Monday, 10 August 2015

Britain Causes Much Devastation - And Refuses to Admit the Human Costs

Philip Hammond, the UK's Conservative Foreign Secretary, accuses migrants of "marauding" Europe - totally ignoring Britain's military and economic devastation of many African and Middle Eastern countries, resting on policies he has himself designed and promoted. 

Hammond was Defence Secretary at the time Parliament voted against David Cameron's bill for intervening in Syria in 2013. He described the failure of the Bill as a "disappointment" and put it down to a hangover from Iraq. His voting record shows that he almost always supports using British military force abroad. Like most of the Conservative Party he voted blindly at every stage for the Invasion of Iraq in 2003. He has strongly supported military intervention in Afghanistan, Syria and again in Iraq. In other words, he is a pretty bullish hawk. His record on military matters is available here:

Syria ranks as the single highest contributor of migrants and refugees to Europe (31% in 2014). You don't have to look far to see why. British foreign policy on Syria has flip-flopped since 2011, with Britain mostly attempting to funnel weapons and support to the so called civil opposition. The latter, however, turned out to mean all things to all people, excluding of course violent Jihad. It was duly supplanted by IS - in other words, violent Jihad - and the government now decided it was best to bomb civilians instead. Cameron was beaten on military intervention in 2013 only to be backed up later when ISIS emerged. Hammond, however, has been ever so consistent in support for the military option.

Moreover, on the rare occasion when he does not support direct military intervention in the Middle East and North Africa he boasts about the use of British made materiel in the region. Saudi Arabia, one of the world's greatest consumers of arms via its petrodollars, is currently waging an assault on Houthi "rebels" in Yemen. Hammond said the UK would do all it could to support the Saudis. The Red Cross, meanwhile, describes the situation there as a "humanitarian crisis." The destabilisation of Yemen has simultaneously empowered Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and allowed ISIL to gain a toehold in the country.

Hammond is on record as supporting reactionary Saudi ambitions in the region, with the cost being violent turmoil and the growth of radical theocratic and jihadist movements. Meanwhile, he blamed the terrorist attack by a radicalised gunman on British tourists in Tunisia on the infiltration of Libya by ISIL. He describes Libya as an "ungoverned space," but failed to reflect on the causes of Libya's collapse. Might the collapse of that state have something to do with what Hammond himself once described as Britain's "central role" in the downfall of Gadaffi? He said at the time: "Now that campaign is over, of course I would expect British companies to be, even today, British sales directors, practically packing their suitcases and looking to get out to Libya and take part in the reconstruction of that company as soon as they can."

Somewhat optimistically, Hammond was pleading the case for British economic involvement in the country's reconstruction back in 2011. Since we had been so useful to the Libyans (with our naval patrols and our bombs), he argued, British companies should reap the rewards of the newly open economy. Only four years later, he blames the same situation for terror attacks - though on this more recent occasion he is less happy to accept British credit for it. Libya is now a failed state in which radicalism proliferates. It has done so not because of the inherent lure of ISIL but because the west keeps forcibly collapsing states.

A great many migrants depart from Libya to reach Europe. According to the UNHCR, last year 31% of all migrants and refugees entering Europe in 2014 were from Syria. Hammond - perhaps voicing the convictions of his party - views escalation of the offensive against ISIL's "Syrian heartland" as essential. It never seems to occur to Hammond that, where bombs fall, groups like ISIL thrive. Furthermore, when countries invade or civil wars are flamed by military and technical support, stability and states collapse. What follows is a spike in migration as slow-burn econic and political crises become humanitarian catastrophes. 

In the case of Eritrea, EU officials (including Norwegians, Italians and - of course - the British) are suspected by the UN of seeking deals with "Africa's North Korea" which will allow them to return refugees and migrants to face the consequences in their home country. Eritreans make up 18% of migrants arriving in Europe from Africa and are the second largest national group after the Syrians. What this suggests is a willingness to tolerate authoritarian regimes when it suits European governments, even to disregard legal entitlement to refugee status out of political convenience. According to the Guardian the UK has recently cut acceptance of Eritrean migrants and refugees from 23 to just 13% in 2014. Hammond reiterated the attitude behind that change today: “So long as there are large numbers of pretty desperate migrants marauding around the area, there always will be a threat to the [euro] tunnel security. We’ve got to resolve this problem ultimately by being able to return those who are not entitled to claim asylum back to their countries of origin.” 

He blamed migration on self-seeking individuals wanting to cash in on Europe's wealth: “The gap in standards of living between Europe and Africa means there will always be millions of Africans with the economic motivation to try to get to Europe." This is a painfully reductive argument. Migration is of course partly self-interested. Motivations are surely mixed. As with so many social phenomena we cannot differentiate between purely virtuous and non-virtuous migratory movements. Indeed, many of those moving for purely economic reasons do so because of a reduction in living standards caused by economic liberalisation on western orders. Life need not involve political persecution for it to become unbearable. 

Hammond's position is to reduce migration to a self-interested economic matter - and to thereby justify returning migrants to their home countries. This, likewise, is David Cameron's position: migrants choose Britain because it is "a fantastic place to live." (Actually Britain is only seventh on the list) Not for reasons of language or family or social connections. By doing this they ignore British responsibility for wars and economic and social crises and place the blame on the migratory individual selfishly seeking a better life. 

Not only has the UK government been among the most hard-line anti-immigrant voices in Europe, its belief in the virtuous combination of military intervention with the opening up of domestic African and Middle East economies has made it one of the most aggressively hawkish. While it is true that economic development (which requires industrial protection and social welfare) takes a long time to stem migration, an end to western-funded, influenced or led wars would certainly slow migratory movements. 

Philip Hammond wants neither to accept British responsibility for the destruction of so many African and Middle Eastern lives nor to shoulder his fair share of the ensuing humanitarian disasters. This abdication of responsibility is not unique to him. His comments about "marauders" are just the latest a slew of derogatory comments by leading government figures. David Cameron - himself the author of a controversial quip about migrant "swarms" - today backed up Hammond.   

The real threat, of course, is not of the migrants to us but of us to them. The grim realities of the world today point to a deep contradiction in the thinking of free marketeers: on the one hand, they believe the world should be "made safe for markets", with military intervention leading to stability and economic development. When those fail they back away from the logical implications of a free market world imposed by violence - that is, the free movement of people. They argue for free movement of capital, which usually follows in the wake of bombs. No freedom, however, for those seeking to escape the effects of their violence.

Hammond has so blatantly contradicted himself on migration and military intervention not because he is stupid, but because these contradictions serve his political purposes.

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