Monday, February 25, 2013

Another bogus plan to end world poverty

Hold the front page. The European Commission is about to set a new objective. Its latest offering on the fight against global poverty promises "a decent life for all by 2030".

Alas, my excitement on learning about this initiative has already vanished. An institution which is bludgeoning Greece into mass misery can't be taken seriously if it proposes to eradicate hardship outside Europe within 17 years.

The new objective is part of a policy paper which will be issued shortly by Andris Piebalgs, the EU's development aid commissioner. Piebalgs has a penchant for taking credit where none is due. His speeches tend to be peppered with self-congratulatory twaddle about how he is implementing policies that are "unique and pioneering" and how "amazing progress" has been achieved in reducing extreme poverty.

Piebalgs, it should be recalled, was in charge of energy policy with the Commission from 2004 to 2009. During that time, he vigorously promoted the use of biofuels to power Europe's cars. After the World Food Programme and others documented how the EU's biofuels bonanza had exacerbated hunger in many countries, Piebalgs still refused to concede that he was wrong.


His claim that "amazing progress" has been made towards realising the UN's "millennium development goals" echoes that of the European Business Council for Africa and the Mediterranean (EBCAM). That corporate outfit has exulted at how the "miracle" (its word) of halving the proportion of the world's people who live on less than a dollar a day by 2015 was reached seven years ahead of schedule. According to EBCAM, this achievement can be attributed to "the embrace of capitalism" by India and China.

A December 2012 report by UN Women indicates that capitalism hasn't lifted so many boats as corporations want us to believe. It points out that the number of people holding vulnerable jobs in the world now stands at more than 1.5 billion, a rise of 136 million since 2000. And with 81 million children not attending school and 800 million people lacking access to safe water (in 2010), the case for jubilation would appear a little shaky.

Piebalgs' bragging about how generous the EU is to the poor masks the fact that the Union and its governments regularly give a false picture of their aid donations. AidWatch, a coalition of anti-poverty groups, has found that in 2011 about 14% of all aid that the EU tried to pass off as "official development assistance" was not invested in countries categorised as developing. Totalling over 7.3 billion euros, this "aid" went towards spending on such things as debt relief and helping refugees in their countries of arrival. Though important, this expenditure did not involve releasing fresh funds for eradicating poverty in Africa, Asia or Latin America.

Militarising aid

The European Commission has arguably committed a more serious offence by trying to disguise military aid as development assistance. Last month, Piebalgs announced that the Union was giving 50 million euros to support African Union troops in Mali. According to Piebalgs, the money would go to "non-military costs" like the daily allowances of soldiers. Does he think we are all fools? Giving aid money to soldiers is by definition military aid, even if it is not used to buy weapons. Guidelines established by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development stipulate that military aid - including support for "peacekeeping" operations - cannot be counted as development assistance.

Piebalgs regularly speaks about the indispensable role that the private sector can play in reducing poverty. He has signalled his full support for the G8's "new alliance for food security and nutrition". This alliance puts companies like Monsanto and Diageo in charge of African agriculture. Wherever Monsanto has operated, it has undermined traditional agriculture and biodiversity with its gung-ho approach to introducing genetically modified crops. Monsanto enjoys a near-monopoly in the US, where it has sued farmers who have refused to buy its seeds. Piebalgs is helping it to become more powerful by enabling it to wrest control of African agriculture away from peasants. His attempts to present himself as a champion of African farmers belies how the G8's "alliance" was firmly opposed by associations representing those farmers.

Lust for resources

Before being appointed as development aid commissioner, Piebalgs gave a commitment to address the inconsistency between the EU's commitment to fight poverty and its pursuit of economic policies that harm the world's poor. Not only has he failed to live up to that commitment, the inconsistencies have worsened.

The lust for Africa's raw materials has become more marked over the past few years. France is fighting a war in Mali that is - at least partly - motivated by a determination to maintain control of that country's uranium reserves (so they can be used by Europe's nuclear industry). Advised by mobile phone giants like Nokia, the European Commission has identified cobalt in Congo as an essential material for industry. The idea that a country that experienced the hell of colonial plunder might be given a say in how this resource is used is anathema in Brussels. And I haven't even mentioned the damage done by fisheries "agreements": European vessels are scooping more fish off the coast of Madagascar, one of the world's poorest countries, today than they were in the 1980s.

Nobody should be assuaged, then, by the EU's rhetoric. Far from seeking to liberate Africa or Asia from poverty, policy-makers are determined to keep these continents within their ambit.

•First published by New Europe, 24 February - 3 March 2013.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Arms dealer caught telling lies over exports to Israel

Have I caught an arms dealer telling lies?

For the past decade the Belgian firm OIP has belonged to Elbit, Israel's top weapons exporter.

As the OIP website contains almost no information about where its products end up, I recently phoned Freddy Versluys, the company's chief executive, asking him the value of his annual sales to Israel. "Zero," he replied.

Versluys added that there is "no way that we can get export licenses" for Israel from the authorities in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium. When I enquired about the last time he received a permit for selling material to Israel, he said: "I can't even remember. Fifteen or 20 years ago."


His assurance contradicts information contained in reports on arms exports published by the Flemish authorities. The 2012 annual report, for example, says that a consignment of "fire control systems" were approved for transport to Israel during 2011.

OIP is a known manufacturer of this technology. Its catalogues boast of how its state-of-the-art "fire control systems" raise the "first-hit probability of a vehicle mounted gun." In layperson's terms, this means that OIP is helping to make guns more lethal.

Hans Lammerant, an arms trade monitor with the anti-war group Vredesactie, told me that OIP is "the only [Flemish] exporter, as far as I know" selling goods in the "fire control" category of weapons (the category is known as "ML5" by officialdom).

This was not an isolated case. In 2007, OIP was also awarded a number of licenses for exporting to Israel.

These approvals were issued on the understanding that once the weapons were delivered to Israel, they would be transferred to other countries. (The export for 2011 named Romania as the eventual destination of the fire control systems sent to Israel).

Belgium has been one of the European Union's top four weapons exporters to Israel in the recent past. At €14 million ($18.5 million), the value of Belgian arms sales to Israel was especially high in 2005. That was the year before Israel attacked Lebanon.


Tomas Baum, director of the Flemish Peace Institute, a group working inside the parliament for Flanders, said that the authorities follow an "ambiguous" policy on arms exports to Israel. In response to public unease over Israel's crimes in Lebanon and its abuses of Palestinian rights, the Flemish government has stated that exports to Israel are conditional on the weapons sent there being transferred to a different "end-user."

By definition, any sale of weapons or components to Israel is a gesture of support for that apartheid state. Israel can benefit economically from these exports by integrating the material into its own weapons systems and then selling them abroad.


OIP's acquisition by Elbit -- a maker of drones used to terrorize Gaza's 1.6 million inhabitants -- has done wonders for the Belgian firm's order books. In 2005, OIP's turnover reached €17.5 million, twice that of 2003.

Israel routinely tests out new weapons and surveillance equipment on Palestinian civilians. The occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has helped Israel both build up a lucrative arms industry and to advertise new products as "battle-tested." Versluys claimed his principal clients are in Asia and North Africa. Assuming he is telling the truth in this instance, this means that he is helping his parent company Elbit to penetrate new markets. Asia, his target continent, suffers from pronounced levels of poverty and inequality. It should be unnecessary to add that there are better ways its governments could spend their money than on Belgo-Israeli weapons.

Furthermore, Versluys has helped Elbit to get a bigger slice of the European market. In 2009, OIP opened a new plant to produce "overhead remote-controlled weapon systems." The Belgian army was the "launch customer" for these cutting-edge killing machines.

History of deception

Versluys and his colleagues have a history of deception. As well as heading OIP, Versluys is the chief executive of Sabiex, an arms company based in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium. In 2008, Sabiex became embroiled in a controversy when it emerged that it had sold tanks to Chad, via France. According to Versluys' version of events, the Walloon authorities had granted him permission to sell these vehicles to Chad. But the authorities insisted that they had only approved the exports to France and had no knowledge that Chad was intended as the final destination.

The scandal has not prevented Versluys from retaining considerable influence in Brussels' corridors of power. He is a board member of the Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD), a lobbying outfit that has played a pivotal role in making the European Union become increasingly militarized.

Considering its lack of transparency, I was amused to read on OIP's website that it has "implemented a code of conduct on business ethics" and that it plans to publish a "complete version" of the code "soon."

When I asked how a weapons manufacturer can pretend to behave in a moral fashion, Versluys retorted: "My dear friend, we are involved in defense. Do you want the police to be unarmed?"

I informed Versluys that most police in the Republic of Ireland do not carry weapons. This does not appear to have hampered them from operating effectively. The rates of most crimes recorded in Ireland have fallen over the past few years.

Versluys seemed a little taken aback by encountering someone who believes that police shouldn't have guns, so he simply added: "Every democracy has a right to protect its citizens."

This platitude does not alter how his own career has been boosted by his relations with Elbit, a company profiting from occupation and apartheid. Nor does it negate the likelihood that he is a liar.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 24 February 2013.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Is the EU handing over our welfare states to Goldman Sachs?

At first I thought it was a joke. Goldman Sachs, the epitome of greed and power, wants to look after the little people. Bigwigs from the bank's offices in the City of London have been in touch with the European Commission about initiatives that seem to be of a social nature, according to internal documents that I've seen.

Then it dawned on me that the idea wasn't as fanciful as it appeared. If there's a whiff of money in the air, then the "vampire squid" (as Rolling Stone memorably christened Goldman) can't be far away.

In a "social investment package" -- to be published shortly -- the EU executive will set out some proposals for "modernising" the welfare state. One of the suggestions being toyed with is to encourage the use of "social impact bonds".

These instruments were introduced in Britain during 2010. They were first tried out in Peterborough prison in Cambridgeshire, which is run by the for-profit corporation Sodexo. Under the bond programme, released detainees are helped to find housing and jobs. If the men and women in question desist from re-offending, their "investors" reap a handsome reward.

A similar scheme has begun in the New York "correctional facility" Rijkers Island. Goldman is the key backer of the scheme, along with Bloomberg Philanthropies, a foundation run by the city's mayor. (Philanthropy, by the way, is something rich guys do to avoid paying tax).


Am I alone in finding this offensive? Bankers have for the most part not been punished for their reckless behaviour leading to the financial crisis. And now these same bankers are gambling on whether run-of-the-mill criminals will re-offend.

Of course, this all fits in with a wider push to hand over almost every aspect of the economy to corporations. It was that supposedly unhip prime minister John Major who set a trend for "public private partnerships". His successor Tony Blair was sympathetic to some of the surrounding thinking. Yet it is David Cameron's current government that is really advancing this malign ideologically-driven agenda. The fiasco of last summer's Olympics -- when G4S wasn't up to the task of meeting the games' security requirements -- illustrated why key services must be kept under public control. That, however, hasn't restrained the Tories.

Common interest?

Preparation of EU's new "social investment package" has been followed closely by the employers' federation BusinessEurope. Towards the end of January, BusinessEurope organised a breakfast meeting to discuss ways of promoting corporate involvement in social policy. The group had the neck to claim that "public private partnerships" are in the "common interest".

This is manifestly not the case. Reforms to Britain's arguably most egalitarian institution, the National Health Service, are not designed to benefit the masses. They are designed to let a handful of companies make a killing. The health care and social care act, which came into effect last year, provides for the NHS' evisceration. Analyses published by the British Medical Journal show how it paves the way for restricting the provision of free medical care. A system financed by taxation is being replaced with a model more akin to that in place in the US, where health insurance firms have the power to decide who gets life-saving operations and who doesn't. None of this is in the "common interest".

The constant refrain from supporters of "public private partnerships" is that they want to guarantee efficiency. In their warped worldview, markets cut out any unnecessary flab and so the exchequer ends up footing a smaller bill.

It doesn't work that way in practice. When my daughter was born in Brussels last month, I was deeply impressed with the quality of health care in this city. To my astonishment, I learned that Belgium spends only about half as much per capita on medical care as the US. Having a hugely unfair health care system such as America's places a higher burden on the public purse than having a more equitable one. So the "efficiency" case made by proselytisers for privatisation is essentially a canard. (Belgium, admittedly, has a mixture of private and public healthcare providers but without the extremes found on the other side of the Atlantic).

Veneer of compassion

The "social investment package" is being presented as the brainchild of László Andor, the Union's employment and social affairs commissioner. Andor signalled recently that he wishes to give a "human face" to economic policies, especially to the euro.

His veneer of compassion does not conceal how the euro is an inhuman project designed by bankers (Goldman Sachs was represented on the Association for the Monetary Union of Europe, which drafted a blueprint for the single currency). Cutbacks demanded by Andor's colleagues have triggered a humanitarian catastrophe in Greece. The homelessness situation there - affecting an estimated 40,000 people - is unparalleled for a Western European country in modern times. Ireland, meanwhile, is still being pressed to reduce its health spending by the EU and International Monetary Fund. Spain has been told by the European Central Bank that cutbacks forcing teachers to work in overcrowded classrooms has put the country on the "right track".

"We must not allow those at the bottom of society pay the highest price for the moral failure and misconduct of others on the top," Andor has said. He can't really have believed those words. If he did, he wouldn't be so intent on "modernising" the welfare state to please corporations headed by moral degenerates.

•First published by New Europe, 17-24 February 2013.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ireland's elite abets Israel's crimes

Way back in 1979, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn became the first female minister in an Irish government since Constance Markievicz in 1919.

Unfortunately, however, Geoghegan-Quinn is not a feminist trailblazer. In her current role as a European commissioner, she is implementing policies that are deeply harmful to the women and children of Palestine.

Israel is the most active non-European participant in the EU's programme for scientific research, which Geoghegan-Quinn oversees. Under her direction, Israel has taken part in hundreds of EU-financed cooperation schemes, the total value of which exceeds €4 billion ($5.3 billion).

Among the recipients of these grants are the makers of drones that were used to terrorize the people of Gaza when Israel bombed them for eight consecutive days in November 2012.

Geoghegan-Quinn and her advisers have been alerted to how the EU is subsidising Israel's war industry by many Palestine solidarity campaigners. Yet she has refused repeatedly to take any action.

This can only mean one thing: Ireland's representative in the European Commission is abetting Israel's crimes against humanity.


Why is Geoghegan-Quinn embracing Israel?

Privately, some members of her entourage have told me that the EU needs to have close links with Israel because it is something of a world leader in information technology. Their argument is that companies and policy-makers must try to emulate Israel if the EU's own technology sector is to flourish.

This argument skirts around the fact that Israel's technology boom cannot be viewed separately from the occupation of Palestine. Brochures published by Israel's enterprise promotion authorities make no bones about how the occupation provides Israel with a "competitive advantage", particularly in terms of developing products for the "homeland security" market.

What this really means is that Israel regards the West Bank and Gaza as laboratories for new weapons and surveillance equipment. The Palestinian people are accorded a status similar to animals used in cruel experiments.

Geoghegan-Quinn speaks regularly about how she is pursuing an agenda that is of fundamental importance to Europe's economic policies.

Let us be clear: any policy that relies - even partly - on supporting Israel's war industry is by definition immoral.

A number of Irish universities are actively collaborating with Israeli arms companies.

Trinity College, here in Dublin, is part of an EU-funded consortium called Total Airport Security System (TASS). As its title suggests, this has involved testing new scanning equipment in airports, including Heathrow in London.

While the idea of keeping airline passengers safe appears laudable, the involvement of Elbit, Israel's top weapons manufacturer, in the project raises questions about its precise purpose.

Here is the kind of question that must be raised: why has a famous institution, situated just across the River Liffey, teamed up with Israel's war industry?


Over the past few months, there have been quite a few news stories published indicating that there is serious friction between the EU and Israel over the expansion of Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank.

These stories give the impression that the EU and its governments have a strong aversion to Israeli conduct. But if we examine the situation a little more closely, we will see that the EU is facilitating the very conduct it claims to oppose.

Some of the companies receiving grants administered by Geoghegan-Quinn benefit directly from the construction of Israeli settlements. These companies include Motorola Israel, which has installed an "intruder detection" system in some settlements to ensure that Israelis in the West Bank can live free from contact with the indigenous people of that territory. In other words, then, Geoghegan-Quinn is rewarding firms that profit from Israeli apartheid.

Even worse, the European Commission sponsored an arms exhibition held in Tel Aviv just a few days before Israel's offensive against Gaza in November. And in the past few weeks, the Commission has launched a new project on using drones to intercept cars and boats that law enforcement bodies want to search. Israel Aerospace Industries, another maker of drones used to bomb civilians in Gaza, is among the project's "partners."

Representatives of the European Union constantly say that they regard respect for human rights as sacrosanct. But in reality there is an enormous gap between the EU and genuine advocates of human rights.

Whereas Palestinians and their supporters have been calling for a boycott of Israel, the European Union has been determined to increase its trade with Israel. As well as dramatically reducing the tariffs and customs duties levied on Israeli exporters, the EU has set up an official forum for "business dialogue", where European and Israeli executives can brainstorm on how to maximize their profits.

U2 losing credibility

Some firms which benefit from the EU's close commercial ties with Israel are less than transparent about what they are up to.

Let me give you an example. There is a firm in Belgium called Barco, which makes electronic screens for warplanes. In promotional material available on the firm's website, Barco says that it has provided screens for a drone programme called Watchkeeper.

This material omits some salient facts. Watchkeeper drones are made jointly by two arms companies, Elbit from Israel and Thales from France. They are intended for use by the British Army in Afghanistan. So Barco is helping to support not only the occupation of Palestine but also the military occupation of Afghanistan.

You can be forgiven if the name Barco does not mean anything to you. But I assume you have heard of a Dublin-based quartet called U2.

When not working out new ways to avoid paying income tax, U2 has been known to undertake the occasional concert tour. During its last world tour, U2 hired Barco to install massive video screens in the group's futuristic stage The Claw.

To put it mildly, it is ironic that Bono, the group's singer, used technology provided directly to him from a company profiting from human rights abuses to preach about human rights.

According to reports I have seen, U2 is threatening to release a new album and to play further concerts in the foreseeable future.

A clear message must, therefore, be sent to the band and its management: if you sign any more contracts with the weapons industry, you can no longer be taken seriously as human rights campaigners.

Intifada in jails

Two years have passed since the uprising which brought down Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt. And in those two years, it has been fashionable for pundits to remark that the Arab Spring bypassed Palestine.

Yet this "analysis" ignores the daily acts of resistance by Palestinians against Israeli apartheid.

It ignores how Palestinian prisoners have begun a kind of intifada in Israeli jails.

The hunger strikes undertaken by numerous prisoners have proven to be an effective tactic against Israel's use of administrative detention: that is to say indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial.

Administrative detention is a sadistic practice that the Israelis inherited from the British Mandate, which governed Palestine from 1923 to 1948. Britain introduced a version of administrative detention -- known as internment without trial -- in the north of Ireland during the 1970s. Not only was it manifestly unjust, internment fanned the flames of conflict.

It is not entirely surprising that the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has refused to explicitly condemn Israel's use of administrative detention. Ashton is a protégé of that war criminal, Tony Blair. Ashton's silence indicates that the British and European elite continue to view Palestine from a colonial perspective.

If Israel is copying the practices of the British Empire, then it deserves zero respect from people of conscience worldwide.

Fortunately, a movement determined to isolate Israel is gaining strength. This movement urges boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

Just as the black majority in South Africa called on the world to boycott that country during its apartheid era, representatives of a broad cross section of Palestinian society have urged the world to boycott the apartheid state of Israel.

If we are serious about demonstrating solidarity with the Palestinians, the least we can do is to heed their call.

This speech was delivered at a "counter-summit", held in Dublin, to mark Ireland's presidency of the European Union.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 17 February 2013.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Shale gas distracts EU "action heroes" from saving the climate

Has environmentalism replaced patriotism as the last refuge of the scoundrel?

I'm not referring here to those bona fide greens whose commitment to saving the earth is demonstrated both by their personal lifestyles and their activism. Rather, I'm calling out politicians and institutions that claim to be defending the earth, when they are really conniving in its destruction, as abject hypocrites.

Last month, two Canadian ministers - Cal Dallas and Diana McQueen - undertook a tour of Europe, where they distributed fliers bragging of how the Ottawa government is "showing global leadership in the fight against climate change". As a new study by Friends of the Earth suggests, the evidence to support this boast is a little threadbare, considering that Canada withdrew from the Kyoto protocol -the main international agreement on climate change - in 2011 and appears determined to extract and export highly polluting tar sands oil.

Star struck by being in the same room as Arnold Schwarzenegger at the end of January, José Manuel Barroso gushed that "we all need to be a little more like climate action heroes". The European Commission chief tried to cast himself as such a hero by indicating that he favoured setting a new target for reducing EU greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.


Barroso is the least convincing action hero since Austin Powers. Whenever he has mooted ostensibly strong measures in the past, he has offered energy-intensive industries - in other words, the biggest polluters - massive loopholes (particularly in the operation of the EU's emissions trading system). This is akin to Batman signing a pact with the Joker.

Our "hero" also used his encounter with Arnie - in Vienna - to state that "sustainability is now deeply engrained in all our policies".

That must have been news to Günter Oettinger, the man Barroso appointed as the Union's energy commissioner. When the then European Community introduced a law providing for freedom of information on the environment back in 1990, it implicitly recognised that sustainability requires transparency. Yet Oettinger continues to peddle dodgy ideas, without being totally upfront about who put them in his head.

His latest contribution to the annual general meeting of the rich and powerful, the World Economic Forum in Davos offers a case in point. Oettinger availed of his Alpine sojourn to plug The Carbon Crunch, a recent book by Dieter Helm. In the transcript of his speech, Oettinger simply calls Helm an "Oxford academic". There was no acknowledgement that Helm was made a personal adviser to Oettinger in 2011 or that Helm has his own consulting firm. Helm's website gives no details of who his clients are - although Oxera, a firm that he founded, indicates that providing advice on energy issues to the private sector is one of its main activities. He also does not appear to have signed up to the EU's register of "interest representatives".


These omissions are hugely problematic. Helm is something of an evangelist for shale gas. In a 2011 piece published by the Centre for European Reform (CER), he exulted over how shale gas "turns out to be super-abundant" and predicted that switching from coal to gas could halve Europe's carbon dioxide emissions. The CER is a little bit more open about its clients than Helm: the latest available annual report for the "think tank" says that it receives funding from BG Group (formerly British Gas), BP and Shell, along with a number of weapons manufacturers and banks. The idea that it is a neutral forum for analysis and debate is, therefore, risible.

Helm's enthusiasm has rubbed off on Oettinger. The "energy roadmap" that Oettinger issued - with Helm's assistance - says that "as conventional shale gas imports decline", Europe will have to rely on "potential indigenous shale gas exploitation".

Promoting shale gas as a panacea is similarly misleading to promoting Canada as an exponent of "global leadership" on climate or Barroso as an "action hero".

Because it is found in shale rock reservoirs deep underground, shale gas is more difficult to extract than conventional gas. The method used to extract it - hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" - involves widespread ecological damage, both from drilling and the use of chemicals such as benzene, a known cause of cancer.

Exit route from coal

Not everyone in the European Commission shares Oettinger's faith in shale gas. A report for the Commission's "climate action" department concluded that shale gas activities have a bigger impact on the environment than oil and conventional gas. One particularly worrying aspect of its extraction is that it would probably release significant quantities of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a more potent heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide.

I agree with Helm on one thing: we need an exit route from coal. Despite the EU's commitments to reduce fossil fuel use, the amount of energy produced by coal rose by 50% in France and Britain during the first three months of 2012, when compared to the same period in 2011.

The exit route should be obvious: subsidise wind and solar power heavily (don't leave energy issues up to the market, as Oettinger has argued). Pinning hopes on a shale gas "revolution" is a dangerous distraction from the work that needs to be done now. The only people who stand to benefit from this distraction are corporations determined to burn every fossil fuel they can find - along with the planet itself.

•First published by , 10-17 February 2013.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Turkey crawls back under America's thumb

Staff in NATO's headquarters have been busy lately - trying to conceal the truth. Deploying missile interceptors in Turkey is a purely defensive manoeuvre, aimed at protecting Turkey's population and territory, according to the alliance's queen of spin Oana Lungescu. As a vegetarian, I refuse to swallow that porky pie.

Let's put the stationing of the Patriot interceptors in a broader context. The concept of missile interception can be traced back to Ronald Reagan's Star Wars programme. Its essential purpose was to enable America to launch a massive first strike on a country and then to able to neutralise any weapons fired in retaliation. Before bringing the Patriots, the US placed an X-Band "transportable missile radar" in south-eastern Turkey last year. The Obama administration is also overseeing the installation of a missile interceptor system in various parts of Europe and the Mediterranean. This is the same Obama administration that routinely kills children - with pilotless drones - in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. The likelihood of all this being defensive is about as strong as me becoming a professional wrestler.

Next, there is the small matter of where Turkey is located. Yes, Turkey borders Syria - the pretext for deploying the Patriots. But Turkey also borders Iraq and Iran. We are approaching the tenth anniversary of a vote by the Ankara parliament to block the US from using Turkish soil (though not airspace) during the invasion of Iraq. Now that America is striking an increasingly bellicose posture towards Iran, it is doubtlessly determined to keep Turkey obedient. It's not necessary to be a military strategist to surmise that having radars and military interceptors in Turkey could prove helpful to America if it wishes to use that country as a launching pad for a war against Iran.

Lungescu loyalists might believe the waffle from NATO about rallying to the aid of an ally by all means necessary. Yet Western nations can be quite selective in supporting Turkey. Germany is one of the three NATO members (along with the Netherlands and the US) to have generously donated Patriots to Turkey. This generosity would appear uncharacteristic of Angela Merkel, who has blocked Turkey's decades-old ambitions of joining the European Union because of an anti-Muslim bias that is tantamount to racism.


Recent history nonetheless offers precedents for what Germany is doing. In the early 1990s, Germany was second only to the US as a supplier of arms to Turkey. When it emerged that these weapons were being used against Kurdish civilians in south-east Turkey, the Bundestag voted to cease giving Turkey military aid. The ban was circumvented: in 1992, Germany's defence minister Gerhard Stoltenberg had to resign after officials working in his department gave the nod for the delivery of 15 combat tanks to Turkey.

Over the past few years, pundits have mulled over whether Turkey has been turning its back on the West. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, teamed with Luiz Ignácio Lula da Silva, then Brazil's president, to try and broker a deal over Iran's nuclear programme. Erdogan engaged in a public spat with Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, over the bombardment of Gaza in late 2008 and 2009. And relations with Israel became very tense when nine Turkish peace activists were killed in cold blood as they tried to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza in 2010.

Could there be a flipside to Erdogan's championing of the Palestinians? Could he have pounced on this issue in order to divert attention from how Turkey continues to violate the rights of its Kurdish citizens?

In December 2011, the Turkish air force bombed a number of Kurdish villages in south-eastern Turkey. Seventeen children were killed. Despite how Erdogan has promised to respect Kurdish rights, the Turkish authorities continue to deny the Kurds basic freedoms, including the freedom to express opinions. During 2012, Turkey jailed more journalists - most of them Kurds - than any other country.


Although Erdogan was right to excoriate Israel over the medieval siege of Gaza, I've long been sceptical of how deep his commitment to Palestinian rights is. The Palestinians have few, if any, real friends in high places. Leaders who profess to share the pain of Palestinian families have been known to be cooperate with Israel whenever it is deemed politically expedient to do so.

Erdogan appears little different. Towards the end of last year, Turkey lifted its objections to Israel's participation in NATO meetings and conferences. Turkey's capitulation is all the more inexcusable, when you consider that it occurred so soon after Operation Pillar of Cloud, Israel's eight-day offensive against Gaza in November.

Furthermore, Erdogan's protests had something of a "too little, too late" ring about them. His concern for the victims of Israeli drone strikes in Gaza appears less sincere when one considers that Israeli drones have been used by Turkish forces during their incursions into northern Iraq.

Turkey has also worked alongside Israel in NATO's Operation Active Endeavour. That patrol mission in the Mediterranean was originally presented as part of George Bush's "war on terror" but its remit has subsequently been expanded to cover migration issues. This means that Turkey and Israel have been cooperating to try and stop impoverished Africans and Asians from reaching Europe's shores.

NATO is not a search and rescue service, as its apologists imply. It is a military alliance dedicated to preserving American hegemony. The stationing of interceptors in Turkey serves that agenda.

•First published by New Europe, 3-9 February 2013.