Fifteen Years of Occupation: Afghanistan Since the Invasion.

Michael Skinner 7 October 2016*

7 October 2016 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. Many Western leaders claimed the invasion, dubbed Operation Enduring Freedom, was a humanitarian intervention to liberate Afghans and especially Afghan women and girls from the brutal Taliban regime. However, the evidence demonstrates the results have been anything but humane or liberating.

The people truly liberated by the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan are the wealthy investors in the military-industrial complex and those betting on successfully extracting Afghan resources and developing the infrastructure of the New Silk Road.

The Failure of Humanitarian Intervention

Civilian casualties: Perhaps the crudest measure of the failure of the humanitarian intervention in Afghanistan is to count the growing number of civilian casualties. Mysteriously, no official agency actually counted Afghan civilian casualties prior to 2009; consequently, civilian casualty figures from 2001 to 2009 really are anybody’s guess. Literally, countless numbers of Afghans were killed or maimed during the invasion and ensuing occupation.

The UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) only began counting civilian casualties in 2009 recording a trend of increasing numbers ever since. In the first half of 2016, 5166 civilians were killed or maimed – almost a third of these were children.

The total civilian casualties recorded by UNAMA from 1 January 2009 to 30 June 2016 is 63,934, including 22,941 killed and 40,993 injured. UNAMA states: “The figures are conservative – almost certainly underestimates – given the strict methodology employed in their documentation and in determining the civilian status of those affected”.

Anti-government forces account for 60 percent of civilian casualties; nonetheless, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, argues: “Parties to the conflict must cease the deliberate targeting of civilians and the use of heavy weaponry in civilian-populated areas. There must be an end to the prevailing impunity enjoyed by those responsible for civilian casualties – no matter who they are”.

The consequences for Afghans have been devastating. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights observes: “The family that lost a breadwinner, forcing the children to leave school and struggle to make ends meet; the driver who lost his limbs, depriving him of his livelihood; the man who went to the bazaar to shop for his children only to return home to find them dead; the broken back and leg that has never been treated because the family cannot afford the cost of treatment; the parents who collected their son’s remains in a plastic bag… In just the past six months, there have been at least 5,166 such stories – of which one-third involve the killing or maiming of children, which is particularly alarming and shameful” (UNAMA 25 July 2016).

Refugees: Another crude measure of the failure of the humanitarian intervention is to count refugees in what is a growing refugee crisis 15 years after the invasion. But, like civilian casualties, no official agency counted refugee numbers throughout most of the occupation.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conditions deteriorated in 2015 with renewed fighting causing the internal displacement of 245,000 Afghans in the first half of 2016 swelling the number of internally displaced persons to more than 1.2 million.

The UNHCR observes that an estimated 1.5-2 million undocumented Afghans refugees live in the Islamic Republic of Iran and another million in Pakistan. Western media has recently focussed almost exclusively on Syrian refugees, but the UNHCR documents that, since 2015, Afghans have constituted the second largest group of refugees arriving in Europe. (UNHCR 23 Sept. 2016)

The Failure to Liberate Afghan Women and Girls

Western media and even many Western women’s organizations continue to portray Afghan women as passive victims who needed intervention by a military force to liberate them from a misogynistic regime. However, many women I met in Afghanistan argue the ongoing war impedes their own struggles for liberation.

Prior to the invasion, Afghan women were focussed on resisting the misogynistic policies of the Taliban regime in the south as much as on those of the United Islamic Federation aka Northern Alliance in the North. Since the invasion, however, women’s energies are often redirected to merely surviving or attempting to escape warfare. Moreover, installing the misogynistic regime of the United Islamic Federation aka Northern Alliance in power to replace the misogynistic Talib regime changed little for Afghan women. Some argue this regime change actually legitimated misogyny.

One women’s activist I met in Afghanistan used the example of women in Iran to make her point. Indeed the regime that seized power in Iran in 1979 was one of the most brutally misogynistic imaginable. But Iranian women resisted the regime to the extent that today they enjoy some of the best conditions in the Islamic world – certainly conditions significantly better than those suffered by Saudi women, despite the irony of unwavering Western support of the Saudi regime.

Some Western feminists continue to focus on what clothing Afghan women choose to wear, but arguments about the burqa and hijab are red-herrings. These are not the real issues facing Afghan women confronted with far greater problems.

Violence against women: A recent UNAMA study finds that while the new legal framework of Afghanistan criminalizes violence against women, in reality numerous factors block women’s access to justice. (UNAMA April 2015)

I have found no documentary evidence to show violence against women is less of a problem today in Afghanistan than it was prior to the invasion.

Health and welfare: Afghanistan has by far the worst infant mortality rate in the world at 112.8 deaths per 1000 live births, one of the worst maternal mortality rates, at 460 deaths per 100,000 live births, and the third worst life expectancy at 51.3 years. These horrific health statistics are not surprising considering that even the basics of clean drinking water and sanitation facilities still remain inaccessible to large numbers of Afghans 15 years after the invasion. Moreover access to healthcare is extremely limited with only 0.27 doctors per 1000 Afghans. (CIA World Factbook 2016)

Forty-three percent of Afghans still do not have electricity, which disproportionately affects women and girls in a traditional culture in which they are burdened with water collection, food preparation, and cleaning. (CIA World Factbook 2016)

Afghan women focussed entirely on caring for their families in these conditions have little time and energy left for organizing resistance against a misogynistic regime.

Education for girls: Throughout the occupation, numerous reports have cited encouraging statics claiming millions of Afghan girls are attending school. Unfortunately, inflated enrolment statistics do not reflect the reality that vast numbers of Afghan girls as well as boys do not have access to education. There have been modest improvements in some areas, but overall access to education remains a dream for vast numbers of Afghan children, especially girls. The female literacy rate remains at 25.3 percent. (CIA World Factbook 2016)

The failure of the humanitarian mission to liberate Afghan women and girls might be chalked up to bad planning and overall incompetence. But the more plausible explanation is that the humanitarian-liberation mission has never been a priority – this mission is a politically acceptable façade for the geostrategic mission to liberate capital.

The Success of Liberating Capital

Since George Bush declared the beginning of the Global War of Terror on 20 September 2001, the cost to the United States to date is $4.79 Trillion USD (Crawford Sept. 2016). The costs to the other NATO and coalition states would undoubtedly add many more hundreds of billions of dollars to this figure.

This unfathomable sum is a cost to taxpayers, but it is a profitable return on investment for investors in the military-industrial complex. Rather than money lost, it is in fact money liberated from public coffers to be transferred to the private pockets of a few wealthy investors.

Extracting Afghan Resources: In 1808, Captain Alexander Burns of the British East India Company led a team of surveyors into Afghanistan in an attempt to exploit its resources ahead of Russian competitors. However, Burn’s paramilitary expedition had greater success in propelling the British East India Company into the First Anglo-Afghan War of 1839-42.

Another captain of the British East India Company, Henry Drummond conducted surveys during the First Anglo-Afghan War. Drummond wrote that the company’s paramilitary invasion of Afghanistan would not be perceived as an “act of aggression” because the reorganization of the existing system of Afghan mine management and improvements in the working conditions of Afghan miners would lead to an “era of peace, prosperity, and of permanent tranquility in Afghanistan”.

Also during that war, the British envoy to Kabul, Sir W.H. Macnaughten, wrote that developing Afghanistan’s resources would employ the “wild inhabitants…reclaim them from a life of lawless violence” and increase the wealth of Afghans as it increased the wealth of the British East Asia Company.

Despite fighting three wars in Afghanistan, (1839-42, 1878-80, 1919) the British could not establish control over Afghan territory to develop resource extraction operations.

A Soviet surveyor, Vladimir Obruchev, published a detailed geological report in 1927. The Obruchev depression in the natural-gas rich Amu Darya Basin still bears his name. Then in the early 1930s, the Afghan government granted the American Inland Oil Company a 25 year concession to oil and mineral exploration rights, but the company soon backed out of its agreement.

Following the Second World War, the Afghan government sought technical and financial assistance from American, European, Czech, and Soviet sources often pitting First-World and Second-World surveyors against one another. By the 1970s more than 700 geological reports indicated that a vast wealth of resources awaited exploitation.

From the 1970s to the 1990s Afghans derived much of their foreign exchange from natural gas sales to the USSR.

Thus, following the 2001 invasion, a first order of business was for the US and British Geological Surveys to conduct extensive exploration with the assistance of the Canadian Forces Mapping and Charting Establishment.

In 2010, New York Times journalist James Risen broke the news that Afghanistan contains a vast wealth of natural resources. Risen’s claim that US geologists merely “stumbled across” some old surveys to make their discovery seems somewhat disingenuous considering the long history of foreign interest in Afghan resources.

If the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom invasion of 2001 accomplished nothing else, it secured the freedom for foreign investors to profit from extracting Afghanistan’s resource wealth. The occupation forces destroyed the last vestiges of Afghanistan’s poorly developed and badly broken state enterprise system.

The US Department of State reported in 2010 that Afghanistan “has taken significant steps toward fostering a business-friendly environment for both foreign and domestic investment”. Afghanistan’s new investment law allows 100 percent foreign ownership and provides generous tax allowances to foreign investors without protections for Afghan workers or the environment.

The strategic value of Afghanistan’s rich resources rests, nevertheless, more in their catalytic potential to attract investors to the region than these resources actual use or market values. Whether these investors are American, Chinese, Russian, Indian, British, Canadian or anyone else matters little, provided they invest within the rubric of the American led global capitalist regime. More importantly, investments in resource development are an essential catalyst to develop the infrastructure of the New Silk Road.

The New Silk Road and the Regime of Global Free Trade: Influential geostrategists have argued since the collapse of the USSR that the nation that dominates trade in Eurasia will dominate the globe. The shortest routes between China and Europe, as well as between India and Russia, pass through Afghanistan. Railways, highways, oil and gas pipelines, electrical transmission lines, and fibre-optic cables will inevitably criss-cross Afghanistan to connect Eurasia. As in previous imperial ages, the empire that achieves primacy is the one that, among other aspects of power, establishes itself as builder, protector, and arbiter of trade routes.

During the past half millennia of the emergence of capitalism, empires expanded in the pursuit of various commodities – spices, fish, furs, indigo, cotton, rubber, and gold among many others. The strategic importance of various resources wax and wane with changes in technology or even the whim of consumers. Nonetheless, what remains as a constant is the growth of the physical transportation, energy transmission, and communications networks as well as the less tangible but no less real political-legal-economic infrastructure of empire. Geostrategists recognize that building this infrastructure of dominance is ultimately more important to securing power than merely acquiring specific resources.

Consequently, on 20 July 2011, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton announced the New Silk Road strategy. She stated the US and its partners will build a New Silk Road across Central Asia including Afghanistan as an “international web and network of economic and transit connections”. “That means”, Clinton said, “building more rail lines, highways, energy infrastructure … upgrading the facilities at border crossings … and removing the bureaucratic barriers to the free flow of goods and people”. She also stated: “It means casting aside the outdated trade policies that we are living with and adopting new rules for the 21st century”.

The new rules Clinton refers to are the political-legal-economic infrastructure of an empire of capital. A primary objective of the geostrategists plotting the emergence of an American led empire of capital is to globalize this political-legal-economic infrastructure – the regime of capitalist social relations.

The value of Afghanistan’s resource wealth lies then not only in its actual use or market values, but also in its value to catalyze expanding the physical and the less tangible but no less real political-legal-economic infrastructure of an American led empire of capital.

Despite the fact George Bush declared a Global War on Terror on 20 September 2001, many perceive the battles in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria, the lesser-known military operations in Haiti, the Philippines, the Horn of Africa and Latin America, the never-ending battles in Palestine, as well as the many worldwide covert operations of US and allied Special Forces as separate individual wars. However, all these struggles are interrelated battles of one global war.

The primary objective of this global war is regime change. However, this is not regime change in the sense of 20th century history when a ‘bad’ ruler would replaced by a ‘good’ or perhaps ‘less bad’ ruler, or even a ruler we really cannot abide but who might at least stave off chaos. This is, instead, a deliberate pogrom of fundamental regime change with the objective to destroy whatever socioeconomic order existed before, whether socialist, or Talib, or Ba’athist, or any variety of traditional tribal communitarian society.

The claim that this global war is about eliminating terrorism, promoting democracy, or in the case of Afghanistan liberating women provides politically acceptable façades to legitimate the primary objective of creative destruction – the destruction of any preceding socioeconomic system to be replaced by the capitalist social order.

This is a multi-generational pogrom. The NATO states are currently committed to maintaining military forces in Afghanistan until 2024 to secure an “Enduring Partnership” (NATO 2014).

Considering that pacification of the many Peoples of the western territories of the US took more than a century, this is likely just a beginning.

The enduring legacy of the Operation Enduring Freedom invasion that began 7 October 2001 is that Afghans – for both better and worse – are left to endure the freedom of investor’s to dictate the future of Afghanistan.

 

This article was published online 7 October 2016 at: Michael Skinner Research
https://michaelskinnerresearch.wordpress.com

Sources:

(CIA World Factbook 2016) https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/af.html

(Crawford Sept. 2016) http://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2016/Costs%20of%20War%20through%202016%20FINAL%20final%20v2.pdf

(NATO 2014) http://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_2014_09/20140901_140901-Backgrounder-Afghanistan_en.pdf

(UNAMA 25 July 2016) http://unama.unmissions.org/afghanistan-record-level-civilian-casualties-sustained-first-half-2016-un-report

(UNAMA April 2015) http://unama.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/unama_ohchr_justice_through_eyes_of_afghan_women_-15_april_2015.pdf

(UNHCR 23 Sept. 2016)  http://www.refworld.org/docid/57f257454.html

*This essay also includes updated segments from:

Skinner, Michael.“Liberating Afghanistan? Global War and the Battle for Afghanistan” In Immanuel Ness, Zak Cope (eds.) The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Skinner, Michael. “Afghanistan from Barrier to Bridgehead: Rare Earth Elements and the New Silk Road.” In Ryan Kiggins (ed.) The Political Economy of Rare Earth Elements: Rising Powers and Technological Change. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Michael Skinner is a researcher, human rights and peace activist, musician and composer. For a decade he was a National Education Facilitator for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. From 2005 to 2013, he was a Researcher and Graduate Fellow at the York Centre for International and Security Studies at York University, Toronto, Canada. Skinner is currently writing his Ph.D. dissertation titled, Peacebuilding, State-building, & Empire-building: The emerging Empire of Capital and its interventions from Central America to Central Asia. Michael Skinner conducted research projects in Afghanistan in 2007 and in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2011.

© Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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The Silence of War Veterans.

11 November 2012

Two things struck me during the past eleven days of November. First of all, I was struck by the realization that what is known as Remembrance Day here in Canada, and Poppy Day, Armistice Day, or Veterans’ Day elsewhere, has, during the recent years of the Global War on/of Terror, been stretched into eleven days of remembrance.

Throughout these eleven days of seemingly endless radio and television documentaries, newspaper and magazine articles, and personal tributes to veterans posted on social media sites, a common theme stood out to me – the silence of veterans.

I was struck by the large number of close relatives of veterans who express mystification at the reticence of their loved ones to talk about their war experiences. Most of these relatives of veterans surmise their husband, son, brother, father, or grandfather (I haven’t seen any comments in this context about female combat veterans) is a stoic and taciturn hero.

But let’s also consider how difficult it is to honestly talk about war.

First of all, it’s impossible to adequately describe the sights, the sounds, the smells of warfare. How can one describe the sensation of a large explosive impact, or a tiny projectile flying past one’s head to someone who has never experienced these sensations? Physical pain cannot be described! It is an impossibility to translate the sensory experiences of war let alone the emotional feelings of having to kill while fearing being killed.

I have observed war zones up close as a non-combatant observer in Cambodia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and most recently in Afghanistan, and Pakistan. I have never felt I possess the capacity to adequately describe my experiences – and I’m a writer. I also never had to kill a person or watch helplessly as a friend died a horrific death. Many veterans, I suppose, feel as I have, that they do not have the capacity to describe their experiences.

Do we really want to hear true war stories, or just the ones about heroes?

Do most people really want to hear what all veterans have to say? Listening to the truth can be painful. We prefer to hear stories of heroes vanquishing evildoers. Are we prepared to listen even when a veteran does not have a heroic story to tell?

I frequently spoke at public events after my trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan and I have written numerous articles regarding the Global War on/of Terror. A few veterans of this war have sought me out to relate their experiences to me – perhaps because I seem like someone who would listen and have some empathetic understanding of their experiences.

A young man, who I’ll call Johnny, told one of the more notable stories I can recount. Johnny joined the Canadian Forces because it was the best job, really the only job, he could hope for – he was a victim of the “economic draft” that compels so many women and men to join the military.

The army assigned Johnny a job as a truck-driver. Johnny was happy with his assignment, because even though he had to carry a gun and had been trained well in how to use it, he fervently hoped he would never actually have to kill someone.

Unfortunately, although Johnny never did have to fire his gun in battle, he thinks he probably did kill several Afghan children – he doesn’t know for sure.

On not just one, but two occasions, Johnny struck children on the road while he drove his truck at high speed. The rules of engagement dictated that Johnny had to always drive at high speed and not stop under any circumstances. Both times he hit children on the road, Johnny was forced to leave the scene of the accident – a serious crime here in Canada, but a crime he was ordered to commit to fulfil his duty as a soldier. All he could do, as he sped away, was to stare helplessly in his rear-view mirror hoping the lifeless bodies of children he had just hit would somehow miraculously spring back to life.

Everyday, Johnny has wished that he had disobeyed his orders and stopped to see if those children were still alive and done something to help them if he could have.

Most of us really don’t want to hear Johnny’s story and he sensed that. Besides, he had been advised to never talk about what happened.

As any sentient human might imagine, this young man is broken, but few people really care about the non-heroes like Johnny. This is not a story Johnny is likely to tell his children and grandchildren – that is if he survives depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts long enough to maintain a relationship and start a family. This is not a story Johnny was ever able to bring himself to tell his parents or his now ex-girlfriend.

War is purposefully traumatic, which is why state leaders purposefully use it. Yet we unquestionably accept that the reaction to this trauma is a “disorder” rather than a natural human reaction. Court-jester George Carlin points out the government’s use of euphemisms to hide this truth is getting worse in every generation: during WWI, the natural reaction to war was called “shell shock”; during WWII, “battle fatigue”; during the Korean War, “operational exhaustion”; and since the war in Vietnam, “post-traumatic stress disorder”, or just PTSD.

Do we really want to hear the stories of veterans destroyed by war? John Bell is one of the few relatives of veterans who can honestly tell the story of how his father’s experiences during WWII “tore at [his] father’s soul”.

I have listened to the war stories from Canadian Forces artillery officers who were ordered to lob shells from their huge Howitzer field guns into Afghan villages they couldn’t even see 20 kilometres away. I have listened to the war stories of Afghans who lived in those villages and watched helplessly as their homes were destroyed and family and friends killed.

These are not the stories most Canadians want to hear, so why would we expect those veterans would want to tell them.

Do we really want to hear the true story of why we fight?

What about those war veterans who too late realize they were duped by their government to fight futile wars, illegal wars, immoral wars, wars of imperial conquest? Do we really want to listen to their stories?

What about war veterans who want to talk about how to avoid war in future – war veterans who want to remind us of the legal imperative that war must be an absolute last resort after all other means of self-defence have been exhausted?

Do we really want to hear the stories of war veterans who do not ever want to see another war again? How un-heroic is that?

What about the war veterans who want to tell stories about war crimes they have seen committed, or that their military and political leaders have forced them to commit?  Do we really want to hear what they have to say? It’s most likely they will be labelled traitors.

Do we really want to hear the stories of the brave veterans who at great risk to themselves and their families refuse to fight an illegal/immoral war any longer?

The Canadian government did not listen to Kimberly Rivera, the first female US soldier known to have fled to Canada to avoid fighting in Iraq. The Canadian government recently deported Kimberly to face detention in a US military prison.

I certainly can’t speak for veterans, but I do know a few who don’t want to talk about their war experiences, because they know full well, we really don’t want to listen to what they have to say.  We prefer to hear mythic stories of heroism rather than hear the painful truths of war.

© Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

NATO Reality Check: Protestors in Chicago can fatally fracture NATO.

Michael Skinner 19 May 2012

Protestors in Chicago before NATO Summit begins

[Published in Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 638 May 20, 2012]  

The NATO summit in Chicago, on 20-21 May, will be a lightening-rod for protest. This is a historical moment when peace activists have an opportunity to deflect NATO’s current trajectory toward expanding and intensifying global warfare.

NATO is the most powerful military alliance ever devised in human history.

However, the alliance is unstable. NATO is wrought with fractures, which protestors in Chicago could break open, if they act thoughtfully.

Among the thousands of protestors expected in Chicago will be a group of veterans of the Global War on (of) Terror who will attempt to return their war medals to NATO generals.

The war vets state: “We were awarded these medals for serving in the Global War on Terror, a war based on lies and failed polices. This endless war has killed hundreds of thousands, stripped the humanity of all involved, and drained our communities of trillions of dollars, diverting funds from schools, clinics, libraries, and other public goods”.

Like many people in the NATO states, these veterans were initially duped by the myths that support war. But myths can be debunked.

Let’s look at some of the mythical representations of NATO countered by the factual realities that are of use to those in Chicago and around the world protesting against NATO’s destructive power.

Myth #1: NATO is controlled by the United States.

Reality #1: NATO is not controlled by the United States.

NATO is certainly dominated by the United States. America’s close ties with Britain and Canada make domination by the Anglo trio within NATO even more powerful, but not omnipotent.

NATO North Atlantic Council

The US cannot control NATO, because the NATO decision-makers must reach a consensus within the North Atlantic Council (NAC) before taking action. Consensus can constrain the power of any one state or group of states.

American decision-makers and their closest allies, who bristle at the constraint of consensus, wish to streamline the NATO decision-making process.

Any reform that reduces decision-making authority to less than consensus would afford the US and its closest allies greater power. But, thus far, the consensus model remains in place.

Which leads us to …

Myth #2: NATO sanctioned the invasion of Afghanistan and participated in the invasion alongside the United States and United Kingdom and their closest allies.

Reality #2: The invasion of Afghanistan like the invasion of Iraq was a unilateral US-UK led action that lacked either UN or NATO sanction. NATO operations in Afghanistan began in 2003 when the alliance assumed command of the UN sanctioned International Security Assistance Force.

The US and its closest allies have failed on numerous occasions to achieve consensus within NATO forcing them to either backtrack or proceed unilaterally without official NATO support. The unilateral US-UK led invasion of Iraq is a well-known case in point.

Nonetheless, the US-UK led invasion of Afghanistan, on 7 October 2001, which proponents and opponents alike often portray as either a multilateral United Nations or multinational NATO mission, was neither. The decision to invade Afghanistan was made unilaterally by the leaders of the US and the UK and the decision was implemented by a very small coalition of states.

Canadian JTF2 Special Operations Forces transport detainees during Operation Enduring Freedom invasion of Afghanistan

The invasion, codenamed Operation Enduring Freedom, was led by the US and UK and supported in combat only by Canadian, Australian, and New Zealander Special Operations Forces, and briefly by the French and German Air Forces.

The French and German air forces were soon withdrawn from combat in Afghanistan at least in part due to the protests of activists in those states who successfully demonstrated that their governments lacked popular support for an illegal military action.

Of the seven states that attacked Afghanistan, only four – the US, the UK, Canada, and Germany – were NATO members (France was not a member in 2001).

The US and UK had failed to obtain a consensus to invade Afghanistan in both the United Nations Security Council and the NATO North Atlantic Council.

The resolution (1373), which the UN did produce, called on all states to “work together urgently to prevent and suppress terrorist acts” and it proposed numerous means, within the bounds of international law, by which states could do so. The UN resolution did not propose an invasion of Afghanistan and indeed the word Afghanistan does not appear in the document.

NATO decision-makers did not sanction the invasion of Afghanistan by invoking article 5 of the Atlantic Treaty; they did pledge to mutually defend the United States against further attack.

The NATO ambassadors did, however, release a press statement endorsing the unilateral invasion of Afghanistan, on the day after the US and the UK launched Operation Enduring Freedom.

The only concrete support NATO could muster following the illegal invasion, however, was extremely limited. NATO did not send a military force to support the invasion of Afghanistan. Nor did NATO ever dedicate forces to any direct support role in the ongoing Operation Enduring Freedom.

After the invasion of Afghanistan, NATO did send “NATO aircraft, manned by multinational crews from 12 NATO nations” to North America to provide “critical air surveillance and early warning capabilities … under the command of NORAD”.

NATO also re-assigned “naval assets” to “provide an allied military presence in the eastern Mediterranean and to demonstrate our resolve”.

In their 2008 book, The Unexpected War, Janice Gross Stein and Eugene Lang claim Canada was “legally committed and obligated” as a member of NATO to join the Operation Enduring Freedom invasion of Afghanistan alongside American forces. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Canada was the only NATO state other than the US and UK that sent military ground forces into Afghanistan as part of the US-UK led Operation Enduring Freedom invasion force, in 2001.

It was not until 2003 that NATO sent forces to Afghanistan, but not to support the aggressive Operation Enduring Freedom mission. NATO agreed to send forces to assume command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Following the invasion of Afghanistan, the negotiators of the problematic UN Bonn Convention initiated the creation of the ISAF, in December 2001, as a complex peace operation with a mandate to clean up the mess left in the wake of the invasion and previous decades of turmoil.

Throughout the prolonged occupation of Afghanistan, the aggressive OEF and complex peace operation ISAF missions gradually merged. In 2009, the Obama administration made the parallel missions nearly indistinguishable by placing both under the joint command of Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

It might seem a niggling detail to highlight the fact that, in 2001, NATO did not invade Afghanistan, and did not directly support the invasion forces. Or that after NATO forces finally did enter Afghanistan to lead ISAF, in 2003, most NATO member states were reluctant to engage in the same aggressive and illegal tactics employed by their American, British, and Canadian comrades engaged in Operation Enduring Freedom.

The differences between the unilaterally declared US-led Operation Enduring Freedom and multilaterally UN-sanctioned NATO-led International Security Assistance Force were only marginal at best during the Bush administration and of diminishing difference since the Obama administration.

Nonetheless, the reluctance of most European members of NATO to engage in the illegal invasion of Afghanistan, as well as to engage in the illegal tactics employed throughout the decade long occupation by the members of the Operation Enduring Freedom coalition demonstrates an important fracture within NATO.

From the outset of the Global War on (of) Terror, American, British, and Canadian political and military leaders attempted to goad the Europeans into engaging in more aggressive warfare.

Canadian officials in NATO, formerly perceived as diplomatic multilateral bridge-builders, are now recognized within NATO as North American badgers who berate their European counterparts for not following in lockstep behind the US.

Which leads us to …

Myth #3: European NATO leaders were too cheap to spend their resources and too afraid of combat to fight on the overt battlefronts in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the many other covert battlefronts of the Global War on (of) Terror.

Reality #3: European political and military leaders did not have enough popular domestic support to fight an illegal war.

European generals may have been as eager as their Anglo comrades to put their weapons and training to the fight in Afghanistan and beyond. European political leaders may have recognized they would need to invest in President Bush’s Global War on (of) Terror to realize potential gains in geopolitical and economic advantages.

Nevertheless, European politicians recognized they could not fight an illegal war, not necessarily because they had any less desire to pursue the same geopolitical and economic interests the US-UK led Operation Enduring Freedom coalition pursued, but because they recognized the domestic political consequences they might suffer for fighting an illegal war of aggression.

Make no mistake, the US-UK led invasion of Afghanistan launched in retaliation for the terrorist attack, on 11 September 2001, which began the Global War on (of) Terror was as much an act of illegal aggression as the Austria-Hungary led invasion of Serbia launched in retaliation for the terrorist attack, on 28 June 1914, which began World War One.

Despite the many faults of international law and despite the attempts by the United States and its closest allies to pretend they are exempt from international law, it remains relevant.

European leaders, who most likely were as eager as their Anglo-American counterparts to fully participate in the Global War on (of) Terror, were constrained both by popular power and the power of international law.

Instead of joining the illegal invasion, European leaders eased their militaries into Afghanistan via the UN sanctioned International Security and Assistance Force, which then metamorphosed from a complex peace operation into an aggressive occupation force.

NATO leaders learned their lesson and were more politically savvy when the opportunity to invade Libya arose, in 2011. This time, politicians enlisted various nongovernmental organizations and the media to carefully portray the military mission as a moral and legal humanitarian duty framed within the new Responsibility to Protect Doctrine, which, coincidentally, was published, on 10 September 2001.

Yet the façade of humanitarian intervention in Libya did little to conceal the agenda for forceful regime change – an illegal act of aggression.

The ultimate myth: According to NATO’s strategic concept, NATO “thrives as a source of hope because it is based on common values of individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and because our common essential and enduring purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of its members. These values and objectives are universal and perpetual, and we are determined to defend them through unity, solidarity, strength and resolve”.

Reality: NATO is a war machine that exacerbated the US-USSR arms race during the Cold War and is again exacerbating a new east-west arms race potentially more disastrous than its predecessor. Reflecting the shared overarching strategic interest of its member states, NATO forcefully pursues the freedom for investors to expand free trade and secure their interests.

Protestors in Chicago prior to NATO Summit

In the current historical conjuncture, during which the American empire appears to be metamorphosing, as Ellen Meiksins Wood theorizes, into an American led Empire of Capital, the US desperately needs more than ever to exercise its power through like-minded multinational organizations with memberships that tend to share mutual geopolitical and economic interests. NATO is the military arm of this system.

Clearly the United States does not control NATO. History and the few examples cited above show that when the pursuit of an American interest conflicts with the interests of too many other NATO member states, the US does not get its way within NATO.

When US and other NATO members’ interests do intersect, however, the alliance is extremely dangerous.

Some strategic policy documents of the US and NATO are publicly available and reveal intersecting interests.

A thin veneer of diplomatic language and rhetoric about human rights, freedom, and democracy barely conceals the classist and racist-nationalist underpinnings of US foreign policy regarding the use of force. This is evident throughout the National Security Strategy 2010, the National Defense Strategy 2008, and National Military Strategy 2011.

The National Defense Strategy identifies the expected threats to the United States of “violent extremist movements” and “rogue states”, but also resurrects the Cold War era existential fear of Russia and China. A fear NATO members share perhaps even more viscerally for some.

The National Defense Strategy among other strategic documents indicates the United States has instituted a two-track engagement-containment policy towards Russia and China. The US clearly prefers economic engagement with both. The Cold War strategy of military containment remains in reserve, however, if either Russia or China fails to play by the free trade rules of economic engagement set by the US and its allies.

The US and NATO reliance on military containment is rejuvenating opposing institutions and reviving an arms race reminiscent of the Cold War.

Russia has instituted the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) as a counter to NATO power.

Most Western strategists downplay the CSTO as a mere shadow of the former Warsaw Pact. Nevertheless, the perceived need for Russians to invent the CSTO indicates their fears of NATO power.

Earlier this month, Russian Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov threatened to pre-emptively attack NATO missile sites in Europe, if NATO proceeds with deployment of its missile-defence shield. The general’s threat indicates the level of threat NATO represents for Russians.

The China-Russia Strategic Partnership was also invented to counter US and NATO power.

The economic union of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a Eurasian equivalent of the NAFTA, challenges Western penetration into Eurasia.

Beginning with the Bush administration, United States strategic documents identify China as America’s greatest existential threat. Despite the fact China’s military spending is a small fraction of US military spending, recent increases in Chinese military spending have whipped the US media into a fear mongering frenzy.

Hilary Clinton’s recent declaration of “America’s Pacific Century” describing a renewed focus on the Asia-Pacific region has undoubtedly increased Chinese and Russian fears of US expansion.

As at the beginning of the Cold War, fear mongers within the US-NATO block seem to be intentionally instigating a new arms race.

Who wins an arms race? The investors in arms manufacturing win of course.

Real freedom = free trade?

One overarching strategic interest – the pursuit of free markets and free trade – unites the Atlantic alliance, despite the tactical disagreements that fracture and could pull NATO apart.

The National Security Strategy 2002, also known as the Bush Doctrine, is a revealing document.

Critics focussed on the Bush Doctrine, because in it the Bush administration attempted to legitimize pre-emptive warfare. Pre-emptive warfare is a tactical concept contrary to international law, which Europeans were reticent to embrace before the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

But the Bush Doctrine should be most notable for its chapter titled, “Ignite a New Era of Global Economic Growth Through Free Markets and Free Trade”. In this chapter, the Bush Doctrine defines “real freedom” as free markets and free trade and clearly identifies the pursuit of this freedom for the investors of capital as the overarching strategic objective of the United States.

Pre-emptive warfare is merely one of many tactics that can be used to achieve this strategic objective of pursuing free markets and free trade.

The identification of this overarching strategic objective within the Bush Doctrine received little criticism, because it is the liberal economic doctrine that defines the state policies of all NATO member states.

The Obama administration’s policy documents exhibit less incendiary language than those of the Bush administration, but they do not differ in substance. When President Obama speaks of securing freedom and America’s interests he is invoking the same policies as the Bush administration and all the policies of preceding administrations that led to the Bush Doctrine.

NATO leaders proclaim their “common essential and enduring purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of its members”. We can assume their definition of freedom and security does not differ from the Bush Doctrine definition – “real freedom” is free trade and security secures the interests of the investors of capital more so than the interests of anyone else.

The lesson for peace activists is not only that we need more activism and more people involved in activism, but we need more strategically thoughtful activism. We need to mobilize every resource to constrain our less-than-democratic governments from pursuing more aggressive warfare. These goals are difficult, but not impossible.

Debunking the many myths that empower and perpetuate NATO is a tactical tool.

The fractures between the NATO member states are points where peace activists can pressure their respective governments to reject warfare and disassemble the institutions of war including NATO.

NATO is mortally susceptible to peace activists prying its interstate fractures open.

International law and the multilateral institutions that enshrine it are highly problematic, but they at least provide a minimal base to legitimize peace activism, and delegitimize the aggressive force states employ internationally and domestically to pursue state interests. Peace activists can use these resources without reifying them in their current contradictory forms.

As we can see in the cases of many of the European NATO member states, peace activists can thoughtfully use international law to constrain political and military leaders aggressive pursuit of state interests.

International law can be one of the levers peace activists use to pry open NATO and the aggressive Empire of Capital it serves until both fatally fracture under the weight of their own contradictions.

Michael Skinner is an independent researcher, human rights and peace activist, musician and composer. For a decade he was a National Education Facilitator for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Since 2006, he has been a Researcher and Graduate Fellow at the York Centre for International and Security Studies at York University, Toronto, Canada.

Read Michael Skinner’s academic papers and journalism at: http://yorku.academia.edu/MichaelSkinner/About and his blog at: https://michaelskinnerresearch.wordpress.com/

© Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“The Understandable National Allergy to Foreign Occupation.”

Michael Skinner 12 March 2012

The story that a lone “rogue” American soldier murdered sixteen Afghan civilians, including nine children and three women, dominates headlines around the world.

Some news sources report a group of laughing and apparently drunken American soldiers were the murderers

Most news reports agree the murderer(s) set fire to eleven of the bodies including four girls younger than six.

Few if any journalists, however, observe that burning the bodies of most of the massacre victims compounds the humiliation of Afghans, because Moslems consider burning a body is harama – it’s a sacrilegious desecration.

Blood stains and charred remains inside a home where US soldier murdered Afghans. Photo: Allauddin Khan / AP

New York Times journalist David Sanger predicts this horrific massacre might embolden Taliban leaders to end peace negotiations.

After all, Sanger argues the Taliban have few reasons to negotiate with an occupying force they know is leaving in 2014 anyway. He suggests that after every atrocity committed by the occupiers, the Taliban increase their capacity to “appeal to the understandable national allergy to foreign occupation”.

The fact that a New York Times reporter writes a phrase like “the understandable national allergy to foreign occupation” is itself remarkable. Military oversight of media is so complete that the words “invasion” and “occupation” are verboten for any journalist who hopes to maintain relationships with official sources. “International intervention” is the euphemism military spin-doctors invented to describe the battlefront of the Global War on/of Terror in Afghanistan.

The “national allergy to foreign occupation” is hardly surprising considering Afghan history and the past decade plus of occupation. After listening to Afghans during my visits to Afghanistan, I think it’s a good bet that many are equally allergic to the Taliban, the Karzai government, and the foreign occupation forces.

What is lacking, however, are viable alternatives to both the Talban and Karzai regimes. While resistance organisations including Maoists and women’s groups exist, these organisations lack sufficient resources and influence to counter the power of either the Western backed Karzai regime or the Taliban.

Is the massacre the product of an insane murderer, or systemic insanity?

Many journalists echo the ideas New York Times journalist William Yardley wrote yesterday. Yardley acknowledges that individuals within the US military have committed war crimes throughout the occupation. But he contends individual war criminals are merely a few bad apples.

Among the worst of the bad apples is Sgt Calvin Gibbs, the ringleader of a “rogue” Army unit. In November, the US Army convicted Gibbs of murder and other crimes.

The evidence military prosecutors used to convict Gibbs showed that he and a dozen members of the unit he led, staged combat situations so they could kill Afghan civilians for sport. Some of the soldiers photographed grisly trophy pictures using the murder victims as props. They also removed victims’ body parts to keep as souvenirs.

The horrific murders that Gibbs and the men of his unit committed, and the latest massacre, as well as a video of US soldiers urinating on dead Afghans, and the recent burning of Qur’ans are the most notorious stories of late.

Nonetheless, officially sanctioned attacks cause “collateral damage” that kills and maims civilians, and destroys homes, farms, other property, and the means for Afghans to make their livelihood. No one officially recorded Afghan civilian deaths before 2007; almost 12,000 civilians were killed between 2007 and the end of 2011.

Afghans are displaced from their homes at an average of 400 people per day. 730,000 Afghans have been internally displaced, since 2006, and foreign forces military offensives caused most of the displacements.

Night-raids of private homes, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, and torture of detainees are ongoing problems.

As justifiably angry Afghans are with the supposed bad apples, it is not merely a few bad apples who turned Afghans against the foreign occupation.

The systemically induced insanity of war.

Yardley’s article, among many other commentaries, suggests the few bad apples in the military may be victims of battle-induced traumatic stress. There might be a grain of truth to this assessment.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental illness is a growing problem for military personnel. Substance abuse as well as domestic abuse and other social problems are on the rise among military personnel and their families.

One report claims an American veteran attempts suicide every 80 minutes, a current service member attempts suicide every 36 hours, and successful suicides among serving US personnel have increased from 160 per year in 2001 to 309 in 2009. [see the full report here]

The psychological stress military personnel suffer during their tours of duty is an indisputable fact.

However, few writers acknowledge the never-ending stress suffered by Afghans who have lived in an incredibly stressful state of perpetual war, since 1978.[i]

Numerous journalists and commentators criticize the lack of sufficient PTSD treatment for military veterans here in Canada and elsewhere. But no one wants to imagine an entire nation of Afghans traumatised by war for generations. Is it possible to treat an entire nation for PTSD? Can we even call it PTSD when what we are seeing is ongoing traumatic stress disorder with no foreseeable end to the trauma?

Misplaced faith in the mythology of the “Good War”

The Sunday morning killing spree began in Belanday a village in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province.

Belanday is one of several communities Canadian Forces Major-General Jon Vance chose, in 2009, to serve as a so-called “model village”. Vance hoped that if he could win the hearts and minds of the residents in the “model villages”, he could spread this successful model throughout Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, what is most likely to spread from Belanday is more bloody warfare

Postmedia News journalist Matthew Fisher quotes Canadian Forces Maj-Gen Vance’s reaction to the massacre in Belanday:

If it happened there, this will be shocking to the people of Belanday, as you can imagine, but I think that they can recover. One bad actor cannot spoil the reputation of the whole. I believe that to be true.

It may be wishful thinking on the part of the general to hope Afghans will buy the “one bad actor” story, but Jon Vance seems regularly prone to wishful thinking.

The one time I met the general was at York University during one of Vance’s cross-Canada propaganda tours promoted by the Canadian Forces. To introduce his talk, to a small group of academics, Vance played an overly long feel-good video composed primarily of photographs depicting smiling Afghan children posed with Canadian soldiers. The video was set to the music of John Hiatt’s “Have a Little Faith in Me”.

I told the general it was ironic he chose “Have a Little Faith in Me” as the soundtrack for his video. Those of us in his audience were sceptical academics who ask questions to which we seek answers based on evidence not faith. I asked why he thought the knowledgeable academics present, some of who had visited Afghanistan, should “have a little faith” in his fanciful story that all is well in Afghanistan and with Canada’s participation in the Global War on/of Terror. I asked the general whether he had any hard evidence to back his appeal for faith in his mission. The general appeared dumbfounded that anyone would question his authority and his appeal to faith. He was unable to back his appeal with significant evidence.

A concrete idea of what Major-General Vance believes is found in his writing.

In 2005, Vance wrote a chapter in the military textbook, The Operational Art: Context and Concepts. There he argues Canadian foreign policy is “more concerned with the political advantages of being seen to participate” in US-led missions, and that Canadian strategy centres upon “protecting Canadian interests rather than pursuing them.” In other words, according to Vance, the Canadian Forces purse Canada’s interests by supporting the pursuit of whatever interests American forces pursue.

Vance’s idea that Canada is subordinated to the US as it was subordinated to the UK in previous centuries, is highly problematic; indeed, his is a mythical account of the how Canadian Forces support Canadian foreign policy. This idea leads to the excuse that Canada must follow the US into its wars.

The reality is that Canada is a subdominant imperial state. The US is undeniably the dominant state in global affairs often acting as a bully to get its way. Canada plays a supporting subdominant role to the dominant bully not because Canadian decision-makers have no other choices, but instead because the US and Canada pursue mutual interests that revolve around globally expanding capitalist social relations and maintaining America’s “global primacy” .

Unfortunately, I have insufficient time or space to analyse Vance’s mythology in detail here. For counterarguments see Yves Engler’s, The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy and Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: The Truth May Hurt (with a foreword by Noam Chomsky), Todd Gordon’s, Imperialist Canada, and the chapters of various authors including myself collected by editors Greg Albo and Jerome Klassen in their upcoming book, Empire’s Ally: Canadian Foreign Policy and the War in Afghanistan.

It suffices to state the idea that the battlefront of the Global War on/of Terror in Afghanistan is somehow a better or more just war than the other battlefronts in Iraq and elsewhere is a myth.

I expect “the understandable national allergy to foreign occupation” in Afghanistan might soon become an epidemic.


[i] Since 1978, four periods of war blend into one:

1) The anti-socialist jihad, when American backed anti-socialist mujahedeen fought Soviet backed government forces, which, after Christmas Eve 1979, were directly supported by Soviet occupation forces (1978-1992).

2) The internecine first civil war, when after one mujahedeen force seized Kabul to institute the first Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, rival mujahedeen factions fight one another and the governing forces (1992-1996).

3) The second civil war is fought, between the Taliban, which emerged in 1994 and by 1996 governed most of Afghanistan, and several of the rival mujahedeen factions and the government, which during the fall of Kabul in 1996, joined forces to form the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan aka the Northern Alliance to govern parts of Northern Afghanistan (1996-2001).

4) The Global War on/of Terror, which began when US-UK led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) forces invade Afghanistan on 7 October 2001. After the Bonn Agreement of 20 December 2001, the occupation is administered by the combat forces of the US led OEF coalition and a UN led International Security Force (ISAF) initially conceived as a “complex peace operations” force. On 11 August 2003, NATO forces assumed command of ISAF. The Obama administration placed both the OEF and ISAF forces under the command of one American general, in 2009, eliminating any differences that might have still existed between the OEF and ISAF forces.

Michael Skinner is a researcher, human rights activist, musician and composer. For a decade he was a National Education Facilitator for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Since 2006, he has been an Independent Researcher and Graduate Fellow at the York Centre for International and Security Studies at York University, Toronto, Canada. Skinner is currently writing his Ph.D. dissertation titled, Peacebuilding, State-building, & Empire-building: The emerging Empire of Capital and its interventions from Central America to Central Asia. Michael Skinner recently returned from his second research trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Read Michael Skinner’s academic papers and journalism at: http://yorku.academia.edu/MichaelSkinner

© Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What kind of Peace would Afghans choose if the conditions were not chosen for them?

[I wrote this article on 21 September 2011. I thought I should repost it here as background to my previous post regarding the Afghan peace negotiations.]

What kind of Peace would Afghans choose if the conditions were not chosen for them?

Michael Skinner 21 September 2011

Yesterday, 20 September 2011 was the tenth anniversary of George Bush’s declaration of a Global War on Terror. Whether the symbolism was intentional or not, an as yet unidentified assassin killed the leader of the Afghan High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani.

Rabbani’s latest title and the news published in Western media, since his assassination, might lead us to believe he was a benign perhaps even pacific elder statesman overseeing peace negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban leaders. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Afghan and international human rights observers allege Rabbani among many other warlords committed just about every crime defined by the Geneva Conventions and International Humanitarian Law including abductions, prisoner abuse, mutilation and torture, forced labour, disappearances, pillage and looting, as well as rape and sexual violence.

Burhanuddin Rabbani

Nevertheless, Rabbani, along with all the alleged criminals holding key positions in both the current Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the opposing Taliban organisations were granted legal impunity in 2010.

During the anti-socialist jihad of the 1980s, which was financed by the US government, Rabbani led a Tajik faction of mujaheddin. His faction was the first to invade Kabul in 1992 to topple the ruling People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) led government.

The former PDPA government – best described as brutal and paranoid – had, nonetheless, legislated numerous progressive initiatives to improve the plight of Afghan women in particular. In fact, it was legislation to institute the universal education of boys and girls that sparked the anti-socialist jihad that began March 1979, which the administration of US President Jimmy Carter decided to fund a few months later.

When Rabbani seized power from the PDPA in 1992, he immediately instituted the first Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The consequences were catastrophic for all Afghans, but most notably for Afghan women. American propaganda would have us believe the repression of women’s rights began when the Taliban seized power from Rabbani in 1996. Rabbani had, however, already done most of the dirty work during his four years in power.

From 1992 to 1996, Rabbani clung to power in Kabul, while rival mujaheddin factions bombarded the city with artillery and rocket fire. During these four years, 80 percent of Kabul was destroyed and all the warring parties committed some of the most egregious war crimes.

The Rabbani faction holding Kabul and the four rival factions besieging the city achieved no more than a bloody stalemate after four years of brutal warfare. The Taliban were able to seize the advantage and war-weary Afghans grudgingly accepted the new regime, which had at least imposed some order upon the chaos of civil war.

Rabbani meanwhile fled to northern Afghanistan, where he cobbled together an alliance with some of his former mujaheddin warlord rivals. They called their alliance the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan. Western media sanitised the United Islamic Front to rename it the Northern Alliance.

Rabbani’s United Islamic Front/Northern Alliance, of course became famous as the frontline forces that seized power in Kabul, during the Operation Enduring Freedom invasion of Afghanistan. Rabbani then handed power to the transitional national government headed by Hamid Karzai.

Warlord rather than peacemaker is thus the accurate description for Berhanuddin Rabbani.

[For a detailed history of the events leading to 9/11 read: Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001; and Ahmed Rashid’s Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia.]

Building peace in Afghanistan?

Peace scholars don’t regard every peace as equal. They describe two different kinds of peace: negative peace, which is a condition merely without warfare; and positive peace, which researchers Tasier Ali and Bob Matthews describe as “a condition of stable and widening shared values”.

Ali and Matthews observe peacebuilding can be a top-down process driven by governments. Or peacebuilding can be a bottom-up process resulting from the “attitudes and socio-economic circumstances of ordinary people”. The actions undertaken by groups, organizations, and smaller communities that compose a society drive this bottom-up process.

In a few cases in recent decades, the negotiation of the conditions of peace leading to post-conflict peacebuilding resulted from a combination of both top-down and bottom-up processes. In most cases, however, it is the men-with-guns who determine the conditions of peace in an exclusively top-down process. The current peace negotiations in Afghanistan, which may have been irretrievably derailed by Rabbani’s assassination, conform to the model of men-with-guns dictating the conditions of peace.

Negative peace is preferable to warfare, but only if it facilitates the conditions for building positive peace. However, the “shared values” of the warlords on all sides who were, until yesterday, negotiating peace in Afghanistan are a great cause of concern for many Afghans and international human rights activists.

The Taliban are radical Islamists intent on isolating Afghanistan from the rest of the world. The former United Islamic Front warlords who dominate the Karzai government are radical Islamists intent on profiting from their relationship to Western states and corporations. The negative peace currently under negotiation between these two sides is not likely to establish stable and widening shared values to liberate most Afghans.

Many people both inside and outside Afghanistan believed the rhetoric of the North American and European leaders who backed the dual Operation Enduring Freedom and International Security Assistance Force military interventions in Afghanistan. Many people believed the goal of the invaders was to liberate Afghans and especially Afghan women.

However, to understand the current geopolitical and economic context, it is instructive to examine the long history of Western intervention in Afghanistan.

In 1840, an officer of the British East India Company wrote in the company’s official report regarding its invasion of Afghanistan in 1838-1839: “I trust, under Divine Providence, the event may not only cause the regeneration of Affghanistan (sic); but may, in future times, be attended with great commercial advantages to Great Britain”.

The wealthiest and most powerful states of the world are still pursuing “great commercial advantages”. Today, these advantages include: re-opening a New Silk Road as a modern network of transportation, communications, and energy transmission infrastructures to connect China to Europe and India to Russia; exploiting Afghanistan’s great wealth of strategic and commercially important mining resources; and opening new markets, which among many potentially profitable markets include equipping, training, and maintaining the Afghan army, air force, and security services.

Who gets to participate in the negotiation of peace in Afghanistan will determine how these “great commercial advantages” are distributed. Currently, the men-with-guns are the ones divvying up Afghanistan’s wealth in a top-down process that includes few Afghans. This process may have been fatally derailed by Rabbani’s assassination, but it was seriously flawed even before his death.

What kind of peace would Afghans choose if the conditions were not chosen for them? That’s not for anyone else to say, but I suspect they would negotiate a more equitable deal for themselves than if the peace process is left only to the men-with-guns.

Michael Skinner is a researcher, human rights activist, musician and composer. For a decade he was a National Education Facilitator for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Since 2006, he has been an Independent Researcher and Graduate Fellow at the York Centre for International and Security Studies at York University, Toronto, Canada. Skinner is currently writing his Ph.D. dissertation titled, Peacebuilding, State-building, & Empire-building: The emerging Empire of Capital and its interventions from Central America to Central Asia. Michael Skinner recently returned from his second research trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan. You can read Michael Skinner’s blog at: https://michaelskinnerresearch.wordpress.com/ and academic papers and journalism at: http://yorku.academia.edu/MichaelSkinner/About

© Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Negotiating Peace or Pacification for Afghans?

Western news media report the tempo of Afghan peace talks, which have been on and off since at least 2009, accelerated in recent weeks.

Less reported in Western media and largely ignored in Canada, are trilateral negotiations recently begun between the leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.

Outsiders can only speculate about the issues on the negotiating tables in both sets of secret negotiations.

Nonetheless, if we look at the facts of the past decade of the Global War on/of Terror within the context of the past centuries of imperial warfare we have a good idea of what negotiators are likely discussing.

The peace negotiators?

It’s unlikely the men-with-guns sitting at the negotiating tables are fretting about how to liberate Afghan women. It is a safe bet their various quests for wealth and power from local to global levels trump concerns for human rights.

By manipulating bloodlust for retribution and fear that Islamic terrorists threatened global security, the leaders of the US and its closest allies co-opted many people to support the unilateral and illegal American-British-led invasion of Afghanistan, on 7 October 2001, which was the first salvo of the Global War on/of Terror.

Special Operations Forces of the Anglo-quintet of the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand were the only “coalition of the willing” ground forces that fought in the invasion of Afghanistan named Operation Enduring Freedom.

The Afghan military force these Anglo-American Spec Ops forces advised was known in the West as the Northern Alliance – a euphemistic name invented to disguise their Afghan name: the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan.

The United Islamic Front aka Northern Alliance was a coalition of mujahideen factions led by Berhanuddin Rabbani.

Thanks to his alliance with America’s anti-socialist crusade, during the 1980s, Rabbani was finally able to overthrow the People’s Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, in 1992, to institute the first Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

However, the leaders of rival mujahideen factions within the anti-socialist jihad, who were also American allies, violently opposed Rabbani’s leadership.

The rival mujahideen leaders subjected Afghans to 4 years of bloody civil war, from 1992 to 1996. The rival mujahideen armies obliterated Afghan social order and most of the state infrastructure using weaponry leftover from the previous decade-long American-Soviet proxy war supplemented by new weaponry supplied by an array of interested states.

In 1994, the Taliban emerged amid the chaos of this civil war to violently consolidate control of most of Afghanistan and institute the second Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, in 1996.

Rabbani with several of his former mujahideen rivals retreated to a corner of northern Afghanistan to form the United Islamic Front, which served as a rump government opposing the Taliban led government.

The Taliban and the United Islamic Front aka Northern Alliance differ little in their disrespect for what might be called liberal Western values. Their significant difference is that the leaders of the United Islamic Front proved more willing than the Taliban to cut deals with American leaders to accept inclusion into the liberal/capitalist economic system, while continuing to reject liberal social values.

The participants who determined the fate of Afghans at the Bonn conference of 2001 rewarded the mujahideen of the United Islamic Front for their alliance with the US and its small coalition of the willing. The Karzai regime remains in power thanks to the military power of the US and NATO missions protecting it.

These are the three parties of men-with-guns negotiating the Afghan peace – the US, the Taliban, and the Afghan government led at present by Karzai whose days seem numbered as he increasingly bristles against American control.

Until he was assassinated on 20 September 2011 – symbolically the tenth anniversary of George W. Bush’s declaration of the Global War of Terror – Berhanuddin Rabbani was the chief peace negotiator for the Karzai led Afghan government. The negotiations faltered after Rabbanni’s assassination, but have regained momentum since.

At best the men-with-guns will negotiate what liberal peace researchers call a “negative peace” meaning simply the absence of war. This is not the “positive peace” the invaders of Afghanistan promised Afghans – a peaceful society in which all Afghans and especially women and girls would experience both “freedom” and “security”.

Pacification – coercing/persuading Afghans to accept capitalist order.

Different from what liberal academics describe as “negative/positive peace” is what the critical theorist Mark Neocleous calls “pacification”. Neocleous argues pacification is a form of police power designed to “secure the insecurity of capitalist order”.

This capitalist order is an imperial order imposed by the US and its closest allies – an empire Ellen Wood describes as an “Empire of Capital”.

The Empire of Capital is American led, but it relies on the mutual interests of the wealthiest most powerful capitalist states to augment and legitimize its overwhelming global power.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations promoted “freedom” and “security” as objectives of the Global War on/of Terror. What these leaders of the Empire of Capital usually leave unsaid, however, is that their definition of freedom is freedom for investors to move capital globally and their definition of security is a security that secures the interests of investors at the expense of everyone else.

Afghan National Police Kabul photo: Michael Skinner

What negotiators are most likely hashing out during the Afghan peace talks is not how to secure the human right of Afghans, but instead how to pacify the Afghan population. In other words at issue in the negotiations is the question of how to coerce/persuade Afghans to accept “capitalist order” while distributing power and wealth among the men-with-guns.

For years, influential commentators demanded that Afghans must reduce their expectations that were initially inflated by the promises of Western politicians. Clearly, the promises of freedom and security for all Afghans will not be fulfilled.

Nevertheless, the war has opened Afghanistan for business.

Throughout the Global War on Terror the war machine generated record profits for investors in the North American-European military/security industrial complex.

The “investment” in war may soon prove to pay even greater dividends as large scale industrial development of transportation, communications, energy transmission, and resource extraction infrastructure takes shape in Afghanistan and throughout the entire region some describe as Greater Central Asia.

What interests could the leaders of the Empire of Capital have in Afghanistan?

More wealth and power!

Since the mercenary military forces of the British East India Company began their incessant march northward, in 1600, the quest for wealth and power has driven the capitalist development that is only now taking root in Afghanistan.

This is not and has never been a quest primarily to establish liberal human rights and democracy. No matter how many people might be deluded by the mythology of good intentions, this is a quest for wealth and power.

Unlike George Bush or Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a few of the smartest liberal intellectuals like Michael Ignatieff and Nialls Ferguson, following in the footsteps of John Locke, do at least acknowledge the fact that imperial leaders seek wealth and power.

Some, like Ignatieff and Ferguson, acknowledge the fact of empire and that imperialism indeed produces many negative consequences. Nonetheless, they argue the benefits of liberal capitalist imperialism outweigh the negative consequences.

The sad truth, however, is that the benefits of imperialism are inequitably distributed.

During my travels in Afghanistan and Pakistan most people I met argued quite accurately that many North Americans and a few Afghans and Pakistanis might benefit from imperialism, but most people do not. Many people suffer horribly.

I met many Afghans and Pakistanis, who Westerners would label as illiterate who, nevertheless, demonstrated impressive political and historical literacy. They understand their own history and how it affects their current place in the world.

In the early 19th century, the leaders of the rival British, Tsarist Russian, and Persian empires used Afghanistan as a buffer zone separating their empires.

After the Russian Revolution and the end of World War One, Russians were pre-occupied domestically and Afghans finally pushed British forces out of Afghanistan to conclude the third Anglo-Afghan War.

Afghans enjoyed a brief respite from aggressive imperial intervention during the interwar period. They established a constitutional monarchy combining elements of the British parliamentary system and Afghan jirga system.

But after World War Two, leaders of the rival American and Soviet empires again used Afghanistan as a buffer zone to separate their “spheres of influence” with disastrous consequences for Afghans.

This purpose as a buffer zone separating rival empires, which Afghanistan served for more than a century-and-a-half, was no longer necessary after the USSR collapsed.

American strategists immediately recognized they could now use Afghanistan for the purpose imperial leaders had recognized for millennia. Afghanistan is a bridgehead for control of the Eurasian supercontinent.

As an added bonus, Afghanistan is incredibly wealthy in natural resources, especially mining resources. Developing these resources will not only be profitable, but will serve various strategic purposes including driving the building of modern infrastructure.

With the collapse of the USSR and the instant evaporation of the existential threat the Soviet system represented, American strategists reconceived the ancient Silk Road as a New Silk Road.

The New Silk Road will serve as a transportation, communications, and energy transmission conduit to re-establish overland connections: south-north between India and Russia, via Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Central Asian republics; and east-west between China and Europe, via, Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey.

High-speed railways, fibre-optic cables, and pipelines will soon follow the routes once traversed by camel caravans. The question is: who will profit from building, operating, maintaining, and securing this system?

Unfortunately for North Americans in particular, they are at the bottom of the heap when it comes to establishing “comparative advantages” in economic relations in this region.

Nevertheless, North Americans have the capacity to exercise an immense military advantage.

Regional spoilers?

The trilateral negotiations recently begun between the leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran represent a significant challenge to the wealthiest and most powerful members of the Empire of Capital.

American strategists perceive the leaders of all three states, including the Afghan president the US forces installed in power, as spoilers who may need to be eliminated.

Other regional alliances include: the Shanghai Co-operation Organization (SCO), and the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), which are regional equivalents of the NAFTA; the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which Russia organized in response to NATO; and the Russia-China Strategic Partnership.

From the perspective of strategists within the Empire of Capital, these economic, political, and military alliances pose a complex of potential opportunities to expand liberal trade, but also, simultaneously, challenges to the global hegemony of America at the head of an Empire of Capital.

Without a forceful military presence expanding beyond Afghanistan, and lacking economic competitive advantages, North American corporate executives in particular could find themselves on the outside wistfully looking into the Greater Central Asian region as it grows in prosperity.

And American and NATO military strategists fear the growth of the region’s geostrategic importance.

From the perspective of some influential strategists, America and its closest allies are losing an historic opportunity to establish firm control over Eurasia while Russia and China, relatively weak at present, nevertheless, amass power and wealth at a faster rate than the Empire of Capital.

The best-case scenario envisioned by strategists within the Empire of Capital is that the pacification of Afghans will spread prosperity throughout the region and America will remain on top of a hierarchical global order with its closest allies nearby. In this scenario China and Russia would be engaged evermore deeply into the global capitalist system as economic competitors rather than as imperial rivals.

However, many possibilities far worse than this best-case scenario could occur instead.

The media directs our focus toward possible military invasions of Syria and Iran. The campaigns to force regime change in Syria and Iran have little to do with establishing human rights in these states; they are really about redirecting Eurasian based alliances with Russia and China toward global alliances with the Empire of Capital.

Escalating warfare into Syria and Iran would escalate a descent into chaos that would also likely engulf Pakistan and the Central Asian republics. If Russia and China are pulled into this chaos – it is hard to imagine they would not be – the entire world could be engulfed in global warfare as the ultimate conclusion of the Global War on/of Terror.

Perpetuating and even escalating chaos is the fail-safe position for the strategists of the Empire of Capital, however.

If the imperial hegemon cannot maintain its position via greater relative gains of wealth and power, it can force its rivals into a position where they will lose relatively more than the victor.

In the game of warfare, the victor is sometimes the one that gains the most. But more often, the victor is the one that loses the least, or as in the example of Russia versus Germany, during WWII, suffers greater losses, but had greater resources and strategic advantages to begin with.

In any event, investors in the growing military-security industrial complex profit, regardless of how much others lose.

The Afghan paradox.

Afghans are currently increasing the intensity of protests against their occupation by US and NATO forces. (Yes, Afghans have been protesting the occupation for years, but media coverage is rare.)

Afghans attend a protest in Kabul 6 October 2011 to condemn the U.S.-led invasion, which marked its 10th anniversary on October 7. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

At this moment, Western media is portraying Afghan protestors as religious zealots enraged because American military personnel burned Korans. Nonetheless, Afghans have been enraged by numerous atrocities foreign soldiers committed and they have demonstrated their anger toward the occupiers throughout the ten plus years of occupation.

After travelling throughout Afghanistan and listening to the numerous grievances of many Afghans, I can state with confidence that the ongoing protests indicate many Afghans reject imperial control. I suspect many will reject the type of coercive pacification the men-with-guns are likely to negotiate.

While stories about the violence of the war are what reach the headlines, it is clear that many more Afghans resist occupation via many means of nonviolent resistance.

Initially, many Afghans were hopeful for a new life after the Taliban were forced from government, but few have been persuaded by the mythological promises that their pacification within an expanding capitalist world order will be for their own good.

Thus far, military force has failed to coerce most Afghans to cooperate. The struggle continues.

Michael Skinner is a researcher, human rights activist, musician and composer. For a decade he was a National Education Facilitator for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Since 2006, he has been an Independent Researcher and Graduate Fellow at the York Centre for International and Security Studies at York University, Toronto, Canada. Skinner is currently writing his Ph.D. dissertation titled, Peacebuilding, State-building, & Empire-building: The emerging Empire of Capital and its interventions from Central America to Central Asia. Michael Skinner recently returned from his second research trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan. You can read Michael Skinner’s blog at: https://michaelskinnerresearch.wordpress.com/ and academic papers and journalism at: http://yorku.academia.edu/MichaelSkinner/About

© Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Canadian Miners Make the Big Move into Afghanistan: And We Wonder Why “They” Resist from Afghanistan to Attawapiskat.

Mining in Afghanistan. Photo by Patrick Andrade http://www.patrickandrade.com

On 24 November 2011, the Government of Afghanistan awarded a Canadian mining company, Kilo Goldmines, approximately 25 percent of the stake to develop the massive Hajigak iron deposit in Bamiyan Afghanistan. A consortium of Indian companies won the other 75 percent of the development.

The Hajigak deposit – the largest iron deposit in Asia and possibly the world – is “truly significant on a global scale”.

Developing Hajigak among approximately 1,500 other geological deposits in Afghanistan is significant not only economically, but also geopolitically in the global battle for control of Eurasia.

Investments measured in the tens of billions of dollars are necessary to develop the Hajigak mine and the transportation, communications, and energy infrastructure needed to support it. This is big business at work at its biggest scale working in tandem with the most powerful and wealthiest governments in the world.

With the announcement that a Canadian mining company will begin to reap some of the dividends of Canada’s significant military investment in Afghanistan, you might think the story would have been front-page news in Canada. It wasn’t. The story only made news in the mining journals.

Not surprisingly, it was news for Afghans, however.

Canadian mining in Bamiyan, Bamiyan province, Afghanistan.

The city of Bamiyan, near Hajigak, is the capital of Bamiyan province and the centre of Hazarajat – the home of the Hazara people. The Hazara are one of many distinct nations that compose the diverse multi-national state of Afghanistan. They are also one of the most oppressed and persecuted of the many Afghan nations.

I visited Bamiyan in 2007. A geologist, I’ll call Aziz, who we met at the University of Bamiyan, first told us about the significance of the Hajigak deposit.

View from Shahr-e Gholghola across the Bamiyan Valley. Photo Michael Skinner

Aziz guided my research partner and I on the short climb up Shahr-e Gholghola, a squat mountain that sits alone in the centre of the Bamiyan Valley. Sitting atop Shahr-e Gholghola, with the verdant Bamiyan Valley as his backdrop, Aziz told us his story of war, empire, and mining in Afghanistan.

I wrote:

“Looking over the Bamiyan Valley, we can see that productive and sustainable agriculture fills every available niche in a delicate balance of nature. It is an extremely fragile environment, similar to the arid American southwest. Building a railway through the valley, spewing toxic waste into the atmosphere during the smelting process, and dumping tons of slag onto the watershed would have an incredibly destructive impact on the delicate ecological balance that has been maintained for millennia by local farmers. Aziz reminded us of the genocidal slaughter of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas as they were displaced to make way for economic development and the ecological destruction that resulted from resource extraction. Recognizing that, to this day, resource extraction practices continue to disrupt social and environmental systems, Aziz fears for the future of the Hazara people of Bamiyan and all Afghans throughout his country.”

Like so many Afghans I met, in 2007, Aziz did not believe the propaganda that a “humanitarian” empire invaded Afghanistan to liberate Afghans from oppression, or to secure the world from terrorists.

Many Afghans confronted daily by the brutal facts of war, believe an American led Empire of Capital invaded Afghanistan to liberate Afghans from their resource wealth, estimated at more than $3 trillion,  and to secure priceless geopolitical advantages for the most wealthy and powerful states, including Canada, that comprise this globalizing empire.

Whether these Afghans’ fears are accurate may be unclear. It is clear that hundreds of billions of dollars were invested in the military intervention. Now tens of billions of dollars are flowing into industrial development expected to benefit investors generally based in a few key financial centers.

The investment measured in human development projects that could benefit Afghans, such as repairing schools and medical facilities, can be measured in a few tens of millions of dollars. Investment in human development pales in comparison to investment in the military mission and now the investment in industrial development.

Who will benefit from Canadian investments in Afghanistan?

Ed Fast, Canada’s Minister of International Trade as well as Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, stated on 4 December 2011: “Canada is strongly committed to helping Afghans rebuild their country, and this investment by Kilo Goldmines will create jobs and prosperity for Afghans and Canadians alike”

Minister Fast’s claim might provide hope for Afghans and make investors in Kilo Goldmines feel good, but it is hardly based in reality.

The truth is that “Canadian mining companies are far and away the worst offenders in environmental, human rights and other abuses around the world”, according to a study commissioned by, of all people, the Canadian mining industry itself.

Watch CTV’s W5 exposé of Canadian mining in Guatemala, “Searching for Gold at the end of the Guatemalan rainbow”, if you want to see the abhorrent ways some Canadian miners operate abroad and how the Canadian government supports these companies.

In 2005, in Solola, Guatemala, protestors blockade mining equipment destined for Canadian owned Glamis gold mine in San Marcos. The Canadian ambassador orders the Guatemalan president to end the blockade. One man is killed when police attack protestors.

Afghanistan will likely prove to be an even more difficult place for Canadian mining companies to do business than Guatemala.

But the people at Kilo Goldmines know how to exploit resources in conflict zones. Kilo made much of its fortune in the DR Congo, where, despite the signing of peace accords in 2003, government forces and insurgents continue to fight a bloody war that has killed an estimated 3 million people.

In Afghanistan, Kilo Goldmines and the other Canadian companies likely to soon invest in Afghanistan will be able to rely on the Afghan military and police forces for protection – that’s what we are training those Afghans to do after all.

Investors will undoubtedly line up behind the façade of the Government of Canada’s promise that “Kilo Goldmines will create jobs and prosperity for Afghans

Canadians need look no further than our own backyard to Attawapiskat on the Ontario shore of Hudson Bay to see how empty that promise may prove to be.

South African mining in Attawapiskat, Ontario, Canada

In the 1990s, the South African DeBeers Company proposed building a diamond mine to exploit a rich vein of diamonds beneath Attawapiskat land in northern Ontario.

You might think that if someone discovered diamonds buried in your backyard, you would become rich. Alas, in Ontario, like the rest of Canada, the law generally states, if a mining company wants to exploit the resources found on your land, the best you might hope for is to negotiate with the company for compensation.

Of course your ability to negotiate depends on many factors particularly how much money you can afford to pay competent legal advisors and negotiators.

The people of the Attawapiskat First Nation tried to negotiate fair compensation with DeBeers for years. The process divided the community between those who wanted to protect their ancestral land in its natural state, and those who hoped to benefit from exploiting their resources either by getting good jobs at the mine or by starting businesses to service the mine.

In the end, DeBeers was the big winner. The people of Attawapiskat lost at least as much as they gained in the Impact Benefit Agreement (IBA) they signed with DeBeers, in 2005.

The diamonds mined on Attawapiskat land, since 2008, may not be “blood diamonds”, but there is no such thing as “clean diamonds”. Diamond mining may be marginally cleaner than some types of mining, but every mine affects the environment.

In addition to environmental concerns, the social and economic impact on the people of Attawapiskat has not proven positive. Only a fraction of the promised jobs ever materialised and the mining company does little business with the community of Attawapiskat.

Gaining a diamond mine in their backyard certainly didn’t help many of the people of Attawapiskat; most are worse off today.

Less than a year after miners began to dig up diamonds, the people of Attawapiskat began a series of protests in front of the DeBeers offices in Timmons, Ontario.

The protestors complained DeBeers was not upholding its end of their contract with the people of Attawapiskat. The people of Attawapiskat had expected their contract with DeBeers would at least mitigate if not solve their problems of inadequate housing, unsafe drinking water, lack of sewage and sanitation services, and their lack of an adequate elementary school.

Like so many other Indigenous communities throughout Canada and Quebec, the Government of Canada had consistently failed to uphold its promises to the people of Attawapiskat. Many people had false hopes that the deal with DeBeers would solve their problems; it didn’t.

Seeing that the protests at the DeBeers office, in 2008, did not yield results, the protestors took direct action in early 2009. They blockaded the seasonal ice road that services the mine.

The miners have only a few weeks during the coldest time of winter, when they can bring in transport trucks bearing supplies and heavy equipment via the ice-road. The mine is inaccessible overland for the rest of the year.

The protestors at the ice road blockade claimed DeBeers was not fulfilling the promises made in the IBA contract and they issued a list of demands to DeBeers.

The news media neglected the story for years. Among few reports is a mining journal that noted, in 2009, that “discontent is simmering”, in Attawapiskat.

Only in recent weeks have the horrific problems faced by the people of Attawapiskat hit the headlines in Canada.

The problems of the people of Attawapiskat may have been breaking news for most Canadians, but it has been the daily reality lived by Aboriginal Peoples displaced from their land in Canada and elsewhere.

Few if any articles that have exposed the reality of Attawapiskat in recent weeks, however, question the inequities of a South African diamond mining company reaping profits from Attawapiskat land, and governments reaping mining royalties from the mining company, while the people of Attawapiskat continue to suffer from poverty.

The processes of imperialism from Attawapiskat to Afghanistan

The processes of imperialism that investors and their governments employ during both war and peace, and the effects these processes have on people are hardly new.

Tactics have changed, since the East India Company first began to occupy India in 1600, and invaded Afghanistan in the early 19th century. The tactics have changed since the Virginia Company and Hudson’s Bay Company among others began to occupy North America.

The occupiers no longer justify their corporate missions as Christianising-civilising missions; today these are liberalizing-democratizing missions.

The intimate nexus of states and corporations in the past may have enjoyed greater public legitimacy than today. State leaders now pretend to separate state and corporate agendas, but they really are playing an ideological game of pretend with no foundation in reality.

Corporate mercenary forces were considered legitimate until the 19th century. But the Indian rebellion of 1857 against the military dictatorship of the East India Company ended that legitimacy. While perceived as problematic today, corporate mercenary forces are re-emerging as states offload many military functions to corporations.

Despite these and other tactical differences between the empires of the past and today, the strategic goals remain the same. The strategic goals are: that investors make a profit; and that corporations and the states that support them and are co-dependent with them for survival, stay on top of a globalizing system of free enterprise.

What happens to the people of either Attawapiskat or Afghanistan is only of concern in this system of corporate/state empire when it negatively affects the corporate bottom-line and the wealth and power of the occupying states.

I have no doubt many people in Canada, perhaps even a majority, are generally concerned about the welfare of our fellow human beings in places like Attawapiskat and Afghanistan.

However, ours are not the loudest voices heard by the government. Look at lobby groups like the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI) and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE)  if you want to know who does have the most influential voices in government.

Another world is possible, however.

The 1st Occupy America movement

© Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Evictions and the (Re) Occupy Movement

15 November 2011

Police are forcibly evicting protestors from numerous Occupy Movement protest encampments throughout North America.

This morning, here in Toronto, police delivered an eviction notice to protestors encamped in a downtown park that will become effective at midnight. Before heading out to join the thousands of people who will fill the streets tonight to support the smaller core group of protestors who have been living 24/7 in St. James Park, I want to share a few reflections on the Occupy Movement.

“Why don’t the protestors get a job?” That’s a comment I hear repeatedly from opponents of the Occupy Movement.

Well let’s look at the facts. First many protestors do work, but for those who cannot find work, there are fewer jobs than ever.

Historically, when a recession has ended and GDP has returned to its prerecession peak, there has always been a time lag before employment also returns to its prerecession level.

Following the seven recessions that occurred from 1948 to 1981, the time lag between the return to prerecession GDP levels and prerecession employment levels averaged 6 months. It never took more than 8 months for employment to recover and in 1973 employment returned to its prerecession level only 3 months after GDP had recovered.

This gap between GDP recovery and employment recovery drastically widened during the next three recessions. In 1990, the recovery gap was 15 months, in 2001, it was 39 months.

These statistics were not invented by a “leftie” organisation. They were published in June by a pro-business research publication McKinsey Quarterly.

Employment still has not recovered since the 2008 recession. The authors of the McKinsey Quarterly report expect the current recovery gap will not close until 60 months after the GDP recovery. So, based on the 2008 recession and subsequent recovery we could have expected employment would not return to prerecession levels for several years yet. But, unemployment levels were already too high before the recession.

Worse yet, it is becoming more clear by the day that we are now in a double-dip recession heading for a depression. So things look far more bleak for those seeking employment than it was when McKinsey published its dire outlook for employment earlier this year.

Here in Canada, 72,000 full-time jobs were lost in the last month alone.

Revealing the recovery gap of the last three recessions not only illustrates that many people are without jobs, it also shows that during the period of this gap those at the top gain wealth and power while those at the bottom lose.

“Why don’t the unions mind their own business and stay out of the Occupy Movement?” Yet another comment I hear often from opponents of the movement.

Well let’s look at the facts again. During the same period, since 1980, when we see the recovery gap lengthen, we also see workers’ wages and compensation flatten, even though their productivity continues to increase.

From 1947 to 1979, US productivity rose by 119 percent. This increase was almost matched by a rise in average total hourly compensation of 100 percent, which included wage raises of 72 percent.

During that time, all lower classes gained at a greater rate than the top 20 percent.

However, from 1980 to now, while productivity rose 80 percent, total compensation increased by only 8 percent, which includes wage increases of 7 percent.

At the same time, the bottom 20 percent, who earn $26,934 or less, have lost 4 percent of their share of compensation. The second lowest 20 percent, who earn between $26,935 to $47,914, have gained by only 7 percent. Meanwhile, the top 20 percent, who earn $112,541 or more, received gains of 55 percent, since 1980.

Americans have not seen such a level of inequity since before the Great Depression. The level of inequity is no different here in Canada, but our more comprehensive social welfare system does mitigate the worst symptoms of inequity, which are so visible in the US.

In the 1920s, the top one percent accumulated 23.9 percent of the national wealth in the US. Thanks to the activism of the workers who achieved the redistributive policies of the post-war social contract, the share of the top one percent had dropped to 8.9 percent by 1979.  Since neoliberal governments began reversing these redistributive policies in the 1980s, the share of the top one percent has again climbed back to 23.5 percent.

The average annual income for a member of the one percent is $713,000.

Once again these statistical findings were not invented by a “leftie” organisation. They are the results of research by former US Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich published in the New York Times on 3 September 2011.

http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2011/09/04/opinion/04reich-graphic.html?ref=sunday

Playing an active role in shaping the macro-economy really is the business of unions.

Union leaders can no longer focus exclusively on the day-to-day needs of their individual members. Their concessionary bargaining of the past decades is now proven to be a losing strategy.

We can see the losses of labour in the huge growing gap as productivity and profits rise, but the compensation and wages for workers remain stagnant.

All workers – the more fortunate ones who have organised unions as well as the many more who remain unorganised – are losing their fair share of productivity gains, while the one percent profit.

“Why don’t the protestors have a unified demand that fits into a sound-bite?” Because real life is not that simple.

The growing gap between the one percent and the rest is only the tip of the iceberg of current problems. The Occupy Movement protestors confront a diverse range of economic, social, and environmental problems at domestic and global scales.

Furthermore, there is little consensus about how to fix the problems.

Some nostalgically seek a return to the postwar Keynesian system that in some aspects was a kinder-gentler form of capitalism until 1979. Many blame the implementation of regressive neoliberal economic policies, since the 1980s, as the primary reason for the current crisis.

However, that popular analysis fails to address the material economic failures that had doomed the Keynesian system to failure by the end of the 1970s.

It does not address the problems of an authoritarian system of labour relations where democracy stops at the workplace door and workers continue to be exploited for profit.

It does not address the problems of an imperialistic system of international relations where powerful owners of the means of production in the global north offshore the real costs of accumulating their wealth and power so the greatest costs are born by billions of people in other countries who are hyper-exploited for their cheap labour and unprotected resources.

It does not address the problems of an imperialistic system of domestic relations where powerful owners of the means of production in the urban economic centres offload  the real costs of accumulating their wealth and power  onto the poorest people of society, particularly the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island.

It does not address the environmental problems created by a capitalist economic system where wealth and power, regardless of how inequitably or equitably it might be divided between labour and capital, is built upon ecologically unsustainable exponential growth.

These are complex problems that require radical transformation of the current capitalist system into an economic system that serves the real needs of all people, not just shareholders lusting for profit.

If there is an overarching demand that unifies Occupy Movement protestors, it is the demand for free discussion of these issues in public spaces.

The protestors have certainly made a few more people think about and discuss the primary problems of our time. We can’t let that be suppressed.

© Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Perversion of the Poppy: What should we remember on Remembrance Day?

The poppy was meant to commemorate those who fought “The War to End War” while reminding us of the horror of war, but the purveyors of war have perverted the poppy as an advertising logo to glorify war.   

The 11th of November is Remembrance Day in Canada. Elsewhere you might know the day to honour the war dead as Armistice Day, Veterans’ Day, or Poppy Day.

What should we remember on this day?

The first people who wore poppies in the 1920s wanted us to remember the sacrifices made by the soldiers of the “Great War”. But they also wanted us to remember the horror of war, so we would never go to war again. They wanted to ensure that what was then known as “The Great War”, or simply “The World War”, would truly be “The War to End War”, as their political and military leaders had promised it would be.

Yet, the unsustainable settlement of that First World War led to a Second World War, and a third – the Cold War, which was an extremely hot and destructive war for those unfortunate enough to be stuck on the boundaries between the American and Soviet empires.

Since 2001, we have been embroiled in the Global War on/of Terror. This fourth global war in a century has thus far been fought overtly on battlefronts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and most recently Libya, and an all but forgotten invasion of Haiti in 2004. It is also fought covertly on not-so-secret battlefronts throughout Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. Ten years after launching the invasion of Afghanistan, the politicians and generals continue to escalate this fourth world war with no end in sight.

Humanity has come full circle, since 1914, when Austrian leaders and their closest allies used a terrorist attack as a pretext to begin the First World War, to 2001, when American leaders and their closest allies used a terrorist attack as a pretext to begin a fourth world war.

If only the Bush administration, the Blair government in Britain, and the Chrétien government here in Canada, had heeded the lessons of the first poppy wearers; if only at a minimum those leaders had obeyed the precepts of international law.

After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, a wise statesperson would have counselled observance of international law that forbids aggressive military action. After all, every statesperson should remember the Austrian leaders and their German allies were condemned for their aggressive response to a terrorist attack. The triumphant allied forces forced the vanquished Austrian and German people to pay punishing reparations after the war.

If George W. Bush had followed the letter of the law to seek justice via legal means of criminal investigation and prosecution, he would no doubt have suffered domestic political fallout, but he would not be known to future generations as a war criminal. A significant number of Americans lusted for blood as vengeance for the 9/11 attacks. But vengeance is not justice; it is a crime.

Instead of abiding the tenets of international law, our political leaders manipulated bloodlust and fear to justify launching a global war with the stated intent of eliminating terrorists and securing global peace. They also manipulated goodwill and our genuine desire to do good by claiming our intentions were to liberate the people of Afghanistan and especially Afghan women and girls.

The Clash of Principles and Interests

Ten years after it began, it is clear the Battle for Afghanistan, as part of the larger Global War on/of Terror, is liberating Afghans of their resources rather than liberating them from oppression.

The façade of the mission to spread democracy and freedom has worn through to reveal the interests that lie below.

Listen to the words CBC war correspondent Matthew Halton recorded on Remembrance Day 1944. Noting that Canada gained power and prestige by fighting in WWII, Halton observes: “Splendid things come out of war, but war is a thing to be ashamed of”.

Halton’s comments should remind us that wars are not something to honour; “war is a thing to be ashamed of”.

But, Halton also reminds us that wars are not accidents; wars are the deliberate implementation of state policy. State leaders go to war to pursue what they perceive are their state’s interests.

Securing access to petroleum resources as one of many vital strategic resources is currently a primary concern. But analyses that focus exclusively on an American quest for oil exclude the deeper interests of state leaders. Tomorrow an alternative energy source could be found, but this would not radically change the expansion of the current American led Empire of Capital. During the centuries of evolution from mercantilist to capitalist empires, which began in the 15th century, empires sought gold, spices, indigo, sugar, tea, cotton, fish, lumber, and even beaver pelts among a long list of resources. What are considered vital resources has changed throughout the age of empires, but the underlying logic legitimising the forceful control of access to resources has not.

Moreover, the quest for ever cheaper labour to extract and process resources is always a constant regardless of the waxing or waning of the strategic and/or market value of any particular resource.

Despite having won the Nobel Peace Prize, US President Barack Obama flouts international law and the quest for peace when he claims: “I will not hesitate to use force to protect American people or our vital interests”.

The president would be exercising his legal rights, as they are defined by international law, if he indeed defends the American people.

But how do we define America’s vital interests?

If we distil the various vital interests of the United States down to their most basic elements we can see the intertwined strategic interests of expanding global economic liberalisation and strengthening what Zbigniew Brzezinski refers to as American Primacy.

The sixth chapter of the US National Security Strategy of 2002, titled “Ignite a New Era of Global Economic Growth Through Free Trade and Free Markets” affirms the quest for “free trade” is the central economic imperative of the state, as it was for the preceding British Empire. This chapter of what is popularly known as the Bush Doctrine defines “real freedom” as free trade – the freedom for investors to invest globally.

The economic interests of liberalisation trump the social and political principles of liberalism. This clash of principles and interests is as old as the contradictory ideas of liberalism and economic liberalisation, but it has become evermore evident as people demand the greater rights and freedoms that clash with the wealth-accumulating interests of investors and power-accumulating interests of states.

American Primacy, in a nutshell, affirms the nationalistic/racist belief that Americans are exceptional.

The two concepts combined dictate an American Foreign Policy predicated on the US aided by its closest allies control the expansion of the economic liberalisation of the globe.

When a US president sends the military anywhere in the world to “protect” American interests he is not acting legally. When the British, or Canadians, or others ally with the US in such a mission to satisfy their own interests congruent with American interests, they are complicit and equally responsible for the crime of war.

The Hundred Years War, the Clash of Empires, and New World Order

Woodrow Wilson’s New World Order has repeatedly failed to fulfil its promises of peace and prosperity. The international system based on the intertwined concepts of nation-states and capitalism President Wilson et al. first set in place, in 1919, despite its major renovations at the end of WWII, has failed to secure global peace.

Leaders of the wealthiest most powerful states use the institutions of the New World Order to serve their own state interests, which is to control and reap the greatest benefits via global economic liberalisation, rather than to further the political and social principles of liberalism expounded by Wilson and those who followed.

Interests trump principles and in the current anarchic international system the most powerful prevail.

And in this current international system, warfare is the ultimate display of power. To deliberately flout international law, as the US and its closest allies including Canada do with increasing frequency, is to display their power as a warning – these displays of power are pre-emptive attacks. The warning is: regardless of international law and even regardless of great costs, the American led Empire of Capital will secure American Primacy and global economic liberalisation by force if necessary.

Rather than four separate world wars, Niall Ferguson perceives this past century as a “global hundred years war”. He observes that this century of warfare has been a war of empires not nation-states, which has resulted in not a triumph of the West but a resurgence of the East.

I strongly dispute Ferguson’s analysis that concludes it is only race not class that is the underlying causal factor of this hundred years war. We cannot ignore the intersections of race, class as well as gender that underlie the past century of war. But his basic observations regarding the continuity of this century of war are worthy of note.

Since the collapse of the USSR and thus the removal of that existential threat to American Primacy, Western strategists have feared China as the next existential threat. Perhaps as Huntington imagined in his “Clash of Civilizations” scenario China could ally with some or most of the Islamic states of Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa to threaten American Primacy.

The pre-emptive strategy of the American led Empire of Capital is to forestall, with military force if necessary, the emergence of competing empires and most notably this much feared Chinese led empire.

The invasion of Afghanistan, rather than serving to liberate Afghans, which it has not done, is serving to pre-emptively engage China economically at the same time as a new network of American and NATO bases deep in the heart of Eurasia militarily contain China and its potential allies, particularly Iran.

Regardless of possible outcomes, investors in the massive North American military industrial complex (MIC) profit from the Global War on Terror. And yes the military industrial complex is North American and is increasingly including Europe; it is not exclusively American.

Investors in the industries of the sibling of the MIC, the development industrial complex (DIC), stand to make huge profits as they receive their shares of developing the transportation-communications-energy transmission corridors of the New Silk Road and exploit the vast resources of Afghanistan and surrounding states. Without the American led military invasion few of these industries would have any comparative advantage over competing industries from China, Iran, India, Pakistan, Saudi and elsewhere in the immediate neighbourhood.

Our political and military leaders never told us they have geopolitical and economic interests in invading Afghanistan, but the concrete evidence of these interests is irrefutable.

During the supposedly humanitarian mission in Libya, which instantly mutated to become a mission to overthrow the Ghadaffi regime, numerous news media speculated about the economic interests served by destroying the state enterprises of Libya.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2011/10/22/baird-canada-libya.html

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/b97dd138-976d-11e0-af13-00144feab49a.html#axzz1PSW0iPct

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/29/world/africa/western-companies-s…r-business.html?_r=1&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha2&pagewanted=print

http://license.icopyright.net/user/viewFreeUse.act?fuid=MTQxMzQ2ODk%3D

The economic imperative of the emerging American led Empire of Capital is not a secret.

The Perversion of the Poppy

So we continue to forget what those first poppy wearers wanted to tell us. And we forget because the purveyors of war purposefully pervert the meaning of the poppy. The poppy is no longer meant to remind us of the horror of war. Instead, the purveyors of war have subverted the meaning of the poppy to use it as an advertising logo to promote the greater militarization of our society. The poppy is used to justify our illegal and illegitimate forceful imperial interventions in the affairs of other people.

In recent years I’ve watched poppies sprout alongside Canadian highways. But these poppies are not growing in ditches and along fencerows, they are painted on road signs proclaiming one highway is the “Highway of Heroes” and another is the “Route of Heroes”.

Robert Fisk, a journalist who has covered almost every battle fought during his long career, recently wrote about his father, a WWI veteran. The elder Fisk refused to wear the poppy late in his life saying he didn’t want to see “so many damn fools” wearing them. He came to this conclusion after realising the politicians and generals had lied about both why and how The Great War was fought. Fisk Sr., after losing so many comrades during that war, was left later in his life with the realisation that The Great War was nothing but “a great waste”.

This week, I played a concert in the war veterans’ wing at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. The last of the WWI vets are long gone, but a few veterans of WWII still reside at the hospital.

Doubtful of how many in this audience of elderly veterans had reached the epiphany the elder Fisk had, I made one concession in the interest of not disturbing them; I exchanged my preferred white poppy for a red one.

But I meet younger veterans of the recent battles on a regular basis, particularly after my speaking engagements. Those who seek me out to talk express their great frustration, probably like Robert Fisks’ father. They have realised their political and military leaders lied to them about why we went to war and lied to them about the actions, often unethical and almost as often illegal, that they would be expected to do when they got to battle.

I play music for the elderly veterans at Sunnybrook several times a year. It might seem odd that an anti-war activist volunteers to play music for war vets. Explaining why I do would take too much space here.

I’m an antiwar activist and advocate of non-violent action, but I am not a pacifist. If it were ever necessary to defend my family, close friends, or perhaps even strangers from great harm, I would do so.

However, the operative words are “if” and “necessary” and “defend”. These words introduce an immense set of questions. Under what conditions would I ever consider exercising violence? I would most certainly only resort to violence as a very last means of defence after rationally calculating there is no other viable option to defend myself or someone else.

Resorting to violence, as a very last means of defence, is not only an ethical consideration at the level of interpersonal human relations, it is prescribed by international law at the level of international relations.

Unfortunately, as we approach the centenary of the “War to End War”, nation-states continue to use violence as acts of aggression, both domestically against their own people and internationally against other states or groups of people, to further state interests.

And our politicians and generals continue to lie about why we go to war and how we fight when we get there.

Retaliation  can only satisify bloodlust and pre-emptive warfare inflames greater resistance. Violating the laws we claim to uphold demonstrates hypocrisy not honour.

Living in a liberal democracy, does allow a latitude of freedom. However, when it comes to issues of war, we continually fail to remember to ask the most important questions: Why are we going to war; and how will we conduct ourselves in battle once war has begun?

If nothing else, the original wearers of the poppy wanted us to remember to ask these important sceptical questions. The most certainly would have expected us to demand evidence rather than maintain blind faith in the jingoism of those who would go to war for profit and power.

© Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.