Saturday, 30 August 2014


The NATO road show is here the helicopters and wall to wall parked up riot vans might have been a clue and the fact that there are more coppers on the streets than in New York. NATO is firmly dug in the centre of Cardiff and on the north eastern fringes of Newport in and around the Celtic Manor (in the historic Vale of Usk). 

Anti-War protests - Ukrainian style (AP)

In Newport and Cardiff people are understandably complaining about the disruption caused by the NATO summit. The disruption is ironically a result of other people making decisions on our behalf – ‘Let’s give put the summit in Wales, it will keep them (the Welsh) happy and quiet, make them feel important, etc.’ – hence the farcical arguments over the logo - this has that patronising Westminster attitude to the periphery written all over.

Many people in the south east will have little choice but to live with any disruption and any traffic chaos. I suspect that the people of eastern Ukraine would prefer columns of VIP limos rolling through their towns and along their highways to columns of Russian tanks. People might moan about NATO but I suspect that it has always been relatively easy to leave NATO by way of comparison with leaving the old Warsaw Pact.

Hordes (according to the Police, not that many according to the protestors) of noisy protestors are apparently coming to protest in Newport. We even have the added joy of hosting a probably unwanted (by most of the people of Newport – as if they were ever going to be asked) so called ‘peace camp’.  All this inconvenience in truth pales into insignificance by way of comparison with what is going in eastern Ukraine and Syria and north western Iraq.

NSATO satellite photos (REUTERS) 

I suspect that some of the older former fellow travellers who will be happily protesting on successive Saturday’s in Newport against NATO would I suspect have been quite happy for the Soviet Union – that prison of peoples - to have survived. They tend to self-selecting when it comes to causes and probably would have remained silent (had they been around) when the old USSR invaded Hungary (in 1956) and Czechoslovakia (in 1968) yet raised their voices over Vietnam.

It’s the selective silence of some of the demonstrators that’s quite interesting, silence over the slaughter in Congo (formerly Zaire), silence over the genocide in South Sudan (and little support for their struggle to achieve independence), the silence over East Timor during the long murderously brutal Indonesian occupation and a continuing silence over West Papua. Not to mention the silence over Tibet, which continues to endure a brutal occupation at the hands of the Peoples Republic of China.

My sympathies are with the victims of Russia’s blatant aggression in the Ukraine and the victims of IS (formerly ISIS) in Iraq and Syria rather than the anti-NATO protestors. Few of the protestors will I suspect offer any support to the people of the Ukraine or those trying to fight of IS (ISIS). NATO might have its faults but public collective security did the job and prevented the western half of Europe form being overrun by the Soviet Union in the late 1940’s and 1950’s.

Human Rights Watch has incidentally announced that pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine have been (and are) "regularly" detaining and torturing civilians. Human Rights Watch reports that fighters supporting rebel strongholds in the region have "captured hundreds of civilians" including journalists, pro-Ukrainian political activists and in some cases their family members since they took control of the region back in April 2014. Over 2,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Ukraine should understandably be a key issue on Friday, as NATO released satellite images showing Russian forces inside Ukraine and has suggested that more than 1,000 troops were operating there. US President Barack Obama has accused Russia of being responsible for the violence in eastern Ukraine. The President said the fighting was not the result of a home-grown uprising but of "deep Russian involvement".

The new satellite images make Russia’s role in the crisis pretty clear. Heavy fighting continues near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Rebel forces are trying to capture the city but Ukrainian government troops are digging in. Since Thursday the insurgents (funded, directed and supported by Russia) have seized the south-eastern coastal town of Novoazovsk.

Much of the current crisis in Ukraine and NATO’s poor relations with Russia are a result of shortsighted bad decisions. Russia a few years ago was openly humiliated over Kosovo by the US (and NATO). The West failed to help Russia during the painful transition from a collapsed Soviet Union to the post Soviet economic reality.

Rather than help, support and assistance all Russia got was bad advice in relation to a brutal rapid privatisation process that shattered the old Soviet economy and paved the way for the rise of the Oligarchs. The most important side effect of this was that any prospects of the emergence of a stable democratic Russia were dashed the consequences of which we all have to live with now. As for the demo’s 10,000 people waving Ukrainian flag and calling for action might impress me…

Thursday, 21 August 2014


It’s nice to see that finally there is a degree of consensus, in relation to the problem of the Severn bridge tolls, even if it took a while to develop. With the Lib Dem’s potentially facing electoral obliteration their pledge to abolish the Severn Bridge tolls should still be welcomed. Their record in Government curbing some of the baser Thatcherite urges of the Conservatives (or not) will I am sure come in for much scrutiny in the countdown to Poling day.

An unsubsidised toll bridge near us...
When it comes to the much-disliked Severn Bridge tolls, the often ignored literal elephant in the room is the subsidy that is regularly applied to the Humber Bridge. Samuel Johnson said amongst other things that there is nothing quite like the prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully. Perhaps the prospect of being hung out to dry electorally has prompted this sudden interest in the Severn Bridge Tolls and their impact on our economy and hard pressed commuters.

When last in office at Westminster, the party formerly known as New Labour chose to quietly (and regularly) subsidise the Humber Bridge tolls, yet, it made no move what so ever towards doing anything about dealing with the tax on jobs, businesses and commuters which are passed off as the Severn bridge tolls. This may go some way to explaining at least to some degree why our local Labour MP’s do little beyond trotting out the same old tired press releases bemoaning the failure of the Government to do anything about the tolls.

What’s Interesting is that the Humber Bridge subsidy has been continued by the Con Dem Coalition Government.  This is odd to say the least as this is one of the most ideologically driven governments that we have seen in recent years, having driven the post Thatcherite ‘free market’ ideology into wholly new areas.

Yet, this coalition government has shown no inclination to curb the Humber Bridge state subsidy or offer to help Welsh commuters and businesses out with a simular subsidy. It is worth noting that while in Government, the Lib Dem half of this largely Conservative coalition Government has also shown until now no inclination towards curbing the Severn Bridge Tolls, mitigating their impact or pretty much anything else in relation to the tolls. 

Saturday, 16 August 2014


It’s important to remember that the First World War was divisive from day one, people had different opinions on the war then as well as now, both at home and at the front. While pacifists and some politicians opposed the war on principle (there were some well managed high level resignations and heated debate within the Cabinet in the days before the war began) they were not alone in questioning the validity of the war.

Save for Lloyd George’s barely concealed political opportunism there was a real possibility that Britain’s entry into the conflict might have been delayed or may well might never have taken place at all. For many people the principle of Belgium’s independence was enough, it was certainly enough for the Cabinet, combining both principal and political expediency. 

The war in Europe meant that the UK Government could avoid a civil war in Ireland over Home Rule. It also touched upon a genuine and historic English strategic necessity - that of preserving Belgium’s independence fulfilled a long term strategic necessity in relation to control of Flanders. The problem was that war of Belgium’s independence became almost inevitably war over other things especially other peoples Empires.  

The war that most of the volunteers signed up to fight in 1914 and 1915 was not the war they ended up fighting, it became something else, something that prompted Siegfried Sassoon (the Poet) and a decorated serving soldier (in July 1917)  to send  a letter entitled ‘Finished with the War: A Soldiers Declaration’ which ended up being published in The Times (and other newspapers) and read out in the House of Commons, he wrote:

I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it. I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that the war upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of agression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them and that had this been done the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.

On behalf of those who are suffering now, I make this protest against the deception which is being practised upon them; also I believe it may help to destroy the callous complacency with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share and which they have not enough imagination to realise.

Sassoon (Who had been awarded the Military Cross) narrowly escaped courts martial, was declared unfit for service and treated for shell shock. Yet he returned to the front (as did his fellow poet Wilfred Owen) where he was wounded in August 1918. The letter, which is still powerful even today, should remind us that despite the image presented by the commemoration ceremonies people’s attitudes to the war were not uniform even amongst serving soldiers. 

We should not diminish or cheapen the memories of those who fought, who served, who survived and who died by simplifying them or hiding the reasons (both complex and simple) as to why people served and fought or chose not to. Neither should we gloss over the exceptionally poor statesmanship and the bad decisions made by the ruling elites that plunged Europe (and other parts of the world) into four years of bloody conflict the legacies of which are still with us today.  

Monday, 11 August 2014


For UK see England?
Representatives from five cities in the North of England have called for a £ 15 billon pound 15-year plan to be adopted to improve transport. The plan is outlined in the One North report which calls for a  125 mph trans-Pennine rail link, a faster link to Newcastle and better access to Manchester Airport are needed. It has been developed by an alliance of five cities - Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield and has been previously backed by George Osborne has who pledged support to this Crossrail of the North. The proposals are yet incidentally another all-England infrastructure project to add to the questionably beneficial massive HS2 rail project, the much delayed London Crossrail project and the proposed Crossrail extension to Hertfordshire. No don’t get me wrong much of this infrastructure is necessary and very much long overdue. However, I cannot help but wonder if Westminster is contemplating on some subliminal level the end of the Union and is concentrating resources in England, or perhaps this merely be a case of for the UK see England.

Friday, 8 August 2014


A test of a full-scale tidal power generator in Ramsay Sound, in Pembrokeshire will show the potential for renewable energy has been unveiled. The underwater turbine in Ramsey Sound will run for a 12-month trial, powering homes in St Davids. The test turbine constructed by Cardiff-based developers Tidal Energy Ltd, the 150-tonne demonstration device with a frame as high as a seven storey building has been built in Pembroke Dock by Mustang Marine, recently saved from administration. The turbine will generate energy from tidal currents on the sea bed. Tidal Energy Ltd claims the patented DeltaStream device will be Wales' first grid-connected freestanding tidal turbine, and will help to make the case for a larger scheme involving nine turbines.

Energy generated by the 400kW demonstration device, which will be installed within a matter of weeks will be fed into the National Grid and be used to power nearby homes. The turbine, located in a Marine Special Area of Conservation, includes design features aimed at minimising the impact on the environment.  The project has been supported by £8 million pounds of European Union funding, matched by majority shareholder Eco2 Ltd. The company is planning a larger 10MW scheme involving up to nine turbines off St Davids Head, which would generate enough power for 10,000 homes. Other tidal energy schemes in Wales include a £70m project off the coast of Anglesey due to open in 2016 and a £650m tidal lagoon proposed for Swansea Bay.

Thursday, 7 August 2014


There will be plenty to discuss in early in September at the Celtic Manor Resort (close to Newport) and I suspect that we not talking about the NATO summit related chaos or the noisy protestors outside the fence. Perhaps unconsciously echoing the former US President George Bush, the  NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has warned that the “world order is at stake” and that the 28 state alliance faces “the biggest challenge since the end of the Cold War” as the Ukraine crisis continues.

Part of that particular fence...
The ‘World Order’ reference is interesting particularly as we  are living through ‘a period of significant anniversaries’ at the moment of events one hundred years ago that led to the fall of one particular type of world order and the emergence of a different and much grimmer new world order. On 31st July 1914 Imperial Russia’s publically declared full mobilization (actual mobilization had begun one week earlier) this was a key event in the drift to war.

One hundred years on (31st July 2014 ) the House of Commons Defence Committee published a report part of a review of Security and Defence. The report argues strongly that recent events in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine should be a wake-up call for NATO (and the UK). The report further argues that NATO is unprepared when it comes to facing the new threat posed by Russia.

Drawing imperfect parallels with 1914 only goes so far, as the secret diplomacy (mostly British) that was contributory factor to the drift to war in 1914 is now a thing of the past. We need to remember that this is not 1914, its 2014, and collective ‘publicly declared’ security commitments have tended to work. Clearly articulated public security commitments and agreements, which bring independent nations together, are on the whole a good thing, perhaps one of the reasons why the SNP has stated that an independent Scotland would join NATO.

Scotland and NATO
As for NATO itself, the report (here in html / and in PDF) says, has flagged up deficiencies in NATO’s command and control structures, in its ability to predict and its abilities to detect and give adequate warning of any potential attack.  The MP’s have identified weaknesses in the readiness of NATO forces and perhaps equally as important the fact that NATO itself may lack the collective political will to take concerted action to deter attack.

This lack of collective political will may be a combination of different developments. The consequences of the long term deployment in Afghanistan which was in response to an attack on a NATO member (Article 5) which took the security organisation into unknown and increasingly unstable territories. And the fact that an older Europe may be reasserting itself, as France and Germany develop their on-going (gas fuelled) relationship with Russia, which may result in questions being be asked about the on-going need for a Trans-Atlantic alliance and it’s perceived adherence to what are increasingly perceived as US interests.

The Russian Federation’s recent actions in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine have flagged up the possibility, admittedly unlikely, of a potential non direct Russian attack on a NATO Member State. A conventional attack on a NATO state remains a low probability, but, the report has flagged up the risks of unconventional attacks which NATO would find hard to counter. Unconventional means a combination of cyber attack, information warfare, the “ambiguous warfare” tactics (the use of irregular militias) as deployed in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova  and elsewhere  all of which tend to be backed up with rhetorical threats about the need for protection for ‘Russian minorities’.

The MP’s have stated that NATO needs to reorder, train and exercise its capabilities to be able to defend against both eventualities. The Committee has called on the UK Government to take the lead at the NATO Summit in Wales (in Newport, in September) to ensure that NATO is ready to face such threats. The House of Commons Committee’s has produced some specific recommendations, which call for:

  • The pre-positioning of military equipment in the Baltic States;
  • A continuous presence of NATO troops on training and exercises in the Baltic;
  • The re-establishment of large-scale military exercises including all NATO Member States and involving political decision makers;
  • Improvements to the NATO rapid reaction force and the possible establishment of a new Standing Reserve Force for NATO;
  • Improvements to processes for warning of imminent attack;
  • Radical improvements in Russian expertise in the UK government, allowing for real analysis and assessment of the Russian threat;
  •  The development of new tactics to respond to the threat of “ambiguous” attacks from Russia - including how to counter threats from cyber, information warfare, and irregular militia; and
  • A reconsideration of Article 5, to allow response to less conventional attacks.
The committee has concluded that the threats to UK security are increasingly dynamic in their scale, complexity, uncertainty and urgency and for NATO to undertake radical reform to be able to anticipate, plan and respond to these threats. Hand in hand with this problem, the threats from terrorism and failed states will continue to increase, change and develop. The MP’s say that events in Ukraine and Crimea represent the re-emergence of a real state on state threat to NATO’s eastern borders.

Certainly those ‘Brits’ who since Suez blindly tailored their foreign policy and national strategic interests to mirror those of the USA regardless of the cost, may find themselves increasingly isolated. The bigger problem for NATO (and increasingly for the EU) comes not from the ‘Brits’ (who are perceived to be increasingly euro sceptic and too close to the US) but from the smaller countries of eastern Europe who have a less warm relationship with Russia but whose interests may end up being sacrificed for French and German interests.

Last week the UK announced that it will send a "full battle group" of 1,350 military personnel to take part in NATO manoeuvres in Poland to support allies in eastern Europe. This will be the UK's largest such commitment to the region since 2008. The party formerly known as New Labour stated that the report underlined NATO’s position as the "cornerstone" of UK defence policy and the "sole organisation for collective defence". On the basis of that sentiment there probably won’t be any constructive dialogue in Westminster about how NATO finds itself on the cusp of yet another confrontation with Russia. 

We may also wonder just how the West managed to get Russia so badly wrong. A few years ago Russia was publically humiliated over Kosovo by the US (and NATO). Before that Western help during the painful transition from a collapsed Soviet Union to the post Soviet economic reality was pretty minimal, rather than help, support and assistance all Russia got was bad advice in relation to a brutal rapid privatisation process that shattered the old Soviet economy and paved the way for the rise of the Oligarchs, not to mention wrecking the prospects of the emergence of a stable democratic Russia in the process.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014


Plaid Cymru's Jonathan Edwards MP has launched a campaign to secure a fair share for Wales from spending on the England-only High Speed Rail (HS2) project. Welsh taxpayers should not be forced to fund an England-only project and that Wales is entitled to a sum of around £2 -4 billon pounds of the HS2 expenditure. The HS2 project runs the risk of dominating infrastructure investment for at least a generation and that there will be little money left to spend on other projects, despite the Welsh transport network being in dire need of investment.
To sign the petition, click here:
Plaid Cymru has fought for four years fought for a fair share for Wales from spending on the England-only HS2 project. The HS2 project is estimated to cost £ 50 - 80 billion pounds, improving rail links between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds with little benefit to Wales. The Westminster Government has branded this an UK-wide scheme despite the fact that it sits entirely in England. Wales is home to 5% of the UK population, so we should receive £2-4bn for our fair share.
Our fair share could revolutionise our transport system and deliver much-needed projects such as the electrification of the North Wales Main Line, the Valleys Lines, a South Wales Metro, and countless road projects up and down Wales. Plaid Cymru is the party for all of Wales. Unlike the Labour Welsh Government who have taken the reckless decision to spend nearly £1bn on a 9 mile stretch of the M4, Plaid recognises that roads and railways in all corners of our nation are in need of investment.

Independent research shows that HS2 will have a devastating impact on the South Wales economy, Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs from Wales have voted in favour of this project. This is unacceptable; we need to send the so-called Westminster elite a message. Wales is not longer prepared to settle for crumbs from the Westminster table. 
The financial decisions on HS2 will be made in the next Comprehensive Spending Review, which will take place in the early years of the next Westminster Parliament. The run-up to the General Election is the only opportunity the people of Wales have to ensure that those allegedly elected to serve our communities after next May will not support public spending on HS2 unless our nation receives a fair share.