The Legacy of King Abdullah

The Saudi king’s recent death has sparked debate. Andrew Hammond, author of The Islamic Utopia: The Illusion of Reform in Saudi Arabia, gives us his take.

‘Hagiography of the deceased Saudi king Abdullah has piled up at a surprising rate, reflecting the desire – the desperate hope – among Western policy-makers to present Saudi Arabia as on a path to “reform” that justifies their continued investment in the regime. Astoundingly, the UK Hammond TIUgovernment has even ordered flags to be put at half-mast. In reality, the Saudi government’s political repression, economic plunder, improvised regional interventions and cradling of religious obscurantism and zealotry is of a scale arguably unique in modern times and the late King Abdullah did little to improve matters.

The legacy of Abdullah as a “reformer” had dissipated long before his death. Abdullah rose to prominence in the late 1990s at the beginning of his predecessor Fahd’s long incapacitation – a time of collapsing oil prices and high government spending. In 1998 the then crown prince told Saudis, both the population and the ruling family, that they would have to tighten their belts. The catastrophe of 9/11 created a further imperative for domestic reform and an array of political activists spanning reformist clerics, Jeddah liberals, Islamists, leftists, Arab nationalists, Eastern Province Shia and women, came together to formulate those demands in a series of petitions; liberals in particular felt that their time had come. The cult of Abdullah was born.

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How we should ensure UK arms exports do not help crush pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong

Nicholas Gilby, author of Deception in High Places, discusses the latest protests which have broken out in Hong Kong and the role that the UK arms trade is playing in supporting its repression.

On Sunday, serious unrest broke out in Hong Kong and large-scale protests still continue.  A student-driven movement drew tens of thousands on to the streets of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, calling for a truly free election for the Chief Executive of the territory in 2017.  The police used considerable amounts of tear gas on the peaceful protesters, in an attempt to disperse them.  Sadly, it appears that some of the tear gas used in the attempt to crush the pro-democracy protests may have been licensed for export by the UK Government, the former colonial power.

When, after 99 years of British rule, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 it was agreed that “the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years”.  In practice this means the people of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) enjoy much greater civil liberties than those in Communist-run China, including, for example, unhindered internet access and freedom of speech.  Further, the rule of law of prevails, and corruption is not nearly as widespread as in mainland China.

The Chinese Government had previously promised that universal suffrage would be used in the election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive in 2017 and in the election of all legislators in 2020.  But, in August, the Chinese Government decided that all candidates in the election for Chief Executive had to be approved by Beijing.  In other words, Hong Kong’s citizens will not have a free choice to elect who they want. Continue reading

Is there a review of British arms export licences for Israel?

Nicholas Gilby


The current conflict in Gaza is resulting in grievous loss of civilian life. Three Israeli civilians have been killed and around 1,800 Palestinians.  Atrocities have been committed against civilians, almost all by the Israeli Defence Forces (as follows from the above figures), including well-publicised ones condemned by the US Government and UN Secretary-General.

There have been reports in the media that the British Government is “reviewing the sale of £8bn in arms and military goods to Israel to see whether each licence is appropriate in light of the conflict in Gaza”. The Government Department that issues export licences, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, is (according to this report) checking whether the extant licences allow the sale of equipment which could be used for “internal repression”, or to “provoke or prolong conflict”.   However, there is nothing about this on the the Number 10, FCO and Export Control Organisation websites.

So what is going on?  In the recent past, export licences already approved and held by exporters have been suspended during moments of crisis.  For example on 21 August 2013 in response to “increasing levels of violence in Egypt”, EU states agreed to review approved export licences.  One week later, the Export Control Organisation suspended all existing licences for equipment which might be used for internal repression to various Egyptian military or security bodies.  On 18 March 2014 the then Foreign Secretary announced the suspension of all licences “for direct export to Russia for military and dual use items destined for units of the Russian armed forces or other state agencies which could be or are being deployed against Ukraine”.

What about Israel?  No such announcement has been made, despite the suffering we see reported in the media daily. Continue reading

Debate heats up over Killer Robot technology

By Ann Rogers, co-author with John Hill of Unmanned: drone warfare and global security

Here is an example of what’s being developed right now. This robot is owned by Boston Dynamics, who’ve recently been taken over by Google.

Sci-fi writer William Gibson said, “The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed.” While the idea of killer robots fighting wars or maintaining law and order sounds futuristic, the race to ban autonomous weapons systems before they are distributed to the world’s arsenals is about to get underway. The issue will be taken up later this year by at the Convention on Conventional Weapons, an arms control regime that guides the use of controversial technologies considered “excessively injurious” or having “indiscriminate effects.” Any slow-down on the development of “lethal autonomous robotic systems” (LARS) threatens an industry potentially worth billions – advocates are out in force suggesting that these technologies will make war safer and more ethical. Critics counter that these systems will profoundly alter the dynamics of global security and spur a new arms race, lower the threshold for using force, violate international humanitarian law and undermine the basic ethical precepts that govern how wars should be fought.

The concept of autonomy essentially describes the extent to which a machine is able to reason its way towards problem solving when confronted with uncertainty. In weapons systems, different levels of autonomy exist along a continuum. At one end, “humans in the loop” systems are systems that are controlled – albeit remotely – by someone somewhere. For example, the RAF’s Reaper drones that flew over Afghanistan were piloted from Waddington or from the US facility in Nevada, and it was RAF personnel that chose targets and decided when to fire on them. Further along the continuum are “humans on the loop” systems: in these systems, the machine identifies and selects the targets, but a human makes the decision whether to launch an attack. On the path towards fully autonomous systems, the Rubicon is crossed when the decision to use lethal force is delegated to the machine itself, without any human oversight or intervention. There is a clear military advantage is removing the human entirely from the loop: a human weighing life and death decisions takes time, whereas a machine will simply take action.

While experts suggest that we are still perhaps 20 to 30 years away from developing systems that can identify and kill targets independent of human control, some killer robots are already operating in the field. For example, South Korea has trialled a robot system to guard its border with North Korea. The Samsung SRG-A1 “sentry bot” is a robotic machine gun and grenade launcher system equipped with cameras as well as a microphone and speaker. It can identify and shoot a target from two miles away. How does it distinguish between friend and foe? That’s easy: “When you cross the line, you’re automatically an enemy,” Myung Ho Yoo, principal research engineer at Samsung’s Optics & Digital Imaging Division, explained in a 2007 interview with IEEE. Thus far the system has operated with a “human on the loop,” that is, a South Korean soldier sitting somewhere watching the live feed from the bot. It is the soldier that decides if something is a threat, but having a human make the call is not an operational requirement – it is a political one.

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Richard Seymour in the Guardian | Global military spending is now an integral part of capitalism

Seymour T02680Richard Seymour’s latest Guardian article was published on Friday, in which he argues that the idea of a ‘peace dividend’ is gone, and that high levels of military spending are an entrenched part of the global landscape.

We’ve reproduced an extract below. You can read the whole thing on the Guardian website, by clicking here. For more information on Richard’s new book, Against Austerity (hot off the press this month), go to the Pluto website, or click on the cover image.

Richard Seymour

China’s surge in military spending gains headlines, partly because of the ominous implications regarding its regional contest with Japan, but it’s the deeper structures of military spending in general that are far more compelling.

There are few surprises about the distribution of military spending: for all the current focus on China’s growing military outlays – and it is significant that they have embarked on a sequence of double-digit increases as a percentage of GDP – the United States still accounts for 40% of such expenditures. However, the distribution is not the only thing that matters; it’s the sheer scale of such investment – $1.756tn in 2012. The “peace dividend” from the end of the cold war has long since bitten the dust. Global military spending has returned to pre-1989 levels, undoubtedly a legacy of the war on terror and the returning salience of military competition in its context. In fact, by 2011 global military spending was higher than at any year since the end of the second world war. Continue reading

When the arms industry calls the shots, Israel stands to benefit

David Cronin, author of Corporate Europe (Pluto, 2013) and Europe’s Alliance with Israel (Pluto, 2010) has written for Electronic Intifada this week about the interconnectedness of his books, and the arms trade’s influence in the politics of Israel (and vis-versa.)

It is a timely piece as London currently hosts DSEi, one of the world’s largest arms fairs, held biannually at the ExCeL exhibition Centre in London’s docklands. We’ve reproduced the article below – alternatively you can check it out on Electronic Intifada, here. For more information on how to resist the arms trade, and specifically the DSEi arms fair, go to


David Cronin

CRONIN T02682There was a time when Israeli diplomats returned my phone calls. There was even a time when some of them granted me interviews.

It was on one such occasion — more than a decade ago — that I listened to Harry Kney-Tal, an ambassador in Brussels for Ariel Sharon’s government, vent his frustration with the European left. Why, he wondered, could pictures of Yasser Arafat often be seen beside those of Che Guevara at political protests on this continent?

Leaving aside the fact that Arafat was a deeply flawed leader, it is not difficult to grasp why symbols of the Palestinian struggle were brandished by radical activists. Palestinians have been treated as pawns in a global power game that has been rigged to allow one nation — the United States — and the extreme version of capitalism it embodies to dominate over everyone and everything else.

I wish that I had delivered a sharp and witty response to Kney-Tal. But I was a lot more confused and reticent then than I am now. I was working for European Voice, a weekly newspaper read by top-level officials in Brussels. Part of my “responsibilities” involved writing articles for supplements financed by the arms industry. I hated being little more than a stenographer to the bloodthirsty and powerful and grew increasingly depressed. Eventually — after five years in the job — I quit.

Since then (2006), I have written two books, with the express intention of discomfiting the elite in Brussels and beyond.

My first one, Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation, demonstrated that the EU is complicit in crimes against humanity. My new book Corporate Europe: How Big Business Sets Policies on Food, Climate and War examines how lobbyists hired by the super-rich are trying to transform the EU into a carbon copy of the US (by, among other things, destroying or severely weakening social and environmental protections).

Both books are connected. Continue reading

Anti-militarist newspaper ‘The Newham Adversary’ hits London borough in anticipation of DSEi arms fair this September

The anti-militarist newspaper, The Newham Adversary, was officially launched last Saturday, with distribution beginning in the borough of Newham in the run up to DSEi 2013.

DSEi, one of the world’s largest international arms fairs, has taken place in the ExCeL Centre for a number of years, in spite of local opposition and a unanimous vote of condemnation by Newham Council.

Newham AdversoryThe Adversary, produced by the Stop the Arms Fair coalition (STAF), is an important part of anti-arms trade campaigners’ outreach to local residents, providing information about the companies and governments expected to attend, the reality of how deals brokered at DSEi result in political repression, injury and death, and (most crucially) how to get involved in shutting DSEi down.

The Newham Recorder covered the launch of the publication, now in its second edition (the first issue coincided with DSEi 2011) earlier this week. The print run of 3,000 is expected to be handed out outside tube stations near the docklands, as well as being posted door-to-door in the coming weeks.

Pluto is happy to host the PDF edition of the paper on this blog. Simply click the banner below. For more information about how to get involved in shutting down DSEi, go to the Stop the Arms Fair website.

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