Notes From the Margins…

It’s Raining Threats, Hallelujah

  • March 11, 2015
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One of the great things about living in a democratic society is that we don’t have propaganda.   That is something that authoritarian regimes like Russia and Iran do.   They have stations like RT and Press tv which do nothing but promote the agenda of their respective regimes.

Here in the free world we have news, and real journalists, who speak truth to power, who interrogate their governments and never cease to call their more dubious assertions into question.   Like Fox News, which as improbable as it may seem, has just been voted the most trustworthy news outlet in America.   Or the BBC, CNN or Channel 4 News.

I was reminded how delusional these assumptions are when I watched yesterday’s coverage by Channel 4 News of foreign secretary Philip Hammond’s speech at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) on intelligence and security.   Hammond’s speech was essentially a glorification of the security services and an argument in favour of expanding their powers in the face of a proliferation of state and non-state threats ‘to our safety and security’.

These threats include North Korea, Iran,  Boko Haram, al Qaeda, Islamic State in Syria, Iraq and Libya, the ‘illegal proliferation of military technology, ‘lone wolf’ terrorists, organised crime, challenges in cyberspace, you name it, it threatens us. So thank God we have the security services to ‘keep us safe’ – an expression Hammond used so many times one can imagine his audience repeating it drowsily like a mantra before they go to sleep at night.

Hammond’s world of threats is nothing new.

We have, in one form or another, been hearing about the ‘complex threats’ to western security ever since the end of the Cold War, when new phenomena like ‘megaterrorism’ and ‘dirty bombs’ were presented as disturbingly unpredictable and unwanted consequences following the disappearance of the more wholesome and comprehensible Cold War threats of mutual assured destruction.

And now an old threat is back in a new form, because

The rapid pace with which Russia is seeking to modernise her military forces and weapons, combined with the increasingly aggressive stance of the Russian military, including Russian aircraft around the sovereign airspace of NATO members states, are all significant causes for concern.

Not only is this a cause for concern, but ‘ Russia”s aggressive behaviour [is] a stark reminder that it has the potential to pose the greatest single threat to our security.’   And all this aggression, even though

We worked in a spirit of openness, generosity and partnership, to help Russia take its rightful place, as we saw it, as a major power contributing to global stability and order. We now have to accept that those efforts have been rebuffed.

Much of this ‘good West versus bad world’ narrative could be called into question, and Hammond clearly has no intention of doing any such thing.

How many of the threats that he cited were due in part to the actions and policies of the West itself, for example in Iraq, Syria, and Libya?   Haven’t Western states also been modernising their military forces in recent years?   Is it true that US military spending is now more than three times higher than China, its nearest competitor?   Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Is it a good thing that Saudi Arabia is now the fourth highest military spender in the world, thanks to the weapons it brought mostly from Europe and the US, whereas Iran is not even in the top fifteen?

We know such deals make corporations richer, but does this diffusion of weaponry really help to ‘keep us safe?’    Did the West really act towards Russia with a spirit of ‘openness, generosity and partnership’ after the Cold War?     Do Western states bear some responsibility for the destabilisation of Ukraine?

Is it true, as the foreign secretary suggested, that ‘The exposure of the alleged identity of one of the most murderous ISIL terrorists over the last few weeks has seen some seeking to excuse the terrorists and point the finger of blame at the agencies themselves’ and that those who have done this are acting as ‘apologists’ for the terrorists?

Is criticism now synonymous with apologism?

None of these questions were asked or even considered in Channel 4’s report, which focused almost entirely on a single question: whether we are spending enough on our armed forces.

The report referred to ‘angry MPs’ who want us to spend more and interviewed Liam Fox – a neocon militarist on the extreme right of the Tory party – who naturally thought that we need to spend more.

This was followed by British military commander Sir Richard Dannatt, and Professor Michael Clarke from RUSI, both of whom expressed their anxiety about the level of defence spending.

The only dissenting voice was Sergei Markov, from the Russian Institute of Political Studies,   who argued that the West had generated many of the threats it was now concerned about.

But this was a Russian speaking, and so Snow dismissed these arguments as mere ‘beliefs’ – a categorisation that was not extended to his previous interviewees, even though their arguments were no less ‘beliefs’ than Markov’s.

Channel 4 News is one of the better news channels, but at no stage in this report did it even inch outside the official narrative and subject any aspect of the British government’s claims to serious scrutiny.   Instead it stuck so rigidly to the government’s talking points that it might as well been the official voice of the foreign office.

But that’s the thing: it isn’t.     Unlike RT or Press TV,   Channel 4 is an independent network without state funding.   It is free to  think outside the box and ask ministers some serious questions about what they are doing and why they are doing it.

Yesterday, faced with a series of dubious assertions by a government minister on matters of security, war and peace, its star reporter didn’t do any of this.  Instead he merely nodded in agreement, and that may not be propaganda, but it isn’t serious journalism.

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  1. Nik

    12th Mar 2015 - 8:56 am

    It is the same over here, be it private or statefunded. The same goes for mainstream newspapers.

    The thing is: Sometimes you get the feeling that they would like to ask hard hitting question or think outside of the box! But it just takes too much of an effort. IF you dare to be critical each and every single sentence you write or say better be bulletproof. It reminds me of the situation in the run up to the war of aggression against Iraq. And there is the problem of a term over here in the german speaking world which is used for people who, like you put it, do think outside of the box: Putinversteher. It roughly means “the one who understands putin” and once the “intelligenzija” puts that sticker on your forehead they pretty much dismiss anything you have to say as buying into russian propaganda or even worse, intentionally facilitating the Blitzkrieg of “Wladimir Hitler”. A few dissenting voices do get invited to TV-discussions and are sometimes interviewed but in exactly the same way you discribed it. 3 or 4 vs. one the “moderator” of the debate not included.

    This whole situation is quite a monument to western – pardon my french – cretinism. We celebrate the 100th annversary of the Great War by poking the russian bear with a stick while talking about how important empathy and understanding among the great powers would have been 100 years ago…

    • Matt

      12th Mar 2015 - 12:30 pm

      I like that ‘Putinversteher’ Nik, and we may not have the word but we have a very similar view of ‘Wladimir Hitler’ !

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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