Posts tagged ‘terrorism’

Friday, March 16, 2018

OPCW: the Place to Investigate a Nerve Agent sample

One can only wish Sergei Skripal and his daughter a good and complete recovery. Skripal once helped a good cause, and suffered for it in the past. He deserves gratitude, and all former agents living under similar circumstances as he does (or did, until March 4), deserve protection. One thing is for sure: Russia’s political culture encourages lawlessness in the name of “patriotism” – suspicions as aired by Britain’s foreign minister Boris Johnson*) aren’t made up out of thin air. But a plausible narrative is still just a narrative, and even thick air is still only air.

In situations like these, anger and “highly likely” accusations are useless at best, and highly likely, they are damaging for all parties involved.

If Jan von Aken‘s comments in a Deutschlandfunk interview on Thursday are something to go by, there would be no need for the escalation that is under way – at least not yet. The established procedure would be to turn to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), to get their assistance in clarifying any situation which may be considered ambiguous or which gives rise to a concern about the possible non-compliance of another State Party with the chemical weapons convention. In the Skripal case, Russia would have to answer to the OPCW’s executive committee “as soon as possible, but in any case not later than 10 days after the receipt of the request” to clarify.

What Theresa May said on Wednesday is anything but evidence:

Mr Speaker, on Monday I set out that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a Novichok: a military grade nerve agent developed by Russia. Based on this capability, combined with their record of conducting state sponsored assassinations – including against former intelligence officers whom they regard as legitimate targets – the UK Government concluded it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for this reckless and despicable act. And there were only two plausible explanations. Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country. Or conceivably, the Russian government could have lost control of a military-grade nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.

In a conflict, the two immediate parties are rarely the best candidates to sort things out – not, when there is a history of conflict, or when, as the Economist has put it, Britain’s relationship with Russia is poisoned already.

Britain’s ultimatum for an explanation from Moscow had been contemptuously ignored,

writes the Economist. That may be so. Many Russian citizens have their rights ignored, too. But on a day-to-day basis, few people in the West would care. And if I were a Russian, I would probably find the British ultimatum just as comtemptuous – no matter if pro-Putin, anti-Putin or either.

After a first round of escalations, London now seems to be doing the right thing: they have sent (or will send) a sample of the Novichok nerve agent to the OPCW. That looks like a promising first step. The OPCW should also take care of further procedures, if there should be a chance to come to real conclusions.

Van Aken believes that both the British prime minister and the Russian president may have an interest in the current escalation. But May’s chances to rise to the “challenge” don’t look great, and Putin is going to “win the elections” anyway.

Rather, both of them appear to have concluded that they must serve their constituencies with instant certainties.

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Note

*) “The message is clear: We will find you, we will catch you, we will kill you – and though we will deny it with lip-curling scorn, the world will know beyond doubt that Russia did it.”

Monday, February 19, 2018

Promising Profits: Syria’s Nation (Re)building Propaganda

Links within the blockquotes were added during translation.

Following America and Russia, China has announced its interest in playing a greater role in Syria, TRT Ankara‘s Chinese service reported on February 12. China’s ambassador in Damascus, Qi Qianjin (齐前进),

said that China wanted to play a greater role in solving the Syria crisis. The diplomat told Xinhua that “the time has come to focus on the development and reconstruction of Syria. I believe that in this course, China can provide more help to the Syrian people and government, and play a bigger role.”

向新华社表示:“现在已到聚焦于叙利亚的发展和重建的时机。我认为中国在这一进程中能够为叙利亚人民和政府提供更多帮助,发挥更多作用。”

Ambassador Qi Qianjin visited al-Mouwasat University Hospital in Damascus, and the hospital director thanked him.

齐前进大使参观了位于大马士革的姆瓦萨特大学医院,医院院长向中国大使表示感谢。

The Syrian communications minister had previously said that Syria’s transportation network, once restored, could become a railroad extending to China.

叙利亚交通部长之前曾表示,在叙利亚交通网得到恢复之后,可建立一个延伸至中国的铁路。

According to a report by China’s “Global Times”, at least 30 Chinese business people have been to Syria since April, to explore investment opportunities.

据中国《环球时报》报道,4月至今至少有30名中国商人前来叙利亚探索投资机遇。

China is acting together with Russia in the Syrian conflict, but has worked hard to avoid American resentment.

中国在叙利亚冲突中与俄罗斯一道行动,另一方面致力于避免美国的不满。

In the United Nations security council’s seven important resolutions concerning Syria, China abstained and chose not to get involved in the US-Russian quibble.

中国在联合国安理会关于叙利亚的7个重要表决中弃权,选择了不卷入俄罗斯-美国较量的道路。

Reportedly, from the three countries of Russia, China and America, China is the only country that hasn’t sent troops to Syria.

据悉,俄中美三国中唯一没有向叙利亚派兵的国家是中国。

Radio Damascus QSL 1980s

Radio Damascus shortwave QSL, 1980s *)

The war in Syria is by no means over, and Turkey itself plays no small role in keeping it alive. According to Syrian foreign radio ORTAS‘ German service on Friday, that day marked the 27th day of “the Turkish regime’s barbarian aggression against the Syrian town of Afrin”. According to the same news broadcast, the Syrian government and the Kurdish “people’s defence units (or protection units, YPG, Volksverteidigungseinheiten)” had agreed to have the Syrian army stationed in Afrin. Both ORTAS and Xinhua quoted Rezan Heddo, a media advisor of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), as saying that “Afrin is a Syrian city”.

German news magazine Der Spiegel reported on Sunday night that “of all things”, “dictator Assad’s army is coming to the aid of Afrin region.”

At the same time, Syrian media accuse the US of trying to prolong the war. In its “News and Views” program of February 4, Syrian foreign radio’s English service noted that [27′ 40”]

It is pretty clear that the regional and international powers … do not have a desire to reach a political solution, but, in accordance with their interests in Syria, and for achieving them, those foreign sides try to prolong their war against Syria to give them a chance to extend their presence in the Syrian land under the pretext of combatting terrorism or preserving the alledged national security, as Turkey is claiming to justify its aggression on the Syrian territory.

That said, the Syrian media depict the situation as one where powers hostile to Damascus will prolong, but never win the war. This has been Damascus’ propaganda approach for some time. On October 4 last year, an ORTAS commentary in German claimed that the end of the war was approaching [6’52”]:

Nobody but some hateful or uneducated people can deny this truth. All conditions on the ground and their political consequences are emphasizing that the end of the struggle against terror and terrorist gangs is a matter of time. Aggravations here or there, the committing of crimes by the terrorist gangs is only this terror’s death struggle, carried to Syria from the outside.

It was time to rebuild the country, the same commentary said [08’58”]:

It is clear that the world has begun to think of the post-war situation in Syria, especially concerning a political settlement by dialog among the Syrians themselves. According to that, the Syrians think and talk about reconstruction of the facilities destroyed during the war. The talk in some concerned states, regarding reconstruction and a preparedness to contribute to this mission, is currently “hip”, even in some states that enormously contributed to the destruction of Syria.

Nation-building propaganda is nothing new in Syria. Before the war, too, posters portraying President Bashar al-Assad adorned not only public buildings, but many shops and retail stores, too, some combined with the depiction of a fingerprint in the colors of the Syrian flag, apparently suggesting that there was a genetic link between the people and the regime, in accordance with Syria’s nature. However, at least in Aleppo, you would usually find those posters at the doors of better-off neigborhoods.

But if an era of reconstruction should be upon Syria – depending on which areas are considered sustainably safe by domestic and foreign investors -, the narrative that is shaped by Damascus is beginning to show, as described there by a retired US Army officer:

Nation building can involve the use of propaganda or major infrastructure development to foster social harmony and economic growth.

Reconstruction and “dialog” aren’t only aiming at positive dynamics within Syria, but abroad, too. Syria’s officials and media have sent clear signals to friends and enemies abroad. Newsagency SANA reported on September 30 last year that

China’s Special Envoy for Syria Xie Xiaoyan affirmed that his country would support efforts for reconstruction and rebuilding infrastructure in Syria.

Xiaoyan’s remarks came in a seminar held in Beijing University titled “Rebuild Syria,” during which he called on the Chinese companies to participate in the reconstruction.

For his part, Ambassador of Syria in Beijing Imad Mustafa said that Syria seeks to form a joint strategic vision with China and will not wait for the end of the war to begin reconstruction, noting that the priority in that field will be given for companies from friendly countries.

Early in October, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad told a delegation led by Russian deputy minister for energy Kirill Molodtsov that [00’41”]

it was obvious that those states that had stood with the Syrian people during its war against terror would be entrusted with the task of reconstruction.

Beijing must have been glad to hear that, too. But TRT Ankara’s report – see beginning of this post – is correct in that China is trying to avoid “American resentment”. For sure, Beijing isn’t asking for it.

Also in September last year, Chinese foreign-policy newspaper Huanqiu Shibao quoted Beijing’s Middle-East envoy Xie Xiaoyan (解晓岩) as saying that he had heard suggestions about reconstructions during his visits both to Russia and Syria:

The situation has improved, but first, the country needs to be stabilized, and comprehensive cease-fire agreements are necessary. It is hard to imagine that war should be conducted on the one hand, and roads should be repaired on the other. What is repaired on one day, may be destroyed one day later. But the fact that war still continues doesn’t mean that the parties couldn’t think about rebuilding and reconstruction. China has sufficient industrial capabilities and is preparing for active involvement in this process.

在访问叙利亚和俄罗斯时,听到有关开始叙利亚重建进程的提议。目前那里的局势已经得到改善。但首先仍需要实现国家稳定,需要全面执行停火协议。很难想象,一边在打仗,一边在修路。修好的基础设施在第二天就会被摧毁。其次,尽管现在战斗仍在进行,这并不意味着各方不去考虑基础设施的改建和重建。中国拥有足够的工业能力,准备积极参与这一进程。

However, Xie also said that

China is the world’s second-largest economy, but it can’t do the rebuilding alone. Reports say that reconstruction is going to cost two to three hundred billion Dollars. Therefore, not only China, but countries of the region and of the international community, too, should make joint efforts to achieve Syria’s reconstruction.

中国是世界第二大经济体,但中国独自无法完成重建工作。据有关报道,重建需要大约2000至3000亿美元资金。 因此,不仅是中国,本地区国家和整个国际社会都应共同努力,实现叙利亚的重建。

In a number of ways, China is well-positioned to draw the lion’s share from post-war profits – once the war is really over, or limited to a few marginal conflict zones. While Russia certainly spearheaded military support for Damascus, and while Beijing rather tried to hedge its bets, Russia may not have those industrial capabilities that Xie Xiaoyan ascribes to his own country.

Western economic powers may prove to be essential in one or another aspect of reconstruction, but Damascus is likely to maintain its position that countries that propped it up during the crisis, and during foreign aggression, should profit most.

That doesn’t mean that China would be extremely popular in Syria – although the war may have helped its soft power there. When former Chinese chief state councillor Wen Jiabao referred to the Arab people as good friends, good partners and good brothers, regional elites, rather than entire populations, came to mind. Wen made his statement about Sino-Arab friendship while Hosni Mubarak was still Egypt’s president, and Wen himself may have cherished a memory of Chinese relations with a – then nationalist rather than islamist – Arabia of the 1950s.

Syria’s regime may be the last (and maybe the only lasting) representative of that cherished past.

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Notes

*) Until some time into the war, ORTAS – named “Radio Damascus” until recently – broadcasted on shortwave. Two frequencies were usually announced, but only one of them actually appeared to be in operation (9330 kHz). Reportedly, the facilities have been demolished – apparently in a regular way, and not because of the war.

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Related

Russia is very clever, Sept 11, 2013
A Just Mideast Position, Febr 16, 2012
Understanding and Support, Oct 25, 2011

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Friday, December 2, 2016

Is the Truth losing in Today’s World? (And if Yes: How so?)

That’s what Richard Stengel, currently undersecretary for public diplomacy at the State Department, believes, according to a Washington Post article:

“We like to think that truth has to battle itself out in the marketplace of ideas. Well, it may be losing in that marketplace today,” Stengel warned in an interview. “Simply having fact-based messaging is not sufficient to win the information war.”

And, adds the author of the WaPo article, David Ignatius:

How do we protect the essential resource of democracy — the truth — from the toxin of lies that surrounds it? It’s like a virus or food poisoning. It needs to be controlled. But how?

Fascinating stuff – fascinating, because it feels like a déjà vu to me (and I’m wondering for how many others who have a memory of some decades).

The Genius leads the spectators: engineering of consent in its early stages in applauding his works.

The Genius leads the spectators: engineering of consent in its early stages.

When I studied and worked in a fairly rural place in China, I had a number of encounters with – probably mainstream – Chinese worldviews. That was around the turn of the century, and these were probably the most antagonistic, and exciting, debates I ever had, as the only foreigner among some Chinese friends. Discussions sometimes ended with the two, three or four of us angrily staring at each other, switching to a less controversial topic, and bidding each other a frosty good-bye.

But there was a mutual interest in other peoples’ weird ideas. That’s why our discussions continued for a number of weekends. At at least one point, I felt that I had argued with overwhelming logic, but my Chinese interlocutor was unimpressed. I blamed Chinese propaganda for his insusceptibility, but apparently, propaganda was exactly his point: “If propaganda helps to keep my country safe, I have nothing against propaganda,” he replied.

I found that gross. The idea that propaganda should just be another tool, something you might volunteer to use and to believe in, so as to keep your country and society stable, was more alien to me than any Chinese custom I had gotten to know.

The idea that truth is, or that facts are, the essential resource of a (working, successful) democracy looks correct to me. Democracy can’t work without an informed public. But when it comes to German mainstream media, I have come to the conclusion that they aren’t trustworthy.

I agree with the WaPo article / Richard Stengel that the US government can’t be a verifier of last resort. No government can play this kind of role. The Chinese party and state have usurped that role, but China is known to be a low-trust society – that doesn’t suggest that they have played a successful role as official verifiers. While many Chinese people do apparently think of their government as the ultimate guardian of national sovereignty and individual safety from imperialist encroachment, they don’t seem to trust these domestic public security powers as their immediate neighbors.

And the ability of any Western government to be a verifier ends as soon as an issue involves state interests, government interests, or governing parties’ interests.

The US government as a verifier of last resort concerning the Syria war? That idea isn’t even funny.

The German government as a verifier of last resort when it comes to foreign-trade issues (within the European Union, or beyond)? Bullshit.

But what about the American media? I don’t have a very clear picture of how they work, but it would seem to me that US television stations usually address the issues that earn them most of the public’s attention. If that is so, it should be no wonder that Donald Trump profited more from media attention, than Hillary Clinton.

But if tweets, rather than platforms, become the really big issues, the media must have abandoned the role that has traditionally been ascribed to them.

German (frequently public-law) media are strongly influenced by political parties, and apparently by business-driven foundations, too.

I don’t know if something similar can be said about American media, but even if only for their attention-seeking coverage, they can’t count as well-performing media either.

What about “social” media? According to Stengel, as quoted by the Washington Post, they give everyone the opportunity to construct their own narrative of reality.

Stengel mentions Islamic State (in 2014) and Russian propaganda campaigns as examples. In the latter’s case, he points to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations during the elections in particular.

I believe that Stengel / Ignatius may have half a point. Russia – provided that they were indeed behind the leaks – only targeted Clinton’s campaign, not Donald Trump’s.

But then, wouldn’t it have been the task of the US media to unearth either campaign’s dirty secrets? Russian propaganda performed, even if only selectively, where US media had failed. It exposed practice in the Democratic Party leadership that was hostile to democracy, but acting under the guise of defending it.

How should citizens who want a fact-based world combat this assault on truth, Ignatius finally asks, and quotes Stengel once again, and addressing the role of “social media”:

The best hope may be the global companies that have created the social-media platforms. “They see this information war as an existential threat,” says Stengel. The tech companies have made a start: He says Twitter has removed more than 400,000 accounts, and YouTube daily deletes extremist videos.

Now, I’m no advocate of free broadcasts for ISIS videos. But if the best hope is the removal of accounts and videos by the commercial providers, it would seem that there isn’t much hope in human power of judgment, after all – and in that case, there wouldn’t be much hope for democracy as a model of government.

Ignatius:

The real challenge for global tech giants is to restore the currency of truth. Perhaps “machine learning” can identify falsehoods and expose every argument that uses them. Perhaps someday, a human-machine process will create what Stengel describes as a “global ombudsman for information.”

Wtf? Human-machine processes? Has the “Global Times” hacked the WaPo?

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Related

Why Wikileaks can’t work, Dec 1, 2010

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