

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

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North Korea’s Kim rattles the bars of his cage

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signs a document regarding a long range rocket launch in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 7, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signs a document regarding a long range rocket launch in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 7, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
May 7, 2016

A good rule of thumb is to always be deeply suspicious of optimistic projections for the future of North Korea.

There have been some rose-tinted forecasts wafting from Pyongyang this week as the Workers’ Party of Korea holds its first congress since 1980. The congress was called to endorse the leadership of Kim Jong-un, 33, who took over after the death of his father Kim Jong-il at the end of 2011.

Since then the younger Kim has entrenched himself at the top in the time-honoured North Korean manner. He has slaughtered anyone who might challenge his authority, including his uncle and all his father’s top generals. Kim’s reputation for responding with swift and uncompromising brutality to even the most innocuous wayward behaviour among those around him is now well established.

He has also charged ahead with North Korea’s program to develop nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles to drop them on the country’s enemies, especially the United States.

As a result of the fourth nuclear weapon test on January 6 and the sixth long-range missile test on February 6, North Korea is now isolated by some of the most stringent and wide-ranging sanctions ever imposed by United Nations members.

The sanctions were adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council on March 2. They require the mandatory inspection of all cargo in and out of North Korea. They impose a ban on North Korea importing coal, iron and iron ore, and on all major export items. No one may sell North Korea aviation fuel, which can be used to power rockets. However, at the insistence of Russia, North Korean civilian aircraft can be refuelled in foreign countries. All UN member states must close North Korean banks and freeze their assets.

One remarkable aspect of this Security Council Resolution 2270 is that China, which has a veto on the council, supported the resolution.

The Communist Party in Beijing has been the protector of the Kim regime in Pyongyang since the 1950s, buying North Korea’s resource products and selling food and oil in sufficient quantities to keep the regime and its massive army afloat. China continues to want to maintain North Korea as a buffer against Washington’s ally, South Korea. But even Beijing finds Kim Jong-un too unpredictable and irrational to be trusted. The Chinese government opposes North Korea’s nuclear weapons program both because it is an agent of regional instability and because it has given the U.S. the excuse to introduce anti-missile systems into the Far East that Beijing believes threaten its own security.

Beijing therefore not only backed the latest round of UN sanctions on North Korea, there are credible reports it has imposed further sanctions of its own, restricting the export of rice and building materials to North Korea.

With food production falling in North Korea because of drought and mismanagement, the country is now facing a chronic food shortage. Food production fell nine per cent last year over 2014, according to the UN. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization is predicting North Korea’s food deficit will quadruple this year. Already, says the organization, “most” households only have access to a “poor or borderline” amount of food.

The challenge for Kim Jong-un in coming months as the effects of drought and economic sanctions intensify will be to provide enough food to keep the elites and the military loyal.

The Kim regime loves catch phrases. For Kim Il-sung, the regime’s founder it was “juche,” meaning self-reliance. Well, that didn’t work because his brand of half-baked communism destroyed the economy, especially agriculture. His son, Kim Jong-il, came up with the concept of “Songun,” meaning the military would be developed first. This cack-handed notion was that giving economic favours to the military would create a trickle-down effect into the rest of the economy. The reality was that Kim Jong-il needed the loyalty of the military in order to stay in power. And we all know that trickle down economics don’t work. The cream stays at the top of the bottle.

The newest Kim, Kim Jong-un, has come up with his own catchphrase, which is being cheered to the rafters by delegates at this weekend’s congress in Pyongyang. It is “Byongjin,” meaning the simultaneous development of both nuclear weapons and the civilian economy.

The rosy interpretation of this is that it signals a shift away from the emphasis on the military and perhaps the adoption of limited market economics, as in neighbouring China.

The mere holding of the congress for the first time in 36 years and the bringing of the Workers’ Party to the fore is being interpreted in some circles as a sign that Kim is pushing the military into the background.

If that is the appearance, it will be deceptive. Kim cannot survive without the backing of the military. Cutting off the military’s preferential treatment in the allocation of food and economic benefits would be a quick way for Kim to have an unhealthy appointment with a noose and a lamppost.

Kim is now more isolated than either his father or grandfather before him. Beijing turning its back on him is highly significant, but so is what has happened in South Korea. Despite the two countries remaining on the brink of conflict since the 1950-1952 civil war, there has always been a political faction in the South favouring a magnanimous attitude towards the North. It was this so-called “sunshine policy” that led to the creation of the Kaesong Industrial Complex by South Korean companies. The complex in North Korea employed 55,000 North Koreans and funnelled hundreds of millions of dollars into the North’s economy. But after the January underground nuclear weapon test, South Korea has shut down the Kaesong complex.

This reflects changing attitudes in the South and the death of the “sunshine policy,” even among the liberal opposition parties. After she came to office in 2013, the conservative President, Park Geun-hye, tried to use the Kaesong development to stimulate the relationship between Seoul and Pyongyang. She has now given up any hope that Kim Jung-un is a leader who she can deal with.

At the same time, Park appears to have ended her cozying up to Beijing, which marked her first years in office and which alarmed both Washington and Japan. Beijing’s evident unwillingness to do anything serious about the threat of Kim and his determination to fit a nuclear warhead on a missile that can cross the Pacific has convinced her that Washington and Japan are more reliable ports in a storm.

Park’s government has started negotiations with Washington on allowing U.S. forces to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile battery in South Korea. It is this prospect that has alarmed China, which believes stationing of a THAAD battery in South Korea undermines the deterrent effect of China’s own intercontinental nuclear missiles.

This concern will undoubtedly have been one of the considerations that led this week to Beijing imposing sanctions on the North beyond those called for in Resolution 2270. These added embargoes have not been formally announced, but there are credible reports from the border region of a marked drop in rail freight traffic between the two countries and Chinese officials making it more difficult to get approval for cross-border trade.

China will probably tighten and loosen these unannounced sanctions as it sees fit. Pyongyang will turn to smuggling, which has proved effective enough to sustain the regime in the past, and hope that Beijing tires of the game relatively quickly.

That is probably a good bet because for Kim and his court much now depends on who wins the U.S. presidency in November. Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton as President look as though they would bring much joy to Pyongyang or Beijing.

Trump portrays himself as a rank isolationist who would tear up existing free trade agreements, abandon NATO, give nuclear weapons to South Korea and Japan, and tell them to look after themselves. That’s a recipe for chaos if ever there was one.

It was Clinton’s husband, Bill, who first marshalled international efforts to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program in return for economic aid and diplomatic acceptance. Hillary Clinton has already had a lot to do with this file during her fours years as Secretary of State. She understands the intricacies of U.S. relationships with its Asia allies and how the North Korean and Chinese problems play into those partnerships.

Hillary Clinton gave the first clear warning to Beijing that its claim to own most of the South China Sea is a threat to internationally accepted rules on freedom of passage for both merchant marine and naval vessels, and a challenge to Washington’s national interests.

If she becomes President, it is most likely that Clinton will mine the ground she has already staked.

 

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016
Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and relies on the honour system: enjoy one free story. If you value independent, no-spam, no-ads,expert journalism, support us with a minimum of .27 per story, a $1 day site pass, or $20 per year. Donate below. Please respect our copyright. Details here.

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

 

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

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The Trump virus goes global

Why are so many voters in a blind rage with government and politicians?

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
April 29, 2016

Trumpery – the political disease that is convulsing the United States – appears to be mutating into a world-wide epidemic.

Donald Trump is drinking from a deep well of public disgust for traditional politicians in his now seemingly unstoppable run to be the Republican candidate for President in November. He has found that voters will cheer anyone running for public office, no matter how incompetent, boastful or dangerous, so long as he is not tainted by conventional political experience.

READ: Boris Johnson: schemer or charmer? -- Jonathan Manthorpe

London mayor Boris Johnson has bigger political ambitions.

Something similar is happening in Britain where the Tory Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is championing the “No” vote in July’s referendum on whether or not the United Kingdom should stay in the European Union. Just as Trump threatens to rip the Republican Party into shreds, so Johnson may split the Conservative Party down its pro and anti-EU fault line.

Johnson’s principles are plastic to say the least. He has never made a promise he was not ready to break, or had a friend or lover he was not manoeuvring to betray.

Over a couple of decades in public life as a Member of Parliament (twice), directly elected Mayor of London, newspaper columnist and television personality Johnson has cultivated the image of a loveable bumbler. Like Trump, Johnson disdains political correctness and delights in saying out loud the outrageous thoughts most people have the good sense to keep to themselves.

But everyone knows that Johnson’s purpose in campaigning for Britain to leave the EU – “Brexit” in headline writer’s shorthand – is to try to oust David Cameron from the leadership of the Conservative Party and become Prime Minister himself.

Then there is Rodrigo Duterte, who by May 9 could have outpaced Trump and Johnson, and ridden the Trumpery wave to become the President of the Philippines.

Duterte has leapt into a solid lead in public opinion polls in the last few weeks as his anti-establishment, anti-crime agenda has gained traction with the electorate. And this is a man who takes anti-crime campaigns to extremes even Trump might find objectionable. During his 22 years as Mayor of Davao, the largest city in the Philippines’ southern island of Mindanao, Duterte has been cited by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Council of the United Nations for, at the very least, tolerating death squads and the extrajudicial killing of suspected criminals.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte speaks before the protesting residents in the city who are calling for the moratorium on housing foreclosure in several housing projects in the city. At least 5,000 homeowners coming from different subdivisions in the city and even from neighboring towns and cities marched around the city on Wednesday afternoon, Feburary 11, 2008 to oppose the transfer of an estimated P13 billion worth of housing loans with the National Home Mortgage Finance Corporation (NHMFC) to a private entity known as Balikatan Housing Finance Inc. (BHFI). AKP Images / Keith Bacongco

Phillipines presidential candidate Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in 2009, speaking as mayor of Davao to protesting residents calling for a moratorium on housing foreclosure. AKP Images / Keith Bacongco via Wikipedia

In a television interview last year Duterte admitted his links to the Davao death squads and warned that if elected president, he may kill up to 100,000 criminals. It’s “going to be bloody. People will die,” he said, pledging to end crime in the Philippines within six months of being elected.

How far Duterte gets personally involved in his anti-crime campaigns is hard to tell. However, there was one case last September where he stepped in. A bar owner called the mayor when a tourist refused to obey the city’s public anti-smoking bylaw and lit a cigarette. Duterte went to the bar and forced the tourist to eat the cigarette butt.

That, however, is far from being the full extent of Duterte’s boorishness. He readily admits to being a womanizer and clearly relishes his notoriety. But then there’s the case of an Australian woman missionary who was raped and killed during a prison riot in Davao in 1989. This is what Duterte said to a packed sports arena during a campaign rally on April 12:

“When the bodies were brought out, they were wrapped. I looked at her face, son of a bitch, she looks like a beautiful American actress. Son of a bitch, what a waste. What came to mind was, they raped her, they lined up. I was angry because she was raped, that’s one thing. But she was so beautiful, the mayor should have been first. What a waste.”

After outraged complaints from the Australian ambassador to Manila, Duterte said he regretted his “gutter language,” but would not apologise for his remarks, which he said flowed from his “utter anger” at the incident.

If the thought of Duterte as President of the Philippines – or of anywhere – is not bad enough, there’s another unappetizing wrinkle to the story.

In Philippine elections the vice-presidential candidates are not part of the ticket in the presidential vote. They are elected independently. Well, the man coming through the pack with increasingly good prospects of being elected Vice-President next week is Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who ran a brutal authoritarian state for 20 years until his ouster in 1986. The young Marcos is a fan of his father’s fixed bayonets approach to dealing with social and political problems. He and Duterte would probably get on famously.

What is difficult to understand is why voters in the Philippines appear to be in such a bitter, anti-establishment mood. Outgoing President Benigno Aquino has done a pretty good job. The economy has been growing steadily since 2000. Foreign investment is being pumped steadily into the country. Money has been available for much needed spending on social services and infrastructure. Low oil prices have been a boon.

Like the tenure of Barack Obama in the U.S., the Aquino years have been ones of rebuilding, consolidation and bright prospects for the future, unmatched for several generations.

Why then are so many Filipino voters, like their U.S. counterparts, in a blind rage with government and politicians? Some of the reasons in the Philippines and the U.S. are similar. The economic benefits of rebounding economies have not been shared equally. In the U.S., Trump’s appeal is to blue collar white people whose manufacturing or other low-skilled jobs have been blown overseas by the gales of globalization and free trade. In the Philippines, the divide is between rural and urban areas. Most of the jobs generated during the Aquino administration have been in the cities, while the countryside remains mired in poverty and the semi-feudal domination of a few families who own vast tracts of land.

To these people Duterte looks like a champion of the poor who might shake up the entrenched, moneyed establishment. Well, Filipino voters thought the same about another big city mayor, Joseph Estrada, in 1998. He had been mayor of Manila and before that a movie star who frequently played heroes of the downtrodden working classes. But his screen roles did not translate to the Presidency. He turned out to be just as venal as the rest and was removed by his vice-president in a coup in 2001.

Duterte as President would likely be similarly disappointing to his followers, just as Trump will be if he makes it to the White House.

There is, however, one area where Duterte could make a positive contribution and it concerns the killing this week of Canadian John Ridsdel by the Islamic terrorist group Abu Sayyaf after a ransom was not paid. Another Canadian, Robert Hall, is still among the estimated 20 hostages being held by the group.

Abu Sayyaf started life in the 1990s as one of several separatist groups in the predominantly Muslim region of Mindanao and the surrounding islands. It has become, however, little more than a bandit gang that attracts recruits not by its Islamic fervour, but by the easy money to be made from hostage taking.

For well over 20 years successive administrations in Manila have attempted to reach agreements with the main separatist groups in the Mindanao region. The aim has been to give the region enough autonomy so that it will drop the demand for independence.

In 2014 Manila signed an agreement with one of the main separatist groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The idea was to strengthen local authority in the already established Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. Elections for the new authority were meant to be held together with the national elections on May 9. But that agreement collapsed last year after 44 policemen were killed in a battle with MILF fighters.

The future of the peace process now hangs by a thread. It may seem unlikely, but even foreign security analysts see Duterte as the person most likely to be able to get the negotiations back on track. He is a Christian, but as Mayor of Davao has always maintained good relations with the local Muslim community, and ensured Muslims held senior positions in his administrations.

There is strong opposition among the Christian Filipinos, who make up about 90 per cent of the 100 million population, to greater autonomy for the Muslim Mindanao region. Duterte favours creating a federal Philippines rather than doing special autonomy deals for Mindanao or other minority regions. Christian leaders like the federal approach, but it will require constitutional change to implement, which is always an uncertain matter.

Even so, Duterte is the only presidential candidate talking seriously about the Muslim minority problem and the only one with any track record of successfully promoting communal harmony.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and relies on the honour system: enjoy one free story. If you value independent, no-spam, no-ads,expert journalism, support us with a minimum of .27 per story, a $1 day site pass, or $20 per year. Donate below. Please respect our copyright. Details here.

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

Real journalism is not free. If you value evidence-based, non-partisan, spam-free information, please support Facts and Opinions, an employee-owned collaboration of professional journalists.  Details here.

 

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

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Namibia’s Nazis — This Week’s Other Birthday

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
April 23, 2016

Until quite recently, while Queen Elizabeth and her family were celebrating her birthday every April 21, a group of elderly men in south-west Africa were nursing the effects of the birthday toasts they had drunk the night before.

The birthday these ageing men were celebrating was that of Adolf Hitler, who was born on April 20, 1889, in Austria. The men had been senior officials in Hitler’s Nazi party and its military wing, the Waffen-SS, and had managed to escape capture by the Allies at the end of the Second World War.

It is well known that about 9,000 former Nazis wanted for war crimes escaped capture using the Odessa network, usually with the complicity of sympathetic Catholic priests, and made their way to various South American countries. Less well documented is the story of the several hundred former Nazis who managed to make their way to the far more inviting sanctuary of the former German colony of Southwest Africa, now called Namibia.

By Brian McMorrow - http://www.pbase.com/bmcmorrow/image/45156182, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=833719

Swakopmund, in what is now Namibia, was an inviting sanctuary for former Nazis wanted for war crimes. Photo by Brian McMorrow via Wikimedia, Creative Commons

And once there, most of them gravitated to the town of Swakopmund, 280 kilometres across the Namib Desert west of the capital Windhoek, at the heart of the fabled Skeleton Coast.

Exactly how many former Nazis made it to Namibia and how has never been conclusively established. In then 1970s a young German ethnologist, Karl Budack, moved to Namibia with the intention of exploring the Nazi refugee story. He managed to get a few interviews, but not many and when the German magazine Der Spiegel tried to follow up the story, also in the 1970s, the entire German-Namibian community closed ranks.

I got much the same treatment when I first went to Swakopumnd in the late 1980s after hearing rumours of the Nazi exiles. I was then the Southam News Africa Correspondent and one of the first major stories on my plate were the negotiations for Namibia’s independence from South Africa, which had occupied and ruled the country since 1915. In all my visits to Swakopmund I never did find ex-Nazis who were willing to talk. But after a few visits some townspeople opened up enough to tell me about the long tables set up in private dining rooms in some of Swakopmund’s hotels where, on the evening of each April 20, the increasingly elderly comrades would eat together and share silent toasts.

There was other evidence of their presence. Swakopmund’s antique shops had on display for sale significant amounts of Nazi memorabilia. There were well-thumbed copies of Hitler’s manifesto, Mein Kampf, lots of swastika flags of various kinds, and now and then Waffen-SS daggers, which are much prized by collectors of this sort of dross of history.

The book store run by Peter Haller and his son Ludwig was one of the main outlets for this sort of stuff. But not any more. When German tourists starting coming in significant numbers after Namibia achieved independence from South Africa in 1990, many of them were not pleased to see on display these affronts to their country’s determined efforts to expunge the Nazi past. After many angry confrontations with customers, the Haller’s culled their stock and focussed more on offering arts and crafts produced by Namibia’s many African ethnic groups.

There are other ambiguities in Swakopmund. The war memorial, for example, is a large stone cross surrounded by a low fence. The writing on the cross simply gives the dates “1914-1918,” and “1939-1945.” The only clue to whom is being remembered are the imperial German crosses built into the gates of the small enclosure.

For the Nazis who did make it to Swakopmund it was a sensible choice, and a much more attractive and safe refuge than hellish bolt-holes like Paraguay.

Before my first visit I had been warned it is a bizarre place, and it lived up to its billing. It is Bavaria in the desert. The architecture is from the German colonial period of the late 1800s and early 1900s. The faux medieval half-timbered houses, ornate Lutheran churches and imposingly Germanic public buildings would fit neatly into some small Black Forest, Alpine town. But, surrounded by the Namib Desert on one side and the crashing South Atlantic Ocean on the other, Swakopmund looks like some particularly demented Disneyland.

Yet the architecture undoubtedly offered the comfort of the familiar to Hitler’s refugees.
And it was not just the buildings.

Germany held its Southwest Africa colony for only 31 years from its founding in 1884 until it was captured by the British moving up from neighbouring South Africa in 1915 during the First World War. But for some reason, Germany has left a far greater mark on even modern Namibia than it left in its other African colonies: what are now Tanzania, Togo and Cameroon.

German remains one of Namibia’s 13 official languages and is still widely used. It was even more prevalent when the Nazi exiles slipped into the country after 1945. There are now about 40,000 German-speakers out of a population of just over two million.

Namibia offered many other comforts not available in Paraguay.

Namibia still brews beer by the same rules established in Bavaria in 1516. These specified that pure beer must only contain water, malted barley and hops. Namibian breweries import barley and hops from Germany to make their beer.

Then, just down the road, are South Africa’s Cape Province vineyards. They offer fine accompaniments to the produce of land and sea from around Swakopmund. Just south of the town is the old British outpost of Walvis Bay, which produces some of the best oysters to be found anywhere. The West Coast rock lobster, or crayfish, halved and grilled with garlic butter, is one of life’s delights.

Namibia used to boast massive fish stocking in its territorial waters off the Skeleton Coast. But in the late 1960s, the United Nations withdrew the mandate given South Africa after the First World War to manage the old German colony. Once South Africa’s occupation was declared illegal, pirate fishing fleets from the Soviet Bloc and other countries such as Portugal and Spain, took advantage of this legal immunity, swooped in on Namibia’s fishing grounds and vacuumed them clean.

The fisheries have recovered dramatically since Namibian independence in1990, when the new country gained the legal clout to manage its resource. These are again some of the richest fishing grounds in the world. But it’s a bit late for Swakopmund’s Nazi exiles, most, if not all, have now crossed to Valhalla.

Old-style German cooking remains a staple in Namibia. It is an arid country that allows agriculture only grudgingly. Rainfall around Swakopmund is only about 20 mm a year. Many plants and animals rely on moisture from the abundant sea mists created by the collision of the cold Benguela sea current and the warm air.

Most of Namibia’s food production remains the domain of farmers of German heritage, who with a lot of patience, courage, and large reservoirs of minimally-paid black Namibian labourers, have forged a productive pastoral industry. The quality of the cattle, pigs and sheep are first rate, and are one of the country’s major exports.

Another major attraction for the Nazis was the legal vacuum when South African occupation was declared illegal by the UN. It made formal extradition impossible for any people wanted for war crimes, and, anyway, the apartheid regime in South Africa included people with more than a passing support for Nazi doctrines.

Such legal niceties never stopped Israeli secret services from hunting down Nazi war criminals in other parts of the world. However, there are no indications Mosad or other Israeli agencies operated against the Namibia Nazi exiles. Even the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which has played such a large part in tracking down Nazi war criminals in the last 70 years, has no records of the Swakopmund Boys in its public archives.

One of the reasons for Israel’s detachment from the Namibia connection may be the highly ambiguous relationship successive Tel Aviv governments maintained with South Africa’s apartheid regime. The international sanctions imposed on apartheid South Africa created a market, and Israeli companies and institutions took advantage of that opportunity.

One relationship does not appear to have been so ambiguous. On September 22, 1979, a massive double flash characteristic of a nuclear explosion was detected in the South Atlantic by a United States satellite. It is widely believed this was a joint South African-Israeli nuclear test, though there has never been public confirmation of that by Washington or anyone else.

There is significant contention that the Nazi links to Namibia and German Southwest Africa before are far more deep and old than the story of the old comrades in Swakopmund.

Germany grabbed what became known as German South-West Africa in 1884 during the “scramble for Africa” by European colonial powers. The British had already taken control of the only useful deep-water port on the coast, Walvis Bay, so in 1892 the Germans started constructing a harbour at Swakopmund, and linked it by railway to the capital, Windhoek.

The first Germans to arrive were Schutztruppe colonial forces and farmers. All were male, and their marriages to local women led to the creation of one of modern Namibia’s distinct ethnic groups, the Basters.

Back in Berlin, the administration of Otto von Bismark was not happy about what their colonials were up to with the local women. Much like the filles du roi who were shipped out to Quebec from France in the mid-1600s, Berlin arranged passage of cohorts of German women to stock its south-west African colony.

Not all Namibia’s local people welcomed the Germans with open arms.

In 1904 the Herero and the Namaqua took up arms against the Germans. The three-year war was brutal and on the German side, entirely merciless. In what is sometimes called “the first genocide of the Twentieth Century,” the Germans used machineguns and other industrialized weaponry. It is generally reckoned that about 10,000 Namaqua, half the population, were killed and about 65,000 Hereros, about 80 percent of their number.

The German government formally apologized for the war against the herero and the Namaqua in August, 2004.

Insurgents who were not killed, and their women and children, were kept in concentration camps, a strategy employed a few years before by the British against the Afrikaners in the Second Boer War in South Africa.

Some visitors to Namibia read more into the country’s place and street names than is there. Göringstrasse in Windhoek is often said to have been named for Herman Göring, Hitler’s close confident and head of the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. In fact, it was named for Heinrich Ernst Göring, the father of Herman Göring, and one of German South-West Africa’s first governors. Since 1990, the street has been renamed for Danial Munamava, the founding president of the South-West Africa People’s Organization, which fought against South Africa for the independence of Namibia.

Other old Nazi links are more certain. In 1908, soon after the wars against the Herero and the Namaqua, a German professor of anthropology and eugenics, Eugen Fischer, spent a couple of years studying the Basters. His report railed against mixed marriages and in 1912 interracial marriages were prohibited in all German colonies.

Fischer’s work had a strong influence on Hitler and the Nazis. He went on to experiment on Jews in Germany and to provide the pseudo-scientific justifications for the Nazis’ racial laws.

Skulls of Basters and other Namibians collected by Fischer were returned to Namibia in March 2014.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and relies on the honour system: enjoy one free story. If you value independent, no-spam, no-ads,expert journalism, support us with a minimum of .27 per story, a $1 day site pass, or $20 per year. Donate below. Please respect our copyright. Details here.

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

Real journalism is not free. If you value evidence-based, non-partisan, spam-free information, please support Facts and Opinions, an employee-owned collaboration of professional journalists.  Details here.

 

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

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Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi: The Image And The Reality

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
April 9, 2016

It has come as a shock to Aung San Suu Kyi’s international groupies and fans that the Burmese freedom icon is not the ethereal Princess in the Tower of their imaginations.

Aung San Suu Kyi in 2013 By Claude TRUONG-NGOC via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Aung San Suu Kyi in 2013 By Claude TRUONG-NGOC via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Instead of the pure visionary of a silken and untainted transition from nearly 60 years of military rule to the sunny uplands of inclusive democracy, Suu Kyi is proving herself an assertive and determined knife fighter in the merciless cut and thrust of Burmese politics.

Suu Kyi’s response to two events in particular have troubled many of her international fans and have spawn headlines like: “Aung San Suu Kyi: Colluding With Tyranny.”

One event has been her failure to conclusively damn the persecution of the Muslim Rohingya minority in north-western Burma, which is also known as Myanmar. The military regime followed the feelings of the country’s majority Buddhist Burmans, and refused to give citizenship to the Rohingya, even though many have lived in Burma for several generations.

Suu Kyi has been purposefully vague about whom she regards as citizens and has been largely silent on attempts at ethnic cleansing, which has seen thousands of Rohingya fleeing across the border into Bangladesh or by sea to predominantly Muslim Malaysia.

It has been unsettling for Suu Kyi’s international supporters, to whom she owes her Nobel Peace Prize and the sanctions that eventually persuaded the generals to embark on a transition to democracy, to contemplate that she might harbour racial and religious intolerance.

Equally troubling for foreign fans is what looks like Suu Kyi’s lust for power. Part of her appeal was that she appeared to be driven entirely by an innate sense of morality and natural justice. It seemed a fairy tale of chance that this very beautiful and appealing Oxford housewife – her husband Michael Aris was a professor of Tibetan and Himalayan studies at the British university – became the leader of the Burmese democracy movement and a prisoner of the military regime.

That was always a misreading of Suu Kyi, her steely toughness and blood loyalty to the visions of her assassinated father, Aung San, Burma’s first leader after independence from Britain in 1948.

Because of her marriage to a foreigner – Aris – and her two British sons, Suu Kyi was banned from assuming the presidency under Burma’s current constitution. But from soon after last November’s first reasonably free elections, when her National League for Democracy (NLD) won 59 per cent of the seats across the two houses of parliament, Suu Kyi made it clear she intended, President or not, to run the government of the country.

Migrants collect rainwater at a temporary refugee camp near Kanyin Chaung jetty, in Myanmar June 4, 2015. Soe Zeya Tun: This group of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants were rescued from a boat carrying 734 people off Myanmar's southern coast. Those on board had been at sea for more than two months - at the end with little food or water. The men in this photo were part of a group of 400 crammed into a warehouse by Myanmar police. They had arrived the day before, but while the women, children and some men had already been moved, these men were left behind. There was no sign of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR or foreign aid agencies. Just moments before this shot, the sky opened and the monsoon rains started coming down. The men were jostling with each other for space to catch water in their bottles and plates. The authorities were hesitant to grant us access at first, but as the morning wore on and the rains started, we were able to enter and start photographing and speaking to migrants. Just after taking this photo, the men were loaded into buses and trucks and driven to a camp where international aid agencies were waiting. I have worked on long and difficult assignments where I have gone days without a proper shower. But for these people it had been months without enough water. Everyone was dirty and had likely washed little while at sea. I could see just how meaningful it was for them to suddenly have a chance to drink and clean themselves with whatever small amount of water they could capture. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Reuters’ 2015 Photos of the Year —  Migrants collect rainwater at a temporary refugee camp near Kanyin Chaung jetty, in Myanmar June 4, 2015. Soe Zeya Tun: This group of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants were rescued from a boat carrying 734 people off Myanmar’s southern coast. Those on board had been at sea for more than two months – at the end with little food or water. The men in this photo were part of a group of 400 crammed into a warehouse by Myanmar police. They had arrived the day before, but while the women, children and some men had already been moved, these men were left behind. There was no sign of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR or foreign aid agencies. Just moments before this shot, the sky opened and the monsoon rains started coming down. The men were jostling with each other for space to catch water in their bottles and plates. The authorities were hesitant to grant us access at first, but as the morning wore on and the rains started, we were able to enter and start photographing and speaking to migrants. Just after taking this photo, the men were loaded into buses and trucks and driven to a camp where international aid agencies were waiting. I have worked on long and difficult assignments where I have gone days without a proper shower. But for these people it had been months without enough water. Everyone was dirty and had likely washed little while at sea. I could see just how meaningful it was for them to suddenly have a chance to drink and clean themselves with whatever small amount of water they could capture. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

That left a bad taste in the mouth of many of her fans. Did this paragon of political virtue actually lust for power? Well, yes, and for good reasons.

And so it has come to pass. On March 15, Suu Kyi’s handpicked surrogate, Htin Kyaw, a long-time close supporter and loyalist, was made president with a clear majority of votes in both houses of parliament. On April 1 the new government came into office and on Tuesday this week a bill was passed creating the position of “State Counsellor” for Suu Kyi.

The most charitable interpretation of this position is that it is akin to a Prime Minister. The reality is the position allows Suu Kyi to be the effective President and to speak with Htin Kyaw’s voice.

Adding to the perception that Suu Kyi wishes to be mistress of all she surveys was her assumption of three ministerial position in addition to that of State Counsellor. But earlier this week she gave up the posts of Minister of Energy and Minister of Education. She retained only the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That, of course, allows her to be the international face of Burma, despite not being President. This week she met a string of visiting foreign ministers, including Canada’s Stephane Dion.

One of the justifications for Suu Kyi operating through a puppet president is that the vast majority of Burmese undoubtedly want her to be their country’s political leader. That she is not points to the tough, complex and dangerous campaign she and the NLD must wage if Burma’s transition to a full civilian democracy is to be achieved.

The danger here is that by end running the constitution with the creation of the post of State Counsellor, she and the NLD have fashioned a precedent that may come back to haunt them. For one thing, constitutional sleight-of-hand tricks like this tend to make foreign investors nervous.

Beyond that, the truth is that at the moment Burma remains a country where the military still has its hands on the critical levers of power. The generals can close down this experiment with civilian rule any time they please or feel threatened.

Some of the military’s power remains overt. Twenty-five per cent of the seats in parliament are reserved for the military. As the current constitution requires a parliamentary vote of over 75 per cent to approve changes, the military has a veto, including on Article 59 (f), which bars Suu Kyi from being President.

The military is also guaranteed a third of the seats in provincial and regional legislatures.

The constitution requires that only serving military officers can lead the three most powerful national ministries — Defence, Home Affairs, and Border Affairs — and prevents legislative scrutiny of the military’s budget.

In addition, the National Defence and Security Council, which includes the civilian President, vice presidents and speakers of the two house of parliament, but which is dominated by the military and its ministries, can declare a state of emergency and re-impose military rule.

Less obvious as international sanctions are lifted and Burma returns to the world of global commerce, is how much of the country’s economy is now in the hands of military leaders. Over the decades of military rule the generals and their senior officers have taken control of all elements of the economy. Even though civilian private enterprises and foreign enterprises have sprung up since the military began the transition with the appointment of a “civilian” government – in reality military officers in civilian clothes – in 2011, the key elements of the economy remain in military hands.

A critical element in the progress of the transition will be whether Suu Kyi and the NLD can make the generals feel confident that she does not intend to rob them of their ill-gotten wealth or hold them to legal account for their past atrocities.

There are many in the NLD who suffered greatly under military rule. They nurse the very human thirst for revenge after years of imprisonment, mistreatment and torture or the abuse and killings of family members. Suu Kyi and other senior members of the NLD know full well that nothing will shut down Burma’s tentative steps along the path to civilian democracy more quickly than thrusts for retribution from the party or the people.

It is a very skittish horse she is riding. It can be easily spooked. She needs firm and sensitive hands on the reins and a watchful eye on the pitfalls in the road ahead.

Of one thing there is no doubt. She is her father’s daughter.

Suu Kyi went to Burma from Britain in 1988 to care for her elderly mother. She was swiftly caught up in politics and was soon appointed leader of the NLD at a time when the military was contemplating holding elections, which it believed its candidates could win. But the generals feared the ghost of Aung San, and Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest before the 1990 election. Much to the military’s disgust and alarm, the NLD won 80 per cent of the seats in parliament. The generals swiftly disavowed the entire process.

I was one of the first foreign reporters to interview her in the crumbling family villa at 54 University Avenue in Yangon when her house arrest was lifted and she was permitted to have visitors in 1995. We met in her large living room, shaded from the tropical sun and torpid air. There was no furniture – we sat on a built-in bench in a bow window. Suu Kyi said she had had to sell all the furniture except essentials to buy food during her more than five years of confinement.

Yet on the wall opposite where we sat was a massive poster painting, perhaps 10 feet square, of her father, Aung San. There could not have been a more unquestionable statement of what had inspired her to set aside her comfortable life as the wife of an Oxford don and to separate herself from her husband and young children.

General Aung San started his political life in the 1930s as a student activist and founder of the Burmese Communist Party. Early in the Second World War he fled Burma and went to Japan, where he received military training. When the Japanese captured Burma, Aung San was made War Minister. However, he became disillusioned with the Japanese, whose promises to give Burma true independence or ability to win the war he began to doubt. In 1944 he contacted the British, and after receiving assurances that Burma would receive independence after the war, in 1945 he turned his Burma National Army on the Japanese occupiers.

Thus Aung San is seen as the founder of the Burmese military and he continues to be held in reverence by the generals, which has undoubtedly held their hand in their dealings with Suu Kyi.

After the war, Aung San became a civilian politician, the chief minister in the colonial administration, and negotiated with the British the terms of the 1948 independence. But on July 19, 1947, six months ahead of independence, armed paramilitaries loyal to a political rival, broke into the government offices, and killed Aung San and six of his ministers.

With Aung San gone, Burma stumbled into independence. The military took over in 1962 and are still a fixture in government.

It has often been said that the English have set up federations all over the world, but have never actually had to run one. Well, the Scots, Irish and Welsh might have comments to make about that. But it is certainly true that the Union of Burma is one of the most challenging mish-mashes of peoples, cultures and religions the British put together anywhere. Although 68 per cent of the country’s 52 million people are ethnic Burmans, there are 135 distinct ethnic groups recognized by the government.

For much of the last half century of military rule the army has been at war with many of them, especially the hill tribes in Burma’s mountainous border regions with Thailand, China, India and Bangladesh. The Shan, Karen, Rakhine, Wa and Mon have fought with dogged determination for the autonomy they were promised at the founding of the Union of Burma.

A camp near Sittwe can only be accessed by sea with boats transporting supplies . Photo: Mathias Eick, EU/ECHO, Rakhine State, Myanmar/Burma, September 2013

Myanmar’s abuses yield ready supply of slaves —  A camp near Sittwe can only be accessed by sea with boats transporting supplies . Photo: Mathias Eick, EU/ECHO, Rakhine State, Myanmar/Burma, September 2013

In recent years the military regime has negotiated cease-fire agreements with most of these armed groups, usually by making them paid paramilitary adjuncts to the national army. But in almost all cases, the peace agreements remain tentative and there is abiding hope among the minorities that Suu Kyi and the NLD will bring them the substantial self-rule they were promised.

Suu Kyi has always said a political solution for the aspirations of the minorities is a priority. However, she does not control internal security and the military continues to dominate provincial and regional administrations. The generals have their own views on the sanctity of Burmese nationhood, and they don’t include handing substantial autonomy to the hill tribes. Suu Kyi needs to make significant progress in the transition at the national level before her or any civilian government can effectively come to grips with the problems of the ethnic minorities.

And that brings us to the Rohingya and Suu Kyi’s refusal to categorically condemn the persistent violence against them by both the security agencies and local Buddhists.

For over 50 years – more than two generations – Burma has been a closed society whose main economy has been peasant agriculture. Schooling has been minimal. Forced labour akin to slavery for road and other construction projects has been habitually used by the military. Burma has always been a superstitious society where unfounded suspicions easily grow. With all forms of open communication blocked or censored, inflammatory and exaggerated rumour has been the fuel of public discourse. In this destructive communal climate, fear and mistrust of the ethnic minorities, especially the Muslim Rohingya, has become embedded among the majority Burmans. It is widely believed that the Muslims, who make up four per cent of the population, are bent on turning Burma into an Islamic state. Suu Kyi’s stature and personality alone are not enough to overcome or sweep aside these ingrained prejudices.

By keeping silent on the persecution of the Rohingya, Suu Kyi is trying to be seen as remaining impartial so that both sides respect her when the time is ripe for negotiations.

It is the same kind of role Suu Kyi is trying to play in the big game of getting the military to relinquish power. It is a part that requires strong nerves, but above all a superhuman capacity to know how far to push without knocking the whole project off the rails.

So far, she has played her hand superbly. Her father would be proud.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and relies on the honour system: enjoy one free story. If you value independent, no-spam, no-ads,expert journalism, support us with a minimum of .27 per story, a $1 day site pass, or $20 per year. Donate below. Please respect our copyright. Details here.

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

 

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By Penny Green,  Alicia de la Cour Venning & Thomas MacManus, November, 2015

Myanmar’s historic election raises both hopes for democracy, and fears for worsened discrimination and violence bordering on genocidal against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims.

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

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Nothing is simple about Canada’s support for Kurdish fighters

Kurdish PKK fighters Photo: Kurdishstruggle/Flickr/Creative Commons

Kurdish PKK fighters Photo: Kurdishstruggle/Flickr/Creative Commons

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
February 18, 2016

There is a generation of British soldiers, civil servants and planters, now mostly dead, who swear bloodcurdling oaths at the mention of the name of Canada.

They were posted to the then-British colony of Malaya after the Second World War, and they blame Canada for training and arming the ethnic Chinese communists who waged guerrilla war against the colonial power from 1948 until 1960. About 12,000 people were killed, including nearly 3,000 civilians.

There is some justice in the British accusation against Canada, though not much. Canada’s purpose in Malaya in the 1940s was to arm and train the communist guerrillas to fight the occupying Japanese. Many of those involved were Chinese Canadians, who volunteered to fight in the expectation Ottawa would no longer be able to deny them full citizenship after the war. Chinese Canadians were given the vote in 1947.

Once parachuted into occupied Malaya and Burma, the Canadian commandos linked up with local fellow ethnic Chinese, who they trained in sabotage, ambushes, and all the dark arts of guerrilla warfare, and then led in attacks on the Japanese. When the Canadians left, the Chinese Malays remembered the lessons, hid their weapons and bided their time.

Today the Malay Emergency – the British had far too much experience of these things to be so foolish as to declare a “war on terrorism” – is remembered as one of the few textbook examples of how to defeat a guerrilla insurgency. And in what is now Malaysia, there is a pact that allows the minority ethnic Chinese to make money so long as they don’t challenge the majority Malays for political power.

Now Canada is doing something similar with the Kurds in Iraq as it did with the Chinese Malays in the 1940s. The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced the end of Canada’s deployment of CF-18 fighter-bomber aircraft, which with other coalition airforces have been bombing territory occupied by the Islamic State terror group. Instead, Canada will triple, to about 150, the number of special forces soldiers it will send to train and advise Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq, known as Peshmerga. Ottawa will also be supplying the Peshmerga with small arms.

The reason for backing the Peshmerga is that they are killing more Islamic State fighters and reclaiming more territory than any other soldiers in the region. The Iraqi army is a disgrace, despite years of training by the United States. In Syria, Islamic State holds large swathes of territory and has its capital, Raqqa. The army of President Bashar al Assad, and the militaries of his allies Russia and Iran, are intent on trying to destroy the so-called moderate rebels, and are leaving IS largely untouched.

There are good tactical reasons to back the Kurdish Peshmerga. But, unlike in Malaya in the 1940s, the probable consequences of supporting the Kurds are clear. The Kurds hope to emerge from the current upheaval and civil war with an independent state of Kurdistan covering their traditional homelands in northern Iraq and Syria, which they already largely control. That, they hope, will be a stepping stone toward adding their homelands in eastern Turkey and north-western Iran.

There are about 32 million Kurds, the world’s largest distinct ethnic group without their own nation state. There are good arguments to be made that they deserve their own country. However, Canada’s NATO ally Turkey, home to about 15 million Kurds and about 18 per cent of Turkey’s total population, has been violently opposed to Kurdish independence, since the Kurds started a separatist movement in 1984.

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Kurdish occupied lands. Wikipedia/Creative Commons

Kurdish occupied lands. Wikipedia/Creative Commons

Many Canadians may support aiding the Kurds in creating Kurdistan. But Canada should be clear that that is the probable end result of Canada’s military policy in the war against Islamic State. Canada should have no illusions it will be a clean, cut-and-dried affair. We are, after all, trying in Iraq and Syria — to which one could add Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine — to clean up mistakes made a century ago at the end of the First World War. Then the collapsed Ottoman Empire was shared out as spheres of influence among European powers, principally Britain and France. From that emerged the modern states of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, with the Kurds living in the mountains where the four boundaries meet. The Kurds have pursued the quest for Kurdistan with persistence and determination in the century since the end of the First World War. They even managed to briefly establish independent governments in their homelands in Turkey, Iran and Iraq. But these nascent Kurdistans were swiftly destroyed by the central governments.

It was the Americans who set the Kurds on their modern course to create an independent state. After the First Gulf War in 1991 United States forces withdrew without deposing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But Washington realised it had left Iraqis, and especially Kurds in the north, vulnerable to revenge attacks by Saddam’s forces. The U.S. and its allies therefore established a no-fly zone over the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. This created a de facto independent Kurdish state, which continues to exist as a self-governing region in post-Saddam Iraq. In November, Iraqi Kurdish President Masoud Barzani called for a referendum to measure support for de jure independence from Baghdad. He has said outright in the last few weeks he considers the Anglo-French Sykes-Pigott agreement, which carved up the Middle East 100 years ago, to be a dead document. The map of the region needs to be redrawn in line with ethnic, political and religious realities, he has said, and the creation of Kurdistan should be part of the new dispensation.

But after a century of separation into four different countries, the Kurds are no longer a homogenous group, if they ever were. Barzani himself is a good example of the complexities that will cloud the creation of a broad Kurdistan.

Barzani is a vehement Kurdish nationalist, but he is also very close to the Turkish government of President Recep Erdogan, who is in the midst of a renewed military campaign against the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) after the breakdown of a cease-fire last year.

The relationship between Barzani and Erdogan is crudely practical. The Iraqi Kurds seized control of the major oil fields around Kirkuk in July 2014. This has given Barzani’s Kurdistan Regional Government control of about 40 per cent of Iraq’s oil reserves, which it is exporting at a rate of up to 600,000 barrels a day through a new pipeline to Turkey and earning an average of $US600 million a month.

In return for being able to use Turkey for oil exports, Barzani raises little outrage when Erdogan’s forces attack Turkish PKK camps in northern Iraq.

Barzani has been a fixture as the president of the Iraqi Kurds for more than a decade. His last elected term ended in 2013, and he now refuses to step down. This has spawned a significant opposition movement. In October last year, supporters of the main opposition party in the Kurdistan parliament, Gorran, attacked offices of Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party and five people were killed. In retaliation, Barzani expelled four Gorran ministers from the Kurdistan government.

Turkey is watching the political infighting in Irai Kurdistan with some anxiety. If Gorran or some other opposition party were to come to power, it would likely be far more sympathetic to the Turkish Kurds PKK and far less willing to allow Turkish forces to attack PKK bases in Iraq.

The political context of emergent Kurdish independence in Syria is just as fraught. There are about 1.5 million Kurds living in Syria, mostly along the country’s northern border with Turkey. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime never regarded the Kurds as a natural enemy or threat the way he regards the Sunni Muslim Arabs. As the Sunni insurgency mounted in 2011 and 2012, Assad withdrew his forces from the Kurdish areas, leaving the Syrian Kurdish group, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) free to operate self-government in three prefectures: Efrin close to the Mediterranean coast, Kobani on the central border region with Turkey, and Jazirah in the northeast. Over the course of the five-year civil war, the Syrian Kurds and their militia, the People’s Defence Units (YPG) have extended their territory so that they now control over half the nearly 900-kilometre-long border with Turkey. The main gap is a stretch between Azaz and Jarabulus, which is a battle ground between moderate Syrian rebels and hardline jihadists of the Islamic State and the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra. It is through this corridor that supplies from Turkey have been reaching Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, which is held by moderate Syrian rebels. But on February 3 Assad’s forces, supported by Russia’s air force, veteran Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon, and under the direction of officers of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, captured the territory north of Aleppo and cut the city off from its life-line to Turkey.

This may well give the Kurdish YPG forces an opportunity to take the land between Efrin and Kobani, and complete their aim of a contiguous Kurdish free state along the Turkish border.

This campaign would require air support from the U.S. and allies, especially the capture of the city of Jarabulus, and it is by no means certain the YPG will get it. Erdogan and the Turkish government are deeply suspicious of the YPG and the Syrian Kurds’ political wing, the PYD. Ankara sees the PYD as heavily influenced by Abdullah Ocalan, the founder of the Turkish Kurds’ PKK, who is now in prison serving a life sentence after being abducted from Kenya by the Turkish National Intelligence Agency in 1999. Thus if the Syrian Kurds are able to keep an independent state based on Ocalan’s political philosophy, Ankara fears this will become a long-term encouragement to Turkish Kurds and the PKK to ramp up their campaign for independence.

Ankara has already made it clear it would regard the capture of Jarabulus by the YPG as a red line requiring stern military action. It is to try to forestall this eventuality that the Erdogan government keeps calling on NATO and other allies opposed to the Assad regime to enforce creation of a safe zone for Syrian refugees in the border region between Jarabulus and Azaz. For Ankara, the zone would be to foil the Syrian Kurds as much as to save the refugees.

Because Turkey is a member of NATO, the extent to which other NATO members, such as Canada and the U.S., should encourage the creation of a wider Kurdistan is a significant question. In a world of harsh pragmatic politics, is the creation of Kurdistan, however much it is justified, worth the potential fracturing of NATO? That question has special potency when Turkey has the second largest NATO military after the U.S., and is a major element in containing Vladimir Putin’s rampant Russia.

On the other hand, Turkey’s Erdogan seems far more interested in making his country a power broker in the Middle East rather than looking west and, for example, pressing to join the Europen Union. Erdogan is also boosting Islamism in Turkey and seriously undermining democracy. He is trying to diminish the role of parliament and create an executive presidency with himself at the helm.

As I said at the beginning, the major reason for Canada and other allies to support and arm the Peshmerga Iraqi Kurdish fighters is that they are the best foot soldiers available and are killing more Islamic State fanatics than anyone else. But the fall out from such a decision can last a long time and have untold implications.

In 1943 the British were sending arms to royalist partisans fighting German occupying forces in Yugoslavia. But Prime Minister Winston Churchill was not persuaded the royalists had their hearts in the fight. Churchill called in a young veteran of the Long Range Desert Patrols, forerunner of the Special Air Service, in North Africa. Fitzroy Maclean later wrote that his mission was “simply to find out who was killing the most Germans and suggest means by which we could help them to kill more.”

Maclean got into Yugoslavia and made his way to the headquarters of the communist partisans led by Josip Broz Tito. Maclean had no illusions about with whom he was dealing. Before the war he had been a British diplomat in Moscow and knew all about Stalinism. His accounts of Joseph Stalin’s purges and show trials are riveting. But Maclean came to the conclusion the royalist Chetniks were at best half-hearted and at worst collaborating with the German occupying forces. Only Tito and the communist partisans were an effective force, Maclean told Churchill. They were killing Germans and should be supported.

And so it happened, with the inevitable result that both Maclean and Churchill had foreseen. Tito took power in Yugoslavia after the war, and held it until his death in 1980.

Tito’s regime was not as repressive as the Soviet Union satellite states in Eastern Europe, but it was no holiday camp either. After Tito’s death the unresolved ethnic and political complexities of Yugoslavia began to unravel into conflict. By the mid-1990s what had been Tito’s Yugoslavia had shattered into fighting between Serbs, Bosnians, Croats, Montenegrans, Kosovans and Albanians.

The United Nations dived in to separate the combatants, the Canadians, ever willing to don blue helmets with them. And then in May 1995 came a moment that should have been the end of innocence for Canada.

Canadian Capt. Patrick Rechner, an unarmed UN military observer, was captured by Bosnian Serb soldiers at Pale and chained to a lightning rod outside a warehouse holding mortar bombs. The aim of the Serb fighters was to stop NATO aircraft bombing their positions, and distressing pictures of Capt. Rechner were broadcast world wide. Capt. Rechner was held for 24 days, and the pictures became a clear statement that the age of classic UN peacekeeping was over.

Anyone overcome by nostalgia, who hopes that the rededication of the new government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the UN will mean Canada again being able to wrap itself in the cosy blanket of classic peacekeeping, is dreaming in Technicolor.

And the greatest irony is that the Bosian Serb fighters who captured and held Capt. Rechner were commanded by Nicholas Ribic, a Canadian who travelled to Serbia in 1992 because he “wanted to fight Muslims.”

In years to come there will undoubtedly come a time when people will ask how wise it was to train and arm the Kurds simply because they were killing more Islamic Group fighters than anyone else.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and relies on the honour system: enjoy one free story. If you value independent, no-spam, no-ads,expert journalism, support us with a minimum of .27 per story, a $1 day site pass, or $20 per year. Donate below. Please respect our copyright. Details here.

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Related:

War on Islamic State caliphate boosts the birth of Kurdistan. Jonathan Manthorpe, October, 2014

Before going to war it is always a good idea to have a clear purpose and outcome in mind.  Yet six Royal Canadian Airforce CF-18s are set for bombing missions in the Middle East without any clear vision of what victory will look like. The whole thing is depressingly reminiscent of the Libyan campaign in 2011 when allied warplanes enabled rebels to oust and kill dictator Moammar Gaddhafi. But then they all declared “mission accomplished,” packed up their kit and headed home. Meanwhile Libya has turned into bloody chaos and a killing ground for rival Islamic factions, tribal fighters and would-be new dictators. There are many days when Gaddhafi, for all his evil, looks a lot better than what Libyans have got now. … read more 
Related: Nation of Kurdistan springs from Arab chaos. Jonathan Manthorpe July 4, 2014

REUTERS/Umit Bektas/Files

REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Ethnic groups flee as Syrian Kurds advance against Islamic State. By Humeyra Pamuk

 Cemal Dede fled his home in a remote Turkmen village in Syria after warplanes from the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State bombed the house next door. He had no idea he wouldn’t be coming back. Dede says the Kurdish YPG militia did not let his family of seven return to Dedeler near the Turkish border, telling him it was now Kurdish territory and Turkmens like him had no place there.

Who are the Yazidis? By Christine Allison

In 1918, the Yazidis of Sinjar mountain received an ultimatum from Ottoman forces – to hand over their weaponry and the Christian refugees they were sheltering, or face the consequences. They tore it up and sent the messengers back naked. The Sinjaris are the “Highlanders” of the Iraqi Yazidis – tough and proud. After suffering terrible casualties and appealing to the allied forces for help they were able to survive the subsequent attack and live out the war in their mountain homeland.

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and relies on the honour system: enjoy one free story. If you value independent, no-spam, no-ads,expert journalism, support us with a minimum of .27 per story, a $1 day site pass, or $20 per year. Donate below. Details here.

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Five years on, Arab Spring’s thirst for blood still unsated

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
January 23, 2016

Among the hundreds of people dying in the sinking of rickety boats being used by people traffickers to take refugees from Africa to Europe are many Eritreans. Italy / boat people / The Italian Coastguard ship Gregoretti disembarks refugees and migrants rescued from the Mediterranean.   / UNHCR / F. Malavolta / April 14, 2015

Palermo, Italy – The Italian Coast Guard ship Gregoretti disembarks 1,169 migrants, of various nationalities, in April, 2015. UNHCR / F. Malavolta / April 2015.

In an eerie reflection of the start of the Arab Spring five years ago, tens of thousands of Tunisians took to the streets on Friday demonstrating outrage at the death of a young man protesting his lack of a job.

Authorities responded with a nighttime curfew after police stations across the country were attacked by protesters armed with stones and Molotov cocktails. The trigger for the uprising was the death on Sunday of Ridha Yahyaoui, 28, who electrocuted himself by climbing a transmission tower after failing to win a government job.

With unemployment at about 30 per cent among young people, Yahyaoui’s suicide is a grim echo of the death of 26-year-old fruit vendor Mohammed Bouazizi, who burned himself to death after police confiscated his street stall. Five years ago protests at Bouazizi’s death quickly turned into an outright revolt. On January 14, 2011, the dictator President of 23 years, Zine Ben Ali, was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia after the military and police joined the uprising.

The events in Tunisia ricocheted across the Middle East, toppling dictatorships in Libya, Egypt and Yemen.

The shock wave from Tunisia also set off the civil war in Syria, which is now one of the world’s worst humanitarian and political catastrophes. At least 250,000 people have died in the Syrian fighting, according to the United Nations. More than four million people have fled to refugee camps in neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. Last year about one million refugees made the perilous sea crossing to find safety in Europe. At least 2,500 people died attempting the Mediterranean crossing last year and 3,500 in 2014.

The flood of a million refugees into Europe has ignited a political crisis, which some leading political figures, such as French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, are warning threatens the survival of the European Union.

That is not as alarmist as it might sound. The crisis of the common currency “euro zone” is largely unresolved, and later this year Britain is due to hold a referendum on continued EU membership. That vote could go either way, but a vote for what is being called “Brexit” could easily be the first domino in a cascade.

Meanwhile the chaos in Syria has provided a breeding ground for the vile Islamic State (IS) group, whose trade-mark is the butchery of its enemies or anyone it considers heretic by the most brutal means possible. The group has used crucifixion, burning alive, throat slitting, beheading, burying alive, all carefully videoed and posted on-line in a macabre and depressingly successful recruitment campaign aimed at disaffected young Muslim men and women in the West.

IS has not only grabbed control of large tracts of territory in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, it has spawned equally violent disciple groups in Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Indonesia. IS claims its followers have also been responsible for deadly attacks in France and the United States.

It is sobering to remember now the optimism that swept through the Middle East and supportive countries in Europe and North America at the upwelling across the region of popular frustration at dictatorial, repressive governments.

The fallout from Bouazizi’s sacrifice and the flight of Ben Ali in Tunisia swiftly engulfed Egypt. On February 11 2011 and after 30 years in power President Hosni Mubarack was removed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces following 18 days of demonstrations in Egypt’s major cities.

What became swiftly apparent, however, was that the throngs of young people in the city squares chanting for democracy did not constitute a political movement of any utility. Demonstrations demanding political reform continued through 2011 and into 2012, when a democratically elected People’s Assembly was created. This was followed by the election of President of Mohammed Morsi in June 2012. But Morsi was a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which also dominated the Assembly, and its work of writing a new constitution.

It is often the case that authoritarian states breed oppositions that are just as intolerant and rapacious as they are. And to survive, the opposition is usually as brutally disciplined as the state it seeks to overthrow. That is certainly the case with the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Islamic movement whose dubious credits include being the inspiration for the al-Qaidi terror network and, by extension, the butchers of the Islamic State.

The Egyptian experience was an uncomfortable lesson for U.S. President Barack Obama and the European leaders, who had applauded the advent of elections, but were appalled by the outcome.

Over their year in office, Morsi and the Brotherhood made is clear they intended to turn cosmopolitan and religiously tolerant Egypt into an Islamic State. In the run-up to the first anniversary of Morsi’s presidency in June 2013, there were new street protests and on July 3 the military launched a coup and removed him from office.

In all likelihood the street demonstrations were inspired by the military to justify the coup. The result is that Egypt is now back in the firm grasp of another military dictator, former Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

The sense of relief in Washington and Europe is palpable.

The revolution was even more messy in Libya, where the sinisterly eccentric Muammar Gaddafi had ruled since 1969. The uprising boiled up along communal lines in this highly tribal country. Gaddafi used his armed forces to strike back uncompromisingly against his ungrateful subjects. Indeed, there were atrocities on both sides and in March 2011 the UN Security Council allowed the imposition of a no-fly zone to try to protect civilians from the depredations of Gaddafi’s air force. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries, including Canada, began bombing in April, aiming at Gaddafi’s military in support of rebel fighters moving westward out of the eastern city of Bengazi. In August the rebels took the capital, Tripoli, and Gaddafi fled to his home town, Sirte, where rebels cornered him in a drainpipe on October 20 and then killed him.

The NATO allies may have been in a rush to help depose Gaddafi, but they had no intention of aiding in the construction of a functioning state after he was gone. The last four-and-a-half years in Libya have been a grim catalogue of death and destruction as the various tribal groups have battled for supremacy. There have been several battles for the capital and usually at least two groups claiming to be the legitimate government.

This maelstrom has, of course, been fertile ground for the Islamic State to win converts and take root. It has also sent thousands of ousted members of Gaddafi’s armed forces into the Sehal region across North Africa from the Atlantic to the Red Sea. In many cases these fighters have teamed up with local al-Qaida-linked groups to spread the spores of Islamic terrorism.

And for many ordinary Libyans, putting themselves in the hands of human traffickers and risking the terrors of crossing the Mediterranean to Europe has seemed preferable to the horrors of home.

Belatedly, the UN has stepped in. It is attempting to end the civil war and begin national reconstruction by appointing Prime Minister, Fayez Sarraj, who has selected a 32-member cabinet. However, not too much confidence should be placed in this initiative. Neither of the two rival governments in Libya recognize the Sarraj administration. The Sarraj government is also hampered by being unable to enter Libya for security reasons. It is currently operating out of a hotel in neighbouring Tunis.

At the same time as the shockwave from the Tunisian revolution hit Egypt in January 2011 it broke over Yemen, where Ali Abdullah Saleh had been President for 30 years. After a few weeks of street protests, he swiftly promised not to run again for election, but few people believed him and as protests gathered in strength there were mass desertions from the armed forces and civil service.

The country dissolved, like Libya, into a maelstrom of regional, ethnic and religious contests for power. But in late 2014, fighters for the Shia Muslim Houthi sect from north-eastern Yemen, in alliance with the remnants of Saleh’s army, captured the capital, Sana’a. This alarmed the new King Salmand and his son and heir Prince Mohammed in neighbouring Saudi Arabia. As the champions of the mainstream Sunni branch of Islam, they smelled a conspiracy by their regional rivals Iran, the heartland of Shia Islam.

The over-excitable Prince Mohammed in particular believed Iran was aiding its co-religionist Houthis. In his capacity as Saudi Arabia’s Defence Minister, Mohammed mustered a regional alliance to launch air attacks against the Houthis and their allies. United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, and Egypt have all sent warplanes to join the Saudis, but, as everyone knows by now, air power alone cannot win wars. Efforts at the end of last year by the UN to broker a peace accord collapsed.

Iran has been circumspect in its support for the Houthis because it didn’t want to do anything that might derail the lifting of UN-imposed economic sanctions penalizing Tehran for its nuclear development program. The lifting of those sanctions this week after last year’s agreement to put the nuclear program under international limits and monitoring may now make Iran feel more free to support the Houthis and goad Saudi Arabia on its southern borders.

Tehran already has several proxy campaigns in play that challenge Riyadh’s assumption that it is the natural leader of the Muslim world. Tehran has significant influence over the Shia majority government in Iraq, and elements of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps are operating there against the Islamic State, which has seized much of Sunni Iraq.

Iran is also a firm backer of Syria’s besieged President Bashar al-Assad. Not only is Tehran giving him direct military aid, it has also dispatched fighters from its proxy Hezbollah group in neighbouring Lebanon to support him.

Tentative efforts to start peace talks for Syria have got nowhere and there is no end in sight for the chaos there.

So the Middle East in general is in much worse shape than it was before the Arab Spring bloomed five years ago.

The irony today is that the one place where it looked as though political reform would take root was where the revolution started: Tunisia. It was not an easy transition. There was much unrest and violence in the aftermath of Ben Ali’s flight. And, as in Egypt, the first attempts at interim elections and writing a new constitution produced bodies dominated by previously outlawed, hardline Islamists. However, elections in later 2014 produced a broadly representative parliament and president.

But democracy has not produced a vibrant economy and corruption among officials and politicians is a constant irritant. Tourism has been about the only area of the economy that has continued to function well, which is why last year Islamic extremists began targeting visitors, who come mostly from Europe. Tourists were targeted in an attack on the world-famous Bardo Museum in Tunis early last year. Then in June, a gunman claiming allegiance to Islamic State attacked people on the beach in front of luxury hotels in the resort city of Sousse. He killed 39 people, including himself.

That attack has had a devastating effect on Tunisia’s tourist industry and exacerbated the unemployment problem which pushed Yahyaoui to scale a transmission tower on Friday and take his own life. The authorities have imposed a nation-wide nighttime curfew to try to calm passions. But clearly the Arab Spring has not yet ended its hunt for victims.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2015

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Related on F&O:

The Middle East: Meltdowns, Crises and Daesh. By Simon Mabon, Report

As we approach the fifth anniversary of the Arab Uprisings, it’s hard to remember the days of popular protests, of democratic revolutions and of dreams of a better future that rocked the Middle East in 2011. Nearly five years on, tensions between rulers and the ruled have exploded across the region – and the ensuing struggles for survival have continued to take all manner of ugly forms.

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

Real journalism is not free. If you value evidence-based, non-partisan, spam-free information, please support Facts and Opinions, an employee-owned collaboration of professional journalists.  Details here.

 

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

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