Author: Brendan Hay

Contributing editor of The Rant Foundry

Australian Foreign Policy failure: Venezuela

Filed in: Geopolitics  Author: Brendan R Hay

In February this year the Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne released a statement on the attempted coup d’état in Venezuela. The statement said, in part:

“Australia recognises and supports the President of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, in assuming the position of interim President, in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution and until elections are held.” The statement went on to urge “all parties to work constructively toward a peaceful resolution of the situation, including respect for the rule of law.”

nicolas-maduro-rally

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks at a rally in support of the government marking the one-year anniversary of his controversial re-election. (Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)

This statement surely puts to rest the perception that Australia is actually a nation that respects the so-called “rule-of-law.” Whether or not Payne sought the legal advice of her department before making this extraordinarily ignorant statement is unknown. A Freedom of Information request on that point remains unanswered at the time of writing.

Unfortunately, the statement only serves to proclaim the usual Australian obeisance to the United States, responding to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s call that nations decide whose side they are on. There is of course only one acceptable answer for the Americans to such a call. It is eerily reminiscent of George Bush and Tony Blair calling for similar compliance prior to the attack on Iraq.

If Ms Payne or her advisers had actually looked at the Venezuelan constitution she purports to uphold – as does the would-be president-elect Juan Guaido – she would have seen that section 233 provides a mechanism for replacing the President. The scenarios under which a President is excluded from continuing in office are spelled out. None of them are applicable in the present circumstances. It then goes on to describe the applicable protocol should the President become unable to serve prior to his inauguration. Again this is not relevant because Mr Guaido made his bid for power 13 days after the inauguration.

Even if Mr Guaido had legitimately become acting President (and a self declaration in the middle of the street does not count) then he would have been obliged under the constitution to immediately call an election. He did not do so.

Ms Payne’s statement sought “a transition to democracy” as soon as possible although precisely what she meant by that was not specified, as Venezuela has as much right to call itself a democracy as does the United States. On May 20 of last year, Maduro received the votes of 6.2 million people, about 31 percent of the eligible voters, about the same percentage that U.S. presidents generally receive (Obama received 31 percent in 2008 and 28 percent in 2012, while Trump received 26 percent in 2016). Four different groups of international observers concluded that Maduro’s electoral victory was clean.

Payne could more validly have demanded that the United States “transition to democracy”, as it has a President elected on a minority of the popular vote by a significant margin; has the greatest degree of gerrymandering of any western political system; disenfranchises millions of citizens (especially minority groups); and has a well documented history of ballot box rigging.

There is furthermore well-documented evidence that Senator Bernie Sanders was the victim of corrupt, illegal and unethical practices to deny him the Democratic Party nomination. Ms Payne – along with the entire Australian Government – is conspicuously silent on these manifest flaws in the US electoral system.

To compound the blatant violations of not only the Venezuelan constitution, but also Article 2 of the UN Charter (non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign nations), President Trump has appointed Elliot Abrams as his ‘special envoy’ for Venezuela. Abrams is not only a convicted criminal for previous regime change and other operations on behalf of the United States, he was also involved in an earlier coup attempt against President Hugo Chavez.

Ms Payne could also have acknowledged (although Australian politicians never do) that at least part of Venezuela’s current problems are directly related to the imposition of illegal sanctions the US has applied, as well as waging a persistent campaign of hybrid warfare against Venezuela’s sovereign government. This did not begin with Mr Maduro.

Many other countries, including notably Russia and China, have warned the United States to leave Venezuela alone. They, like many other countries, recognise that the current US bullying and violations of international law have their roots in the Monroe Doctrine, first formulated in 1823. This doctrine has been used to justify America’s blatant interference in Latin America, their “backyard”, a concept wholly foreign to the UN Charter or international law.

The theft of one third of Mexico’s territory following the Mexican-American War of the 1840s, coups in Guatemala, Honduras, Chile and elsewhere since World War 2, and the support of brutal dictatorships throughout the continent hardly qualify one as an upholder of democracy and the rule of law. Australian elected officials like Marise Payne choose to ignore history at their own peril.

The rest of the world also recognises that Venezuela happens to have the world’s largest known reserves of oil, which would make American interference part of a long and dishonourable tradition of destroying countries (Iraq, Libya, Syria) whose oil assets they covet.

Venezuela has also taken recent and significant steps to detach itself from the US petrodollar. Again, together with Russia and China it is forging new relationships for its oil trade independent of the US dollar. Such a trend poses an existential threat to US geopolitical hegemony and is a major factor in the promotion of wars and regime change around the world.

The brand of sovereign independence that Venezuela is displaying is intolerable to Washington. It is however supported by the overwhelming majority of the Venezuelan people where more than 80% according to recent polls oppose foreign intervention in their affairs.

Should the Trump Administration take the military option, which according to the President is “on the table,” it will set in train a catastrophic chain of events that has the overwhelming potential to drag parts of the Latin American region into the fog of war as we have seen happen in the Middle East after two Gulf Wars.

Keeping an Eye on the Sheriff: New US Ambassador to Australia

Filed in: Geopolitics  Author: Brendan R Hay

Back in October 2003, former US President George W Bush caused something of a stir in Australia and East Asia after he described then-Prime Minister John Howard’s government as America’s “sheriff” for the region. Bush was asked whether Washington viewed the capital, Canberra, as the region’s deputy sheriff.

89b5e6aa-457c-11e9-b5dc-9921d5eb8a6d_image_hires_212727

US Amassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse. Photo: AP

This was a reference to similar comments made by Mr Howard three years ago. At that time, his words generated a huge row across the region. Mr Bush, apparently unaware of the sensitivity of the subject in the region, said: “We don’t see [Australia] as a deputy sheriff; we see it as a sheriff. There is nothing ‘deputy’ about this relationship.”

A government spokesman at the time said that while Australia enjoyed a good long-term relationship with the US, it could not be described as a sheriff.

“Sometimes there are some nuances in the language that get a little bit lost,” Liberal MP Fran Bailey said in 2003. “The American concept of a sheriff is a peacekeeper. We don’t actually use the term sheriff, but we do act as a peacekeeper.”

Fast forward to 2019 and Australia’s role in the East Asian/South Pacific region is increasingly coming under the international spotlight as the Trump Admninistration shoehorns a Reagan-era Republican lawyer into the role of US Ambassador to Australia.

Arthur Culvahouse Jr. wasted no time at his new diplomatic post to begin strong-arming Canberra into adopting Washington’s confrontational policy regarding Beijing.

A Reuters article published by the South China Morning Post in March 2019 points out that:

China is using “payday loan diplomacy” to exert influence in the Pacific, the new US ambassador to Australia said on Wednesday, in comments that threaten to inflame regional tensions.

The United States and its regional allies have been battling China for greater influence in the Pacific – a region that has votes at international forums like the United Nations and controls vast swathes of a resource-rich ocean.

The geopolitical competition has seen both sides increase foreign aid to the region in recent months, which the West says is needed to prevent the Pacific falling into financial distress and becoming susceptible to diplomatic pressure from Beijing.

The arrival of Culvahouse, the first US ambassador to Australia in more than two years, comes at time of bilateral tensions between Canberra and Beijing.

In 2017, then Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull accused China of meddling in domestic affairs. In 2018, Canberra banned companies linked to foreign governments from investing in its nascent 5G network, effectively blocking China’s Huawei.

The timing of the arrival of the new ambassador is a clear move to signal the US interests in Australia’s diplomatic postion in the region. It would appear to be a diplomatic mission with a specific geopolitical intent. The American people for whom Ambassador Culvahouse is supposed to be a representative, should be perplexed over his obsession with China rather than fulfilling his duties of representing the United States in Australia itself.

As the United States has done with many other allies, it has successfully turned Australia into a Washington proxy for its own confrontation with China. Washington risks dragging Australia down an usuccessful diplomatic path with it, when Australia could instead be bilaterally resolving issues with China and building constructive relations throughout Asia-Pacific, all while redefining for itself a more positive role in the region, breaking free from its historical role as an extension of Anglo-American hegemony.

Geography 101: China is Located in Asia, the United States is Not 

Interestingly enough, Reuters failed to notice that China is actually located in Asia-Pacific, while the United States is not.

Just as the US is expected to exert a certain amount of influence in North America where it is actually located, it is not unreasonable to expect China to do likewise in Asia. That US foreign policy seems formed around the notion that the US, not China, should hold primacy in Asia is both counterintuitive and fundamentally flawed.

Such a policy reflects a basic but intentional lapse in geographical awareness widespread across Western media and political circles representing the remnants of European-American imperialism of the 19th-20th centuries. It suggests that Asians lack agency to decide for themselves how “votes at international forums like the United Nations” and “vast swathes of a resource-rich ocean” should be used and that the United States should decide for them instead.

The US currently does this by attempting to surround China with client states and infecting nations across Asia with US government-funded nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). These NGOs impose upon the region US-style institutions that reflect US interests through a process the US itself calls “soft power.”

Examples of this can be seen in Myanmar where US-funded NGOs have managed to bring existing ethnic tensions toward the brink of war, in Thailand where US-backed political forces are attempting to displace the military and constitutional monarchy and roll back recent progress made between Bangkok and Beijing and in Cambodia where the entire opposition is virtually run out of Washington D.C.

The more obvious results of this US “soft power” in action are ongoing “colour revolutions,” but a more subtle attempt to overwrite Asian culture and institutions with US ideas and institutions is also constantly attempting to take root. It is the latest evolutionary step taken by centuries of European and now American imperialism and it is the tool of choice used by the special interests of today benefiting from this imperialism.

Ambassador Culvahouse’s rhetoric and the accompanying talking points touched on by Reuters brings all of this into focus, with the US openly accusing China of usurping American primacy in Asia, and admitting it is investing across the region to regain it.

Who is Ambassador Culvahouse? 

Ambassador Culvahouse had previously served President Ronald Reagan’s administration between 1987 and 1989. He has also been involved in multiple committees within the Republican Party, Australia’s ABC would report.

Ambassador Culvahouse is also listed as a Brookings Institution trustee, which may help explain why in his capacity as US Ambassador to Australia he is openly pursuing policy that serves neither the American nor Australian people but rather the corporate sponsors who control both Brookings’ activities and those of Washington.

He is also a former chairman of O’Melveny & Myers (OMM), a massive international law firm whose clients include equally massive corporations seeking to protect their existing monopolies and to find footing in emerging markets, including in China. Former OMM chairman and now Ambassador Culvahouse stepping into the middle of Australia’s bout with China over 5G and Huawei and OMM’s own role in cases specifically involving Huawei (e.g.), in turn represents equally massive conflicts of interest.

Ambassador Culvahouse is another stark example of “revolving door” politics in which representatives of special interests move in and out of government positions appointed to regulate and hold accountable these very interests.

The entire process that Ambassador Culvahouse represents is the modern manifestation of European-American imperialism, representing the modern equivalence of an elite minority, their greed and the mechanisms instituted to satisfy it, merely dressed up as representative governance serving the majority.

But just like every other empire in history, American hegemony rose on a global scale before beginning to fade. The vector sum of Chinese-Australian economic ties, despite recent setbacks (some might call sabotage), is positive, as noted by the Parliament of Australia itself. As China continues to grow economically, politically and even militarily within the region and upon the global stage, the US will have no choice but to concede its longstanding primacy in Asia-Pacific, a process already well underway.

Without an entirely new, innovative and constructive American foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region, Ambassador Culvahouse and his rhetoric serve only to delay the continued, inevitable decline of American power and in the process, increase resentment not only from Beijing, but resentment from all the partner-proxies including Australia the US is using in the process.

Dancing With The Devil: Australian Uranium in Ukraine

Filed in: Geopolitics Author: Brendan R Hay

In November 2016, a group of Australian federal politicians gathered quietly to take a very quick look at an issue with very long consequences. The outcome was an agreement that has now seen Australia sign a deal to sell uranium to a nation at war with Russia.

Zaporizhia, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, is in southeast Ukraine on the banks of the Dnieper River. © Wikicommons

Zaporizhia, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, is in southeast Ukraine on the banks of the Dnieper River. © Wikicommons

There has been a lack of detailed information to support the safety and safeguards assumptions underpinning the proposed treaty action, and according to some sources the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) National Interest Analysis of the plan is deeply deficient, especially in relation to key safeguards and security concerns and the implications of the Russian conflict. The NIA’s under-stated noting that ‘political tensions currently exist between Ukraine and Russia‘ completely fails to recognise or reflect the gravity of the situation.

Any plan to supply Australian uranium to such a fraught region deserves the highest level of scrutiny.
Instead, we have tick-a-box paperwork and cut-and-paste assurances.

Just over thirty years ago, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster spread fallout over vast areas of eastern and western Europe and five million people still live in contaminated areas in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. Serious containment and waste management issues remain at Chernobyl with a massive concrete shield now under construction in an attempt to enclose the stricken reactor complex and reduce the chances of further radioactive releases.

Against this ominous backdrop there are deep concerns over those parts of the Ukrainian nuclear sector that are not yet infamous names, including very real security concerns about nuclear facilities being targeted in the current conflict with Russia.

The Zaporizhia nuclear facility is Europe’s largest and is only 200 kilometres from the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine. Some commentators have described the nuclear plants in the region as pre-deployed nuclear weapons, and there have already been armed incursions during the recent conflict period. Acts of apparent sabotage have already seen the dangerous practise of emergency power unloading at nuclear power plants in Ukraine– including the Zaporozhskaya and South Ukrainian reactors.

Australia has already suspended uranium sales to Russia and it makes an interesting political point to start selling uranium to the Poroshenko regime in Ukraine now. Along with security concerns there are serious and unresolved safety and governance issues with the proposed sales plan. President Petro Poroshenko still refuses to combat the endemic corruption that infuriates Ukrainians and strangles their economy.

Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors, four of which are currently running beyond their design lifetime while a further six will reach this state by 2020.  That means two thirds of Ukraine’s nuclear reactors will be past their use-by date within five years. The currently contested series of license renewals and the related European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) financing of a program to upgrade safety features at Ukrainian nuclear facilities has highlighted serious deficiencies in governance, operations and compliance with contemporary international standards.

On top of that, there is growing regional concern over the risks associated with the Poroshenko administration focus on keeping the reactors running. In rushing to extend operating licences Ukraine is cutting process and safety corners and not complying with its obligations under the Espoo Convention – an international framework agreement around transboundary environmental impact assessment. In April 2013 the UN Espoo monitoring group found that license renewals at the Rivne nuclear facility were not compliant with Espoo procedures.

New life for Ukraine’s aging nuclear power plants?

New life for Ukraine’s aging nuclear power plants?

In 2013 the Eastern Partnership, a leading East European civil society forum, declared that the absence of environmental impact assessment for nuclear projects posed ‘a severe threat to people both in Ukraine and in neighbouring states, including EU member states’. Nearby nations including the governments or Slovakia, Romania and Hungary have formally and unsuccessfully called for Ukraine to provide further detail on its nuclear projects and to facilitate increased regional dialogue on this unresolved issue of concern.

The Ukrainian government’s response to continuing domestic and international disquiet over the operations of its nuclear sector was a 2015 government decree preventing the national nuclear energy regulator from carrying out facility inspections on its own initiative. This coupled with increased pressure on industry whistle-blowers and critics has done nothing to address the real risks facing the nations aging nuclear fleet.

Apart from any other reason, the Ukraine sales deal should not be advanced in the continued absence of any meaningful Australian government, agency and uranium company response to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, which was directly fueled by Australian uranium.

None of these issues have been meaningfully identified, let alone addressed, in Australian treaty action or analysis to date. The Australian government and the rest of the West must recognize this danger, drop its charade of portraying Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko as a paladin of democracy, and start forcing him to enact visible, tangible reforms. Anemic recommendations, such as the  US State Department’s vague wish for ‘a new cabinet that is committed to implementing needed reforms,’ aren’t going to cut it. The overturned states of Syria and Libya are straining Europe to the breaking point – consider what a failed state of 45 million people in the middle of Central Europe could do.

Stones From the Glasshouse: The West and the Syrian War

Filed in: Geopolitics  Author: Brendan R Hay

The West is suffering a crisis of credibility over the Syrian War.

While the governments of the Coalition of the Willing – now invested in the latest Middle Eastern crusade nobly called Operation Inherent Resolve – conduct a behind-the-lines media war on Moscow, the Russian military continues the only real war against terror in Syria in partnership with the Syrian Government, as ironic as history would have it.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov [Reuters]

Our claims to the lofty notions of a free mainstream press have now become a hollow fraud, thanks largely in part to conflicts of corporate and political interests. It seems that Putin and Lavrov’s tactic of letting the West and its media bash away at Russia endlessly seems to have worked, because the West is losing the credibility war.

This is no more obvious than the reporting of the direct bombing of Syrian soldiers at Door Ez Zair, by US and Australian air strike elements that was portrayed as “mistaken.”

That the bombing was not a mistake but rather, as several commentators have pointed out (although never in the Australian media), was much more likely to have been a deliberate sabotaging by US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s Pentagon element of the American war machine of the Kerry-Lavrov negotiated partial ceasefire.

US Secretary of State John Kerry opined (in an October 7 appearance with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault) that Russian military actions in Syria “beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes.” French President Francois Hollande echoed the sentiment.

Secretary Kerry’s conscience apparently went untroubled by possible war crimes repercussions when US forces killed at least 42 civilians in an AC-130U gunship attack on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan a year ago this month.

 The charred remains of the Doctors Without Borders hospital hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, is pictured on October 16. Najim Rahim/AP

The charred remains of the Doctors Without Borders hospital hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, is pictured on October 16. [Najim Rahim/AP]

Coverage on the Aleppo battle, especially in Australia and the US, can only be called hysterical. To sample across the mainstream, one would think that East Aleppo is the only part of the city being attacked, despite the city now having been a battleground for several years due to the ISIS/ISIL and non-ISIS jihadis, who have even mined the escape corridors the Syrian army set up for civilians to get out. These jihadis are forcibly using the local population as human shields now, with not a word of this in the Western press who falls prey to the psy-ops used by both sides in Syria.

The New York Times routinely portrays the battle for East Aleppo as simply a case of barbaric Russian and Syrian leaders bombing innocent neighborhoods with no regard for the human cost, operating out of an apparent lust to kill children.

Aftermath of air strike on Qaterji in rebel-held east Aleppo.

Aftermath of air strike on Qaterji in rebel-held east Aleppo. [Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters]

Going along with Al Qaeda’s propaganda strategy, the Times and other mainstream U.S. news outlets have kept the focus on the children. A Times dispatch on Sept. 27 begins: “They cannot play, sleep or attend school. Increasingly, they cannot eat. Injury or illness could be fatal. Many just huddle with their parents in windowless underground shelters — which offer no protection from the powerful bombs that have turned east Aleppo into a kill zone…”

The reality is that US-led coalition Islamists of Al Qaeda/Al Nusra fire mortar shells into the government-held part of Aleppo every day, mutilating Syrian children as young as six, while doctors lack the medicine to relieve their pain. “What concerns us is that all parties to the conflict are committing violations against children,” UNICEF spokesperson for the Middle East and North Africa Juliette Touma told RT the previous week. “Violations against children in Syria should come to an end.”

And yet, the violence continues, despite the best efforts of those who consider it their “Right To Protect”:

  • Two children were killed and 5 others were injured as the terrorist organizations fired a rocket shell on al-Sulaimaniyeh area in Aleppo city.
  • Several children dead in Aleppo bus station shelling by rebels. A mortar shell landed right next to a bus station in the government-controlled al-Hamadaneyah neighborhood of Aleppo.
  • Terrorists of “Jaish al-Islam” and “Al-Rahman Legion” targeted on Wednesday Damascus city with mortars, injuring a child and causing material damage in the areas where the shells hit.
  • Five killed, 13 others were injured due to terrorist attacks with shells on the residential neighborhoods of Aleppo city.

In the meantime, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced a 48-hour ceasefire in the embattled city starting on Thursday to allow civilians to leave Aleppo and pave the way for aid deliveries. “The goal of this work is to separate the terrorist from the ‘moderate opposition’ and get them out of Eastern Aleppo,” the minister said.

Aside from using the humanity as more pretense, another ceasefire will mean nothing to the West. The US ended all pretense of seeking a Syrian war resolution by announcing it would discontinue joint efforts with Russia in Geneva. To embarrass the country even more, US officials once again attempted to blame the failure on Russia by claiming it was violating the ceasefire with its bombing missions to support ending the terror siege in East Aleppo.

This determined demonizing of the Syrian coalition campaign to free Aleppo has been spun as a campaign to kill the civilians when they are no threat because they are unarmed. The Russians are cast as the aggressors from the East, despite Moscow being the only nation legally operating inside Syria under international law, while the Syrian Army is portrayed as the hired goons of Assad. Left out of all those reports is any mention of the East Aleppo civilians being used as human shields, or of their corpses being used as anti-Assad propaganda. And never a word is mention that mercenaries from over sixty countries have fighters in Syria.

Blurred lines: members of Free Syrian Army or ISIS?

Blurred lines: “moderate rebels” or ISIS/ISIL? [syrianfreepress.wordpress.com]

These “rebels” are portrayed as local heroes, rather than the collection of jihadists from both inside and outside Syria fighting under the operational command of Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, which recently underwent a name change to the Syria Conquest Front. The name change and the pretense about anyone being “moderate” rebels are just more deceptions in the fog of war. The spectrum of opposition groups ranges from “moderate” brigades, backed by the US, to an alliance called Jaish al-Fatah – Army of Conquest – made up of hardline groups.

The Jaish al-Fatah group includes Jabhat al-Nusra, aligned with al-Qaeda, so they are formally designated by the United Nations as terrorists.

As journalist/historian Gareth Porter has written: “Information from a wide range of sources, including some of those the United States has been explicitly supporting, makes it clear that every armed anti-Assad organization unit in those provinces (of Idlib and Aleppo) is engaged in a military structure controlled by Nusra militants. All of these rebel groups fight alongside the Nusra Front and coordinate their military activities with it.” This reality – the fact that the US government and its allies are indirectly supplying sophisticated weaponry to Al Qaeda – is rarely mentioned in the mainstream U.S. news media, though one might think it would make for a newsworthy story. But it would undercut the desired propaganda narrative of “good guy” rebels fighting “bad guy” government backed by the “ultra-bad guy” Russians.

The War on Terror has become a War of Terror being waged in Syria where the Western media has crossed over the line into aiding and abetting that effort, with the respective governments leading the way as flag bearers of regime change by any and all means necessary.

 

%d bloggers like this: