“Locked and loaded” for ship collisions: is the US Navy too arrogant to give way?

Not one, but two United States Navy maritime collisions have occurred in less than two months in the “freedom of navigation” sea lanes the US government proclaims of the seas in the Far East.

On August 21 the American USS John S McCain warship collided with a Liberian-flagged commercial vessel Alnic MC which damaged the military ship off the coast of Singapore. The Navy announced that “there are currently ten sailors missing and five injured” as a result of the mishap. President Donald Trump in a Twitter statement conferred his “thoughts and prayers…with our US Navy sailors aboard.”

Some three times the Navy vessel’s size, the oil and chemical tanker Alnic MC measures in at 183 meters long and has a deadweight of 50,760 tons. The shipping lanes off Singapore’s coast are among the busiest in the world, carrying a quarter of the world’s oil and commodities. Early reports showed that the merchant vessel was not loaded with oil cargo and thus avoided a major oil and chemical spill which would have been a bigger disaster.

This accident comes as the investigation for an earlier collision involving the USS Fitzgerald, a ballistic missile (BMD) ship, has yet to be concluded. The collision which occurred in mid-June claimed the lives of seven sailors, as well as injuring three crews and Commander of the ship Bryce Benson.

In total this year, the US Navy, the largest and often considered the “most sophisticated and powerful” in the world, have been involved in four collisions and accidents. In January the USS Antietam guided missile cruiser run aground off the coast of Japan where it spilled more than a 1000 gallons of oil. In May the USS Lake Champlain guided-missile cruiser hit a South Korean fishing vessel, and in June the USS Fitzgerald guided missile destroyer collided with a Philippines-registered cargo ship off the coast of Japan.

In its reaction to the latest fatal US Navy accident, China’s state news ran a spread with the headline “the South China Sea should not be Bermuda Triangle for the United States.” In a statement, it also opined that “the US Navy has behaved arrogantly in the Asia-Pacific region. It lacks respect for huge merchant vessels and fails to take evasive action in time, thus resulting in serious accidents.”

And as always, when the competencies of American sailors should be questioned, the blame will always fall on others. For instance, American cybersecurity firm Votiro said in a statement that “I don’t believe in coincidence, both the USS McCain and USS Fitzgerald were part of the 7th Fleet…there may be a connection…China has capabilities, maybe they are trying things, it is possible.”

Accidents in this part of the world should not be surprising: the US Navy’s confrontational maneuvers in Chinese waters

USS Fitzgerald after it collided with Philippine-flagged container ship in Tokyo Bay in June 2017, claiming 7 lives.

Early last year the United States conducted the so-called freedom of navigation (FON) program in the South China Sea which infuriated Beijing, interpreting it as reckless provocation of China’s claim in the highly disputed seas. The US Department of State has in its official statement that the FON operations are designed to deter “unilateral acts of other states (that) restrict the rights and freedoms of the international community in navigation and overflight…in high seas uses.” Furthermore, the FON program are conducted “on a worldwide basis in a manner that is consistent…with the Law of the Sea Convention.”

Reacting to the FON operations, China’s Defense Ministry continues to condemn Washington’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, warning of “an increase in the intensity of air and sea patrols…according to the extent of the threat that its national security is facing.”

It should not be sidelined that the United States is not and refuses to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), an international agreement signed by 167 states. UNCLOS is the de-facto body for setting and respecting sea borders among nations, and thus has jurisdiction over the use of international waters as well as maritime disputes. The United States, being averse to international treaties, blatantly avoids any jurisdiction over its sea vessels, and most especially on the conduct of its Navy around the world, from performing dangerous patrols to the immunity of its servicemen abroad.

Indeed, the United States continues to believe that all the world’s oceans are their backyard; that there should be priority accorded only to US warships and that all other vessels should give way to American warships wherever they are in the world. A ship the size of a typical oil tanker is impossible to miss and remain undetected aboard sophisticated US Navy vessels. That fact that these military vessels are designed to detect ballistic missiles in space and yet are unable to detect nearby and very large vessels should be a cause of concern for how Washington’s military machine operate beyond the continental United States. To be sure, the task of “policing” the world will always be America’s sole responsibility; that these military vessels in busy international shipping lanes are in a hurry to delivery democracy around the world.

Advertisements

Qatar and GCC row: Behind the headlines

In a move that surprised even keen observers Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and other Middle East countries have severed diplomatic ties with the State of Qatar this week.

The official reason for the public to consume was to protect from “various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region” as announced by Saudi Arabia on June 5.

Similar statements where heard from other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) capitals and was immediately followed by air, land, and sea travel bans to and from Qatar by the same countries.

Qatar for its part has defended its position, stating that the recent email leaks by its leader Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was a fabrication designed to implicate and isolate the country, and that it was not behind the leaked emails of Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the United States.

Referring to the Saudi-led diplomatic embargo, leaders in Doha articulated that the unjustified action against them aims “to impose guardianship on the state” and that “this by itself is a violation of its [Qatar’s] sovereignty as a state.”

The days leading up to the GCC dispute

It can be recalled that during the end of May, US President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia, his first such visit outside America as president. The visit to Riyadh was perceived as quite a surprise choice, and is part of a nine-day, five country tour across the Middle East and Europe. The areas of discussion and agreements included the signing of a $110 billion arms deal between the two countries, the ongoing war in Syria, and the issue of Israel.

The visit was not well received in Qatar, as they opined that the it only resulted in emboldening Riyadh’s stance against Doha’s quasi-independent foreign policy, especially regarding long standing issues like the latter’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and its cordial relationship with Iran, the arch nemesis of Saudi in the region.

Also during that week the Qatar government announced that its state-run news agency was hacked, where unidentified attackers published a fake story about alleged controversial comments made by the ruling emir. In response, Saudi Arabia and the UAE blocked Qatari media, including the influential Al-Jazeera news channel.

On June 5, unknown hackers have leaked the emails of Yousef al-Otaiba, where it was revealed that the UAE had strong links to think-thanks closely linked to Israel, as well as other points including the Emirate’s efforts to destabilize Turkey, its fight against Islamic movements including the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas, and its efforts to taint the reputation of Qatar and Kuwait.

The email leak also showed the Emirate’s ambition to replace Saudi Arabia as the United States’ “right hand” in the Middle East, and plans by Washington and the Emirates to halt a meeting between Hamas and the leadership of Qatar.

Bigger issues that have triggered this latest GCC row

It is important to note that a similar diplomatic spat occurred in 2014, when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar as a result of Doha’s failure to implement a security pact of non-interference in their respective internal affairs. In response, leaders in Doha expressed their “disappointment and surprise” and that the real issue was about Qatar’s support of the deposed Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsi. At the height of the GCC dispute, former Qatar ambassador to the United Nations and the US expressed that “I am sure in the days after that wisdom will come and these countries will realize that trying to impose the philosophy of my way and the highway will not work with Qatar.”

Qatar has been criticized for its support for the Muslim Brotherhood especially in Egypt. This Islamic movement, which favors Sharia law to be implemented in the country, supports free and open elections, which does not sit well with most Arab monarchies, especially Saudi Arabia. The Saudis see elections as a threat to its legitimacy and internal security, and thus has lobbied to brand this Islamic movement as a terrorist organization.

In Washington, President Trump along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson supports the Saudi’s judgement of the Muslim Brotherhood, although other bodies, such as the Human Rights Council, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, opposed such terrorist branding.

The Iranian connection

Prior to Donald Trump’s Arab-Islamic-American Summit in Riyadh, a leading Saudi newspaper published a story accusing Qatar Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad Bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani of meeting the Iranian Qud Force Commander Qasim Sulaimani, during the former’s visit to Iraq.

The visit was allegedly about helping arrange the release of members of the Qatari royal family, who were in Iraq as part of a falconry trip and then kidnapped in late 2015. The 26-man falconry party was released after the Qatari government paid a hefty $1 billion ransom for their release early this year.

This meeting was perceived by the House of Saud as compromising the merits of their anti-Iran agenda. The ransom paid to Iranian agents is said to be money that directly or indirectly supported extremists in the region. This accusation is despite Qatar’s signing the anti-Tehran Riyadh Declaration which condemned, among other allegations, that Iran had “hostile positions” and continues to interfere “in the domestic affairs of other countries.”

Doha has so far denied their deep involvement in Iran’s alleged hostile influence in the region. For instance, the Saudi-led war in Yemen is being supported by Qatar, which has about 1,000 troops combating the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Despite this military support, Riyadh still accuses Doha of supporting the anti-government forces in Yemen.

Fake News: the new name of propaganda

590e3196c4618878528b45c2

There used to be a song with the lyrics “before you accuse me take a look at yourself” which was popularized by the English singer and songwriter Eric Clapton. The ‘mass hysteria’ regarding the frenzied ‘proliferation’ of what they now brand as ‘fake news’ has enraged the ruling establishment and the media alike. But really, who is accusing who?

Just a few days back Reuters, the international news agency from London, has accused the Russian television network RT and the Russian news outlet Sputnik of spreading fake news against the accusation that the Russian government intervened in the very recent French presidential elections.

To begin with, Reuters quoted their usual anonymous “US officials” (who are therefore unaccountable) stating that the Russian government attempted to influence the outcome of the French elections in order to favor far right leader Marine Le Pen against Emmanuel Macron who favors a stronger stance against the Kremlin, and who’s political party also accused the Russians of meddling in their campaigns.

Macron has since taken the presidency in a definitive win against the softer, anti-NATO and reconciliatory Le Pen. He is widely believed to be pro-European Union, elitist, and staunchly anti-Russian who favors even more damaging sanctions. And although any evidence to back up their claims has not since surfaced (or ever will) the fake news accusations has since been mirrored by the mainstream media outlets in the other side of the Atlantic.

For instance CNN ran a story with the usual fear mongering tone with a headline declaring “Fears of Russian meddling as France prepares to go to the polls”. In the article, they quoted Richard Burr, head of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, as saying “I think it’s safe by everybody’s judgement that the Russians are actively involved in the French elections…part of our responsibility is to educate the rest of the world.” And buried in between the paragraphs there is a link with the title “Read: How Russia hacks you”. To top it all off, not a single evidence has been presented regarding this fantastical claim of Moscow’s meddling and hacking.

Not too far ago the same stories were published across the mainstream news media regarding Russia’s ‘push’ to help Donald Trump win the American elections. Does anyone remember how the likes of CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post and others have monitored ‘the polls’ showing that Hillary ‘the warmonger’ Clinton was leading, and we eventually knew how surprised and upset the news outlets were when ‘suddenly’ Trump won the race to the Oval Office.

In the past decade alone, the United States government together with its media tentacles have spewed false news in order to rally the public into taking destructive action abroad. This may be in the form of an outright military intervention, or it can be by means of economic and political war waged against America’s enemies.

Such was the case with Iraq when the whole American and British mainstream media establishments ran the unescapable fake news that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and that the Iraqi leader had ties to Osama Bin Laden. Who could forget Colin Powel, then Secretary of State during George W. Bush’s presidency, presented the ‘physical evidence’ of Saddam’s WMDs to the United Nations Security Council. The world, but perhaps not Iraq, has since moved on with these fake news from the US government itself and the United States has since been bogged down in that country up to the present time.

Led by the American establishment the world has time and again been witness to various unfounded ‘facts’ (and therefore fake news) against Washington’s enemies, including the Syrian chemical attacks alleged to have been instigated by the Syrian government (no evidence has since been presented), to the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 that crashed over Ukraine and was attributed to “Putin’s missile” immediately (not even a day after the accident), to how Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are traitors and spies, that ISIS presented an “existential threat to the security of the United States of America”, that China aims to become the dominant military power in the next few decades, that foreigners are stealing American jobs, that the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia was plagued by “security concerns”, that the Cold War was over and NATO had no plans to expand to the East to Russia’s doorsteps, that Western Europe needed anti-ballistic missile installations near Russia’s borders are necessary to counter the “Iranian missile threat”, and so on and so forth. We all know by now that such emotion-stirring headlines and “worst case scenarios” didn’t happen to the benefit of the world.

British media in a state of hysteria as Russian aircraft carrier passes by the English Channel

58111721c3618807188b460f

As Russia’s aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, heads to Syria via the English Channel, the UK’s mainstream news outlets have gone on a mad frenzy of fear mongering headlines to further paint Russian president Vladimir Putin of ‘flexing Moscow’s military might’ and of ‘provoking another world war.”

Mail Online, a British news outlet featured a rather terrifying click-bait story with the headline “The Russians are here! Putin’s attack fleet arrives at Dover as warships enter channel on their way to launch strikes in Syria.”

Another popular mainstream news website, The Independent has produced a video clip showing “Russian warships in English water “a smokescreen to distract world” while the BBC has bashed the Admiral Kuznetsov with stories concerning the sorry state of toilets in the aircraft carrier to its troubled engine and to a large tug boat accompanying the vessel ‘in case it breaks down.’ Also, British ‘analysts’ commented that the Russians ‘have achieved complete media and public opinion focus on one bright, shiny object.”

Be that as it may, but the UK does not even have its own aircraft carrier to match the Russian flotilla, which by now has passed the English Channel onto the Mediterranean and probably towards Syria to launch strikes against Islamic State terrorists. The British military will not have a new aircraft carrier until next year with the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales by 2020.

The British Defense Ministry for its part has bragged about its capabilities, where Secretary Michael Fallon reassured “to keep Britain safe” by “man marking” the Russian fleet passing the narrow English Channel.

Alas the hysteria is completely uncalled for. The Russian aircraft carrier group’s deployment to Syria has been announced a few months back. To make matters preposterous, Admiral Kuznetsov and its supporting warships passage is via international waters and is being completely transparent in their movements; there has been a deliberate and exasperated attempt to sensationalize and plant even more hate against Moscow.

Meanwhile, in American mainstream media, the deployment of the Russian aircraft carrier has been seen “as a kind of infomercial for its weapons sales” and that the “battle group adds to Russia’s military leverage in diplomatic negotiations with the United States and other Western powers over the future of Syria.” The Russian flotilla was also described as “a threat to its crew than anything else.”

These so called journalists have clearly missed how America and its allies in Western Europe have ‘manufactured’ conflicts around the world to merit their military’s deployment around the globe and with it billions of dollars of weapons. Indeed, the Admiral Kuznetsov, a floating airbase carrying more than 40 aircraft at a time, is just a ‘threat to its crew than anything else.”

South China Sea: How the Philippines is being used as geostrategic pawn by the US

b083fe955fd818efec2920

It turns out that vis-à-vis the South China Sea dispute, the Philippines not only lacks in understanding their neighbor, but also exposes Filipinos as being ignorant to how it is being manipulated by Western powers, particularly the United States, to counter China’s undeniable influence in the region and to the rest of the world.

A month has passed since The Hague ruling regarding the arbitration case concerning the Philippines’ right to be heard in its claims to the disputed seas. What most Filipinos do not know is the fact that this ruling put before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea only covers the legal status of the maritime dispute, as opposed to whether the said ruling decides on who owns anything.

Even the tribunal to which the Philippines initiated its arbitration case is not the body that represent the position of the United Nations. As the spokesperson of the UN Secretary General said “the UN doesn’t have a position on the legal and procedural merits of the case or on the disputed claims.”

The reaction from Beijing is understandable and unsurprising, at least from realists observing the issue: it has fiercely rejected the jurisdiction of The Hague ruling on an otherwise sovereignty dispute, and reminded others that the United States is not even a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of The Sea (UNCLOS) and thus compromises Washington’s real intentions on the maritime dispute.

An editorial appearing in The Greenville Post made the correct assumption on the matter stating “many observers, in Beijing and abroad, pointed out that the ruling was clearly political, and that out of five, four judges were citizens of the EU, while one (the chairman) was Ghanaian but also a long-term resident of Europe.”

Also widely unknown to Filipinos is Washington’s clearly stated pivot to Asia policy, which asserts an increased military and political pressure to be pursued against China. This interventionist policy, announced in 2011 when Obama was about to be reelected to office, requires a sustained effort to increase diplomatic and military pressure against what the United States sees as opposing its hegemonic status, including in the South China Sea. As a leading academic in the Philippines correctly asserts “What’s happening is that our political elites are clearly encouraged by the US to provoke China, and there is also the big influence of the US military on our armed forces. I would say that the Philippine military is very vulnerable to such type of ‘encouragement’. So the US is constantly nurturing those confrontational attitudes.”

Even the Philippine government’s ties to the United States during the Cory Aquino administration deserves scrutiny to help understand why the UNCLOS issue was put forward during the time of Benigno Aquino III’s presidency. Although it ultimately failed, it was Cory Aquino who supported the renewal of maintaining US military bases in Subic and Clark. For his part, Aquino III also supported the highly contentious Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) military exercises with the United States. Thus, the timing of putting forward an illegitimate case against China on the South China Sea issue (which the Philippines now calls as West Philippine Sea) should not be surprising and also that  that the Aquinos have been a willing pawn in playing Uncle Sam’s warmongering stance in the region.

Some realist scholars in the Philippines admit that through the decisions made by the previous Arroyo and Aquino III administrations, the United States has successfully inserted ‘anti-terror’ forces in the Philippines which of course is a guise to counter Beijing’s growing interest in the region, a region where some $5 trillion dollars of trade passes annually.

As for the resources stored in the South China Sea itself, Washington’s aim is to ensure that the weakest nations get to control this region, particularly its allies in East Asia. As an observer accurately asserts “We (Filipinos) are totally dependent on foreign companies for the exploitation of our natural resources…Foreign multinationals would greatly profit from the natural resources of the China Sea, if a weak and dependent country like this one (The Philippines) were to be put in charge of them.”

To conclude, undeniably the Philippines’ memory is chillingly short-sighted. Its present guarantor of ‘peace and security’ the United States invaded it a century ago and has made the country an economic, diplomatic, and military puppet ever since. None of these shameless history have ever been put forth by China against the Philippines in the past. Will someone please stand up and remind the Filipinos about their unfortunate history with Uncle Sam?

Britain says EU no more in historic referendum

ClzeumnWIAAW4Zs

In a surprising and historic move, Britain has voted to leave the European Union. It is important to note that this has been the decision of ordinary Brits and not by those Eurocrats whose leadership is unpopular across Europe.  EU bureaucrats be warned: if Britain who’s not as affected by the so-called peripheral countries can do it, all the more by those countries that are at the mercy of severe austerity and left to guess what Brussels is up to next.

For the uninformed, how important was this decision? Remember that the European Union project has its roots in the post-World War II economic integration, with the goal of avoiding conflict in Europe. The EU project has fulfilled this purpose quite decently in the past 60 years. It has allowed the free movement of people within the Eurozone, created a common currency (not joined by Britain), established preferential trade among member states, and most importantly the preservation of peace in the continent.

But as the unelected predatory capitalists leaders in Brussels became increasingly more focused on unnecessary bureaucracy and squeezed the life out of ordinary Eurozone citizens as banks “too big to fail” have received privileges despite their enormous failures, the Brits in this Brexit referendum clearly confirmed they have had enough.

To be fair with the British people, they have been half-footed in the EU from the beginning. Perhaps the most obvious indication is their separate currency from the Euro, as well as its non-observance of the Schengen Agreement, which allows the free movement of EU nationals without the usual hassle of traveling to other countries.

The decision to leave the EU will be not be smooth for sure. The initial euphoria the referendum created will have to come to terms with the consequences of opposing the Remain vote. Already, for instance, the conservative party in Britain has hinted it will invoke Article 50 where Britain will be faced with years of ‘proper exits’ through possibly endless renegotiations.

Elsewhere in Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the Brexit referendum “a break in Europe’s history” and that it reflects “a fundamental doubt about the current direction of European integration.”

Some British mainstream media have already propagandized a few interesting points in the Brexit referendum. For instance, some news outlets have already downplayed the public’s decision as uninformed with headlines like “Brits frantically searched what the EU means hours after voting out of the EU” and that the “EU will treat Britain like Greece.” Such fear mongering should not be surprising as before the referendum London’s mouthpiece media have already done their part to dissuade the British public from bailing out of the EU.

And of course, Mr. David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, has already intensified the drama when he resigned the next day. In a visibly emotional speech, Cameron stated that “I was absolutely clear about my belief that Britain is stronger, safe and better off inside the EU… (But) the British people made a different decision to take a different path. As such I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction.”  Indeed, the man who proclaimed “Assad must go” became the man who would go first.