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Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Is this a record?

Nov 1,2011

Twice in the last forty-eight hours I have been stopped by tourists asking me to explain the significance of the Remembrance Poppy that I was wearing.

Is this a record?

Oct 31,2011

In July the Foreign Secretary announced that the UK would be hosting an international conference on cyberspace.  The purpose was to bring together governments, international organisations, NGOs and businesses from around the world to “address the challenges presented by the networked world including cyber crime that threatens individuals, companies, and governments.”  William Hague said that it was “vital that cyberspace remains a safe and trusted environment in which to operate. This can only be done effectively through international cooperation, engaging both the public and private sectors. Together I hope that we can begin to build the broadest possible international consensus.”

In case you missed it this major attempt to build international consensus is taking place tomorrow and Wednesday – indeed the process of international bonding began over drinks and nibbles at the Science Museum earlier this evening.

However, looking at the programme, it is not clear what the programme offers that is going to be different from numerous similar gatherings over the last few years.  Nor is it apparent where the “broadest possible international consensus” is going to be hammered out.

But we are assured that it is going to look good …..


But this picture really does deserve a caption competition:


Printable suggestions only please.

Aug 8,2011

I gather that the Total Politics Blog Awards are now in progress.  I want to make it quite clear that I will not be in the least bit affronted should you chose to vote for this blog by clicking here.

Jul 29,2011

Along with twelve MPs (six Labour and six Conservative), I have written to David Cameron about Cyprus.

The letter is as follows:

“Nearly four decades after the illegal invasion of Cyprus, Turkish troops continue to occupy approximately 38% of the island’s territory. For 37 years, the world has condemned the occupation and Turkey’s intransigence in efforts to find a solution to reunite Cyprus.

In that same time, apartheid came to an end in South Africa, the USSR disintegrated, the Berlin Wall fell, former eastern bloc countries joined the European Union, and the people’s calls for democracy have triumphed over dictatorship in some Arab countries in the Middle East. During the same period, British troops have been engaged in conflicts around the world, fighting injustice, protecting British sovereignty and safeguarding or seeking to deliver democracy.

Since signing the 1959 Treaty of Guarantee, the United Kingdom has been a guarantor power of the independence and territorial integrity of Cyprus, with the full weight of responsibility that such status entails. But against the backdrop of the UK’s active role in international political progress around the world, the problem of Cyprus remains virtually at a standstill. While successive UK Governments have paid lip service to delivering justice in Cyprus, these same governments have effectively allowed the Cyprus problem to be downgraded as a foreign policy priority. In addition to the Treaty of Guarantee, Cyprus is a member of, and this country’s partner in, the European Union, Council of Europe and the Commonwealth, as well as a country on which Britain maintains sovereign military bases: these facts alone demand the focus and attention of the British Government to help reunite the island.

Since Turkey’s invasion in 1974, hundreds of thousands of Cypriots have remained refugees, unable to return to their rightful homes, while their properties have been appropriated and exploited by the unlawful regime in the occupied north. In the last 37 years, tens of thousands of Turkish nationals have been moved to the occupied areas by Turkey, as part of an orchestrated policy to change the island’s demography. What is more, cultural and religious sites in the occupied area have been deliberately desecrated. Ignoring relatives’ desperate pleas to respond on a deeply humanitarian issue, Turkey has stubbornly refused to investigate the fate of hundreds of Cypriot men, women and children who disappeared without trace during its military invasion. On top of all this, Turkey has been allowed to disregard numerous UN Security Council resolutions and the decisions of international courts with complete impunity.

Such a situation raises serious questions about the UK’s own role and responsibilities in this continuing tragedy. It is not only on behalf of the sizeable Cypriot community in the UK that we write to you, but on behalf of all other Britons who believe that their country should work, on the international stage, in order to defend justice and human rights.

We are writing to remind you of the clear and irrefutable responsibilities that the British Government holds with regard to Cyprus. We call upon you, as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, to demand unequivocally that Turkey works sincerely for the reunification of Cyprus and that it fulfils its obligations to the EU in relation to Cyprus. Further, we urge you to use Britain’s diplomatic leverage with the United States of America and through the UN, the EU and NATO to press Turkey to end its unacceptable military occupation of Cyprus and the island’s unlawful and unjust division.

To that end, and as a first step in that direction, we, the undersigned, call upon you to extend an urgent invitation to Cyprus President Demetris Christofias to meet with you, in an official capacity, so that he can inform you on the latest political developments regarding Cyprus and so that you can explore with him ways in which the United Kingdom can actively contribute to efforts to bring to an end this continuing injustice.”

Jul 22,2011

My good friend and webmaster, Jon Worth, has it absolutely right in his blog written earlier tonight:

“We have known for a few hours that twin attacks have taken place in Norway – an explosion in central Oslo and a series of shootings at Utøya, an island in Tyrifjordento the north east of Oslo where a Labour Party youth meeting was taking place.

Beyond that what do we actually know? Rather little, at least for sure. That’s indeed the position taken by Norwegian PM Jens Stoltenberg, who was calm and collected in a television statement (can’t find the video of it online), saying it was not known who or what was to blame, the priority was for everyone’s security, and people should remain calm. Spot on, and my good friend Bente Kalsnes who lives in Oslo agrees.

But what do you then get? 24 hour news channels start an endless stream of speculation about what may or may not have happened.”

And his latest update notes:

“Partial volte-face from BBC’s Gordon Corera from BBC’s Live Text? (BST to CET explains time difference)

2211: Gordon Corera Security correspondent, BBC News During the day, after an initial focus on an al-Qaeda link, the possibility of domestic extremism increasingly came into focus. The choice of targets – government buildings and a political youth rally – suggested a possible political agenda rather than the mass casualty approach typically employed by al-Qaeda.

Maybe you should not have been so swift to jump to conclusions at the start?”

It is always worth remembering that in the immediate aftermath of an incident even knowing what has happened may be difficult to determine for some while. Remember the initial reports of a “power surge” on the London Underground on the morning of 7th July 2005.  Or the misreporting of the man who jumped over a ticket barrier wearing a bulky coat at Stockwell Station fifteen days later (he turned out to have been one of the armed police team pursuing the tragically unfortunate Jean-Charles de Menezes rather than a suicide bomber).  Or for that matter the initial reports assuming that the Madrid train bombings were ETA-related.

Generals used to talk of “the fog of war”.  But rolling media with their desperate need for an endless supply of talking-head experts create their own fog.  I was in New York on 9th September 2001, sitting in a diner listening to a feed from one of the New York radio stations, when first one “expert” opined that the attacks on the World Trade Center could have been so much worse – “suppose those airliners had been packed with anthrax spores” – which prompted the radio station to produce another “expert” fifteen minutes later to tell listeners what the symptoms of anthrax were and what they should do if they started to have difficulty in breathing ….

This is not to suggest that the media should be censored in the aftermath of atrocities like those today, but rather that media editors and presenters should be responsible and avoid speculation until more facts are known. Maybe, given the excitements about the News of the World and the British media over the last few weeks, the idea of the media acting responsibly looks like a forlorn hope.  However, I do not believe it is an unreasonable aspiration.

Jun 5,2011

High-level legal guru, Stewart Room, gave an excellent presentation at last week’s East-West Institute Global Cyber Security Summit.  In it he called for a “general obligation for security”, saying:

“I believe that holders of sensitive data, the controllers of important networks, systems and infrastructures – and their supply chains – should face a clear legal requirement to keep these assets safe and secure. As well as describing the obligation, this general security law should describe the consequences of failure.”

He pointed out that:

“It is naive to think that all relevant actors will do what is necessary to protect these assets without a clear steer from the law. Ignorance, laziness, apathy, short sightedness and greed are all powerful counterweights to enlightened self interest.”

He also highlighted the dangers of simply addressing the problem through the prism of the protection of personal data only.  Intellectual property is currently being leeched from corporate data systems all over the world – an issue repeatedly referred to at the Summit.  Likewise the vulnerability of national infrastructure systems – including power grids and water supplies – is also now increasingly apparent.

He warned that:

“In the UK and most of the rest of Europe the law for security is effectively left to reside in the domain of privacy and data protection law. This is a grave mistake. …  it gives the mistaken impression that the law only sees security as being important in the context of the handling of personal data. Of course, we all know that the substance of security extends much further that this. The impact of this problem is worsened by the fact that far too many people and organisations do not take data protection law seriously. Thus, the law is not properly driving behaviours.”

And there may be unintended consequences:

“This gives effective ownership of the field to people who are the least competent to manage it. I am talking about a small cadre of data protection regulators and bureaucrats, who are so slanted toward privacy that they may unwittingly encumber us with anti-security policies, which could jeopardise the health of cyberspace, our economies and our societies.”

He concluded byasking “what will a general obligation for security look like?”:

“Aside from removing the issue from the privacy and data protection domain and describing the nature of the obligation to secure assets and the penalties that may flow in breach, a general obligation for security will capture:

1. Critical definitions. We need to agree the parameters and make sure that we are all talking the same language.

2. The traditional “cyber crime” subject matter, dealing with the criminalisation and prosecution of unacceptable behaviours of hackers, botnets and others whom attack information and information systems. The interests of law enforcement should be properly served.

3. The role of the private sector cyber security industry, so that innovation in IT solutions can continue. We are totally reliant upon the private sector for security solutions, so we must give it our full support.

4. Intelligence sharing between the public and private sectors and across geographical boundaries.

5. The need for identification measures for people and machines operating in cyberspace. Privacy should not provide a cloak for criminals and anti-social behaviour.

6. The right for people and organisations under cyberattack to take offensive action in their defence. This is probably the most controversial point. But we need to ask ourselves whether it is morally right to tie the hands of those under attack. And we need to be sure that we do not open Pandora’s box.”

Whilst ideally this needs a solution in international law, a good start would be made by legal changes in this country to establish a better and more robust framework, whilst British Ministers argue for European-wide changes via Brussels and press the case through the G8 and G20 fora.

There was a palpable sense of urgency about the need for change at last week’s summit.  I hope it was felt by Francis Maude MP, who is apparently now the Minister in charge of cyber-security, and that he takes it back to his Government colleagues.

May 25,2011

The Metropolitan Police Authority meets tomorrow at City Hall for the first time since the Prime Minister instructed/encouraged/invited/asked the Commissioner to consider a review of the Madeleine McCann case.  And outside there will be a vigil to remember all missing children attended by relatives and campaigners.  Several MPA members (including Jenny Jones AM and Jennette Arnold AM) have already announced they will be joining them.

I am sure that those campaigners and relatives will be asking whether the cases in which they are concerned can be reviewed by the Metropolitan Police in the same way that the Madeleine McCann case is to be.  And this is hardly surprising.

The Commissioner will no doubt tonight be polishing up his answers as to why he made the operational decision (without being pressurised by a politician, of course) that the McCann case should be reviewed and whether the same factors will apply to the other cases.

He will also no doubt remind the Authority that the Home Office has offered to pay for the costs of the investigation.  This is, I am sure, a welcome contribution to the Met’s budget, but will this cover only the additional costs of the investigation or will it cover the costs of the salaries of the detectives engaged in the review and, if so, where will the replacement detectives be found to cover the work that those detectives would otherwise have done?

And was this offer of financial assistance a factor in the operational decision that the Commissioner made to have this review?  And, if it was a factor, does the offer to pay guarantee anyone else a Metropolitan Police case review?  Might be a nice little earner.

I am sure the Commissioner has also given thought to what will happen after the review has been concluded.  Will the review be shared with the McCann’s?  And, if not, what is the purpose of the review?  I am confident that all will be made clear tomorrow.

May 14,2011

I was going to comment on an extremely perceptive review by David Marquand of Vernon Bogdanor’s “The Coalition and the Constitution” which appears on page 8 of the Guardian’s Review section.  But after ten minutes of unsuccessfully trying to find it on www.guardian.co.uk so that I could link to it, the urge has passed…….

Sorry about that.

May 13,2011

David Cameron has instructed the Metropolitan Police to review the case of Madeleine McCann.  This is in response to an open letter in The Sun and is entirely predictable in terms of the “pulling power” of News International on Government policy.

However, his intervention drives a coach and horses through the draft protocol issued by the Home Office designed to preserve the operational independence of the Police which says:

“The operational independence of the police service, and the decisions made by its operational leadership remain reserved to the Office of Chief Constable and that Office alone.”

Whilst no-one doubts the desirability of doing what can sensibly be done to find out what has happened to Madeleine McCann, I can imagine that the senior leadership of the Metropolitan Police are not exactly happy about this.  It again embroils their officers in a high profile investigation, where the chances of success are unclear, and which will divert limited investigative resources away from other matters.

Mar 21,2011

I was intrigued by this unsigned article on Homeland Security Newswire earlier today which suggests that the current UN-approved bombing campaign in Libya is rather half-hearted and without clear objectives:

“The weekend attacks on targets inside Libya raise more questions about NATO’s ultimate goal in the campaign.

Here is what we know about the attacks on Libya, based on reports by the BBC and Fox News: On the military front

    • The United States fired 124 Tomahawk missiles onto strategic air defense systems across Libya.
    • There were no reports of any allied planes being lost and no reports of civilian injury.
    • A total of 15 U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps aircraft engaged Libya, including three B2 bombers. The bombers targeted pro-Qaddafi ground forces.
    • The U.S. has at least eleven naval vessels in the Mediterranean, including three submarines, two destroyers, two amphibious warfare ships, and the USS Mount Whitney, a command-and-control vessel that is the flagship of the Navy’s 6th Fleet.
    • Also in the area are Navy P-3 and EP-3 surveillance aircraft.
    • Qatar is to send four planes to join the coalition enforcing the UN-mandated no-fly zone. The move would make Qatar the first Arab country to play an active part in the campaign against Col Gaddafi.
    • Other Arab countries are also preparing to join the campaign against Col Gaddafi, Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, the director of the Joint Staff, said, adding that those governments would make their own announcements in due course.
    • The build-up of forces to enforce the no-fly zone continues. The French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle has left the Mediterranean port of Toulon for Libya.
    • Denmark and Norway are each sending six planes. Spain has sent at least three planes, plus a refuelling aircraft, while Italy also has jets ready to deploy.
    • In a news conference on Sunday, a Libyan military spokesman said its armed forces had ordered a ceasefire across the entire country, beginning at 21:00 local time (19:00 GMT).
    • Despite the announcement, the BBC correspondent says that pro-Gaddafi troops have tried to enter Benghazi and have been in action at Misrata.
    • A rebel spokesman in Misrata told the BBC that pro-Gaddafi forces had launched fresh attacks on Sunday with heavy shelling.

On the political front

    • The head of the Arab League, who supported the idea of a no-fly zone, has criticized the severity of the bombardment. “What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” said Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa. Arab League support was a key factor in getting UN Security Council backing for the resolution authorizing the move.


1. It is not clear, exactly, what targets have been attacked – and what is the overall goal of the campaign. Libya does not have an army the size of Iraq’s circa 2003, but an attack by 124 cruise missiles is on the limited side – and the numbers of planes involved is also on the small side.

2. This small-scale attack may – just may – disrupt Libyan air operations, but unless command, control, and communication facilities were destroyed as well, Gaddafi ’s ability to control his armed forces could not have been degraded by much.

3. Degrading Gaddafi’s capabilities is one thing, but unless the military capabilities – and training — of the anti-government rebels are augmented, they will not be a match to Gaddafi’s regular army, even if that army is shorn of its air assets.

4. The Sudanese campaign in Darfur demonstrated that men on camels need only AK-47s – and the Janjaweed were only AK-47-equipped men on camels — to kill a lot of people and terrorize even more. Unless Gaddafi’s regular units, and his tribal power base, are attacked, his ability to cause a lot of harms remains undiminished.

In short: If what we know about the weekend air campaign is accurate, then there is not enough in it materially to weaken Gaddafi and his forces, nor is there anything in it to strengthen those who oppose him.

The conclusion, then, must be that the campaign is more a part of a complex bargaining process with Gaddafi than a serious effort to topple him from power.

It would be wise for NATO leaders to be clearer about the goal of the campaign against Gaddafi. Democratic public opinion would demand it, and the Arab world, watching the West’s every move, should not be allowed to have unrealistic expectations about what it is we are trying to achieve.”

Certainly, it seems to me that the most likely outcome of what is happening at present is a gruesome stalemate with  Gaddafi in charge of a (reduced) rogue state.  And whilst this might be preferable to an alienated Gaddafi in charge of the whole of Libya, such an outcome is still very worrying and destabilising for the region (if not more widely) with nations like the USA, France and Britain appearing to be in the position of – yet again – bombing a Muslim country.

And will we – and the UN – take the same stance over other regimes in the region taking a similar approach as Gaddafi to dissent on their streets?

Probably not  is the answer.

None of these are easy issues for the UK Government. 

The only entertaining feature is watching Mayor Boris Johnson seeking to establish a little blue water between himself and his Party Leader over the issue, as Gaby Hinsliff tweets:

“& here’s Boris Johnson “helping” no 10 by explaining how risky #libya is. http://bit.ly/gQ1Tk3. note ref to risks of terrorist reprisal”