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Tuesday 3 August 2010
New approach to nuclear arms
Mary Ann Sieghart (Comment, 2 August) calls for more lateral thinking about Britain's nuclear deterrent.
So it's worth noting that the report she quoted of the Royal United Services Institute, suggesting that the number of nuclear submarines be reduced from four to two, also suggested that the policy of continuous-at-sea deterrence be dropped in favour of an ability to reconstitute it at short notice, and a credible, and well-advertised, capability of doing so.
This would be a move for Britain towards becoming a so-called threshold state, such as Japan, which has the technology and industry to create nuclear weapons, and could do so quickly if necessary, but refrains from possession in present circumstances.
In the 1980s, the disarmament writer Jonathan Schell suggested threshold status as an agreed first goal for an international nuclear weapons treaty. Existing nuclear powers would reduce from actual possession to threshold status, and non-nuclear powers would be allowed to reach threshold status.
Sadly, if predictably, the existing nuclear powers were uninterested in anything other than retaining nuclear weapons for themselves in perpetuity while trying to deny them to others. One or two did, including South Africa, but most did not.
But now, if only because of financial stringency in one nuclear power, here again is one of the few constructive suggestions ever made about how to combine deterrence with non-proliferation.
Leaks prove war is lost
The massive trove of classified military records released by the whistleblower website, WikiLeaks, reveals an unvarnished portrayal of an utterly failed mission in Afghanistan.
The documents include 144 attacks which have resulted in the killings of scores of civilians and military strikes which often missed their intended targets and caused hundreds of deaths.
Extremely troublesome are references to the actions of Task Force 373, a vigilante-type killer unit which acts as judge and jury, and kills or detains suspected terrorists. Inevitably, mistakes have been made and large numbers of innocent civilians have reportedly been killed.
Reaper drones are increasingly being used. These are fraught with human errors and misjudgements and often miss their targets.
It is apparent that the US military has been whitewashing the war in Afghanistan for years and has systematically covered up civilian casualties. The leaked reports demonstrate that the Taliban have become more resilient and appear to be winning the war on the ground.
According to the documents, Pakistan's internal security agency, the ISI, has been playing a double game, accepting US money while consorting with the Taliban. Predictably, the Pentagon and the Obama administration have vilified the messenger, WikiLeaks, and have launched a concerted effort to plug the "leaks" with no concern for the underlying message, that the war in Afghanistan is a disaster and fraught with actions which border on war crimes.
Los Altos, California, USA
David Cameron, on his recent trip to India, seems to have introduced a new style and chapter in diplomacy and foreign trade. He was forthright and open in his denunciation of Pakistan for "looking both ways" because ISI in Pakistan were dealing with some Afghan "terror groups' leaders".
By the subsequent clarification by the British government spokesperson that Mr Cameron did not criticise the government of Pakistan but only certain elements within it, his straight talking has been greatly diluted. By default, Mr Cameron has directly accused the government of President Asif Ali Zardari of gross ineptness as certain elements are operating outside his control.
Mr Cameron has vowed to speak frankly. Mr Cameron should tell Mr Zardari openly and publicly during his visit to London of his government's failures. Mr Cameron must not appear to mince his words.
In his dealings with China, the USA, Brazil, Turkey and India, the people expect him to display the same courage in highlighting the human rights abuses in many of these countries including India (which he did not mention, perhaps because he was not aware of them), "artificial currency pegging" and Tibet to the Chinese, the Amazon rainforest and the future of native Indians with Brazil etc.
If the ISI should be dealing only with the "good Taliban" (although we were told initially that all Taliban were evil) then he should mention it to Mr Zardari directly, because the President is the commander-in-chief of the Pakistan army and its military intelligence (the ISI) should not be doing things behind his back.
Mr Kaira, the federal minister in Mr Zardari's government, has stated that Mr Zardari would talk frankly and forthrightly, and if the British were to repeat their "allegations" the government of Pakistan may exercise "other options". Would he like to specify please what options they have?
Breakthrough in water rights
As researchers, students and activists working on water and sanitation issues at the Institute of Development Studies, we welcome the UN General Assembly decision ("Access to clean water is human right, says UN", 30 July). This will go a long way in helping the 884 million people without access to water and the 2.6 billion without access to sanitation.
We recognise that there is a massive difference between rights talk and rights practice and that human rights are difficult to implement. Still, a legally binding right will go a long way in holding to account powerful state and corporate actors who violate poor people's rights.
We also hope it will be used to make indifferent governments take the daily water and sanitation problems of their marginalised citizens more seriously.
Despite this cause for celebration, we regret that 41 countries abstained, including the UK, the USA and Canada. We hope this was due solely to procedural issues – as cited by the UN representative from the UK delegation – and not due to fears of the additional financial, and legal implications.
This recognition is unlikely to make an immediate difference to the billions without access. Still, local communities, activists and academics have struggled for at least 15 years for this right. It is a big day for water justice.
Professor Lawrence Haddad, Director
Maria Teresa Armijos
Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton
Trust denies 'gagging' deals
This trust has not signed "gagging clauses" in relation to "whistle-blowing" by doctors as implied by your cover story (2 August). Nor were we approached by you for clarification or comment.
The trust is committed to openness, which is why we were among those who did respond to the Freedom of Information request. We positively encourage staff to "whistle-blow", because the safety of our patients and staff is our chief concern.
The 22 "compromise agreements" referred to are about resolving disputes and aim to protect the confidentiality of individuals as much as their employer. Twenty-one refer to disputes in relation to changes to national contractual arrangements. Of these, 18 relate to a technical issue in relation to working time regulations, concerning junior doctors not taking breaks within the terms of their contract.
The settlements are reached on professional advice, where the legal costs of resolution through tribunal are likely to outweigh the cost of settlement. The moneys paid are equivalent to wages that would have been earned during the period of dispute. We believe this to be a responsible use of taxpayers' money.
Dr Martin Baggaley
Medical Director, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, London SE5
Bullfighting is a sadistic habit
Robert Elms (Comment, 31 July) admits bullfighting is cruel and still defends it. In other words, he cares nothing for the pain and suffering of the animal. The tired cliché defence of factory farming being worse is irrelevant.
Undoubtedly, the world would be a more moral and environmentally sustainable place were we all vegetarians but that is not going to happen in the near or even medium future.
The pointless and indefensible cruelty of bullfighting remains a unique moral crime. It is the spectacle of a magnificent animal being ritually tortured to death simply to satisfy the vicarious bloodlust of people who would never dare to face the horns themselves.
Elms's appeal to protect the future of "this vibrant and vivid culture" is, like the patriotism decried by Samuel Johnson, the last refuge of those without a valid argument who shout "noble tradition" when all they are describing is a squalid and sadistic habit.
Haywards Heath, West Sussex
Olympic stadium has no afterlife
If one wants to see the folly of investing hundreds of millions of pounds in an athletics stadium for the Olympics to seat up to 100,000 spectators, you needed to look at the European athletic championships in Barcelona's Olympic stadium.
This is the biggest athletic event in Europe outside of the Olympics themselves but the stadium appeared almost deserted.
I am devoted to athletics but I recognise it is very much a minority passion and it is impossible to justify any stadium for regular events which seats more than 10,000 spectators. Equally, I would also not want to watch a soccer match from seats designed for a 400-metre running track.
What on earth will London's edifice be used for in four years and two weeks?
Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire
Peres is blind to Israel's own sins
Shimon Peres's accusations about Britain being pro-Arab and anti-Israeli (report, 2 August) show that he and other Israeli leaders are still blind to the impact of Israel's illegal and immoral policies and actions. It is these that have led to criticism of Israel not just in Britain but around the world, increasingly from people who were committed Zionists.
These policies include illegal occupation, land theft, collective punishment, torture, home demolitions and the use of overwhelming force against civilians, all of which, aside from the appalling impact on innocent Palestinians, have undermined Israel's security and chances for peace.
In fact, serious questions need to be asked why more people are not standing up and objecting to such actions.
Abandon these policies and make a genuine effort for peace, and Israel has every chance of improving its image globally.
Director, Council for Arab-British Understanding, London, EC4
How the West has won
Your columnist Peter Popham (30 July) notes that the concept of the superiority of Western civilisation is something that is "thankfully" passing. May I ask him which other civilisation has come anywhere close to the West's achievements in arts and technology and in positive social structures, such as the NHS?
Looking back into history, the Assyrians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, the various Chinese dynastic eras and India have produced little that can compare. We live in a European-derived world, which has put a man on the Moon, created the internet and given us a stunning array of culture; everything from Beethoven to The Beatles.
Mr Popham seems to be overly burdened with the usual politically correct loathing of anything "western". But what's to come in the future will be built on the astonishing accomplishments of western civilisation.
Walk tall. You're part of the best thing that ever happened to the planet by far.
I read with incredulity the letter from Julien Evans (27 July) bemoaning that so few pedestrians acknowledge motorists who stop to let them cross at pedestrian crossings. Pedestrians have right of way on a pedestrian crossing and motorists are obliged to stop; they are not doing pedestrians a particular favour. Does Julien Evans constantly wave acknowledgement at every motorist who ever gives way to him at a junction or roundabout when he has clear right of way
He's been booked
Simon O'Hagan reflects on a report of the omission of Ian McEwan's book Solaris from the Man Booker Prize long-list (Errors & Omissions, 31 July). Clearly, this author is among our leading writers and the quality of his latest offering might well make it worthy of inclusion. I cannot say: I have not read it yet. But I have read Solaris, written by Stanislaw Lem in 1961. Mr McEwan's book is called Solar. There you have it: an omission and an error.
Perspectives on the Coalition What future for the Lib Dems?
Lib Dem MPs are right to be worried about the future of their party (front page, 30 July). It has been suggested that the Liberal Democrats can act as a brake on the more extreme instincts of their Tory colleagues, but the opposite is the case; had the Conservative Party been left to run a minority government, much of their present programme would have been inconceivable.
The 25 per cent of the electorate who voted Conservative can't believe their luck; all their fantasies are coming true, from the creeping privatisation of the NHS and a crackdown on the "underclass" to the ripping up of speed cameras. It's like living in some bad dream in which Jeremy Clarkson has become Prime Minister, with Kelvin MacKenzie as Chancellor.
In return, the Lib Dems have been fobbed off with a half-hearted attempt at voting reform, which Cameron will be campaigning against.
Any Lib Dem member of the Government who has the temerity to suggest anything remotely progressive (such as Vince Cable's graduate tax) is immediately drowned out by Tory enforcers.
It seems extraordinary that the party of Keynes and Beveridge could have been so compliantly lured off course by the siren voices of Joseph Stiglitz's "deficit fetishists", and so rashly have accepted the need for the deep cuts in public services.
We are in the phoney war stage; but when the casualties start to pile up (many of them former Lib Dem supporters) it's difficult to see how the party can survive in its present form, with a liberal economic leadership at the head of a largely social democratic membership.
Party is facing a long, hard slog
Many thanks to Christina Patterson for her excellent article about Gordon Brown (26 July). There was a lump in my throat when I had finished reading it. I agree that he was misunderstood in government and, I fear, was the victim of a South of England propensity to dislike Scottish politicians. Maybe his manner didn't suit the "suits" in London but results are what matter.
As far as I can deduce, Gordon has been absolutely true to his beliefs and promises. His integrity should not be questioned. He and Sarah are well-known as particular supporters of the poor and needy. I hope they can continue, perhaps even more successfully, from Fife.
We cannot, of course, say any of these things about Cameron, Osborne, Lansley or Gove et al. I cannot believe these greedy Tory charlatans have become decision-makers in our government. As for the Lib Dem Betrayal Squad led by chief of smarm Clegg, I have no time for their shuffling feet and wringing of hands.
They are losing all credibility and I hope they do. These people are not to be trusted. I voted for them to try to keep the Tories from winning in my constituency but I regret my decision.
We must wait for the inevitable split in the Lib Dem Party, which will decimate their numbers and support for some time. But those who want to stay with Cameron should be honest and change allegiance by formally joining the Tory Party.
Those left with true Lib Dem principles would then be able to hold up their heads honourably and forge an honest new beginning. It will be a long, hard slog.
Patricia M Farrington
Bowmore, Isle of Islay
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