Category Archives: politics

Censorship by demonisation

I believe the demonisation of Vladimir Putin, the president of the Russian Federation, creates an obstacle to political understanding. This was obvious in the political rhetoric surrounding the shooting down of the Malaysian Flight MH17 over the Donbass region in Ukraine. But is it also obvious in the continuing rhetoric around the Ukrainian and Syrian civil wars.

This  demonisation can end up being a form of censorship as it prevents anything like an objective discussion of political issues. It can even prevent people using available news sources because they are tainted in their minds if they don’t go along with the demonisation.

In a sense, it is like the conditioning of Pavlov’s dogs. For many people the words “Putin” and “Russia” create an immediate knee-jerk reaction which prevents discussion of the issues at hand.

This video showing an attempted discussion, on Aljazeera US,  of the possibilities of the US and Russian Federation working together to counter Daesh (ISIS) in Syria and bring about a political settlement of the civil war is a rather extreme example of problems resulting from demonisation. So extreme that Aljazzera no longer hosts the video of the programme – this one was recorded off the TV screen by a separate person who has made it available.

Frankly, I cannot understand how Aljazeera US allowed their programme frontperson to behave so badly.

Thanks to: Stephen Cohen Schools Al Jazeera Buffoon on Russia

 

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Flight MH17 in Ukraine – what do intelligence services know?

MH 17 intelligence report

Despite claims of proof made by politicians like David Cameron, Barack Obama and Tony Abbott after the downing of flight MH17 in Ukraine in 2014 no intelligence agencies in their countries ever provided any evidence. I find that surprising as these intelligence agencies were obviously monitoring the area and should have been able to give evidence to back up the claims. In fact, rumours suggested the intelligence evidence didn’t back up the claims.

I am forced to conclude the claims owe more to politics, in particular, the geopolitical struggle, than they do to facts.

Perhaps it is in their (and their political masters) nature that intelligence agencies may not be forthcoming on this issue. But I recently came across a largely unpublicised  report which I think does give some idea of what the intelligence community did know at the time. The  Review Report arising from the crash of flight MH17 was prepared by the Dutch Review Committee on the Intelligence Services specifically to answer questions from the Dutch government on what the intelligence community knew, and what they could have done to avert the disaster.

The review covers the role and knowledge of the Netherlands’ Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) and the General Intelligence and Security Service of the Netherlands (AIVD).

No, it doesn’t give the intricate details. But it does summarise their knowledge at the time – a knowledge which was informed by material from allied intelligence agencies (The Netherlands is part of NATO) and which they would have passed on to those agencies. As such, I think it provides a valuable insight into what was known – an insight enabling us to judge the claims being made by the politicians at the time. Perhaps an insight helping us to decide for ourselves which party was likely responsible for the downing of the plane, and hence the killing of 283 passengers and 15 crew.

Possible culprits

The report says:

“there were three relevant actors with military capacities in the period prior to the crash:
• Russian armed forces
• Ukrainian armed forces and
• Pro-Russian separatists.”

I have made this point repeatedly in the discussion we have had on the issue here – also saying I did not commit to any conviction that either of these parties had yet been shown to be the real culprit.

However, I now think  the intelligence community probably rules out the “Pro-Russian separatists.” The report says that neither of these parties had the intention to destroy a civil aircraft and only the Russian and Ukrainian armed forces had the weapons required. It concluded:

“Prior to the crash of flight MH17, the AIVD and the MIVD possessed the following information regarding the security situation in Eastern Ukraine that was relevant for assessing a threat to civil aircraft flying over the area:
• The Russian and the Ukrainian armed forces did have the capacity and potential to hit a civil aircraft at cruising altitude. However, they did not have the intention. There were no indications that they were engaged in activities (such as preparations) targeting civil aviation.
• There were no indications that the Separatists had the capacity to hit civil air traffic at cruising altitude. Moreover, there were no indications that they would target civil air traffic or that they were engaged in activities with this objective in mind.”

What capabilities did the “pro-Russian separatists” have?

The report concluded:

“Even though there was information pointing to the fact that the Separatists had been supplied with heavy weapons by the Russian Federation, there were no indications that these were powerful anti-aircraft systems.”

Politicians may debate that. After all, the Ukrainian Armed forces were shelling and bombing the separatist cities and villages and the separatist armed forces were certainly shooting Ukrainian planes out of the sky. But it was the very fact that separatists had been successfully shooting down those planes (particularly an An-26 military cargo plane on July 14 (3 days before flight MH17 was hit) that led intelligence forces to look closely at their capabilities. Here’s how the report describes this:

“On 14 July 2014, an An-26 military cargo aeroplane (referred to hereafter as: the Antonov), belonging to the Ukrainian airforce, was shot down. The Ukrainian authorities reported the event the same day in a briefing with Ukraine’s presidential administration in Kiev. The MIVD also received a concise report of the briefing from the Dutch Defence attaché. The report revealed that the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Klimkin, declared that the situation in the east had reached a new and dangerous phase because the Russian Federation was now openly providing the Separatists with military support. As an example of the escalation, Klimkin cited the Antonov’s being shot down in the area of Lugansk. Klimkin reported that the Antonov was flying at an altitude of 6,200 metres and could only have been hit with Russian equipment, because the Separatists did not possess this kind of anti-aircraft systems.
According to a media report on 14 July 2014 (which the MIVD possessed), the Ukrainian authorities stated that the aeroplane was flying at 6,500 metres and was not shot down by a portable anti-aircraft system but by a more powerful system. This was probably carried out from Russian territory. In the media, the Separatists claimed that they had shot down the aeroplane and taken some of the crew prisoner.”

So, spokesman for the Kiev regime were claiming (although probably didn’t really believe) that the Russian armed forces had directly entered the fray. Perhaps they were implying the Russians were effectively setting up a “no-fly zone” for Ukrainian military planes. At any rate, the possibility of direct involvement of Russian armed forces would explain the presence of Ukrainian anti-aircraft weapons in the area despite the separatists not using aeroplanes.

The intelligence community appears to reject claims of direct Russian involvement:

“If the Antonov had indeed been shot down by, or even from, the Russian Federation, this would have been a game changer. Direct Russian participation in the conflict would have become a fact.

That is why the MIVD immediately launched an investigation into the incident. In the morning of 17 July 2014, the MIVD communicated the results of this investigation in its daily intelligence summary (‘dagintsum’), which had a number of users, including the NCTV and the AIVD.”

This intelligence assessment was communicated on the very day Flight MH17 was shot down.

“The MIVD assessed it to be unlikely that the Antonov had been shot down by a powerful anti-aircraft system (separate from the question whether this had been carried out from Russian territory). From pictures of the wreckage and eyewitness accounts it was clear that the aeroplane’s right-hand engine had been hit and that 5 to 6 parachutes had subsequently appeared. The Antonov had allegedly crashed only then. On this basis, the MIVD concluded that the appearance of the damage was not consistent with a hit by a powerful anti-aircraft system. The aeroplane would in that case probably have been destroyed in the air.

The crew would probably not have survived if this had been the case. According to the MIVD, the wreckage and the eyewitnesses supported the fact that the aircraft was shot out of the air by a MANPADS from Ukrainian territory. This would only have been possible if the Antonov were flying substantially lower than 6,200 or 6,500 metres. Another possibility was that a short-range, vehicleborne anti-aircraft system”

And apparently the Ukrainian authorities, at least in their public statements, also did not believe that separatist armed forces had the capability of shooting down a civil airliner. I need to give the qualification because Ukrainian authorities are well known for providing inaccurate information for political purposes. It is likely they well knew the Antonov was not flying at the height they claim but wished to implicate the Russian federation.

What about the Buk missiles?

Although not completely ruling out an air-to-air missile the Final report of the Dutch safety board determined that MH17 was most probably hit by a missile from a Buk  system (see MH17: Final technical report).  But this review concluded that separatists just did not have such a weapon:

“The AIVD was aware that the Separatists, in addition to a broad range of artillery (eg machine guns), light anti-aircraft artillery (e.g. rocket launchers), anti-tank weapons and tanks, also possessed MANPADS and possibly short-range vehicle-borne anti-aircraft systems. Both types of systems are considered surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). Due to their limited range, the aforementioned weapons do not constitute a danger to civil aviation at cruising altitude.

“On 16 July [the day before MH17 crashed], the AIVD received a report from a reliable source that stated that there was no information that indicated that the Separatists possessed a medium-range SAM system. This comment was made in view of the circumstances related to the Ukrainian armed forces’ Antonov being shot down on 14 July 2014 in Eastern Ukraine.”

“The AIVD did not have any information that indicated that the Separatists possessed an operational, powerful anti-aircraft system such as a Buk system, also called an SA-11, prior to the crash of flight MH17.”

But what about a Buk system the separatists had captured from the Ukrainian armed forces?:

“On 29 June 2014, the Separatists captured a Ukrainian armed forces military base in Donetsk. At this base, there were Buk missile systems. These are powerful anti-aircraft systems. This development was reported extensively in the media prior to the crash. The MIVD also received intelligence information on the subject, on 30 June and 3 July 2014 as well as on other dates. During the course of July, several reliable sources indicated that the systems that were at the military base were not operational. Therefore, they could not be used by the Separatists.”

I had always considered the separatists could have been the culprit because of the availability of a captured Buk system but the intelligence community seems to have confidently ruled out that possibility.

What about a Russian Buk system?

Some motivated sources have promoted on social media a story that flight MH17 was shot down by a Russian Buk system specifically brought into eastern Ukraine for the job and removed directly after the crash. Of course, investigators must look into such stories but there does not appear to be any intelligence evidence to back them up.The review describes the relevant tasks of the Dutch intelligence bodies as investigation focused of the Russian Federation and the possible risk of an incursion into Eastern Ukraine (MIVD) and investigation of the politico-strategic aspect of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and on the Russian Federation’s political influence on Ukraine.

The review describes the relevant tasks of the Dutch intelligence bodies as investigation focused of the Russian Federation and the possible risk of an incursion into Eastern Ukraine (MIVD) and investigation of the politico-strategic aspect of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and on the Russian Federation’s political influence on Ukraine (AIVD).

Given the size of the Buk systems and the associated vehicles, it is hardly likely intelligence forces could have missed the movement of such a system in and out of eastern Ukraine, crossing the international border in two directions.

My conclusions

This may be the only direct public information about intelligence assessments of the situation in eastern Ukraine at the time of the MH17 crash the public will ever see. It is not detailed but is meant as a reliable summary for governments. And given the degree of cooperation and exchange of information among western intelligence agencies, I think it is probably an indication of the conclusions from all these agencies, not just the Dutch.

Intelligence agencies in the Russian Federation may have different or alternative information. Some, but probably not all, of this has already been released by the Russian government.

In the past, I had considered that it was highly probable Flight MH17 was accidentally shot down by separatist forces using a captured MH17 system and operators who had defected from the Ukrainian armed forces. But I now think that scenario is very unlikely. I had also thought that it was equally probable that the culprits were a unit of the Ukrainian armed forces making a mistake during a training exercise with a Buk system. I thought a scenario involving armed forces of the Russian Federation was far less likely.

Currently, I think the most likely scenario is that MH17 was mistakenly shot down by a unit of the Ukrainian armed forces – maybe in a training exercise or in an act of defense. While there is no evidence of direct involvement by air forces of the Russian Federation it is very likely that story was believed by forces on the ground, if not the politicians in Kiev promoting the story. Fear of a Russian aerial attack would also have been promoted by a series of losses of Ukrainian aircraft in the days before the MH17 crash – especially as the authorities in Kiev were claiming these could only have been shot down by Russian forces.

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Syrian karma

Karma

The first thing that came to my mind when I saw this was the US/NATO policy (or excuse for a policy) in Syria – “Assad must go!”

Climate deal signed – now for the hard bit: action

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Image credit: TWITTER/PEDRO SIRGADO

In the words of Prof Richard Allan, Reading University:

“The human race has a climate crisis, Paris has delivered a plan, next begins the hard bit: action.”

The final draft text of a climate agreement has been accepted by delegates in Paris. It’s 31 pages long and full of the normal political phrases. Download the full text if you wish to browse through the details.

The important bits are that it sets the goal of limiting the world’s rise in average temperature to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius”.

Countries will be required to report on “national inventories of emissions by source” and also to report on their mitigation efforts. There will be an ongoing structure to enable this and check compliance.

NZ researchers comments

Here are some comments from New Zealand researchers gathered by the NZ Science Media Centre:

Professor James Renwick, Climate Scientist, School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University, comments: 

“The Paris Agreement is a great achievement, the most positive thing to come out of the COP negotiations to date. The call for transparency, continual ratcheting up of emissions targets, and the provisions for climate finance, are very positive outcomes.

“Great to see (in article 4) that developed countries shall undertake “economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets”. Take note, New Zealand – no hot-air credits, actual emissions reductions are required. But, targets remain voluntary and the required actions remain daunting.

“The review of a 1.5°C warming limit may come too late as we are well on the way to 1.5°C with present greenhouse gas levels. Staying below 2°C warming is a big ask, but this document provides a framework for action. Now we just need the action.”

Professor Ralph Sims, Director, Centre for Energy Research, Massey University, comments:

“The Paris Agreement is certainly a major step forward given all the national constraints and differences. It is in many ways a compromise and I doubt will have any immediate impacts on NZ government policies.

“Minister Paula Bennett will take some time to come to grips with her new portfolio and the Royal Society’s Climate Change Mitigation panel that I chair will be producing outputs that should help with the realisation that there is much New Zealand can do to reduce our GHG emissions – and not rely on buying carbon credits from offshore as is the current intention.

“The only mention of carbon pricing in the Agreement is below – with nothing about carbon trading far as I am aware: ‘Also recognizes the important role of providing incentives for emission reduction activities, including tools such as domestic policies and carbon pricing’.

“The really positive outcome of the COP21 was in fact outside the Plenary rooms.

“The momentum of businesses, cities, NGOs, financiers, bankers, indeed across all civil society, in their intent to move towards a rapid transformation to a low-carbon economy was far more impressive than the formal negotiations.

“There will be many years of further negotiations needed to support the principles of this Agreement. But COP21 will be remembered for the event where global society came to fully understand the many opportunities and co-benefits that climate change mitigation and adaptation methods provide.

“This indeed was a key message of the IPCC Mitigation 5th Assessment Report. After working on renewable energy systems for over 40 years at Massey University, it is pleasing to see that it will now have a major contribution to make worldwide alongside energy efficiency and innovative technology development. Technologies will not solve it alone – and behavioural change and social issues are key – but the transformation has begun.

“Overall the COP reminded me of a two week-long Telethon with announcements, celebrities, new funding announcements – “Thank you very much for your kind donation!”

“NZ will have to become more nimble and innovative to reduce our emissions across all sectors and keep up with the leading countries I think.”

Comments from UK researchers

The following comments, and Prof Allan’s above, were gathered by the UK Science Media Centre:

Ajay Gambhir, Senior Research Fellow at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London, said:

“It is remarkable that a text of this ambition has been agreed by all Parties, given the much less ambitious options still on the table just three days ago. However, the gap between the agreement’s goal to limit warming to well below 2 degrees C and the current combined level of countries’ emissions pledges – which are not nearly enough to achieve this goal –  means there is considerable work to do over the coming years.”

Prof Daniela Schmidt, Bristol University, said:

“Limiting the rate and magnitude of climate change will have a large impact on the reaction of the world’s ecosytems.  The challenge will be in everybody’s commitments to be visionary to achieve this goal.”

Dr Ilan Kelman, University College London, said:

“The Paris outcome is momentous, but let’s not get too carried away. The initial draft’s limitations are not overcome, especially that key parts remain voluntary. Major hurdles still exist in countries taking forward this agreement – given that governments change and that strongly opposed interests have not disappeared. Then, we have implementation on the ground which will take years. Today is not the end, but the beginning of a journey which has already taken too long to start.”

Prof Simon Lewis, Professor of global change science, University College London, said:

“The new Paris Agreement is historic, important, world-changing and inadequate all at the same time. It is astonishing that all the countries of the world have agreed a pathway together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the proof that this will happen will depend on  policy changes.

“To meet a target of well below 2 degrees C above per-industrial levels will require leaving the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Will the deployment of renewable technologies be quick enough and cheap enough to keep fossil fuels in the ground? Personally I hope so. The proof will be whether globally investors shun fossil fuels and we soon see coal companies going out of business while investments in renewable technologies skyrocket.”

Prof David Reay, Professor of Carbon Management, University of Edinburgh, said:

“This is a game-changer. The long nights of negotiations have paid dividends. Legally binding, a robust way to increase emissions reductions, and strong reporting requirements – really impressive.  This agreement is the first concrete step on our collective way towards avoiding dangerous climate change. Paris already has the world’s sympathy, today it also has the world’s gratitude.”

Summaries from the New York Times

The New York Times also has commentary and reactions to the following specific clauses (see Nations Approve Landmark Climate Accord in Paris and Inside the Paris Climate Deal).

Temperature Increase

“Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

Preservation of forests

“Parties are encouraged to take action to implement and support, including through results-based payments, the existing framework as set out in related guidance and decisions already agreed under the Convention for: policy approaches and positive incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries; and alternative policy approaches, such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests, while reaffirming the importance of incentivizing, as appropriate, non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches.”

Bearing the cost

“As part of a global effort, developed country Parties should continue to take the lead in mobilizing climate finance from a wide variety of sources, instruments and channels, noting the significant role of public funds, through a variety of actions, including supporting country-driven strategies, and taking into account the needs and priorities of developing country Parties. Such mobilization of climate finance should represent a progression beyond previous efforts.”

Tansparency

“In order to build mutual trust and confidence and to promote effective implementation, an enhanced transparency framework for action and support, with built-in flexibility which takes into account Parties’ different capacities and builds upon collective experience is hereby established.”

Absence of “Greenhouse Gasd Emissions Neutrality”

“In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.”

Loss and damage

“Parties recognize the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events, and the role of sustainable development in reducing the risk of loss and damage.”

Five-year contributions

“Each Party shall communicate a nationally determined contribution every five years in accordance with decision 1/CP.21 and any relevant decisions of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement and be informed by the outcomes of the global stocktake referred to in Article 14.”

See details of comments on these clauses at  Inside the Paris Climate Deal – The New York Times.

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The problem with reasoned discussion

scienceoftruth-460-300x168

Why is  a straightforward logical discussion so impossible? Why do our discussion partners refuse to accept our reasoned arguments? And, if we are honest, why do we ourselves find it so difficult to accept the reasonable logic of our discussion partners?

Well, a recent article at the blog “Why We Reason” provides an answer. It is  Psychology’s Treacherous Trio: Confirmation Bias, Cognitive Dissonance, and Motivated Reasoning and reinforces what I have often felt – we are not really a rational species – more a rationalising one.

Beliefs dictate what and how we see

The article gets to the root of the matter – the psychological forces that fuel our conversations:

“While many like to believe that they have a special access to the truth, the reality is that we all see the world not as it is, but as we want it to be: Republicans watch Fox while Democrats watch MSNBC; creationists see fossils as evidence of God, evolutionary biologists see fossils as evidence of evolution; a mother sees abortion as the best thing for her daughter, and the church sees it as unholy and sinful. You get the point – our beliefs dictate what we see and how we see.”

The article goes on to discuss “a few psychological tendencies that when mixed together form a potent recipe for ignorance.”

Confirmation bias

dilbert-confirmation-bias

Confirmation bias sticks out like a sore thumb when participants in discussion cherry-pick authorities and citations to support their arguments. Well, it sticks out like a sore thumb to the discussion partner anyway (who may also be cherry-picking to confirm an opposite bias).

“Confirmation bias is exactly what it sounds like – the propensity for people to look for what confirms their beliefs and ignore what contradicts their beliefs while not being concerned for the truth.”

Hard not to fall into that trap when discussing complex issues within the constraints of limited space and time. But, nevertheless, something we should attempt to avoid.

Cognitive dissonance

dilbert_diss

“Then there’s cognitive dissonance, which describes a “state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions that are psychologically inconsistent.” “

The article provides an example:

“Leon Festinger introduced it in 1957 after he infiltrated and studied a UFO cult convinced the world would end at midnight on December 21st, 1954. In his book When Prophecy FailsFestinger recounts how after midnight came and went, cult members began to look for reasons for why the end of the world had not come. Eventually the leader of the cult, Marian Keech, explained to her members that she received a message from automatic writing, which told her that the God of Earth decided to spare the planet from destruction. Relieved, the cult members continued to spread their doomsday ideology to non-believers. Although Festiner’s example is extreme, all of us do this everyday. Take unhealthy food; we all know that pizza is bad for us, but we still eat it. And after finishing a few slices we say “it was worth it,” or “I’ll run it off tomorrow.” Or take smokers; they know that smoking kills but continue to smoke. And after unsuccessfully quitting, they justify their failures by claiming that, “smoking isn’t that bad” or that “it is worth the risk.” Whether it’s UFO’s, food, or smoking we all hold inconsistent beliefs and almost always side with what is most comfortable instead of what is true.”

Motivated reasoning

Dilbert - mot reason

The article describes this as “our tendency to accept what we want to believe with much more ease and much less analysis than what we don’t want to believe.”

I think religious apologists often provide the most obvious examples of motivated reasoning – probably because they are often trained in philosophy and logic. They will argue that their beliefs are based on reason and not faith, and seem to enjoy constructing logical arguments for their claims which seem to be built on simple logical steps. Yet, they gloss over, or ignore, the huge jumps in logic which are inevitably part of their reasoning.

Maybe a faith-based belief reinforced by motivated reasoning is the hardest to defeat because the proponent actually believes their arguments are completely rational.

The article concludes:

“So what’s the difference between confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, and motivated reasoning? The short answer is that there really aren’t any differences. Generally speaking, they serve the same purpose, and that is to frame the world so it makes sense to us. But there are a few nuances worth mentioning. For one, motivated reasoning is like an evil twin to cognitive dissonance in that it tries to avoid it. And for another, and I quote NYU psychologist Gary Marcus who says it perfectly, “whereas confirmation bias is an automatic tendency to notice data that fit with our beliefs, motivated reasoning is the complementary tendency to scrutinize ideas more carefully if we don’t like them than if we do.””

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John Pilger on Paris, ISIS and Media Propaganda

You might not agree with everything John Pilger says – but he is always up front and clear in what he does say.

Some very relevant comments from Pilger in this recent Going Underground Special interview.

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Can world leaders learn from the Paris terror attacks?

Putin Obama G20

This photo of Presidents Obama and Putin in serious and intense discussion  at the current G20 meeting symbolises what could be a positive change in international politics. Perhaps the Friday 13th acts of terror in Paris precipitated this particular meeting – or perhaps it is a culmination of geopolitical changes since the 2014 G20 conference in Brisbane.

Or perhaps I am just being  far too optimistic. After all, the problems facing the world today are pretty intractable.

“What have you done?”

It seems to me that a key moment was September UN General Assembly meeting where President Putin warned about the consequences of geopolitical trends. His  question to world leaders – “Do you realise what you’ve done?” – proved tragically prophetic (see the full text of his speech at Putin’s UN address: “Do you realise what you’ve done?”). France is just the most recent country to suffer extreme acts of terrorism and we should not ignore the other recent acts most probably carried out by Islamic State in Turkey, Lebanon and the Sinai Peninsula.

However, Putin’s question was primarily directed at political leaders in France and Turkey, as well as Europe, NATO, the USA, UK and the Middle East. These leaders have pursued policies of regime change which have, at best, downplayed the problems of terrorism, or at worst actually used terrorist groups like Islamic State and its affiliates to carry out regime change.

Now, perhaps, they are starting to realise the consequences of those policies and are becoming  a little more willing to support the concept of an international alliance to counter terrorism.

But only a “little more willing,” and that is not enough.

What right have outsiders to impose “regime change?”

French president Francois Hollande said during the emergency meeting of the French parliament:

“In Syria, we’re looking for the political solution to the problem, which is not Bashar Assad. Our enemy in Syria is ISIL,”

Good – France now supports a political solution to the Syrian civil war – but surely that is a solution which must be put into effect by the Syrian people. What right does the leader of a foreign country have to demand that any particular Syrian politicians must or must not be part of that process?

Western and Middle Western political leaders need to realise that an imposed “regime change’ of the sort that took place in Iraq and Libya will only promote more terrorism – in fact, is the source of the current terrorism. Regime change should be in the hands of the Syrian people – not external countries.

But there is a glimmer of hope. Maybe recent changes were precipitated by the intervention of Russian forces in Syria to prevent an armed overthrow of the government. But the Syrian peace talks in Vienna seem to be making some progress. There is now more talk of a political settlement, a ceasefire negotiated between the Syrian government and selected opposition forces and a timetable for parliamentary and presidential elections. The Syrian leadership is open to this process and hopefully the more genuine opposition  forces can be encouraged to take part.

And, isn’t that a better way to change a political regime?

External political leaders should stop their talk of “Assad must go” – it is arrogant and disrespectful to the Syrian people. What the hell are these western and Middle Eastern leaders going to do if a political settlement leads to democratic and constitutional changes and Assad is re-elected? Are they going to refuse to accept the will of the Syrian people?

Who is backing Islamic State?

Meanwhile, reports from the G20 meeting show that president Putin has provided leaders with evidence of the support helping to maintain ISIS and similar terrorist groups. He told reporters:

“”I provided examples related to our data on the financing of Islamic State units by natural persons in various countries. The financing comes from 40 countries, as we established, including some G20 members.”

He also presented satellite images and aerial photos showing the true scale of the Islamic State oil trade:

“I’ve demonstrated the pictures from space to our colleagues, which clearly show the true size of the illegal trade of oil and petroleum products market. Car convoys stretching for dozens of kilometers, going beyond the horizon when seen from a height of four-five thousand meters.”

Now, it seems to me that NATO and the US have demonstrated great skills in targeting sanctions at individual business and political leaders in the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Crimea. Surely it is not beyond them to destroy the financial and economic support current shoring up Islamic State. They must know who these business leaders are – and they must surely know who is trading the oil Islamic State transports into Turkey.

Surely, all they need is the political will.

Coordinating the anti-terror struggle

Wouldn’t armed attacks on Islamic State be far more effective if they were coordinated. If participants shared intelligence and identified agreed targets? Again, that is surely realistic – if an anti-Nazi coalition was possible during the last world war surely an anti-terror coalition would be a lot easier now. The current US excuses for refusing cooperation seem petty and inappropriate given the seriousness of the situation.

But that requires abandoning a failed policy of “regime change.” That requires a fundamental change in international power – or at least the recognition that a single superpower should no longer be allowed to dictate the political and social arrangements of other countries.

Still, I look at that photo above and it does give me hope.

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Why doesn’t Putin shirtfront someone?

Darina

A 10-month-old girl gazing at the planes in St. Petersburg airport before departing to Egypt – this picture has become the symbol of the plane crash in Sinai on social media. Image credit: Darina Gromova © vk.com/id72829

Can’t help being provocative here.

Surely if the Russian authorities want a clear answer to what caused the crash of the Airbus A-321 in the Sinai Peninsula they have only to call on some renowned “experts” like Tony Abbott (ex Australian PM), US President Barack Obama, UK PM David Cameron or a few of the newspapers who are fond of pronouncing judgment. These “experts’ were able to confidently assign guilt within hours for the crash of the Malaysian MH17  in eastern Ukraine last year! They were very confident in their attributing blame, very loud – and, what’s more, imposed economic and political sanctions pretty well straight away.

Why are the Russian authorities so backward? Why is their Foreign Ministry’s  spokeswoman Maria Zakharova so reluctant to apportion blame by saying:

“How can we talk about any version, when our experts have only just begun to work on the site of the crash?”

Why did the Russian Foreign Ministry say on Monday that debating the reasons for the crash of the Russian Airbus A-321 in Egypt is “premature?”

Do these Russian authorities not have the same love for these civilian victims (mostly citizens of the Russian Federation) that Tony Abbott, President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron had for the innocent victims of the MH17 crash?

Abbott had no doubt from the very beginning that Vladimir Putin was directly responsible for the MH17 tragedy and threatened to “shirtfront” Putin at the Brisbane G20 leaders meeting.

Now, our media keep telling us what a rude and brazen person Putin is. Why isn’t he threatening to “shirtfront” someone? Why hasn’t Putin already apportioned blame and expressed the same supreme confidence in a scenario that we were exposed to last year over MH17.

Is Putin a weak leader who couldn’t care less about the plight of his people?

Or were Tony Abbott, Barack Obama, David Cameron, etc., simply attempting to make political capital out of a tragedy?

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The London Times had no trouble identifying the culprit last year – it didn’t have to wait for any evidence.

Is, in fact, Putin illustrating what a real responsible leader should do? Is he just being true to his request over MH17 that political leaders stop using the tragedy for political purposes and wait to see the findings of the investigation instead of launching a lynching party without any evidence.

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St Petersburg: Russian mourns victims of plane crash in Egypt. Image credit: Moscow Times.

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MH17: Final technical report


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The final technical report from the Dutch safety Board on the crash of Malaysian flight MH17 in Eastern Ukraine has just been released. You can download your copy here or go to the Final report page which also provides links to the appendices. (Warning – I don’t think this URL is permanent).

Having discussed the previous preliminary report here, and got into a debate on responsibility for the crash, I feel the need to make at least some comment on the final report. My comments will be brief – I have so far not read the complete document. The report is 280 pages long, and there are extra, important, appendices (I think about 26 in total) which are also quite lengthy. Very few people will invest the time to get their head around all these.

So, my observations:

1: Its very technical

Well – it could be worse. The report itself does leave the details to appendices – and doesn’t give even appendices for some of the evidence. This video of a recent press conference by the Russian Arms manufacturer gives an idea if the complexity of the issue (made worse in this case by having to rely on an oral English translation). Skip through to the middle if you want to avoid the formal introductions.

2: Blame

This technical investigation did not have the task of apportioning blame – that is the subject of a later report (probably next year) from the criminal investigation group. However, the Ukrainian Government does get the obvious blame for allowing commercial flights  over a war zone – moreover a zone where planes were regularly being shot down. The lessons about this are probably the most important, and of most interest to potential airline passengers. The report makes some recommendations on this

3: The most likely scenario involves a surface-to-air missile

While the report is definitive about this it effectively relies on two assumptions:

  • Most of the likely air-to-air missiles stationed in the area do not contain the “pre-formed elements” (shrapnel) of the shapes found in the crash debris and the bodies of the flight crew.
  • There were no other aircraft in the area at the time. I couldn’t find any mention of the Russian primary radar data released soon after the crash which did suggest two other aircraft were present (these would not necessarily have shown up on the secondary air-traffic control radar if they were military). This was referred to in the preliminary report (see MH17 – Preliminary report leaves most conspiracy theories intact).

So, I don’t think the air-air missile scenario is definitely excluded but the surface-to-air missile scenario seems most likely and that is what was tested in computer simulations.

4: A Buk missile with a specific warhead was most likely used.

This was based on the recovery of “preformed elements” from bodies of the crew and the aircraft debris. Bow-tie, and square elements were found. The 9N314M warhead contains such elements.

Interestingly the missiles on the Buk-1 system (used by the Ukrainian armed forces use this warhead, but not the missiles on the Buk-2 system (used by the Russian federation armed forces).

The manufacture of the Buk systems, Almaz-Antey, claim the preformed elements found show an even earlier warhead was used, rather than the 9N314M. These warheads are no longer used in the Russian Federation as they are past their use-by date. But the manufacturer had reported servicing the older Buk systems own by Ukraine in the last 10 years.

5: Aircraft damage used to find possible missile trajectory

Simulation modelling was used to find the likely missile trajectory and launch region. The modelling was done by two Dutch groups (NLR & TNO), a forensic group in the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice and the Almaz-Antey company (the manufacturer). While all groups produced similar results  using the NLR/TNO data the Almaz-Antey group found a different missile orientation and locality on detonation using their own collected data.

This difference is immaterial for the purposes of this report but will be important for the criminal investigation.

Incidentally, Almaz-Antey have tested their computer simulations using field experiments involving detonation of a missile near typical material used in construction of the plane and, more recently, the front section of a decommissioned plane very similar to the Boeing. They reported in the press conference in the above video that the experiments vindicated their simulation results. However, the last experiment came too late to influence the Dutch safety Board Report.

Conclusion

No one expected identification of the forces responsible for shooting down flight MH17 in this report – and this is not the task of the Dutch Safety Board. More information apportioning blame should appear in the report from the Criminal investigation Team next year.

The report drew some conclusions about how authorities and airlines should handle the problem of flights over areas of conflict. Hopefully, this will make airline travel safer in future.

In my mind, a scenario involving an air-to-air missile was not completely ruled out (and perhaps the report should have been more qualified about this). However, a surface-to-air missile appears most likely.

So, two of the scenarios (involving attack aircraft) I suggested in my article on the preliminary report, MH17 – Preliminary report leaves most conspiracy theories intact, are most likely ruled out. The remaining scenario I mentioned was that the plane was downed by a surface-to-air missile launched by armed forces of the Kiev government, the Russian Federation or the opposition pro-autonomy militias.

The old warhead suggests that armed forces of the Russian federation were not involved and most probably rules out the social media story of a Russian Buk system being brought in specifically for the attack and then quickly removed.

I think this leaves either the armed forces of the Kiev government (Ukrainian army) or the Donetsk and Luhansk regions fighting for autonomy. The Ukrainian army is known to have weapons of this sort while both Kiev and the rebels claimed the rebels did not.

However, there is evidence that the rebels had either captured one or more Buk systems, or had obtained them via defection of military from the Ukrainian army (on the other hand reports from both the rebels and the Ukrainian side have claimed that at least one captured system was not operational).

So, still too early to claim we know who shot down MH17.

But, of course, that won’t stop the politically motivated blame game that has been going on in the international media (and promoted by some governments) ever since the plane hit the ground.

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MH17 – another Boeing sacrificed for investigation.

 

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Image credit: All World Wars

In a few days, the Dutch Safety Board releases its final report on the shooting down of Malaysian airliner MH17.

Hopefully, it will contain something conclusive – at least about the nature of the weapon used. This should enable a decision between the two scenarios – an air-to-air missile or a ground-air-missile.

But I don’t hold out hope for much else. After all, the preliminary report was very disappointing (see MH17 – Preliminary report leaves most conspiracy theories intact. Since then there have been so many conflicting stories, leaks of information and vague statements  followed by denials. Many people, and some governments, have lost confidence in the objectivity of the investigators.

Still, there should be at least some facts revealed in the final report. And if easily available material – such as the radar, satellite and air-traffic-control data – are not presented, there will be pressure for a more thorough investigation.

Meanwhile, there are reports a Russian arms manufacturer has carried out the ultimate experiment to determine if any of their missiles was involved in the MH17 incident. In my article MH17 tragedy: 1 year on I presented this video report of their investigation to that date.

The company, Almaz-Antey, offered to carry out a controlled explosion of a missile below a decommissioned Boeing plane to test their theoretical analyses. Now they seem to have gone ahead at their own expense.

This is a very expensive experiment – but I guess that have strong commercial motives as they are challenging sanctions taken against them in a European court. So it is probably a sensible investment from their point of view. And there is big profits in arms sales.

They claim:

“Preliminary analysis of the results of the field experiment confirmed the version of event announced at a press conference in Moscow on June 2, 2015.”

This version was presented in the above video and suggests that if a Buk missile was used it was of the type used by the Ukrainian armed forces, not by the Russian Federation.

This report indicates that the “full results of field experiment will be announced at a press conference in Moscow” on Tuesday 13th, October – the same day the final report of the Dutch Safety Committee is released.

So, an interesting week ahead for those interested in international politics, the geopolitical struggle and aircraft crashes. There should be plenty of new, or at least more substantial, information to debate.

See also:
Russian rocket maker blows up plane to prove it didn’t blow up MH17
Russian Missile Maker Blows Up Decommissioned Boeing in MH17 Probe

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