Several human rights organizations have exposed the complicity of four major French banks and an insurance company in financing Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The revelation was made in a Wednesday report titled “Dangerous Liaisons: French banks and Israeli settlements” on the website of the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), an international human rights NGO with 184 member organizations from 112 countries.
The banks of BNP Paribas, Societe Generale, Credit Agricole and Groupe BPCE as well as AXA insurance firm hold shares in or are involved with Israeli banks, which are an “essential political tool in the creation of the settlements (and) finance construction,” the report read.
The five companies are further involved with businesses that help settlement development through the building of “housing, factories, the installation of telephone and internet connections, or surveillance equipment,” it added.
Additionally, the report, which was co-authored by a number of other human rights groups, including the France-Palestine Solidarity Association (AFPS), held France responsible for indirectly supporting the Israeli settlement enterprise by allowing the institutions to finance businesses involved in the construction activities.
“The French government must bring pressure to bear on the banks and insurance companies, demanding that they bring all their support to an end,” the report concluded.
Meanwhile, FIDH Vice President Maryse Artiguelong expressed frustration at the French groups’ involvement “in this illegal activity just to make a bit more money,” adding, “(They) are seeking profit at any cost.”
Moreover, Didier Fagart, an AFPS member, urged the French groups to “withdraw their money from Israeli businesses with a connection to the settlements.”
“French banks cannot say they don’t know what is going on. They must make the right decision,” Fagart said.
Emboldened by the support of US President Donald Trump’s administration, the Tel Aviv regime has given the go-ahead to the construction of many settler units in the occupied territories.
Israel’s settlement expansion defies United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 adopted in December 2016 that condemned the settlements as a “flagrant violation of international law.
Over half a million Israelis live in over 230 settlements built since the 1967 occupation of the Palestinian territories.
The continued expansion of Israeli settlements is one of the major obstacles to the establishment of peace in the Middle East.
Iran’s ambassador to the UN Gholamali Khoshroo
Iran’s ambassador to the UN Gholamali Khoshroo has called for the total eradication of nuclear weapons.
Khoshroo reiterated Iran’s call during a UN conference aimed at creating a nuclear weapons ban treaty in New York on Tuesday.
“Iran, as a victim of chemical weapons, strongly feels the danger posed by the existence of weapons of mass destruction and is determined to engage actively in international diplomatic efforts to save humanity from the menace of nuclear weapons,” he said.
Khoshroo stressed that Iran is committed to its Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations, which include negotiations based on effective nuclear disarmament measures.
He added that several countries continue to ignore international calls and treaties for nuclear disarmament and even continue to increase their nuclear stockpiles. “They do not have political determination to abandon doctrines of nuclear deterrence and nuclear terror,” he went on to say.
Iran’s UN ambassador noted that boycotting the talks by many countries, including the US, shows that the world’s nuclear powers are by no means committed to the eradication of nuclear arms. Britain and France were also among the some 40 countries that did not join the talks.
“We note that prohibition of nuclear weapons must be accompanied by the elimination of such weapons. There can be no doubt that without complete abolition of nuclear weapons, there will be no absolute guarantee against the danger of nuclear war and the use of such weapons,” Khoshroo added.
Britain and France have signed an agreement to jointly develop long range missiles for future use by their navies and air forces.
British Minister for military purchases Harriett Baldwin and her visiting French counterpart Laurent Collet-Billon agreed in London on Tuesday to invest €50 million ( £43 million) each to begin a three-year concept phase for the project.
Dubbed the Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon program, arms manufacturer MBDA would explore options to replace and improve existing naval and air force weapons systems over the next 10 years, according to a statement by the UK ministry of defense.
The concept phase is focused on determining the designs of the future weapons and cutting the risks to a minimum before heading to the next stage in the cooperation, the statement added.
Beside costs, both sides also agreed to freely use one another’s “national technology expertise, trials and test facilities.”
“As demonstrated by having Europe’s largest defense budget, the UK is committed to European security and we will continue to collaborate on joint defense programs across the continent,” Baldwin said.
Collet-Billon also hailed the agreement, calling it “the backbone of our ‘one complex weapon’ initiative.”
Formed by a merger of French Aérospatiale-Matra Missiles, Italian Alenia Marconi Systems and British Matra BAe Dynamics, MBDA already produces Storm Shadow/ SCALP EG long-range cruise missiles for the British and French air forces.
In late February, the two sides signed a £146 million deal to upgrade the £790,000 missile, which has a range of approximately 560 kilometers (300 nautical miles).
According to the British defense ministry, France is “the UK’s most important European Ally” and together, the two countries accounted for almost half of all military spending in Europe.
As London prepares to leave the European Union (EU) following last year’s July referendum, British officials have reassured their allies in Paris that nothing can undermine their military alliance.
“This is a day-to-day, intense partnership that has never been affected by whatever French or British-bashing was going on in either country in the last five years,” said Claire Chick, head of military affairs at the London-based Franco-British Council.
Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter aircraft will deploy to Romania in May as part of NATO’s continued militarization of Eastern Europe.
The initiative will see four Typhoons from RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire, deploy to Mihail Kogalniceanu Airbase in Romania until September.
They will carry out patrols of the Black Sea area as part of the Southern Air Policing mission conducted under NATO command. The UK is the first ally to provide aircraft for the task.
“The UK is stepping up its support for NATO’s collective defense from the north to the south of the alliance,” said Defense Secretary Michael Fallon.
“With this deployment, RAF planes will be ready to secure NATO airspace and provide reassurance to our allies in the Black Sea region,” he added.
The announcement follows the deployment of hundreds of British troops to Estonia to function as a ‘tripwire’ against what UK commanders have called Russian aggression.
The NATO battle group in Estonia will be stationed at Tapa.
The UK will contribute the bulk of multinational force in Estonia, sending in a total of 800 soldiers.
France will post 300 soldiers to Estonia – to be replaced by the Danes in 2018.
All troops will act in conjunction with Estonia’s 1st Infantry Brigade.The deployment is designed to counter an “increasingly assertive Russia,” Fallon said on the first 130 troops’ departure.
“NATO is stepping up its commitment to collective defense,” Fallon said, according to Sky News.
“British troops will play a leading role in Estonia and support our US allies in Poland, as part of wider efforts to defend NATO.”
France’s far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen says the European Union will “die” and she vows to save France from globalization.
During a Sunday campaign rally in Lille, Le Pen said that the upcoming elections will be the next stage in a global popular rebellion.
“The European Union will die because the people do not want it anymore … arrogant and hegemonic empires are destined to perish,” she added.
She stressed that the time has arrived to overcome globalists, and added that her main rivals in the French presidential elections, conservative Francois Fillon and centrist Emmanuel Macron, were both guilty of treason because of their pro-EU and pro-market stances.
Le Pen added that she would replace the EU with a different Europe which she said would be called “the Europe of the people.”
“It must be done in a rational, well-prepared way,” she said in interview with Le Parisien daily. “I don’t want chaos. Within the negotiation calendar I want to carry out … the euro would be the last step because I want to wait for the outcome of elections in Germany in the autumn before renegotiating it,” she added.
At least 1,350 American, British and Romanian soldiers have been sent to Poland from a base in Germany. US commanders said that the troops were ready “to deter Russian aggressive actions.”
The US, British and Romanian soldiers left the Rose Barracks military base in Vilseck, western Germany, for Poland where they are expected take part in NATO’s mission. The troops are “fully prepared to deter Russian offensive actions,” US Colonel Patrick Ellis said at the departure ceremony on Saturday.
“As a result of Russia’s aggressive actions and in light of the changing and evolving security environment, at the Warsaw summit in July 2016 NATO members agreed to strengthen our deterrence and defensive posture,” US Major General Timothy P. McGuire said.
The NATO group is to be stationed in the town of Orzysz, 220 kilometers northeast of the capital, Warsaw, according to Reuters.
NATO troops in Estonia
Also on Saturday, NATO’s heavy armored vehicles of the French armed forces were delivered to Estonia, according to a video published by the General Staff of the Estonian Defense Forces.
France’s heavy armored vehicles include Leclerc tanks and VBCI infantry fighting vehicles, as well as dozens of VAB armored vehicles, a spokesman of the 1st Infantry Brigade said, according to the Kuulutaja newspaper.
The UK is to deliver Challenger 2, Titan and Trojan tanks to Estonia as well as self-propelled artillery mounts AS90, Warrior infantry fighting vehicles and reconnaissance drones, he added.
The battalion will be stationed in the military town of Tapa and will interact with the first infantry brigade of the Estonian Defense Forces.
The alignment of forces in Estonia is planned to finish in early April. By that time, Estonia is to host 800 soldiers from the UK and around 300 soldiers from France. The French group is to spend some eight months in the Baltic country. After that, Danish soldiers are expected to replace them.
NATO leaders agreed to deploy four multinational battalions to Poland as well as Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia on July 8 at the summit in Warsaw.
Russia has repeatedly criticized NATO’s military buildup along its borders, seen as a threat to national security.
In February, Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed NATO for provoking a conflict with Moscow and using its “newly-declared official mission to deter Russia” as a pretext.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in February, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted that “NATO’s expansion has led to an unprecedented level of tension over the last 30 years in Europe.”
Moscow has condemned the new US ground-based missile defense system in Eastern Europe and increased presence of NATO vessels in the Black Sea.
Marine Le Pen has just proved that she is more clever than the thousands of anti-Russian politicians in the west, but also more astute than many of the western politicians who are sympathetic to Russia.
Where people like Nigel Farage, Francois Fillon and even to a lesser extent Donald Trump have often distanced themselves from or played down their lack of hatred towards Russia, Marine Le Pen has gone the opposite way, she had a public meeting with President Putin with the eyes of the world watching.
This is why Le Pen is an admirable woman, even for those who may not agree with her politics. There’s no better way to hush up a tired conspiracy than to expose the absurdity of the conspiracy theory.
Michael Flynn acted as though he wished that he’d never been in the same room with Russian vodka let alone a Russian man. Rex Tillerson pretended to have a more negative view of Russia before the Senate than he likely actually does.
By contrast, Marine Le Pen has done what many prominent opposition candidates on the likely verge of power do; she met with a representative of an important foreign power with whom she may be directly dealing with in the near future, in this case the possible next President of France met with the current President of Russia.
Her public meeting has demonstrated the gist of many private meetings held between sane western officials and Russian ones, namely a broad commitment to improve rather than to further destroy diplomatic relations.
When Nixon did it, it was called détente, but when people surrounding Donald Trump even attempted to do it, some call it treason.
I can scarcely think of anything more apropos than a French person re-educating the world as to the meaning of détente. Le Pen stated the obvious in her meeting. She explained that both Russia and the US are important superpowers and that the states of Europe such as France, could only benefit from having good relations with both the US and Russia. Furthermore, she said that she would be happy to work with both President Putin and President Trump if she got elected.
Only in the awkward world of post-modern western politics could such a statement be seen as controversial. She said that peace and good relations is preferable to the opposite and that she respects the leaders of two of the three global superpowers. In any other place and in any other generation, this would be considered a rather throw away statement, but the hysteria of the ideologically driven anti-Russian 21st century west, has elevated these simple remarks to the level of the profound.
Le Pen has encouraged other Europeans to admit that Crimea is Russia and she has also supported the anti-fascist struggle of the Donbass people. Is this why some in the European MSM call her a fascist? The twists of logic would be laughable if they weren’t tragic.
I believe that Le Pen is intelligent and understands the moral underpinnings of the struggle of the Donbass people to repel fascist aggression. I also feel that she truly understands and respects the will of the Crimean people as expressed in a democratic referendum.
But beyond this, Le Pen is pragmatic. It took Richard Nixon to set in motion the inevitable reality that the capital of China is Beijing and not Taipei. Even old right-wing Cold Warriors had to eventually admit which China was the China, no matter how much they would have preferred the other China.
Likewise, even western leaders of the far-right (or so-called liberals who are far right in all but name) who have sympathies with the neo-Nazi regime in Kiev, ought to admit that realistically, Crimea is a peaceful part of Russia, no matter how much they salivate at night over the thought of fascist banners flying over the beaches of Yalta. The sooner they come to terms with this, the better it will be for them.
Marine Le Pen has talked a lot of common sense and in going to Russia she has shown that the ‘Russian connections’ scandal is a big hoax. She didn’t do it by denying the fact that she wants to improve relations between Paris and Moscow, she did it by flying from Paris to Moscow and acting in a far more diplomatic and presidential manner than the current French President.
For the first time in several generations, France has a big ticket politician of whom the people can be proud.
Saturday March 11 marks the sixth anniversary of the triple-disaster in north-east Japan – the earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
And the news is not good. Scientists are wondering how on earth to stabilise and decontaminate the failed reactors awash with molten nuclear fuel, which are fast turning into graveyards for the radiation-hardened robots sent in to investigate them.
The Japanese government’s estimate of Fukushima compensation and clean-up costs has doubled and doubled again and now stands at ¥21.5 trillion (US$187bn; €177bn).
Indirect costs – such as fuel import costs, and losses to agricultural, fishing and tourism industries – will likely exceed that figure.
Kendra Ulrich from Greenpeace Japan notes in a new report that “for those who were impacted by the worst nuclear disaster in a generation, the crisis is far from over. And it is women and children that have borne the brunt of human rights violations resulting from it, both in the immediate aftermath and as a result of the Japan government’s nuclear resettlement policy.”
Radiation biologist Ian Fairlie summarises the health impacts from the Fukushima disaster: “In sum, the health toll from the Fukushima nuclear disaster is horrendous. At the minimum:
+ Over 160,000 people were evacuated most of them permanently.
+ Many cases of post-trauma stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety disorders arising from the evacuations.
+ About 12,000 workers exposed to high levels of radiation, some up to 250 mSv
+ An estimated 5,000 fatal cancers from radiation exposures in future.
+ Plus similar (unquantified) numbers of radiogenic strokes, CVS diseases and hereditary diseases.
+ Between 2011 and 2015, about 2,000 deaths from radiation-related evacuations due to ill-health and suicides.
+ An, as yet, unquantified number of thyroid cancers.
+ An increased infant mortality rate in 2012 and a decreased number of live births in December 2011.”
Dr Fairlie’s report was written in August 2015 but it remains accurate. More than half of the 164,000 evacuees from the nuclear disaster remain dislocated. Efforts to restore community life in numerous towns are failing. Local authorities said in January that only 13% of the evacuees in five municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture have returned home after evacuation orders were lifted.
As for Japan’s long-hyped ‘nuclear restart’: just three power reactors are operating in Japan; before the Fukushima disaster, the number topped 50.
A nuclear power ‘crisis’?
Nuclear advocates and lobbyists elsewhere are increasingly talking about the ‘crisis’ facing nuclear power – but they don’t have the myriad impacts of the Fukushima disaster in mind: they’re more concerned about catastrophic cost overruns with reactor projects in Europe and the US.
Michael Shellenberger from the Breakthrough Institute, a US-based pro-nuclear lobby group, has recently written articles about nuclear power’s “rapidly accelerating crisis“ and the “crisis that threatens the death of nuclear energy in the West“.
A recent article from the Breakthrough Institute and the like-minded Third Way lobby group discusses “the crisis that the nuclear industry is presently facing in developed countries“.
‘Environmental Progress’, another US pro-nuclear lobby group connected to Shellenberger, has a webpage dedicated to the nuclear power crisis. Among other things, it states that 151 gigawatts (GW) of worldwide nuclear power capacity (38% of the total) could be lost by 2030 (compared to 33 GW of retirements over the past decade), and over half of the ageing US reactor fleet is at risk of closure by 2030.
As a worldwide generalisation, nuclear power can’t be said to be in crisis. To take the extreme example, China’s nuclear power program isn’t in crisis – it is moving ahead at pace. Russia’s nuclear power program, to give one more example, is moving ahead at snail’s pace, but isn’t in crisis.
Nonetheless, large parts of the worldwide nuclear industry are in deep trouble. The July 2016 World Nuclear Industry Status Report provides an overview of the troubled status of nuclear power:
+ nuclear power’s share of the worldwide electricity generation is 10.7%, well down from historic peak of 17.6% in 1996;
+ nuclear power generation in 2015 was 8.2% below the historic peak in 2006; and
+ from 2000 to 2015, 646 gigawatts (GW) of wind and solar capacity (combined) were added worldwide while nuclear capacity (not including idle reactors in Japan) fell by 8 GW.
US nuclear industry in crisis
The US nuclear industry is in crisis, with a very old reactor fleet – 44 of its 99 reactors have been operating for 40 years or more – and no likelihood of new reactors for the foreseeable future other than four already under construction.
Last September, Associated Press described one of the industry’s many humiliations: “After spending more than 40 years and $5 billion on an unfinished nuclear power plant in northeastern Alabama, the nation’s largest federal utility is preparing to sell the property at a fraction of its cost.
“The Tennessee Valley Authority has set a minimum bid of $36.4 million for its Bellefonte Nuclear Plant and the 1,600 surrounding acres of waterfront property on the Tennessee River. The buyer gets two unfinished nuclear reactors, transmission lines, office and warehouse buildings, eight miles of roads, a 1,000-space parking lot and more.”
Japanese conglomerate Toshiba and its US-based nuclear subsidiary Westinghouse are in crisis because of massive cost overruns building four AP1000 reactors in the US – the combined cost overruns amount to about US$11.2bn (€10.7bn) and counting.
Toshiba said in February 2017 that it expects to book a US$6.3bn (€5.9bn) writedown on Westinghouse, on top of a US$2.3bn (€2.1bn) writedown in April 2016. The losses exceed the US$5.4bn (€5.1bn) Toshiba paid when it bought a majority stake in Westinghouse in 2006.
Toshiba says it would likely sell Westinghouse if that was an option – but there is no prospect of a buyer. Westinghouse is, as Bloomberg noted, “too much of a mess“ to sell. And since that isn’t an option, Toshiba must sell profitable businesses instead to stave off bankruptcy.
Toshiba is seeking legal advice as to whether Westinghouse should file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. But even under a Chapter 11 filing, Reuters reported, “Toshiba could still be on the hook for up to $7 billion in contingent liabilities as it has guaranteed Westinghouse’s contractual commitments” for the US AP1000 reactors.
The Toshiba/Westinghouse crisis is creating a ripple effect. A few examples:
+ the NuGen (Toshiba/Engie) consortium has acknowledged that the plan for three AP1000 reactors at Moorside in the UK faces a “significant funding gap“ and both partners reportedly want out of the project;
+ Georgia Power, 45.7% owner of the troubled Vogtle AP1000 project, recently suspended plans for another nuclear plant in Georgia; and
+ Toshiba recently announced its intention to pull out of the plan for two Advanced Boiling Water Reactors at the South Texas Plant, having booked writedowns totaling US$638m (€605m) on the project in previous years.
The French nuclear industry is in crisis
The French nuclear industry is in its “worst situation ever“, former EDF director Gérard Magnin said in November 2016. The French government is selling assets so it can prop up its heavily indebted nuclear utilities Areva and EDF.
The current taxpayer-funded rescue of the nuclear power industry may cost the French state as much as €10bn (US$10.5bn), Reuters reported in January, and in addition to its “dire financial state, Areva is beset by technical, regulatory and legal problems.”
France has 58 operable reactors and just one under construction. French EPR reactors under construction in France and Finland are three times over budget – the combined cost overruns for the two reactors amount to about €12.7bn (US$13.4bn).
Bloomberg noted in April 2015 that Areva’s EPR export ambitions are “in tatters“. Now Areva itself is in tatters and is in the process of a government-led restructure and another taxpayer-funded bailout.
On March 1, Areva posted a €665m (US$700m) net loss for 2016. Losses in the preceding five years exceeded €10bn (US$10.5 bn). A large majority of a €5bn (US$5.3bn) recapitalisation of Areva scheduled for June 2017 will come from French taxpayers.
On February 14, EDF released its financial figures for 2016: earnings fell 6.7%, revenue declined 5.1%, net income excluding non-recurring items fell 15%, and EDF’s debt remained steady at €37.4bn (US$39.4bn). All that EDF chief executive Jean-Bernard Levy could offer was the hope that EDF would “hit the bottom of the cycle“ in 2017 and rebound next year.
EDF plans to sell €10bn (US$10.5 bn) of assets by 2020 to rein in its debt, and to sack up to 7,000 staff. The French government provided EDF with €3bn (US$3.2bn) in extra capital in 2016 and will contribute €3bn towards a €4bn (US$4.2bn) capital raising this year.
On March 8, shares in EDF hit an all-time low a day after the €4bn capital raising was launched; the stock price fell to €7.78, less than one-tenth of the €86.45 high a decade ago.
EDF has set aside €23bn (US$24.3bn) to cover reactor decommissioning and waste management costs in France – less than half of the €54bn (US$57bn) that EDF estimates will be required. A recent report by the French National Assembly’s Commission for Sustainable Development and Regional Development concluded that there is “obvious under-provisioning” and that decommissioning and waste management will likely take longer, be more challenging and cost much more than EDF anticipates.
EDF is being forced to take over parts of its struggling sibling Areva’s operations – a fate you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. And just when it seemed that things couldn’t get any worse for EDF, a fire took hold in the turbine room of one of the Flamanville reactors on February 9 and the reactor will likely be offline until late March at an estimated cost of roughly €1.2m (US$1.27m) per day.
Half of the world’s nuclear industry is in crisis and/or shutting down
Combined, the crisis-ridden US, French and Japanese nuclear industries account for 45% of the world’s ‘operable’ nuclear reactors according to the World Nuclear Association’s database, and they accounted for 50% of nuclear power generation in 2015 (and 57% in 2010).
Countries with crisis-ridden nuclear programs or phase-out policies (e.g. Germany, Belgium, and Taiwan) account for about half of the world’s operable reactors and more than half of worldwide nuclear power generation.
The Era of Nuclear Decommissioning (END)
The ageing of the global reactor fleet isn’t yet a crisis for the industry, but it is heading that way.
The assessment by the ‘Environmental Progress’ lobby group that 151 GW of worldwide nuclear power capacity could be shut down by 2030 is consistent with figures from the World Nuclear Association (132 reactor shut-downs by 2035), the International Energy Agency (almost 200 shut-downs between 2014 and 2040) and Nuclear Energy Insider (up to 200 shut-downs in the next two decades). It looks increasingly unlikely that new reactors will match shut-downs.
Perhaps the best characterisation of the global nuclear industry is that a new era is approaching – the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning (END). Nuclear power’s END will entail:
+ a slow decline in the number of operating reactors (unless growth in China can match the decline elsewhere);
+ an increasingly unreliable and accident-prone reactor fleet as ageing sets in;
+ countless battles over lifespan extensions for ageing reactors;
+ an internationalisation of anti-nuclear opposition as neighbouring countries object to the continued operation of ageing reactors (international opposition to Belgium’s reactors is a case in point);
+ a broadening of anti-nuclear opposition as citizens are increasingly supported by local, regional and national governments opposed to reactors in neighbouring countries (again Belgium is a case in point, as is Lithuanian opposition to reactors under construction in Belarus);
+ many battles over the nature and timing of decommissioning operations;
+ many battles over taxpayer bailouts for companies and utilities that haven’t set aside adequate funding for decommissioning;
+ more battles over proposals to impose nuclear waste repositories on unwilling or divided communities; and
+ battles over taxpayer bailouts for companies and utilities that haven’t set aside adequate funding for nuclear waste disposal.
As discussed in a previous article in The Ecologist, nuclear power is likely to enjoy a small, short-lived upswing in the next couple of years as reactors ordered in the few years before the Fukushima disaster come online. Beyond that, the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning sets in, characterised by escalating battles – and escalating sticker-shock – over lifespan extensions, decommissioning and nuclear waste management.
In those circumstances, it will become even more difficult than it currently is for the industry to pursue new reactor projects. A positive feedback loop could take hold and then the industry will be well and truly in crisis.
Nuclear lobbyists debate possible solutions to the nuclear power crisis
Michael Shellenberger from the Breakthrough Institute argues that a lack of standardisation and scaling partly explains the “crisis that threatens the death of nuclear energy in the West”. The constant switching of designs deprives the people who build, operate and regulate nuclear plants of the experience they need to become more efficient.
Shellenberger further argues that there is too much focus on machines, too little on human factors:
“Areva, Toshiba-Westinghouse and others claimed their new designs would be safer and thus, at least eventually, cheaper, but there were always strong reasons to doubt such claims. First, what is proven to make nuclear plants safer is experience, not new designs. …
“In fact, new designs risk depriving managers and workers the experience they need to operate plants more safely, just as it deprives construction companies the experience they need to build plants more rapidly.”
Shellenberger has a three-point rescue plan:
1/ ‘Consolidate or Die’: “If nuclear is going to survive in the West, it needs a single, large firm – the equivalent of a Boeing or Airbus – to compete against the Koreans, Chinese and Russians.”
2/ ‘Standardize or Die’: He draws attention to the “astonishing” heterogeneity of planned reactors in the UK and says the UK “should scrap all existing plans and start from a blank piece of paper”, that all new plants should be of the same design and “the criteria for choosing the design should emphasize experience in construction and operation, since that is the key factor for lowering costs.”
3/ ‘Scale or Die’: Nations “must work together to develop a long-term plan for new nuclear plant construction to achieve economies of scale”, and governments “should invest directly or provide low-cost loans.”
Josh Freed and Todd Allen from pro-nuclear lobby group Third Way, and Ted Nordhaus and Jessica Lovering from the Breakthrough Institute, argue that Shellenberger draws the wrong lessons from Toshiba’s recent losses and from nuclear power’s “longer-term struggles” in developed economies.
They argue that “too little innovation, not too much, is the reason that the industry is on life support in the United States and other developed economies”. They state that:
+ The Westinghouse AP1000 represents a fairly straightforward evolution in light-water reactor design, not a radical departure as Shellenberger claims.
+ Standardisation is important but it is not a panacea. Standardisation and building multiple reactors on the same site has limited cost escalation, not brought costs down.
+ Most of the causes of rising cost and construction delays associated with new nuclear builds in the US are attributable to the 30-year hiatus in nuclear construction, not the novelty of the AP1000 design.
+ Reasonable regulatory reform will not dramatically reduce the cost of new light-water reactors, as Shellenberger suggests.
They write this obituary for large light-water reactors: “If there is one central lesson to be learned from the delays and cost overruns that have plagued recent builds in the US and Europe, it is that the era of building large fleets of light-water reactors is over in much of the developed world.
“From a climate and clean energy perspective, it is essential that we keep existing reactors online as long as possible. But slow demand growth in developed world markets makes ten billion dollar, sixty-year investments in future electricity demand a poor bet for utilities, investors, and ratepayers.”
A radical break
The four Third Way / Breakthrough Institute authors conclude that “a radical break from the present light-water regime … will be necessary to revive the nuclear industry”. Exactly what that means, the authors said, would be the subject of a follow-up article.
So readers were left hanging – will nuclear power be saved by failed fast-reactor technology, or failed high-temperature gas-cooled reactors including failed pebble-bed reactors, or by thorium pipe-dreams or fusion pipe-dreams or molten salt reactor pipe-dreams or small modular reactor pipe-dreams? Perhaps we’ve been too quick to write off cold fusion?
The answers came in a follow-up article on February 28. The four authors want a thousand flowers to bloom, a bottom-up R&D-led nuclear recovery as opposed to top-down, state-led innovation.
They don’t just want a new reactor type (or types), they have much greater ambitions for innovation in “nuclear technology, business models, and the underlying structure of the sector” and they note that “a radical break from the light water regime that would enable this sort of innovation is not a small undertaking and will require a major reorganization of the nuclear sector.”
To the extent that the four authors want to tear down the existing nuclear industry and replace it with a new one, they share some common ground with nuclear critics who want to tear down the existing nuclear industry and not replace it with a new one.
Shellenberger also shares some common ground with nuclear critics: he thinks the UK should scrap all existing plans for new reactors and “start from a blank piece of paper“. But nuclear critics think the UK should scrap all existing plans for new reactors and not start from a blank piece of paper.
Small is beautiful?
The four Third Way / Breakthrough Institute authors argue that nuclear power must become substantially cheaper – thus ruling out large conventional reactors “operated at high atmospheric pressures, requiring enormous containment structures, multiply redundant back-up cooling systems, and water cooling towers and ponds, which account for much of the cost associated with building light-water reactors.”
Substantial cost reductions will not be possible “so long as nuclear reactors must be constructed on site one gigawatt at a time. … At 10 MW or 100 MW, by contrast, there is ample opportunity for learning by doing and economies of multiples for several reactor classes and designs, even in the absence of rapid demand growth or geopolitical imperatives.”
Other than their promotion of small reactors and their rejection of large ones, the four authors are non-specific about their preferred reactor types. Any number of small-reactor concepts have been proposed.
Small modular reactors (SMRs) have been the subject of much discussion and even more hype. The bottom line is that there isn’t the slightest chance that they will fulfil the ambition of making nuclear power “substantially cheaper” unless and until a manufacturing supply chain is established at vast expense.
And even then, it’s doubtful whether the power would be cheaper and highly unlikely that it would be substantially cheaper. After all, economics has driven the long-term drift towards larger reactors.
As things stand, no country, company or utility has any intention of betting billions on building an SMR supply chain. The prevailing scepticism is evident in a February 2017 Lloyd’s Register report based on “insights and opinions of leaders across the sector” and the views of almost 600 professionals and experts from utilities, distributors, operators and equipment manufacturers.
The Lloyd’s Register report states that the potential contribution of SMRs “is unclear at this stage, although its impact will most likely apply to smaller grids and isolated markets.” Respondents predicted that SMRs have a “low likelihood of eventual take-up, and will have a minimal impact when they do arrive”.
The Third Way / Breakthrough Institute authors are promoting small reactors because of the spectacular failure of a number of large reactor projects, but that’s hardly a recipe for success. An analysis of SMRs in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists sums up the problems:
“Without a clear-cut case for their advantages, it seems that small nuclear modular reactors are a solution looking for a problem. Of course in the world of digital innovation, this kind of upside-down relationship between solution and problem is pretty normal. Smart phones, Twitter, and high-definition television all began as solutions looking for problems.
“In the realm of nuclear technology, however, the enormous expense required to launch a new model as well as the built-in dangers of nuclear fission require a more straightforward relationship between problem and solution. Small modular nuclear reactors may be attractive, but they will not, in themselves, offer satisfactory solutions to the most pressing problems of nuclear energy: high cost, safety, and weapons proliferation.”
Small or large reactors, consolidation or innovation, Generation 2/3/4 reactors … it’s not clear that the nuclear industry will be able to recover – however it responds to its current crisis.
Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter, where a longer version of this article was originally published. email@example.com
Nuclear Monitor, published 20 times a year, has been publishing deeply researched, often critical articles on all aspects of the nuclear cycle since 1978.
By Thomas Vescovi | Middle East Eye | February 1, 2017
The French provide some of the most important contingents of volunteers in the Israeli army. If until now the French state seems to have closed it eyes on this affair, the admission of Palestine to the International Court of Justice is likely to be a game-changer.
On 4 January 2017, the Franco-Israeli Elor Azaria, sergeant in the Israeli army (IDF), was convicted by a military tribunal of voluntary manslaughter. On 24 March 2016, he had been filmed while killing, with one shot to the head, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, a 21 year-old Palestinian involved in a knife attacked against Israeli soldiers, near the settlement of Tel Rumeida around Hebron. This judgment has rekindled debate on the engagement of French citizens in the IDF.
‘Give up some of your time for Tsahal’
There are five volunteer programs for foreign citizens who wish to get involved with the IDF. The only condition is to be recognized as a ‘jew’ according to the criteria laid down by the state of Israel. These programs include a course of Hebrew, physical training and lessons in the history of Israel and of Zionism.
The Sar’El program recruits unpaid 16 year-olds to work in a military base for up to three weeks. The tasks are diverse – prepare meals for soldiers and first aid kits, clean military equipment, etc. For its part, Marva recruits 18 to 24 year-old volunteers who wish ‘to experience and try out life on a military base’.
Three other programs involve wearing a uniform and carrying arms.
Created in May 2010, Mahal recruits 18 to 23 year-old males and 18 to 20 year-old females for a military engagement of 14 to 18 months. The principal ambition of this program is to accompany ‘lone soldiers’, volunteers who have no relative in Israel nor Israeli nationality. On its site, Mahal claims to have already involved more than 350 youngsters from around the world, including French citizens. The allocation varies depending on each person’s medical profile and physical capacities. They have access to all the regular IDF units, outside of elite units.
Anyone fearful of such direct engagement on his/her own can join Garin Tsabar, a program of staged enrolment, beginning with residence in a kibbutz before being allocated to a unit.
The last program is directed at students. Atouda permits them to pursue studies in an Israeli school, doing their basic military training during their holidays. The army absorbs university expenses of up to €2,080 per annum. At the completion of their studies, these students commit themselves to complete their three year military service, for both men and women.
Among advantages offered, these young volunteers benefit from pay equivalent to other military personnel, but tax-free. In addition, several organizations offer assistance with lodgment and food.
France tops the volunteer list
Several reports have already drawn attention to the presence of French citizens in the IDF. According to Le Nouvel Obs, The Mahal program included almost 500 French people at the time of the Israeli attack on the Gaza strip during summer 2014. One of them, Jordan Bensemhoun, was killed in Gaza’s Shuja’ivya quarter. The Deputies Jean-Jacques Candelier (Parti Communiste) and Pouria Amirshahi (ex-Parti Socialiste) had immediately questioned the government on possible judicial proceedings against them and on the activities of these young people who “fuel tension between the communities and import into France … a conflict that endangers national unity”.
But the examples accumulate. On 30 October 2015, it is a Franco-Israeli soldier, Alison Bresson, who executes, at a checkpoint on the Nablus road, Qasem Saba’aneh, 19 years-old, and seriously wounds Fares Al Na’asane, 17 years-old. In 2016, she [AB] was invited to light one of the twelve torches traditionally featured in the ceremony of the Israeli national day, Yom Ha’atzmaout.
The French Defense Minister relies on a convention, signed 30 June 1959, gazetted in the Journal Officiel on 19 December 1961, establishing an accord between Israel and the French authorities on the terms of authorization of military service for those with dual nationality. However, the volunteer soldiers do not have Israeli citizenship. They are French, and are not covered by this convention.
Moreover, article 2 of an administrative arrangement of 20 March 1963, gazetted in the Journal Officiel, highlights that, to be recognized as a ‘permanent resident’ in Israel, it is necessary to reside in territory under which Israeli law applies. Premonitory of post-1967, this arrangement does not recognize the right of French citizens possessing Israeli nationality to fulfill military service in Israel if they reside in the Occupied Territories. If martial law applies in these territories, the Occupation nonetheless remains illegal according to international law.
It seems impossible to obtain precise figures. France is regularly mentioned as one of the countries providing the most volunteers. According to Israeli broadcaster i24 News, in 2014 the IDF included 3,384 foreign volunteers, 70 per cent being males. One quarter were of American origin, and the rest were distributed amongst different countries including France.
However, according to the Franco-Israeli blog Coolamnews, the French now count as the first nationality involved: in 2015, 43 per cent of the total came from France against 38 per cent from the US. Moreover, 90 per cent of volunteers were serving in combatant units.
Other issues implicating France in Israeli politics deserve exposure. In 2016, the number of French people living in Israel has been estimated at 150,000. Among them, between 15,000 and 20,000 live in illegal West Bank settlements, participating with total impunity in the spoliation of Palestinian land.
On 10 March 2016, Nathalie Goulet, UDI [Union des Démocrates et Indépendants] Senator from the Orne, wrote to the Secretary of State for the Budget, Christian Eckert, a propos a tax dodge permitting French citizens to make tax-free donations to the IDF. She subsequently received death threats via social media, but no response from the Government.
A genuine feeling of insecurity
Between the Ilan Halimi affair , the attack by Mohamed Merah against a Jewish school in Toulouse  and that by Amedy Coulibaly against a kosher supermarket on the eastern perimeter of Paris , those signing up for these Israeli programs experience a genuine feeling of insecurity in France, fostering a sectarian withdrawal.
The French Jewish community seems to be caught in a vice between several dynamics. On the one hand, although significant proportion of French Jews do not feel strongly linked to the Middle East, the political atmosphere at home perennially draws their attention to the situation there. Given that the Conseil représentatif des institutions juives de France (CRIF) supports unconditionally the Netanyahu Government, its officials reinforce in the minds of the most susceptible the idea of a link between the Israeli polity and French citizens of Jewish faith.
Certain events reinforce this reductive mentality, such as the information session for potential volunteer recruits organized at the Grande synagogue de la Victoire, in Paris’ 9th arrondissement on 26 May 2013. For the more undecided, the official present offered individual meetings at the Israeli Embassy.
Since the 1990s, the Israeli Right has demanded that the Great Powers recognize Israel as ‘the state of the Jewish people’. Already in 1985, the Knesset had debated an amendment aiming to define Israel as ‘the state of the Jewish people and of some Arab citizens’. At the time, a majority of the Knesset Deputies strongly rejected this wording, considering that the concept of citizenship refers to a juridical statute which confers rights and duties and establishes a nation of equals on a territory where all have an equal share in the exercise of sovereign rights.
In fact, the state is not able on the one hand to bequeath membership to some individuals who are not citizens whereas others who are citizens but not Jews could be considered as excluded from membership of this state. Nevertheless, the Netanyahu Government uses and abuses this rhetoric [of the Jewish state], profiting from all attacks against Jews globally to call them to emigrate to Israel.
This language in effect serves Israeli political interests in creating the impression of a similarity between anti-Semitic acts in France and events in Israel/Palestine. In other words, the unbalanced individual who justifies attacks against Jews on French soil in the name of the Palestinian people reinforces in the mind of one part of the Jewish community the idea that it faces the same threat as Israeli Jews.
Moreover, this mentality operates to erase the strictly nationalist aspirations of Palestinian militants. Thus, colonization, occupation, imprisonment of children, all these injustices perpetrated by the Israeli government against the Palestinian population are perceived at best as a ‘lesser evil’ for the security of the Jewish people, at worst as the affirmation by force of the inalienable rights of this people to the ‘Promised Land’.
What about international law?
The colonization of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the military occupation and all that it implies in terms of arbitrary arrests and humiliation, the erection of a 8-metre high wall over hundreds of kilometres, the blockade of the Gaza strip – all these acts are unambiguously condemned by international law. Amnesty International had denounced the occurrence of ‘war crimes’ during the Israeli military operation of summer 2014. On Friday 23 December 2016, the UN Security Council condemned Israeli ongoing settlement creation in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
In this context, no-one doubts that each individual enlisted in the IDF renders themselves indubitably complicit with these injustices. In other words, such individuals find themselves outside international law.
On 1 April 2015, Palestine became the 123rd member of the International Court of Justice. The prospect of an inquest on and prosecution of Israeli colonization or of crimes of occupation is conceivable. Besides the necessity of taking political decisions in France on these violations of law by Israel and the involvement of French citizens, a condemnation of Israel before the ICJ could reinforce the imperatives of prosecution against the latter.
Thomas Vescovi teaches and researches contemporary history. He is the author of Bienvenue en Palestine (Kairos, 2014) and Le Mémoire de la Nakba en Israël (L’Harmattan, 2015).
Translated by Evan Jones.
* The author omitted mention of the figure of Gilad Shalit, Franco-Israeli captured by Hamas in June 2006 and held as hostage for five years. Shalit’s role in Palestinian oppression has been submerged into his current status as an icon of Israeli righteousness, being accorded (according to his English Wikipedia entry – that strictly non-partisan outlet on anything to do with Israel!) honorary citizenship of ‘Paris, Rome, Miami, New Orleans, Baltimore and Pittsburgh’.
* On 10 February, the National Front Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen warned that her preferred France is one where citizens with dual nationality including a non-European country will have to choose one or the other. Ariel Kandel, CEO of Qualita, which represents French immigrants to Israel, claimed to Haaretz that Le Pen’s proposal is an “attack on our Jewish identity, because we see ourselves as connected to both France and Israel … We live in an age of complex identities …[but] they say we have to choose between our Israeli and French identities.”
Just as polls show Marine Le Pen of the Front National taking a decisive lead over her two main rivals, Francois Fillon of the Republicans, and Emmanuel Macron of the newly formed En Marche, the latter gets a high-profile reception in Downing Street with British prime minister Theresa May.
Fillon has no plans to make a similar visit to Britain, while Downing Street officially announced that it would not be receiving Le Pen, reported the Independent.
With only weeks to go to the first round of the French presidential elections in April, the British government’s hosting of Macron this week can be seen as an extraordinary endorsement of his candidacy.
One could express it even more strongly and say that Britain is evidently interfering in the French democratic process by elevating one candidate over another.
A spokesman for premier May said that Macron had requested the meeting at Downing Street and «we were able to accommodate».
A smiling Macron photographed on the doorsteps of Number 10 clearly showed him relishing the singular honor bestowed by the British prime minister.
One can imagine the media hullabaloo if Marine Le Pen were greeted in Moscow by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the Kremlin to then pointedly announce that her rival Macron would not be receiving a similar invitation. There would be howls of «Russian interference» in the French election.
Indeed, Russia is being accused of doing just that already on the basis of scant allegations. Emmanuel Macron has recently claimed that his campaign is being targeted by Russian hackers and «fake news». Macron’s campaign team is alleging – without providing any evidence – that its computers are being attacked by «Russian hackers».
The liberal pro-EU candidate is also claiming that «Kremlin-run news media» are mounting a fake news «influence campaign» to damage his credibility.
This follows the publication of a news article by the Sputnik outlet earlier this month which quoted French political rivals accusing Macron of being supported by global banking interests and a wealthy gay rights lobby.
Russian government-owned Sputnik has denied that it is trying to damage Macron’s candidacy, and that it was merely giving coverage to criticisms aired by French political rivals.
Based on such flimsy, partisan claims of political interference, the French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault earlier this week issued a warning to Russia to «stop meddling in the French presidential election».
Thus, a one-sided overblown claim by one of the presidential candidates is raised to a state level as if it is an established fact of Russian subversion of French sovereignty.
This narrative of Russian interference in foreign elections has evidently become contagious. Ever since American intelligence agencies, amplified by US media, began accusing Russia of hacking into the presidential elections to favor Donald Trump, the narrative has become a staple in other Western states.
Last week, German news outlet Deutsche Welle published this headline: «Is Moscow meddling in everything?» The article goes on to ask with insinuating tone: «Does Putin decide who wins elections in the West? Many believe that he cost Clinton the US presidency; now Macron is next France, and then Merkel will be in the line of fire».
The Russian government is legitimately entitled, as are other governments, to hold views on the outcome of foreign elections. After all, many European governments, including those of Germany and France, were adamantly opposed to Trump winning the US election, instead preferring his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. But they weren’t subjected to criticism that they were interfering in the American election.
Regarding France, Russian state interests might be best served by Marine Le Pen taking the presidency. She has expressed a desire to restore friendlier relations with Moscow and to jettison the NATO agenda of hostility towards Russia. Her anti-EU views would also help to undermine the Washington-led atlanticist axis which has driven enmity between Europe and Russia.
The Kremlin has been careful to not make any public statements on the outcome of the French election, nor of any other foreign election, maintaining that it does not interfere. Nevertheless, Moscow is entitled to have its own private assessment on what would serve its own national interests. There’s nothing untoward about that. It seems almost bizarre to have to explain that.
But such is the fever-pitch and hysteria about alleged Russian malfeasance that the slightest sign, such as a random news article airing critical comments as in the Macron example, is taken as «proof» of Kremlin interference.
This is in spite of the fact that no evidence is presented. German state intelligence, for instance, recently concluded that there was no evidence to support allegations that Russia was running a Trump-like influence campaign against Chancellor Merkel ahead of her country’s elections being held in September.
Perhaps the most egregious expression to date of the Russian interference narrative were claims made this week by Britain’s Telegraph newspaper that the Kremlin had sponsored a coup attempt against the government of Montenegro last October.
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov lambasted the evidence-free claims as «absurd». Lavrov said it «is just another one in a series of groundless assertions blaming our country for carrying out cyberattacks against the entire West, interfering in election campaigns in the bulk of Western countries as well as allegations pointing to the Trump administration’s ties with Russian secret services, among other things».
The height of absurdity is Britain this week hosting Emmanuel Macron at the Downing Street residence of Prime Minister Theresa May.
May’s intervention is a full-on endorsement of this one candidate at a crucial time in the French election which sees his main rival Marine Le Pen taking a decisive lead in the polls.
But where are the headlines denouncing «British interference» in French democracy?
Western media are too preoccupied digging up far-fetched stories claiming Russian interference based on the flimsiest speculation.
That double standard is clear evidence of the irrational Russophobia that is gripping Western governments and news media. Russophobia that has become a psychosis.
The US and its allies have many times attacked Russia for alleged «indiscriminate bombing» in support of the Syrian government, including cluster bombs. The accusations have been denied and never proven. Now the US military has confirmed it misinformed the public about its use of munitions in Syria which cause harm to civilians.
The US military has admitted using depleted uranium (DU) anti-tank rounds on two occasions in 2015 during devastating air strikes against convoys of Islamic State (IS) tanker trucks. Investigative reporter Samuel Oakford first brought up the use of DU ammunition by the coalition in October 2016. There have been questions raised ever since.
According to US Central Command spokesman Major Josh Jacques, a total of 5,265 depleted uranium rounds were fired in combination with other incendiary rounds in 2015. The US may use the munitions again. As the official put it, «We will continue to look at all options during operational planning to defeat ISIS, this includes DU rounds».
Earlier statements maintained that the coalition would not do so. In 2015, the US military Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman John Moore said that US and coalition aircraft have not been and will not be using depleted uranium munitions in Iraq or Syria during Operation Inherent Resolve. Now one can see the statements were not true.
Depleted uranium is the byproduct of the enriched uranium needed to power nuclear reactors. It is roughly 0.7 times as radioactive as natural uranium, and its high density makes it ideal for armor-piercing rounds such as the PGU-14 and certain tank shells.
The depleted uranium munitions are known for their enhanced armor-piercing capabilities. They have been criticized for posing health risks to soldiers who fire them and to civilian populations. Some scientists and Iraqi physicians blame depleted uranium weapons used by US forces for a major increase in cancer cases and birth defects in Iraq. The munitions have been suspected to be a possible cause of «Gulf War syndrome», the name given to a collection of debilitating maladies suffered by veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf War and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Numerous studies affirm the use of the munitions in Iraq negatively affected the health of civilian population causing cancer and birth defects. When it was used during the 1999 NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo, the United Nations advised that children stay away from the impact zones. Recently published data from the 2003 Iraq War showed that A-10 attack aircraft used more DU against targets that were not tanks or armoured vehicles, questioning the current US justification that DU was needed in Syria. Historic data from the Gulf War also demonstrated that most armoured targets destroyed by A-10s were targeted by Maverick missiles, not DU munitions.
The UN Environment Program has conducted studies and clean-ups of areas affected by use of the munitions in conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq. It has described them as «chemically and radiologically toxic heavy metal». In 2014, a United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency report on depleted-uranium munitions said that direct contact with larger amounts of depleted uranium through the handling of scrap metal, for instance, could «result in exposures of radiological significance».
A University of Southern Maine study discovered that depleted uranium causes widespread damage to DNA, which could lead to lung cancer, according to a study of the metal’s effects on human lung cells. «Given the international opprobrium associated with the use of depleted uranium, we had been pretty astonished to hear that it had been used in operations in Syria», Doug Weir, the International Coordinator for the Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons, told the Washington Post on February 16.
There is no international treaty or rule that explicitly bans the munitions’ use. Internationally, DU exists in a legal gray area. In 2012, 155 states have supported a resolution calling for a precautionary approach to depleted uranium weapons during voting at the UN General Assembly. Just four countries – the US, UK, France and Israel – voted against and 27 abstained. The resolution was informed by the UN Environment’s Program’s (UNEP) repeated calls for a precautionary approach to the use and post-conflict management of the controversial weapons. The passage of this fourth General Assembly resolution is a further challenge to the use of radioactive and chemically toxic conventional weapons that can lead to environmental contamination and humanitarian harm.
It is worth mentioning that the US has a long history of using the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) banned by international law. In 2013, Amnesty International said US drone strikes could be classified as war crimes. It is broadly believed the global use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in such countries as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia and Libya, constitutes a violation of international law.
Obviously, the US UAV warfare violates Article 51 of the UN Charter that defines the rules of self-defense because America is not attacked. International law limits self-defense against prospective threats to ones which are «imminent». The employed signature tactics are inherently in violation of the principle of distinction because it fails to identify civilian or militant. Drone attacks run against the principle of proportionality concerning unintentional civilian casualties in war. They violate Article 2 of the Geneva Convention (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War by disregarding the human rights of the innocent civilians killed in the strikes. Furthermore, the US UAV tactics conflict with International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which prohibits «arbitrary» killing even during an armed conflict. The US is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or many other international legal forums where legal action might be started. It is, however, part of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) where cases can be initiated by one state against another. Conducting drone strikes in a country against its will, like in Syria, for instance, could be seen as an act of war.
So, it’s double standards again while the acts of war continue. Their justice, legality and necessity are questioned but somehow their issues don’t hit headlines of US media, while Russia does. The US blaming Russia for «indiscriminate bombing», the use of cluster bombs and other misdeeds in Syria is like the pot calling the kettle black.
As if the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign hadn’t been horrendous enough, here comes another one: in France.
The system in France is very different, with multiple candidates in two rounds, most of them highly articulate, who often even discuss real issues. Free television time reduces the influence of big money. The first round on April 23 will select the two finalists for the May 7 runoff, allowing for much greater choice than in the United States.
But monkey see, monkey do, and the mainstream political class wants to mimic the ways of the Empire, even echoing the theme that dominated the 2016 show across the Atlantic: the evil Russians are messing with our wonderful democracy.
The aping of the U.S. system began with “primaries” held by the two main governing parties which obviously aspire to establish themselves as the equivalent of American Democrats and Republicans in a two-party system. The right-wing party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy has already renamed itself Les Républicains and the so-called Socialist Party leaders are just waiting for the proper occasion to call themselves Les Démocrates. But as things are going, neither one of them may come out ahead this time.
Given the nearly universal disaffection with the outgoing Socialist Party government of President François Hollande, the Republicans were long seen as the natural favorites to defeat Marine LePen, who is shown by all polls to top the first round. With such promising prospects, the Republican primary brought out more than twice as many volunteer voters (they must pay a small sum and claim allegiance to the party’s “values” in order to vote) as the Socialists. Sarkozy was eliminated, but more surprising, so was the favorite, the reliable establishment team player, Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppé, who had been leading in the polls and in media editorials.
Fillon’s Family Values
In a surprise show of widespread public disenchantment with the political scene, Republican voters gave landside victory to former prime minister François Fillon, a practicing Catholic with an ultra-neoliberal domestic policy: lower taxes for corporations, drastic cuts in social welfare, even health health insurance benefits – accelerating what previous governments have been doing but more openly. Less conventionally, Fillon strongly condemns the current anti Russian policy. Fillon also deviates from the Socialist government’s single-minded commitment to overthrowing Assad by showing sympathy for embattled Christians in Syria and their protector, which happens to be the Assad government.
Fillon has the respectable look, as the French say, of a person who could take communion without first going to confession. As a campaign theme he credibly stressed his virtuous capacity to oppose corruption.
Oops! On January 25, the semi-satirical weekly Le Canard Enchainé fired the opening shots of an ongoing media campaign designed to undo the image of Mister Clean, revealing that his British wife, Penelope, had been paid a generous salary for working as his assistant. As Penelope was known for staying home and raising their children in the countryside, the existence of that work is in serious doubt. Fillon also paid his son a lawyer’s fee for unspecified tasks and his daughter for supposedly assisting him write a book. In a sense, these allegations prove the strength of the conservative candidate’s family values. But his ratings have fallen and he faces possible criminal charges for fraud.
The scandal is real, but the timing is suspect. The facts are many years old, and the moment of their revelation is well calculated to ensure his defeat. Moreover, the very day after the Canard’s revelations, prosecutors hastily opened an inquiry. In comparison with all the undisclosed dirty work and unsolved blood crimes committed by those in control of the French State over the years, especially during its foreign wars, enriching one’s own family may seem relatively minor. But that is not the way the public sees it.
It is widely assumed that despite National Front candidate Marine LePen’s constant lead in the polls, whoever comes in second will win the runoff because the established political class and the media will rally around the cry to “save the Republic!” Fear of the National Front as “a threat to the Republic” has become a sort of protection racket for the established parties, since it stigmatizes as unacceptable a large swath of opposition to themselves. In the past, both main parties have sneakily connived to strengthen the National Front in order to take votes away from their adversary.
Thus, bringing down Fillon increases the chances that the candidate of the now thoroughly discredited Socialist Party may find himself in the magic second position after all, as the knight to slay the LePen dragon. But who exactly is the Socialist candidate? That is not so clear. There is the official Socialist Party candidate, Benoît Hamon. But the independent spin-off from the Hollande administration, Emmanuel Macron, “neither right nor left”, is gathering support from the right of the Socialist Party as well as from most of the neo-liberal globalist elite.
Macron is scheduled to be the winner. But first, a glance at his opposition on the left. With his ratings in the single digits, François Hollande very reluctantly gave in to entreaties from his colleagues to avoid the humiliation of running for a second term and losing badly. The badly attended Socialist Party primary was expected to select the fiercely pro-Israel prime minister Manuel Valls. Or if not, on his left, Arnaud Montebourg, a sort of Warren Beatty of French politics, famous for his romantic liaisons and his advocacy of re-industrialization of France.
Again, surprise. The winner was a colorless, little-known party hack named Benoît Hamon, who rode the wave of popular discontent to appear as a leftist critic and alternative to a Socialist government which sold out all Holland’s promises to combat “finance” and assaulted the rights of the working class instead. Hamon spiced up his claim to be “on the left” by coming up with a gimmick that is fashionable elsewhere in Europe but a novelty in French political discourse: the “universal basic income”. The idea of giving every citizen an equal handout can sound appealing to young people having trouble finding a job. But this idea, which originated with Milton Friedman and other apostles of unleashed financial capitalism, is actually a trap. The project assumes that unemployment is permanent, in contrast to projects to create jobs or share work. It would be financed by replacing a whole range of existing social allocations, in the name of “getting rid of bureaucracy” and “freedom of consumption”. The project would complete the disempowerment of the working class as a political force, destroying the shared social capital represented by public services, and splitting the dependent classes between paid workers and idle consumers.
There is scant chance that the universal income is about to become a serious item on the French political agenda. For the moment, Hamon’s claim to radicality serves to lure voters away from the independent left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Both are vying for support from greens and militants of the French Communist Party, which has lost all capacity to define its own positions.
The Divided Left
An impressive orator, Mélenchon gained prominence in 2005 as a leading opponent of the proposed European Constitution, which was decisively rejected by the French in a referendum, but was nevertheless adopted under a new name by the French national assembly. Like so many leftists in France, Mélenchon has a Trotskyist background (the Posadists, more attuned to Third World revolutions than their rivals) before joining the Socialist Party, which he left in 2008 to found the Parti de Gauche. He has sporadically wooed the rudderless Communist Party to join him as the Front de Gauche (the Left Front) and has declared himself its candidate for President on a new independent ticket called La France insoumise – roughly translated as “Insubordinate France”. Mélenchon is combative with France’s docile media, as he defends such unorthodox positions as praise of Chavez and rejection of France’s current Russophobic foreign policy. Unlike the conventional Hamon, who follows the Socialist party line, Mélenchon wants France to leave both the euro and NATO.
There are only two really strong personalities in this lineup: Mélenchon on the left and his adversary of choice, Marine LePen, on the right. In the past, their rivalry in local elections has kept both from winning even though she came out ahead. Their positions on foreign policy are hard to distinguish from each other: criticism of the European Union, desire to leave NATO, good relations with Russia.
Since both deviate from the establishment line, both are denounced as “populists” – a term that is coming to mean anyone who pays more attention to what ordinary people want than to what the Establishment dictates.
On domestic social policy, on preservation of social services and workers’ rights, Marine is well to the left of Fillon. But the stigma attached to the National Front as the “far right” remains, even though, with her close advisor Florian Philippot, she has ditched her father, Jean-Marie, and adjusted the party line to appeal to working class voters. The main relic of the old National Front is her hostility to immigration, which now centers on fear of Islamic terrorists. The terrorist killings in Paris and Nice have made these positions more popular than they used to be. In her effort to overcome her father’s reputation as anti-Semitic, Marine LePen has done her best to woo the Jewish community, helped by her rejection of “ostentatious” Islam, going so far as to call for a ban on wearing an ordinary Muslim headscarf in public.
A runoff between Mélenchon and LePen would be an encounter between a revived left and a revived right, a real change from the political orthodoxy that has alienated much of the electorate. That could make politics exciting again. At a time when popular discontent with “the system” is rising, it has been suggested (by Elizabeth Lévy’s maverick monthly Le Causeur) that the anti-system Mélenchon might actually have the best chance of winning working class votes away from the anti-system LePen.
But the pro-European Union, pro-NATO, neoliberal Establishment is at work to keep that from happening. On every possible magazine cover or talk show, the media have shown their allegiance to a “New! Improved!” middle of the road candidate who is being sold to the public like a consumer product. At his rallies, carefully coached young volunteers situated in view of the cameras greet his every vague generalization with wild cheers, waving flags, and chanting “Macron President!!!” before going off to the discotèque party offered as their reward. Macron is the closest thing to a robot ever presented as a serious candidate for President. That is, he is an artificial creation designed by experts for a particular task.
Emmanuel Macron, 39, was a successful investment banker who earned millions working for the Rothschild bank. Ten years ago, in 2007, age 29, the clever young economist was invited into the big time by Jacques Attali, an immensely influential guru, whose advice since the 1980s has been central in wedding the Socialist Party to pro-capitalist, neoliberal globalism. Attali incorporated him into his private think tank, the Commission for Stimulating Economic Growth, which helped draft the “300 Proposals to Change France” presented to President Sarkozy a year later as a blueprint for government. Sarkozy failed to enact them all, for fear of labor revolts, but the supposedly “left” Socialists are able to get away with more drastic anti-labor measures, thanks to their softer discourse.
The soft discourse was illustrated by presidential candidate François Hollande in 2012 when he aroused enthusiasm by declaring to a rally: “My real enemy is the world of finance!”. The left cheered and voted for him. Meanwhile, as a precaution, Hollande secretly dispatched Macron to London to reassure the City’s financial elite that it was all just electoral talk.
After his election, Hollande brought Macron onto his staff. From there he was given a newly created super-modern sounding government post as minister of Economy, Industry and Digital affairs in 2014. With all the bland charm of a department store mannequin, Macron upstaged his irascible colleague, prime minister Manuel Valls, in the silent rivalry to succeed their boss, President Hollande. Macron won the affection of big business by making his anti-labor reforms look young and clean and “progressive”. In fact, he pretty much followed the Attali agenda.
The theme is “competitiveness”. In a globalized world, a country must attract investment capital in order to compete, and for that it is necessary to lower labor costs. A classic way to do that is to encourage immigration. With the rise of identity politics, the left is better than the right in justifying massive immigration on moral grounds, as a humanitarian measure. That is one reason that the Democratic Party in the United States and the Socialist Party in France have become the political partners of neoliberal globalism. Together, they have changed the outlook of the official left from structural measures promoting economic equality to moral measures promoting equality of minorities with the majority.
Just last year, Macron founded (or had founded for him) his political movement entitled “En marche!” (Let’s go!) characterized by meetings with young groupies wearing Macron t-shirts. In three months he felt the call to lead the nation and announced his candidacy for President.
Many personalities are jumping the marooned Socialist ship and going over to Macron, whose strong political resemblance to Hillary Clinton suggests that his is the way to create a French Democratic Party on the U.S. model. Hillary may have lost but she remains the NATOland favorite. And indeed, U.S. media coverage confirms this notion. A glance at the ecstatic puff piece by Robert Zaretsky in Foreign Policy magazine hailing “the English-speaking, German-loving, French politician Europe has been waiting for” leaves no doubt that Macron is the darling of the trans-Atlantic globalizing elite.
At this moment, Macron is second only to Marine LePen in the polls, which also show him defeating her by a landslide in the final round. However, his carefully manufactured appeal is vulnerable to greater public information about his close ties to the economic elite.
Blame the Russians
For that eventuality, there is a preventive strike, imported directly from the United States. It’s the fault of the Russians!
What have the Russians done that is so terrible? Mainly, they have made it clear that they have a preference for friends rather than enemies as heads of foreign governments. Nothing so extraordinary about that. Russian news media criticize, or interview people who criticize, candidates hostile to Moscow. Nothing extraordinary about that either.
As an example of this shocking interference, which allegedly threatens to undermine the French Republic and Western values, the Russian news agency Sputnik interviewed a Republican member of the French parliament, Nicolas Dhuicq, who dared say that Macron might be “an agent of the American financial system”. That is pretty obvious. But the resulting outcry skipped over that detail to accuse Russian state media of “starting to circulate rumors that Macron had a gay extramarital affair” (The EU Observer, February 13, 2017). In fact this alleged “sexual slur” had been circulating primarily in gay circles in Paris, for whom the scandal, if any, is not Macron’s alleged sexual orientation but the fact that he denies it. The former mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, was openly gay, Marine Le Pen’s second in command Florian Philippot is gay, in France being gay is no big deal.
Macron is supported by a “very wealthy gay lobby”, Dhuicq is quoted as saying. Everyone knows who that is: Pierre Bergé, the rich and influential business manager of Yves Saint Laurent, personification of radical chic, who strongly supports surrogate gestation, which is indeed a controversial issue in France, the real controversy underlying the failed opposition to gay marriage.
The Deep State rises to the surface
The amazing adoption in France of the American anti-Russian campaign is indicative of a titanic struggle for control of the narrative – the version of international reality consumed by the masses of people who have no means to undertake their own investigations. Control of the narrative is the critical core of what Washington describes as its “soft power”. The hard power can wage wars and overthrow governments. The soft power explains to bystanders why that was the right thing to do. The United States can get away with literally everything so long as it can tell the story to its own advantage, without the risk of being credibly contradicted. Concerning sensitive points in the world, whether Iraq, or Libya, or Ukraine, control of the narrative is basically exercised by the partnership between intelligence agencies and the media. Intelligence services write the story, and the mass corporate media tell it.
Together, the anonymous sources of the “deep state” and the mass corporate media have become accustomed to controlling the narrative told to the public. They don’t want to give that power up. And they certainly don’t want to see it challenged by outsiders – notably by Russian media that tell a different story.
That is one reason for the extraordinary campaign going on to denounce Russian and other alternative media as sources of “false news”, in order to discredit rival sources. The very existence of the Russian international television news channel RT aroused immediate hostility: how dare the Russians intrude on our version of reality! How dare they have their own point of view! Hillary Clinton warned against RT when she was Secretary of State and her successor John Kerry denounced it as a “propaganda bullhorn”. What we say is truth, what they say can only be propaganda.
The denunciation of Russian media and alleged Russian “interference in our elections” is a major invention of the Clinton campaign, which has gone on to infect public discourse in Western Europe. This accusation is a very obvious example of double standards, or projection, since U.S. spying on everybody, including it allies, and interference in foreign elections are notorious.
The campaign denouncing “fake news” originating in Moscow is in full swing in both France and Germany as elections approach. It is this accusation that is the functional interference in the campaign, not Russian media. The accusation that Marine Le Pen is “the candidate of Moscow” is not only meant to work against her, but is also preparation for the efforts to instigate some variety of “color revolution” should she happen to win the May 7 election. CIA interference in foreign elections is far from limited to contentious news reports.
In the absence of any genuine Russian threat to Europe, claims that Russian media are “interfering in our democracy” serve to brand Russia as an aggressive enemy and thereby justify the huge NATO military buildup in Northeastern Europe, which is reviving German militarism and directing national wealth into the arms industry.
In some ways, the French election is an extension of the American one, where the deep state lost its preferred candidate, but not its power. The same forces are at work here, backing Macron as the French Hillary, but ready to stigmatize any opponent as a tool of Moscow.
What has been happening over the past months has confirmed the existence of a Deep State that is not only national but trans-Atlantic, aspiring to be global. The anti-Russian campaign is a revelation. It reveals to many people that there really is a Deep State, a trans-Atlantic orchestra that plays the same tune without any visible conductor. The term “Deep State” is suddenly popping up even in mainstream discourse, as a reality than cannot be denied, even if it is hard to define precisely. Instead of the Military Industrial Complex, we should perhaps call it the Military Industrial Intelligence Military Media Complex, or MIIMMC. Its power is enormous, but acknowledging that it exists is the first step toward working to free ourselves from its grip.
Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions. Her new book is Queen of Chaos: the Misadventures of Hillary Clinton. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org