Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Rich Jews won't vote Labour – Red Ken

Ken Livingstone doesn't think Jewish people will vote Labour in London, "because they are rich".

Livingstone made this bizarre statement in reference to canvassing votes for his campaign to oust Conservative rival Boris Johnson as London's elected mayor.

Labour leader Ed Miliband is Jewish. You might ask how Red Ken expects his own boss to vote?

Miliband, although not religious in lifestyle, is a wealthy man of Jewish origin living in North London. In accordance with Jewish tradition, he smashed a glass at his wedding last year.

We all know that politicians target some voter demographics above others, but they are supposed to do it with some subtly and without monumental PR gaffes, like Ken's sledgehammer.

Livingstone's logic suggests that, demographically speaking, he has written off the vote of his own Labour leader.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Hipster Rambo: Kony 2012

Posing with AK-47s and an RPG, they look more like hipster extras from Juno displaced onto a Rambo film set than serious charity workers.

These are the co-founders of Invisible Children, the NGO behind Kony 2012, the viral marketing campaign kicking up a storm on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and across the web.


The uniformed men in the background are soldiers of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, who were busy fighting a brutal civil war for South Sudan at the time.

Invisible Children gives only about 32% of its revenue to direct aid services, much of which has gone towards supporting and arming forces like the SPLA and the National Ugandan Army.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Uganda: What is Kony 2012?

Showcasing the power of the Facebook generation,  the savvy online campaign to catch Joseph Kony is rapidly going viral through social media.

Kony 2012 is on one level a worthy cause, lobbying US politicians and celebrities, with a clear but simplistic goal: catch Kony in 2012.

Its video has already enjoyed millions of views and facebook "likes", and generated hundreds of thousands of tweets via #StopKony and other associated hashtag traffic.

Here's the video; it's half an hour long, slickly produced, and (like it or not) a work of web marketing art.


Invisible Children, the NGO behind the video, is the target of criticism for being a polished PR machine but less efficient as a charity: spending more on salaries and campaigns than giving.

The campaign is also focused on US politicians and celebrities, rather than influencing African leaders, and is marketed towards a US and Western audience (cute kids and snappy editing).

The timing of the campaign has also come under attackKony has (I have recently become aware) been terrorising northern Uganda for years. However, it's being suggested that he's on the run outside Uganda already, and only a bit-part player in broader problems.

Last year President Obama sent about 100 US military troops (mostly special forces) to advise and  assist local security forces in capturing him and to combat the raids of his newly famous Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

The legacy of Kony 2012 will only be knowable months or years from now: how will the campaign be remembered; will Kony be captured; and if so, did it have much to do with some slick social media marketeers in California?

Monday, 5 March 2012

The Falklands' Air Link Threat: Part II

As the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War approaches,  the persistent whine of Argentine diplomatic bullying has increased to fever pitch. The latest threat - a proposed air link via Argentina - is not only an attempt to control the territory's civilian links to the outside world.

If such a mad scheme was ever considered, it would immediately undermine the lynchpin of the islands' defence, by exposing RAF Mount Pleasant air base to a "Trojan Horse" special forces attack - one of the unconventional military options available to Argentina.

In 1998, former President Carlos Menem reflected his country's limited military options after losing the Falklands War, stating that Argentina would only seek peaceful means to gain sovereignty. Since then, however, the rhetoric of each Argentinian leader has been more bellicose than the last.

Argentina's conventional military threat to the islands is actually much less prominent than it was in 1982. The country has barely modernised its defence forces since then, leaving them technically obsolete in any battlefield confrontation. In contrast, Anglo-American wars in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan have kept Britain's military forces among the world's best.

The UK government's position on the Falklands has remained steadfast since 1982: the clear will of the islanders to remain British means that negotiations over their sovereignty are impossible, and protected against Argentina's competing claim by the principle of self-determination, enshrined in the Falklands' own constitution.

Britain's military options for defending the islands have declined since 1982. The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review decision to scrap the Harrier fighter aircraft (and retire one aircraft carrier) has restricted the Royal Navy's remaining aircraft carriers to flying only helicopters from their decks.

The military strategy for defending the islands is now centred on RAF Mount Pleasant, built in 1984 and home to four Eurofighter Typhoon state-of-the-art jet fighters that are vital to the island's defence.

The base also has a VC-10 aerial refuelling aircraft a C-130 Hercules transport plane, several Rapier anti-aircraft missile batteries, and well over a thousand military personnel, including some dedicated infantry and engineer troops. Offshore, at any one time there is always at least one Royal Navy warship, as well as an armed patrol vessel attached to the islands. 

Until new aircraft carriers and their F-35 jets come into service in about a decade's time, the Royal Navy cannot project air power 9,000 miles from home, like it did in order to retake the islands in 1982. That means that if Argentina could somehow seize RAF Mount Pleasant, it would not be possible to retake the islands with a naval task force like that of thirty years ago.

In short, the defence of the islands depends on the RAF base. In the event of an attack, the security of the base would be vital to the islands' defence. Press reports suggest UK plans for defending the Falklands are dependent on quickly ferrying troops and supplies by air.

Air reinforcement would be via the air base on Ascension Island, roughly half way across the 9,000 miles between Britain and Mount Pleasant. If an enemy neutralised RAF Mount Pleasant, Britain would find it tough to defend the Falklands, and almost impossible to resupply or recapture them.

Lesson from Entebbe

I think you may have twigged it. If Argentina's state airline, Aerolineas Argentinas, ever had access to RAF Mount Pleasant, it would pose a grave security risk. I expect the government's defence advisers will be relaying this message to David Cameron, in case he would ever feel tempted to consider appeasing Cristina de Kirchner with an an air link deal.

Sophisticated Typhoon fighters and Rapier missile batteries, not to mention the (temporary) presence of an advanced air defence warship such as HMS Dauntless in the South Atlantic, would all render a conventional air attack on the Falklands nearly impossible. However, most military commanders would flinch at the thought of pressing the button to shoot down a civilian airliner.

I'm reading Andrew Rawnsley's superb "The End of the Party" which describes British political hand-wringing in the days after 9/11 about who would have theoretically authorised the destruction of a civilian aircraft, in the scenario of a suspected hijacked airliner, thought to be on its way to launch a similar 9/11-style strike on the UK.

Defence advisor lieutenant-colonel Ewen Southby-Tailyour has argued that using a civilian airliner offers Argentina their best opportunity to take the Falklands, via a surprise attack on Mount Pleasant.

Argentina's defence budget means its conventional assets - aircraft, tanks and ships - are mostly antiques compared to UK equipment. But they still have a sprinkling of effective special forces troops: perfect for a surprise raid.

Southby-Tailyour suggests that special forces could use a civilian airliner - diverted from its usual flight path for a faked emergency landing, or, in an ideal attack scenario, even allowed access by an air link agreement - as a "Trojan Horse".

Special forces men could quickly jump from a plane to neutralise the airbase's defences and parked Typhoons in an attack from within, as Israeli commandoes did to spectacular effect in the epic "Raid on Entebbe" against Idi Amin's Uganda in 1976.

In the case of Argentina, they could potentially be supported by submarine-inserted commandoes, to divert British attention in the critical moments.

"It would take a very brave politician to shoot down a civilian airliner in cold blood. The Argentine forces are good. They could jump out and shoot everything up," says Southby-Tailyour.

The Falklands' Air Link Threat: Part I

Argentina's bullying strategy to isolate the Falkland Islands, diplomatically and economically, has reached a critical point. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's latest offer of direct Aerolineas Argentinas flights to the Islands from Buenos Aires, instead of trying to cut the islanders' air link with Chile, is the culmination of months of pressure, and rather than a climbdown, represents a threat to the island's strategic air link to Britain.

De Kirchner's muscular but skilful diplomatic offensive started when oil drilling began off the Falklands in 2010. Persistent bullying since then has included canvassing Latin American neighbours for diplomatic support, threats to trade, and barring Falklands-flagged ships, ships of Britain's Royal Navy, and vessels of any flag that have visit the islands, from visiting Argentina's and other South American ports. A fortnight ago, cruise ships Adonia and Star Princess were denied entry to Argentina's port of Ushuaia.

Why would Argentina make this latest move? On the most superficial of levels, offering to open flights between Argentina and the Falklands looks like a softening of policy. Argentina's offer has been described by a Chilean diplomat as “an attempt to collect international support and look less mean”.

In fact, it is nothing of the sort. It is a thinly veiled attempt to make the islanders dependent on Argentina for their links to the outside world, after months of pressuring the UK into giving way to such influence. For the Falklands, surrendering the air link to Argentina's siren call would leave the 3,000 islanders' air link to the UK dependent on a hostile foreign power, determined to subjugate them without any concern for their UN-enshrined rights to self-determination.

For the underlying military threat to the Falklands' air link, read Part II.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Serbia in the EU: diluting the Franco-German axis

Congratulations to Serbia, for today winning candidate status to join the European Union. I'm not accustomed to playing Europhile, but it is good news to see the EU resuming its eastwards expansion.

Admittedly, my  wishing them well is motivated by desire to see the Franco-German axis further diluted. The former Communist countries of Eastern Europe seldom favour Sarko's vaunted "French Model", while the UK needs all the help it can get against the usual French and German tendency to align EU policy with their own national interests.

The French claim to love Europe, but usually that's when they manage to steer Brussels into reflecting French customs. Whether or not France will drag its feet to delay Serbia joining the EU, in the way it has with Turkey, remains to be seen. Sarkozy looks like being quite positive though.

Serbia's European conversion is surprising too. Political transformation has been swift. It applied for membership to the club in December 2009, but it's still only thirteen years since, under Milošević, the country was at war with Britain, France and Germany over Kosovo. The Serbs still don't recognise Kosovo's independence though, so that's one potential sticking point.

I have insufficient knowledge of how deeply Serbia's conversion runs. They look polished and cheery enough, winning Eurovision in 2007 (photo above). They have also handed over their worst war criminals - Milošević, Karadic and Mladic - to face Hague or UN justice. That took plenty of time though, and to a cynic (okay, me) looked like a transparent gesture to curry favour for EU membership.

We know all about Greece's fiscal governance failings, which were criminally overlooked before its eurozone membership. I suspect that beneath the veneer of Serbia's shiny EU candidate portfolio, plenty of political corruption, human rights abuse and gangsterism remains.

But how much, and how high should the EU's bar be set? Whatever the Serbs' progress to date (clearly judged to be successful by Brussels) by letting them in, you could argue that they will be more likely to further improve their standards of governance retroactively.

I say let 'em in!