On Tuesday this week the UK Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Sir Alan Duncan MP, made a speech at the United Nations Security Council in New York at the open debate on international peace and security. Once the introductory pleasantries were dealt with Sir Duncan said, without a hint of irony:
The UK firmly believes in the role of the UN in upholding the fundamental principles of a rules-based international order, which must underpin our understanding of what is right and what is wrong in the world.
Sir Duncan went on to inform us that ‘ever since the UN’s inception, the UK has been at the forefront of decisive UN action to prevent conflict’. The correct reaction to such patently false claims would be to laugh out loud. It is no exaggeration to suggest that in the past century alone the UK has been at the forefront of the bloody industry that is modern war and has done everything possible to avoid and disrupt the peace. Barely a year has gone by since the end of the second world war when British military personnel were not fighting and killing in some far off country. Add to this appalling record the unquestioning support of tyrants, dictators and the worst human rights abusers on the planet (or loyal BAE customers in FCO parlance) and we begin to see the performance of British governments, past and present, as anything but benign.
Just 15 miles from where I grew up in Staffordshire is the British Armed Forces Memorial. Carved into the stone are the names of over 16,000 soldiers killed in action since 1948, fighting, for queen and country somewhere in the world. When John Pilger visited the memorial during the filming of ‘The War You Don’t See‘ he noticed space for another 15,000 names of ‘young service men and women, waiting to die’.
In the film Pilger astutely observes the tragic consequences of exactly what Sir Duncan would have us believe does not happen. Whats’s extraordinary about this memorial, Pilger notes, is its record of constant war during so called peacetime as if revealing the secret of Britain’s enduring imperial role. He went on to reveal the enigma of the memorial:
What’s missing is any record of the victims of these wars; the countless men, women and children killed mostly in their own countries, in our name and glimpsed only now and then on the TV news. At least a million people have died as a result of the invasion of Iraq. They are not part of our remembrance because they’re not allowed in our memory.
In the same film, historian and analyst of UK foreign policy, Mark Curtis, apprises Pilger of the declassified foreign office planning documents he’s examined and what they reveal about Britain’s role in the world. Curtis has uncovered many episodes where Britain has been either involved in coups or instigated military interventions that have appalling impacts on peoples’ lives.
They simply never get mentioned. They’re never referred to in the newspapers. They never get on TV histories of Britain. They are just taken out, deleted from our historical memory. If you look at every war or every coup or every regime that Britain is supporting or been involved in, its usually accompanied by an increasingly sophisticated public relations operation by the government. We’re told that British foreign policy is based on promoting democracy, on spreading development and promoting human rights. Well if you read the actual government planning files, planners are saying to themselves that their policy is not based on that. It’s based on the control of oil, it’s based on creating an international economy that works in the interests of British corporations and its based on maintaining their great power status.
Who knows which history books Sir Duncan has read but if he’d only turned to those of Mark Curtis, feigned ignorance of Britain’s criminal past would not be plausible. Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam, Unpeople: Britain’s Secret Human Rights Abuses and Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World would be the first of Curtis’ books we at BSNews would recommend to Sir Duncan although there are more. Having meticulously researched the declassified government planning files, which were often written quite candidly and seemingly without expectation of public scrutiny, Curtis is the best placed historian to write on foreign policy having availed himself of the proof directly from the source.
In the 1960’s, a time when Britain was covertly supporting an Indonesian military that was killing up to a million people, where Britain was responsible for depopulating the Chagos Islands and where Britain was arming the Nigerian government that was killing hundreds of thousands of Biafrans in the civil war in Nigeria, all of that was taking place under the Labour government in the 1960s and none of those ministers have ever been questioned and yet those decisions cost, literally millions of lives.
Earlier today Curtis tweeted the link to Duncan’s UN speech with the comment ‘UK minister says without noticeably laughing that UK “believes in role of UN in upholding … international order”‘
We asked Mark via Twitter if he thought Sir Duncan even knew that UK special forces are operating in Syria (illegally) and whether Duncan was lying in his UN speech or simply ignorant of the facts.
I think it's lying, which ministers do all the time since they know they can get away with it. Media could easily expose but almost never do https://t.co/XjPvquEDjq
— Mark Curtis (@markcurtis30) January 12, 2017
Some may suggest that this week, of all weeks, is not the time to call out this particular minister on his whitewashing of Britain’s murderous role in the world and his deliberate revision of history. After all this was the week when the scandal of an Israeli official secretly plotting and conspiring to bring down the Deputy Foreign Minister broke in the Sunday papers.
Also, some may say that Sir Duncan is a brave man and probably should not be censured, at least not just yet, since he’s barely six months into his current post. Certainly, his criticism of illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine is brave and must be applauded. And lets not forget that in 2002 Sir Duncan was the first sitting Conservative MP voluntarily to acknowledge that he is gay. Sadly this bravery does not extend to acknowledging the victims of the British state, both foreign and domestic.
According to the parliamentary accountability website They Work For You, Duncan has consistently voted against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices, has almost always voted for replacing Trident with a new nuclear weapons system (costing the British public hundreds of billions over the coming years), and was one of the worst offenders in the MP’s expenses scandal back in 2009.
It appears to objective onlookers that once promoted to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office our politicians lose what little grasp they have on geopolitical events and the causes of conflict. In 2015 Duncan’s current boss at the foreign office, Boris Johnson, was disputing then prime minister David Cameron’s claim that there were 70,000 moderate fighters in Syria. What criteria Cameron used to judge these monsters as moderate we can only speculate; perhaps he was told they used sterilised knives to hack off the heads of Palestinian boys and that they wore condoms when they raped Syrian teenaged girls.
Johnson was also advising that the coalition work with Russia’s President Putin and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in order to destroy ISIS. Once installed as Foreign Secretary however fickle Johnson climbed safely on board with foreign policy planners as they seek to topple the elected government of Syria. While the about face of career politician and self declared future king of the world Boris Johnson can be understood, if not forgiven, Duncan’s deceitful performance at the Security Council was beyond disingenuous – it was a deliberately dishonest and mendacious attempt to paint UK governments, past and present, in an undue good light.
At the same time Duncan was lying to the world from the United Nations, British forces are deployed in multiple theaters across the Middle East. In May last year First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones, said that in the Gulf, British pilots fly US F18s from the decks of US aircraft carriers. Why are we not told that ‘US’ air strikes in Syria may well be being flown, in breach of international law, by British pilots?
In ‘Britain’s Seven Covert Wars‘ published in October 2016, Curtis lists the wars Britain is fighting mostly in secret and most without parliamentary debate let alone approval. As of today these include Syria, Iraq, Libya (still), Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia.
Never mentioned on the nightly news, Britain is fighting at least seven covert wars in the Middle East and North Africa, outside of any democratic oversight or control. According to Curtis, Whitehall has in effect gone underground, with ‘neither parliament nor the public being allowed to debate, scrutinise or even know about these wars. To cover themselves, Ministers are now often resorting to lying about what they are authorising. While Britain has identified Islamic State (among others) as the enemy abroad, it is clear that it sees the British public and parliament as the enemy at home.’
These unreported covert wars may well emerge as the catalyst to the third world war – or, as it will be briefly known, the final world war. How close have we already come we might ask, with tensions between NATO members and Russia and China rising over the skies of Syria and Iraq? It will not take much of a spark to set the world on fire again and here we are, listening to government ministers sounding like they’ve learnt nothing from past conflicts and expecting us to still believe in the benevolence of the British state. Don’t listen! It’s a sham! Duncan is lying, like his predecessors, because he knows he will get away with it!