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Showing posts with label Azeem Ibrahim. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Azeem Ibrahim. Show all posts

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Azeem Ibrahim, the Defence of Scotland – and the Scotland Institute. Part Three

PREAMBLE

I’ve taken two fairly long blogs to explain why I think the Scotland Institute is anything but “bi-partisan” (their description) and to speculate on what drives and influences Azeem Ibrahim.

Dr. Ibrahim has now responded to critics of his Defence and Security in an Independent Scotland paper by responding to six criticisms he says were made. These are not quite straw men set up to be knocked down – something like these points have been made by others, although the SNP response still remains – well, underwhelming. However, since I have not yet tackled the content of the paper itself, I now have the luxury of responding with the benefit of Azeem Ibrahim’s attempt at rebuttal.

Faced with Dr. Ibrahim’s degrees, intelligence, high-level contacts and friends, not to mention his stellar (which universe?) array of academics, titled personages, former defence secretaries and academics, do I feel inadequate in addressing this task?

Not a bit of it, because I come to it as a Scottish voter, a proud member of a unique group, the Scottish electorate, which at the end of the day – which will be September 18th 2014 – will evaluate all the stuff that has been thrown at them by polarised, and possibly well-remunerated(?) experts, then will decide the future of Scotland for generations, perhaps centuries. They are the jury who will listen to the witnesses and the competing ‘expert's’ from both sides, then will decide. And no judge can direct their verdict or overrule their decision.

This is democracy – the power of the people – something that Scotland and France virtually invented between them, and it scares the powerful shitless when it operates unintimidated and unencumbered. The UK’s flawed and partial democracy can’t blur the line and frustrate or fudge this one. If they try to, they will reap the whirlwind, and not just from Scotland.

THE PAPER AND ITS CLAIMS

I had always planned to start with Major-General Andrew Douglas Mackay CBE, Chair of the Panel of Experts, but on looking closely at his foreword, there is no real need to go further. (I have read the full paper several times very closely indeed.) Others better qualified than I can pick away at the detail, but since almost all of the flawed assumptions they rest on are contained in the General’s foreword, I see no need, as a voter, to go beyond them.

As can be seen from his Wikipedia entry, the General is a brave, capable, widely-experienced Scot, and deserves to be honoured for what he has done and achieved. (I just wish it had not been by the British Establishment, but that’s how the system works.)

He is also, de facto, a loyal member of that British Establishment and one major purpose of such honours is to cement him into that establishment and its values, which do not include the independence of Scotland.

Let me pick quotes from his foreword to the Scotland Institute report.

I approached this task with a full understanding of how political, public and emotive an issue this might be and sought to ensure that the report’s analysis would be bi-partisan.”

Even I would have expected to get well into the report before finding evidence that the General’s aim had not been achieved. But consider this from the foreword itself.

“… the evidence and conclusions weigh heavily on retaining the Union to safeguard our collective security.”

There’s nothing like cutting to the chase, General, as a no-nonsense military man should! We’re only in the third paragraph of the foreword and already we know the purpose and the desired outcome.  It’s not about defence and security in an independent Scotland, it’s about the collective security of the UK as an entity and whether or not the Union should be retained to serve that purpose.

The Scottish electorate don’t really need to actually read the report – the message, decoded,  is here, in para 3 of the foreword – don’t vote for independence, it threatens the UK’s defence and security policy!

Now we’ve got that sorted out, we can forget all the constitutional, economic and social aspects of Scotland’s independence, not mention the historical and cultural aspects, and we can forget any question of the morality of nuclear weapons of mass destruction or criticisms or the shackling of UK defence policy to right-wing neocon US foreign policy that led to the 12-year folly of Afghanistan (and its current ignominious approaching end) and the crime of Iraq, the death, destruction and destabilisation of the entire Middle East.

Just don’t vote for independence, Scotland,  because a group of politicians old and new, academics and military men, embedded in the system, feel you must “to safeguard our collective security.” Note that use of “our” – it does not refer to Scotland, it refers to the Union that has rewarded many of them so handsomely.

After a paragraph celebrating his Scottishness, the Scots as a “warrior race” and a recognition of the disproportionate contribution to the UK armed forces – but not of their disproportionate sacrifice in blood and death to the Union (it could have been written by Sir Walter Scott in his most fawning-to-King-and-empire style) - the General goes on for another few paragraphs with some history and some current harsh realities, namely that the UK sadly can no longer afford its pretensions as a global power and its ridiculously inflated defence budget (4th largest in the world).

Then he comes to this …

“It is of course highly unlikely that Scotland will ever come under existential threat of invasion or subjection.”

Given that guarding against “existential threat of invasion or subjection” is the primary purpose of the defence forces and defence policy of any nation, the General has to move swiftly to qualify this frank, factual admission which, if left to stand, would lead inevitably to the conclusion that an independent Scotland would be more than capable of discharging that primary responsibility to its citizens.

He does this by trotting out “the list of tasks in a world of hybrid conflict and multiple threats”, i.e. the list of either deeply wrongheaded or blatantly imperialistic involvements that got the US under Bush and his subservient partner, the UK under Blair and Brown into such deep doo-doo – the USA’s idea of itself as global policeman (which Obama is trying to distance himself from in face of screams of pain and outrage from the Republican right and military/industrial complex who profit handsomely from it) and Britain’s attempts to pretend it is still a global Empire, masking naked greed and exploitation of other nations and peoples as noblesse oblige.

In a nutshell, the General is acknowledging that Scotland could perfectly well defend itself – and do more – but he wants to keep it shackled to this failed and destructive global role and policy under the Union.

There is also the little matter that virtually all of the terror threats were brought to Britain by US/UK foreign policy and Iraq and Afghanistan – as acknowledged by a former UK Intelligence High Heid Yin.

Of course, in his penultimate paragraph, the General trots out the familiar defence-as-job-creation-scheme arguments that UK uses to blackmail Scotland’s voters, and the report later uses the grossly inflated estimates that usually accompany such nonsense. Perhaps he wants us to emulate Pakistan’s grossly inflated military and defence budget? (Azeem Ibrahim is especially well-placed to comments on that, as policy advisor to Pakistan’s Prime Minister in waiting, Imran Khan.)

The Generals’ last two sentences sum it all up -

It is easy to argue from within the comfort of a nearly 300 year-old union that an independent Scotland would only require a small fighting force. It is not likely to be so comfortable after you have jettisoned your allies and you are on your own.”

The “nearly 300 year –old union” is a 306 year-old union, General, and it is anything but comfortable for a very large number of less privileged Scots than you, Azeem Ibrahim or your mainly rich contributors, who have profited nicely from it.

Independent Scotland has no intention of “jettisoning its allies” and it hopes to retain rUK as an ally, while remaining in the EU and exploring development of new alliances with the Northern countries. But it does not intend to be dragged along behind a failed and incompetent MOD and Foreign Office and an endless succession of Governments it didn’t vote for, financing their follies past and to come with, to use your favourite phrase, its “blood and treasure” – the blood and treasure of the Scottish people.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Azeem Ibrahim, the Defence of Scotland – and the Scotland Institute. Part Two

A question I can answer easily –

Has Azeem Ibrahim the right to use his formidable intellect and business acumen to contribute to the Referendum Debate?

Answer: Undoubtedly, yes.

Two questions I can’t answer so easily –

Has Azeem Ibrahim the right to use his wealth to contribute to the debate?

Does Azeem Ibrahim believe he is neutral – or undecided - in the debate or is he committed to YES or No?

Answering them is complicated by the fact that the questions are inter-related, and in the timescale for the referendum, subject to legal constraint. He is free within any relevant legal constraint to donate to political parties that reflect his position on YES/NO, if indeed he has one.

If he has no position or is truly undecided, or wishes to remain neutral despite holding a specific position, he is free to donate to all parties, and to both the YES and No campaigns, again within any relevant legal constraints.

What I would argue is that no person is free to present themselves as neutral, to invest substantial resources which they claims are to facilitate and inform the debate, while in reality holding a preferred position and loading the dice heavily in favour of one side or the other. To do that would be to try to deceive the electorate and to circumvent the electoral law.

Has Azeem Ibrahim done this? Would he do such a thing consciously? I have no means of definitively answering the first question, because in a rapidly polarising debate in which I am highly partisan as a YES, my perceptions are inevitably coloured by my position, as would be those of any but the most heroically objective of YES voters.

But I do have an opinion on the second part of that – I do not believe he would do such a thing consciously or deliberately, because I believe on all the evidence of what I think I now know of the man that he is ethical, brave (no one can be a reservist in IVth Para without being brave!) a caring humanitarian, and that he truly has the interests of Scotland and Scotland’s people at heart. He had – and still has – the potential to make a major positive contribution to the referendum debate.

Yet I am left with the fact that, on everything I have seen and heard, in my perception the Scotland Institute is, to all intents and purposes, part of the NO campaign, from its launch through to Monday’s media launch of the  Defence and Security paper, indeed it could almost be an extension of Ian Davidson MP’s Scottish Affairs Committee, which under the label of an objective UK Parliamentary committee, is openly partisan under a partisan Chair against what it calls the Separation of Scotland.

How can two such apparently contradictory beliefs of mine be reconciled?

The answer I believe lies in grand narratives, and I believe that Azeem Ibrahim, as he moved from being a successful businessman and financial entrepreneur and used his exceptional analytical powers to consider national and international politics, was swept into and ultimately seduced by the failed narratives of the US/UK/NATO military/industrial complex, and absorbed their flawed and dangerous values by a process of osmosis. I will go further, and say that exactly the same thing has happened to many academics and experts in the fields of strategic studies, international relations, departments of War studies, interagency, international security studies, etc. with the key difference that Dr. Ibrahim is rich enough to be immune to career and financial pressures.

Dr. Ibrahim is now Adjunct Research Professor at the Strategic Institute, and the US Army War College, served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and has recently been appointed as policy advisor to Imran Khan, the PM-in waiting of Pakistan – a nuclear state.

One might think Scotland was small beer in such exalted circles, but of course because of its strategic position as the postern gate of Europe and NATO’s crucial nuclear base, its possible independence and non-nuclear status, the removal of Trident WMD from Scotland and the consequential real possibility that rUK would be forced to abandon its nuclear deterrent,  the organisations and countries listed above - in which Dr. Ibrahim plays a significant role - are anything but neutral about Scotland’s referendum.

At the very least, I believe Azeem Ibrahim is influenced subliminally by them, by their positions and attitudes, and may even have assimilated their values and world view to the point that his is indistinguishable from theirs. In either case, his behaviour in deciding the Scotland Institute’s priorities and focus cannot in my view be neutral or wholly objective.

If he wants to end such a perception, then his path is clear – he should simply make large, legal and equivalent donations to both the Better Together Campaign and YES Scotland, and offer the benefits of his intellect and strategic perspective as a speaker at key events in both campaigns – and he should wind up the Scotland Institute and Scots Politics.

Alternatively, he can come out firmly for one campaign or the other – YES or NO – and throw his considerable talent and influence behind the one he chooses. If he makes such a choice, I would ask him to reflect on the choice made by a great man in 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah - محمد علی جناح - as he established the independence of Pakistan from India – and from the British Empire.

(My analysis of  the Defence and Security paper, planned for today or tomorrow, must be postponed in view of the length of this blog. My apologies!)

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Azeem Ibrahim, the Defence of Scotland – and the Scotland Institute

Azeem Ibrahim should – and in most respects does - represent just about everything I most admire in a Scot, in a Glaswegian and in a Scottish Muslim.

Why then do I profoundly distrust his creation, The Scotland Institute and much that emanates from it?

The answer to that is complex, and I’m not sure I’m capable of giving it adequately, but since he invited me to the media launch of his defence and security report and I responded to his courtesy by frontally attacking his claims of bi-partisanship and objectivity in the independence campaign, I feel that I owe him an explanation.

This will be Part One of a two-part blog on this subject – Part Two late tomorrow or Saturday – with luck …

But first, let’s look at the man himself ---

AZEEM IBRAHIM

The first thing to say is that Azeem Ibrahim’s achievements are formidable and beyond question. He has both a national and international profile, and is enormously influential. He is a Scot who is recognised at the highest levels of global politics and academia.

Alex and Azeem

The following YouTube clip of Azeem Ibrahim receiving his honorary doctorate from Professor Sue Scott of Glasgow Caledonian University contains an excellent summary of his background and achievements -

So what’s my problem with Azeem Ibrahim and his Scotland Institute?

THE SCOTLAND INSTITUTE

The Scotland Institute is a think tank, set up and funded by Azeem Ibrahim last June (2012). Before this one came along, we had – still have – a couple of others with Scotland in their title – Think Scotland, a right-wing pressure group set up and funded by an individual, and  Reform Scotland, advocates of so-called devo plus.  Both are against Scotland’s full independence, Think Scotland rather more obviously than Reform Scotland.

(I have blogged previously on think tanks like these)

Despite an honourable historical tradition of rich philanthropists (Andrew Carnegie jumps to mind) I am instinctively wary of rich individuals who fund anything political, and last June, all I knew about Azeem Ibrahim was that he founded a global macro hedge fund, which I understood to be part of the shadow banking system, outside of state regulation. I therefore pigeonholed him unfairly as just another rich banker in a sector – hedge funds – that had been at the root of the global banking collapse. I was unaware of his background and wider academic, cultural and business activities.

I therefore challenged the bi-partisanship of the Scotland Institute on Twitter, and Dr. Ibrahim responded courteously reiterating that it was, in fact, bi-partisan, and took no position on Scotland’s independence. This rang rather hollow to me when the keynote speaker at the launch proved to be Alistair Darling. I was invited to the launch, but tweeted as follows on 25th June 2012 -

Peter Curran Peter Curran@moridura

@scotinstitute I'm being cautious and with very good reason, given the timing and the people involved. I can't come, but will listen closely

Nothing the Scotland Institute said or did since then caused me to revise my initial judgement, but any lingering doubts were dispelled totally by the pre-launch to the press of the Institute’s paper Defence and Security in an Independent Scotland this week.

Here are some samples of how it was received by press and media -

Yes vote 'disadvantage' highlighted

Think tank says post-independent army would struggle (BBC News Scotland politics  24th June 2013)

Scottish independence: defence report released (Scotsman 25 June 2013)

Report: indy Scotland defence force would be less effective (Herald 24th June 2013)

Azeem Ibrahim: How safe would independent Scotland be? (Scotsman 22nd June 2013)

Comment: Risking our security too high price to pay  (Scotland on Sunday 22nd June 2013)

SNP defence plans for independent Scotland 'don't add up' (Telegraph 14th June 2013)

Unionist politicians raise fears about the future of the defence industry in an independent Scotland (Record 13th June 2013)

SNP defence plans ‘would leave forces ineffectual’ (TIMES 24th June 2013)

Former general says independence will raise threat of terrorism Express 23rd June 2013)

And the SNP’s response to this barrage of panic-inducing, superficial headlines, which was in the main a product of lazy, press release journalism?

SNP comment on Scotland Institute Defence report (SNP MEDIA CENTRE 24th June 2013)

I restrict myself to saying that this was underwhelming. It referred to “experts such as Stuart Crawford and Dr Phillips O’Brien”, neither of whom are to my knowledge advisers to the Scottish Government.

Lieut.Colonel Stuart Crawford was in fact a contributor to the Scotland Institute’s paper, and his highly relevant paper on a Scottish defence force was initiated by him and his colleague some time ago at their own initiative to fill the vacuum created by any real statement of SNP or Scottish Government defence policy at the time it was written. (Stuart Crawford was not present at the Scotland Institute launch on Monday. He has previously given evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee under Ian Davidson’s chairmanship.).

Dr. Phillip’s O’Brien’s article appeared in the Herald on 9th of June.

My view of the press and media reports is that they achieved exactly the effect – or a least one effect - that the Scotland Institute hoped for – to trigger a series of scare headlines about the awful fate that awaited Scots if they voted for independence.

The SNP and the Scottish Government’s response to this is to more or less dismiss it as not warranting any real response – just another manifestation of a hostile press and media. Well, independence supporters may shrug it off, but I don’t. My litmus paper test is the very limited sample of the reaction of reasonably well-informed friends and neighbours who are either uncommitted or NO voters. It worried the uncommitted and reinforced the Nos.  Committed YES campaigners on the doorsteps, with a much more extended sample base, may however say it is not a concern of the people they speak to.

The Defence and Security report and Dr. Ibrahim

It is worth reminding oneself at this juncture what game is being played out here – the Great Game of Scotland securing its independence from what is left of the British Empire, which technically started with the conquest of Wales, but in reality truly began with the 1707 Union. Scotland, an ancient nation of five and a quarter million souls is democratically confronting a dysfunctional dynastic conglomerate, now the rump of a once great Empire, comprised of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland with a total population of about sixty three and a quarter million, i.e. Scotland is about 8.3% of the total UK population, or a ratio of 1:11.

These would be unequal odds even if no confrontation was involved, so the fiction is sedulously maintained by the UK - and the fantasy maintained on occasion by some independence supporters - that this gross inequality doesn’t really matter, because Scotland - and Scotland alone - will be allowed to vote, and that free democratic procedures will determine the outcome.

Without going over ground I’ve covered at length before, the prospect of the independence of Scotland is perceived as a profound threat to the undemocratic power groups that control the UK’s partial and deeply flawed democracy – the monarchy and all that flows from it, the military/industrial complex and its lynchpin, the nuclear deterrent, the nuclear industry, the House of Lords, the Established Church of England and the entire London-based financial establishment, to mention but a few.

Great Britain, which lost an empire and never found a role, will find its increasingly shaky position in the global corridors of power on an even shakier nail if its nuclear power status vanishes or is diminished. And the ramification go far beyond Scotland, into NATO (which lost a Cold War enemy and is now adopting the doctrine of a perpetual war on terror to replace it) and across the Atlantic.

The very institutions of the British State have been corroding for some time without Scotland’s help, with Lords, governmental, Metropolitan police and press corruption, an incompetent MOD, the revolving door practices of senior MOD officials, civil servants and former ministers, cash for questions and influence, an over-extended military, and serious questions raised over some aspects of the judiciary, stretching from the Bloody Sunday inquiry through to the Hillsborough inquiry and beyond.

The combined forces of this British Establishment and its puppets in Westminster, while paying lip service to a democratic Scottish referendum and the will of the Scottish people, are going to use every weapon in their formidable armoury to secure a NO vote in September 2014, and in the event of a YES vote, to frustrate and delay the successful expression of that free choice.

The long arm of the British Establishment reaches deep into Scottish society at every level, in every institution, in every class of that society, through patronage, the honours system, through appointments to high office, and significantly through control and/or influence exercised over key sections of the media. It is no exaggeration to say that Establishment Scots constitute the hidden force within the belly of the British State’s Trojan horse in Scotland.

To see how this works, at least in part, we can look at Azeem Ibrahim’s list of experts, researchers, academic reviewers, other contributors and organisations who contributed. Let’s start with the panel of experts who were present at the launch in the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel.

Since many of the contributors have letters after their name representing, not qualification, but honours awarded, it’s perhaps worth reminding ourselves what these mean. (For a more in-depth look, see my 2010 blog The Establishment versus Scotland’s Independence)

These awards are made by the reigning monarch on recommendations from political parties and others, and are conferred for various reasons. They are part of a huge pyramid of precedence with the Queen (who has publicly stated her opposition to Scotland’s independence in the Queens’s Speech) at the apex.

Despite Britain’s claim to be a democracy, this pyramid of power and inherited privilege is inherently undemocratic.

The Lords, for example, way up the pyramid, are unelected by any democratic process, yet constitute a fundamental part of the government and the legislative process. No other country in the world claiming to be a democracy has anything remotely similar. In a very real sense,  the House of Lords epitomises the British Establishment, which at one and the same time stands outside of democratic government and accountability to the electorate, but is yet deeply embedded in it.

Back to Azeem’s list ---

Major General Andrew Douglas Mackay CBE (Chair of the panel of experts)

The military and political figures from the 25 listed contributors -

The Rt. Hon. Lord Browne of Ladyton – a former Labour Sec. of State for Defence

The Rt. Hon Lord Reid of Cardowan – former Labour Sec. of State for Defence

The Rt. Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind KCMG, QC, Tory MP – Maggie’s right hand man in Scotland for many years

The Rt. Hon. Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, KT, GCMG, FRSA, FRSE, PC – former Labour Defence Secretary, former Sec. General of NATO – perhaps the most extreme of all the critics of Scottish Independence, totally hostile to an independent, non-nuclear Scotland in NATO, to  the point of deriding the SNP’s aspirations.

General Sir John George Reith KCB CBE – former NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe

Air Commodore Gordon Moulds, CBE – former Commander Kandahar Airfield and former Commander British Forces South Atlantic

General (retd) Professor Sir Paul Newton KBE – a former military Commander and Intelligence chief, now Director – Strategy and Security Institute, Exeter University.

Lieutenant General Sir Alistair Stuart Hastings Irwin, KCB, CBE – former Adjutant-General to the Forces – former GOC Northern Ireland

Major Sir Edward Mountain – former Adjutant Career Planning UK Armed Forces, former Commander Reconnaissance Squadron

To put it bluntly, the above list represents a roll call of the British military and defence Establishment, deeply embedded in the system, handsomely rewarded and honoured by the system, steeped in its values and assumptions, committed to its global strategic views and to a flawed and destructive transatlantic foreign policy and NATO world view that has led it into two destructive and futile wars since the millennium.

The idea that this group could offer any objective view of an independent Scotland and its defence and intelligence structures – an independent Scotland that threatens all they stand for, especially the nuclear lynchpin of their status – is risible.

They see Scotland’s independence as a threat to their flawed and outmoded global narrative, their world view, and indeed their role and status in that world.

Of course, Azeem Ibrahim and the Scotland Institute are not so naive as to fail to include token voices and contributions representing the other viewpoint, so we have Angus Robertson MP and Luke Skipper of the SNP listed as contributors, and Lieut.Col. Stuart Crawford as an independent expert who has offered an objective blueprint of how a Scottish Defence Force could be structured.

And Azeem Ibrahim has made much of the fact that some of the British Establishment figures, especially the former Defence Secretaries are Scots. But as noted above, they are Scots embedded in the British State, owing all that they are - and all they have - to that state, committed to its continuance in its present form, politically and personally totally opposed to Scotland’s independence and the removal of the Trident nuclear WMD from Scottish soil.

Other contributing individuals/organisations

Senior Level Officials at NATO Office of Policy Planning

Officials from UK and Scottish Governments

Specialists on European Security Issues at RMA Sandhurst

Officials at NATO HQ/SHAPE

In the right context, this dialogue between NATO, UK, the RMA and the Scottish Government could have been helpful. I take leave to doubt that there was any such real dialogue.

CONCLUSION of PART ONE

In the second part of this blog (Friday/Sat) I will look at what I believe to be Azeem Ibrahim’s motivation and objectives in founding the Scotland Institute and in commissioning this report – and I will address the report itself, and the academic/expert contributors to it, not as a defence expert but as an informed layman and Scottish voter.