Quotulatiousness

September 17, 2014

Gibraltar asks for additional Royal Navy support

Filed under: Britain, Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:39

Spanish vessels have been making more frequent and blatant incursions into the waters around Gibraltar recently, and the governor has made it public that he supports the deployment of another, larger RN ship in the area to help deter these jaunts:

Governor Sir James Dutton has publicly voiced strong support for the deployment of a larger British naval vessel to patrol Gibraltar’s territorial waters.

Sir James, a retired Royal Marine with a distinguished military record, said such a move would send “a really valuable message” in the face of persistent incursions by Spanish state vessels.

“I think it should happen, I have always thought it should happen, I’ve always said it should happen,” he said during a wide-ranging interview on GBC’s Talk About Town.

Sir James said deployment of an offshore vessel would strengthen the Royal Navy’s ability to patrol British waters and stay at sea for longer periods of time.

The governor also revealed that “many” officials at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office supported such a deployment, but that other factors had to be considered including parallel demands on the UK’s limited resources.

“I would be lying if I said one is going to arrive next week, but there is a strong push for it and there is a lot of sympathy, there is a lot of support,” he said.

During the interview, Sir James said Spain was unlikely to shift in its 300-year old position on Gibraltar and that it was important to seek ways of managing the situation through diplomacy so that tensions did not escalate. He said Britain now had a “pretty slick” process of responding to Spanish incursions and said that in the more serious cases, people should not underestimate the impact of calling in the Spanish ambassador, as has happened several times over the past year.

September 14, 2014

The Franklin Expedition discovery as a tool in Canadian claims to the Arctic

Filed under: Cancon, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:26

Canada has long claimed sovereignty over the Arctic islands and the waterways around them. The United States disputes that claim, saying that the Northwest Passage is an international waterway. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been using the search for the Franklin Expedition to bolster Canadian claims, and the Guardian‘s Nicky Woolf reports disdainfully:

Apart from these findings, the fate of the expedition remained a mystery for almost 170 years – until this week, when the wreckage of one of the ships was found by a Canadian scientific team. Ryan Harris, one of the lead archaeologists on the expedition, said that finding the ship was “like winning the Stanley Cup”.

The official announcement of the find was made by Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada.

“This is truly a historic moment for Canada,” he said, in a bombastic statement to the press. “Franklin’s ships are an important part of Canadian history given that his expeditions, which took place nearly 200 years ago, laid the foundations of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.”

The certainty of the statement was perplexing to Suzanne Lalonde, a professor of international law at the University of Montreal. “I’ve been struggling with it – the way Prime Minister Harper announced the find as if there was a monumental confirmation of Canadian sovereignty,” she told the Guardian.

Canada’s position is that the North-West Passage is already Canadian. In an official statement to the Guardian, Christine Constantin, a spokeswoman for the Canadian embassy in Washington, said: “All waters of the Canadian Arctic archipelago, including the various waterways known as the ‘North-West Passage’, are internal waters of Canada … Canada’s sovereignty over its waters in the Arctic is longstanding and well established.

“No one disputes that the various waterways known as the ‘North-West Passage’ are Canadian waters.”

The routes usually taken to constitute the North-West Passage pass between Canada’s mainland territory and its Arctic islands.

September 9, 2014

Russian FSB lured Estonian official into a trap

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:26

In the Guardian, Julian Borger updates the situation in Estonia after the kidnapping of Eston Kohver by Russian forces:

The Estonian intelligence official seized by Russia thought he was going to meet an informant in a secluded spot on the border as part of an organised crime investigation but instead walked into an FSB trap, according to Estonian security sources.

Eston Kohver went to the arranged meeting at 9am on Friday in woodland near the village of Miikse, about five miles north of the official Luhamaa border post. He had armed backup in the form of Estonian security officers nearby but they were unable to react in time because of the use of flash grenades and because their communications were jammed.

By the time they realised what has happening, Kohver had been dragged into the woods on the Russian side of the border by a group of gunmen.

Kohver is now in Moscow where he is awaiting formal charges. Russian media have suggested he could be accused of spying; a pistol, a recording device and €5,000 in cash were displayed on Russian television as evidence.

Estonian security sources confirmed that all the items were Kohver’s but said it was entirely routine for him to be carrying them. The recording device and the cash were intended for the informant he thought he would be meeting.

The Russian-Ukrainian War

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:16

Paul Goble summarizes Konstantin Gaaze’s ten questions and answers about the war between Russia and Ukraine:

Gaaze’s first question is “Why did we (they) act as we (they) did with them (us)?” His answer: “President Putin considers that the Ukrainian state exists only because he agrees to its existence.” Consequently, “Moscow has acted from the false hypothesis that ‘Ukraine is not a state,’” something for which several thousand people have already paid with their lives.

But Kiev, the Moscow writer says, has also operated from a false hypothesis.” Ukrainian leaders believed that “Russia will not provide essential assistance to the local uprising in the east of Ukraine because it is intimidated by Western sanctions.” But Moscow isn’t, and it has intervened. Consequently, Ukraine has had to fight, and many have suffered as well.

His second question is “What has been obtained and how did the war end?” In Gaaze’s view, “the east of Ukraine belongs to people whose names we in fact do not know. Kiev has lost part of its territory but forever have been marginalized the future of the non-existence Novorossiya.”

“It will never become part of Russia,” Gaaze says, but “in the near term, it will not be part of Ukraine either. Millions of people thus are condemned to live in an enormous Transdniestria, to live between two armies, one of which (the Russian) is committed to destroy the other (the Ukrainian).” The first is only waiting for the order to do so.

Gaaze’s third question is this: “Was Putin fighting with Ukraine or with the West?” the answer is with both, but the results are different. “Kiev did not lose the war, but it did not win it either. The West,” in contrast, “lost the first round of the new Cold War. Moscow did what it wanted,” while the West did not act decisively because of various fears about the future.

“But the first round of the cold war is not the entire war,” Gaaze says. The West can recover. NATO can rearm. “There will be other rounds,” and Russia “will not be able to win them.”

September 6, 2014

Estonian intelligence official kidnapped by Russian FSB

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:14

Russia appears to be willing to test the patience of all of its European neighbours, as Estonia lodges a formal complaint that one of their intelligence officers has been captured by Russian FSB troops on Estonian territory:

A strange incident near the Russian-Estonian border on Friday ended with an Estonian intelligence officer in Russian custody and the two countries trading sharply contradictory allegations about what happened.

Estonia’s president and prime minister, among other officials, said the officer had been kidnapped at gunpoint from their territory and forced across the border in a blatant violation of sovereignty. The Russian Federal Security Service said the officer was in Russia and engaged in a clandestine operation when he was detained.

The episode threatened to heighten tensions between Russia and the NATO alliance, to which Estonia belongs, at a time when relations are already severely strained over the conflict in Ukraine. It came just two days after President Obama gave a speech in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, pledging that NATO would defend the Baltics against Russian aggression and suggesting that any attack on them would lead to war with the West.

Although the intelligence officer was apparently detained around 9 a.m., the Russian security service, known as the F.S.B., did not acknowledge the incident until Friday evening, when it issued a statement to three Russian news agencies.

Senior Estonian officials, including the director of the country’s Internal Security Service, held a news conference in the late afternoon, saying the officer had been abducted after unknown assailants set off a stun grenade and jammed communication signals. At the time of his capture, the officer was investigating a criminal case in the area of Luhamaa, Estonia, a little more than a mile from the border with Russia, officials said, according to Estonian news reports.

Update, 7 September: The Interpreter‘s Ukraine Liveblog included this information today.

Eston Kohver, an Estonian intelligence officer who was, according to Estonia, abducted and taken across the border to Russia yesterday, has appeared in Moscow, where he is being detained. The Estonian authorities reported that smoke grenades were used and that there were signs of a violent struggle. In addition, it was reported that communications signals in the area were jammed at the time of the reported abduction.

Meanwhile the FSB claimed yesterday that Kohver had been arrested on Russian territory, in the Pskov region.

Interfax reports that Russia’s state-owned Channel One announced today that the Lefortovo Court has approved Kohver’s detention on suspicion of espionage.

Here is video from Russia’s Ruptly news agency showing Kohver being taken out of a car and into a pre-trial detention centre (known in Russia as SIZO). The footage also shows a display of the items that the FSB has claimed that were found on Kohver including 5,000 euros in cash and a Taurus pistol.

August 28, 2014

None dare call it an invasion

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:49

The battles between Ukraine forces and Russian-backed rebels were one thing: you could make a case for it being a “local” issue if you didn’t want to draw attention to it (for fear the Russians might cut off your natural gas supply). It’s quite a different thing when the Ukrainians are fighting Russian soldiers rather than irregulars and paramilitaries:

Russian forces in two armored columns captured a key southeastern coastal town near the Russian border Thursday after Ukrainian forces retreated in the face of superior firepower, a Ukrainian military spokesman said.

The two Russian columns, including tanks and armored fighting vehicles, entered the town of Novoazovsk on the Sea of Azov after a battle in which Ukrainian army positions came under fire from Grad rockets launched from Russian territory, according to the spokesman, Col. Andriy Lysenko.

“Our border servicemen and guardsmen retreated as they did not have heavy equipment,” Lysenko said in a statement.

Ukrainian authorities have denounced the latest fighting as a Russian invasion of their territory, intended to prop up pro-Moscow separatists who have been losing ground to Ukrainian forces and to open a new front in the southeastern corner of Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials said earlier that Ukrainian troops were battling combined Russian and separatist forces on the new southern front around Novoazovsk, about eight miles west of the Russian border. The Ukrainian military also said Russian troops were increasing surveillance from northern Crimea, the autonomous Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow in March.

Among western countries, Canada (of all places) has become snarky about the situation:

May 24, 2014

European defence and Russia’s renewed military adventurist spirit

Filed under: Europe, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:51

In Forbes, Roger Scruton provides a few reasons why Europe — especially Eastern Europe — is much tougher to defend now than it was in the post-Cold War years:

Three factors are principally responsible for this. The first is the growth of the European Union, and its policy of dissolving national borders. The EU has set out to delegitimize the nation state, to make it irrelevant to the ‘citizens’ of the Union whether they be French, British, Polish or Italian, and to abolish the national customs and beliefs that make long-term patriotic loyalty seriously believable. The EU’s attempt to replace national with European identity has, however failed, and is widely regarded with ridicule. Moreover the EU’s inability to think coherently about defense, and its policy of ‘soft power’ which makes defense in any case more or less inconceivable, means that the motive which leads ordinary people to defend their country in its time of need has been substantially weakened. Patriotism is seen as a heresy, second only to fascism on the list of political sins, and the idea that the people of Europe might be called upon to defend their borders looks increasingly absurd in the light of the official doctrine that there are no borders anyway.

The second reason for European weakness is connected. I refer to the guarantee, under the European Treaties, of the right to work and settle in any part of the Union. This has led to a massive migration from the former communist countries to the West. The people who migrate are the skilled, the entrepreneurial, the educated – in short, the elite on whom the resolution and identity of a country most directly depends. Very soon countries like Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania, all of which are directly threatened by a militant Russia, will be without a committed and resident class of leaders. No doubt, should the tanks start to roll, the émigré populations of those countries will protest. But will they return home to fight a pointless war, leaving their newly-won security and prosperity behind? I doubt it.

The third factor tending to the indefensibility of Europe is the dwindling American commitment to the Western alliance. President G.W. Bush was prescient enough to revive the idea of anti-missile defenses in Eastern Europe, and the military in both Poland and the Czech Republic were prepared to go along with it. Putin displayed his KGB training immediately, by declaring that these purely defensive installations would be an ‘act of aggression’. All the old Newspeak was trotted out in the effort to influence the incoming administration of President Obama against his predecessor’s policy. And the effort was successful. Obama weakly conceded the point, and the anti-missile defenses were not installed. Since then the Obama administration has continued to divert resources and attention elsewhere, creating the distinct impression in Europe that America is no longer wholeheartedly committed to its defense.

May 5, 2014

The Constitution-free zone near the US border

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:48

A recent decision by a federal appeal court expands the already very broad opportunities for police and border agents to stop and search travellers near the US border:

A federal appeals court just ruled that the police have a legal right to stop, search and arrest you for innocent behavior including driving with your hands at the ten-and-two position on the steering wheel at 7:45 p.m., taking a scenic route and having acne.

To the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, these factors added up to fit the profile of a person smuggling undocumented immigrants and drugs. The court said, “Although the factors, in isolation, may be consistent with innocent travel … taken together they may amount to reasonable suspicion.”

In other words, the police can now stop you for no reason at all. Law enforcement just needs to add a sinister context to your behavior, and off you go to jail. The court endorsed this expansion of aggressive police behavior in USA v. Cindy Lee Westhoven, No. 13-2065.

[...]

Incredibly the court found that this scenario created a reasonable suspicion for an “investigative stop.” By inserting a context that would make every driver guilty, the court upheld this belligerent law enforcement:

The officer said he spotted the car because “her arms were ‘straight and locked out’ at a ‘ten-and-two position on the steering wheel,’ — as everyone is taught in driver’s ed in high school. He was also suspicious because the road was used primarily by locals in New Mexico, and Westhoven had Arizona plates. She had acne scarring, “indicating to him she might be a methamphetamine user.” He also thought the shopping was better in Tucson than Douglas, so this was also “suspicious.”

“The dark tinted windows on Ms. Westhoven’s truck raised Agent Semmerling’s suspicion that she might be concealing something or someone in the back of her truck,” the court added.

The time happened to be between a 6-to-8 p.m. border patrol shift change, and the cop inferred that Westhoven was a smuggler trying to exploit that two-hour window. Westhoven was nervous, taking long pauses and shaking — which apparently signaled criminality.

The final nail for Westhoven was that she had two cell phones visible in the car. The cop said this was a common practice for drug smugglers. It is also common for people who have a business phone and a personal phone.

April 10, 2014

Erasing the 49th parallel? Not so fast…

Filed under: Cancon, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:30

Froma Harrop reviews the latest hare-brained scheme geopolitical notion of Diane Francis:

What country do Americans overwhelmingly like the most? Canada.

What country do Canadians pretty much like the most? America.

What country has the natural resources America needs? Canada.

What country has the entrepreneurship, technology and defense capability Canada needs? America.

Has the time come to face the music and dance? Yes, says Diane Francis, editor-at-large at the National Post in Toronto. Her book Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country is both provocative and persuasive.

“The genius of both societies is that they are very good at assimilating people from all over the world,” Francis told me. “So why can’t they do it themselves?”

Relatively small differences are why. Canadian intellectuals have long portrayed the United States as their violent, unruly twin. Many conservatives in this country, meanwhile, deride Canada as the socialistic land of single-payer medicine, gun control and other heavy regulation.

“I don’t buy the narrative of American exceptionalism or Canadian superiority,” says Francis, a dual citizen (born in Chicago). “Both have good points and bad points.”

Americans close to the border already think a lot like Canadians, she notes. Some northern states actually have more liberal laws and lower crime rates than Canada’s. “They are more Canadian than Canadians.”

We have a set of alliances that ensure continental security is underwritten by the world’s most powerful military. We have a free trade arrangement between the two countries that also includes Mexico. Our respective intelligence services co-operate (along with the UK, New Zealand, and Australia) at a very deep level — both for good (shared military surveillance, analysis, and security) and for ill (very significant individual privacy concerns).

Our economies are strongly inter-linked, but both are still subject to outside forces and inside stresses that affect each country differently.

In other words, aside from the minor convenience of not having to carry passports when moving from one country to the other (and the way the US is moving, that may no longer be true for Americans travelling domestically in a few years), we already have most of the benefits of a merger with none of the drawbacks: the American legal system is a terrifying beast to behold, US federal and state governments are far more intrusive and undemocratic in practice despite the legal framework of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and the US political system is if possible even more terrifying than their legal system.

Canada’s legal system could benefit from a few key reforms (getting rid of the human rights tribunals would be a good one, for example), but seem to work in a manner that is both faster and more visibly fair than their American counterparts. Our form of government looks (to American eyes) to be dictatorial, yet yields to democratic pressure from the voters most of the time (most recent example: Quebec). Our head of government is just a politician … and that’s all we expect of a Prime Minister. Our head of state doesn’t even live here, and we’re totally okay with that, too. Of course, if such a merger did take place, the head of state still wouldn’t live here…

A merger? I don’t think so.

December 24, 2013

Indian gold bugs go home

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, India, Middle East — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:19

The Indian government has been attempting to restrict the domestic gold market, but there’s a big loophole in the rules that many travellers are taking advantage of while they can:

Faced with curbs on gold imports and crash in international prices leaving it cheaper in other countries, gold houses and smugglers are turning to NRIs to bring in the yellow metal legally after paying duty. Any NRI, who has stayed abroad for more than six months, is allowed to bring in 1kg gold.

It was evident last week when almost every passenger on a flight from Dubai to Calicut was found carrying 1kg of gold, totalling up to 80kg (worth about Rs 24 crore). At Chennai airport, 13 passengers brought the legally permitted quantity of gold in the past one week.

“It’s not illegal. But the 80kg gold that landed in Calicut surprised us. We soon got information that two smugglers in Dubai and their links in Calicut were behind this operation, offering free tickets to several passengers,” said an official. The passengers were mostly Indian labourers in Dubai, used as carriers by people who were otherwise looking at illegal means, he said. “We have started tracing the origin and route of gold after intelligence pointed to the role of smugglers,” he said.

Reports from Kerala said passengers from Dubai have brought more than 1,000kg of gold in the last three weeks. People who pay a duty of Rs 2.7 lakh per kg in Dubai still stand to gain at least Rs 75,000 per kg, owing to the price difference in the two countries. Gold dealers in Kerala say most of this gold goes to jewellery makers in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

August 25, 2013

Another (pointless) round of Mideast peace talks

Filed under: Middle East, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:53

Strategy Page on the upcoming “negotiations” over the Israeli-Palestinian situation:

Why are the Palestinians participating in yet another round of American- sponsored peace talks with Israel? It’s mostly about money. This round was forced on the Israelis and Palestinians by the U.S., which threatened to withhold aid (1.3 billion a year to Israel about half as much to the Palestinians) if the two did not at least go through the motions. Many knowledgeable observers see another round of talks as pointless. Arabs and Palestinians have not changed their “kill all Jews” attitudes towards Israel and the Israelis have still not agreed to just disappear. Because of the continued Arab intransigence over Israel, opinion polls show that most Israelis are opposed to any peace deal with the Palestinians that involves withdrawing Jews from the West Bank or Jerusalem and believe the peace talks will fail.

The Americans want the talks for domestic political reasons. The Israelis don’t mind having another opportunity to force the Palestinians to admit all their hypocrisy and anti-Semitism. The Palestinians don’t care about that because they are in big trouble. The current Fatah leadership (Hamas, which runs Gaza, is not participating) is in a desperate situation. Fatah is committed to pushing for “statehood” in the UN, but has been told by the U.S. that such a move will mean withdrawal of $600 million a year in American aid. Israel said it will withhold $100 million a year in customs taxes it collects for Fatah. Backing away from the UN statehood effort would be very embarrassing. The “peace talks” provide a credible excuse to back off.

Given the heat Fatah has been taking from Palestinians over more than a decade of increasing corruption and poverty, losing $700 million a year in aid would put Fatah out of power and probably out of business. So Fatah will go through the motions to calm down the Americans and Israelis while a new strategy is developed and sold to Palestinians. The current one got going in 2000, when Fatah turned down the best peace deal it was probably ever going to get (and would probably accept today) because the Palestinian radicals threatened civil war if Fatah took the Israeli offer. In retrospect that was a hollow threat, but at the time it seemed a good idea to turn down the peace offer and start a terrorist campaign against Israel. That failed, and was largely defeated by 2005. But it all made the Palestinian radicals stronger and too many Palestinians unemployed, broke and angry. It also allowed Islamic radical group Hamas to take control of Gaza, where 40 percent of Palestinians lived. To make matters worse the great Palestinian patron Saddam Hussein lost power, and his life, cutting off another source of cash. Palestinian children are still taught to honor and praise Saddam, which has become something of a media liability. Other Arab allies have become less supportive and more insistent that the Palestinians make peace with Israel and stop being professional victims and career beggars.

August 24, 2013

The supercontinent of Pangaea with modern borders

Filed under: History, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:21

Pangaea with current international borders

From TwistedSifter:

Pangaea was a supercontinent that existed during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras, forming about 300 million years ago. It began to break apart around 200 million years ago. The single global ocean which surrounded Pangaea is accordingly named Panthalassa.

August 20, 2013

Another reason to stick with printed books – “undownloading”

Filed under: Business, Law, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:22

At Techdirt, Glyn Moody has another word you need to know about those convenient ebooks you’ve been adding to your reader:

So, it seems that ebook users need to add a new word to their vocabulary: “undownloading” — what happens when you leave the authorized zone in which you may read the ebooks you paid for, and cross into the digital badlands where they are taken away like illicit items at customs. If you are lucky, you will get them back when you return to your home patch — by un-undownloading them.

What makes this tale particularly noteworthy is the way it brings together a host of really bad ideas that the publishing and distribution industries insist on deploying. There’s DRM that means you can’t make backups; there’s the country-specific usage that tries to impose physical geography on your digital ebooks; and there’s the update that spies on you and your system before deciding unilaterally to take away functionality by “undownloading” your ebooks. And copyright maximalists wonder why people turn to unauthorized downloads….

I have dozens of books stashed away on my iPhone … but they’re all public domain works. I doubt I’ll be adding any DRM-afflicted items to my library any time soon.

August 19, 2013

Glenn Greenwald’s partner detained by UK authorities

Filed under: Britain, Government, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:49

The British government sends a message:

The partner of the Guardian journalist who has written a series of stories revealing mass surveillance programmes by the US National Security Agency was held for almost nine hours on Sunday by UK authorities as he passed through London’s Heathrow airport on his way home to Rio de Janeiro.

David Miranda, who lives with Glenn Greenwald, was returning from a trip to Berlin when he was stopped by officers at 8.05am and informed that he was to be questioned under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The controversial law, which applies only at airports, ports and border areas, allows officers to stop, search, question and detain individuals.

The 28-year-old was held for nine hours, the maximum the law allows before officers must release or formally arrest the individual. According to official figures, most examinations under schedule 7 — over 97% — last less than an hour, and only one in 2,000 people detained are kept for more than six hours.

Miranda was released, but officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles.

Since 5 June, Greenwald has written a series of stories revealing the NSA’s electronic surveillance programmes, detailed in thousands of files passed to him by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The Guardian has also published a number of stories about blanket electronic surveillance by Britain’s GCHQ, also based on documents from Snowden.

Update: The opposition Labour party calls for an investigation into this use of anti-terrorism legislation (but as Charles Stross point out … they passed the laws themselves).

Labour has called for an urgent investigation into the use of anti-terror powers to detain David Miranda, the partner of a Guardian journalist who interviewed US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said ministers must find out whether anti-terror laws had been “misused”, after Miranda was held for nine hours by authorities at Heathrow airport under the Terrorism Act.

His detention has caused “considerable consternation” and the Home Office must explain how this can be justified as appropriate and proportionate, she said.

[...]

“The independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, has already warned of the importance of using schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act appropriately and proportionately. The purpose of schedule 7 is to determine whether or not someone is involved in or associated with terror activity. The Home Office and police need to explain rapidly how they can justify using that purpose under the terrorism legislation to detain David Miranda for nine hours. This has caused considerable consternation and swift answers are needed.

“The police and security agencies rightly work hard to protect national security and prevent terrorism. But public confidence in security powers depends on them being used proportionately within the law, and also on having independent checks and balances in place to prevent misuse.”

August 7, 2013

Gibraltar as this year’s “shark story” filler

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:28

Sir Humphrey thinks there’s rather less than meets the eye in the media’s coverage of the Spanish government’s recent series of escalations over Gibraltar:

Its August, the sun is shining, the politicians are on holiday and the media are desperately searching around for some kind of story to fill the news. Suddenly, the perfect story has emerged — those dreadful Spanish are doing all manner of dubious things to threaten Gibraltar and simultaneously the Falkland Islands. Is there reason for panic, or is it a case of just summer bluster in order to distract attention from other problems? The UK has always had a challenging relationship with the Spanish over Gibraltar — no matter how much the UK wishes to move the relationship forward (and in many areas it remains an extremely strong and positive relationship), this feels as if it is an issue which cannot easily be resolved.

The current situation owes much to the Spanish ratcheting up tensions after claims that Gibraltar was laying concrete blocks into local waters, in turn threatening traditional fishing grounds. It is hard to work out whether this is a genuine grievance, or merely a convenient pretext in order to gain some traction on putting pressure on the territory. Following a previous weekend where long traffic jams occurred with checks on all cars transiting the border, the Spanish are now reportedly considering imposing an entrance / exit tax of 50 Euros on anyone transiting their side of the border. While such taxes may be deeply unpleasant, they are perhaps not necessarily new (many countries impose similar entrance taxes around the world). The question is to what extent would this damage the local economy? It is worth considering that many Gibraltarians work in southern Spain, so any tax would probably make it difficult to get to work and damage the livelihood of many small businesses – perhaps appealing in a nation where youth unemployment is ever higher, but in the interim it could easily cause more long term economic damage to both the Spanish and Gibraltarian economies.

So what is the tie-in to the Falkland Islands? A media report on Spain selling Mirage fighter jets to Argentina:

It is not clear whether this is actually news, or whether it’s the case that the Tabloid press have been looking on Wikipedia and turned what is a one line entry on future Spanish Mirage jet prospects into an article designed to raise tensions. In reality this site has long made the point that the Argentine Armed Forces are in a parlous state, and that they are desperately short of spares, training and operational experience.

They’ve also taken various fleets of aircraft out of service in recent years, so its entirely reasonable to expect some form of replacement at some point. In the case of the Mirage jets, they entered service in 1975 and are extremely old and not necessarily front line fast jet material any longer. Acquisition of a small number of 1970s vintage jets which have been worked hard for nearly 40 years is not really going to change the balance of power in the South Atlantic. Indeed, its worth noting that right now (if you believe Wikipedia) the entire Argentine Mirage fleet is grounded anyway due to spares and safety issues. At best this acquisition may try and restore some limited capability. So, its fair to say that the Falkland Islands are hardly at risk of collapse — if the acquisition of a small number of ancient fighter aircraft materially changes the balance of power, then something has gone very badly wrong in UK defence planning circles.

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