Dean Acheson, the US Secretary of State, once said, “ Britain has lost an Empire and not yet found a role.” The Bush-Blair axis lays bare the dilemma faced by the British ruling elite after the end of the Second World War. The Empire collapsed and Britain’s status in the world was greatly reduced to that of a second rate power. The political elite including the top echelons of the Foreign Office formulated the strategy of playing the second fiddle to US global interests. The essence of the Special Relationship is for Britain to align itself politically as a junior partner in an orbit of power predominantly under American aegis as a way of preserving some great power status.
In his book Web of Deceit, Mark Curtis, a former research scholar at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, has written a searing indictment of British Foreign policy and ‘ rescues the historical and documentary record from a web of distortion and self-serving illusion’. “The Washington – London axis is not only special to the two elites; it has been a pillar of world order for over five decades” writes Curtis, “The two leading western powers have, since 1945, colluded to shape the global economy and much of international affairs to their interests. The US has clearly led the strategy, which in the early postwar years meant replacing British power with their own, notably in the middle-east;” Britain plays a secondary role in supporting brutal family regimes in the Gulf States which maintain the oil order to favour Western (US and British interests). In the United Nations, Britain serves US interests by voting for US in the Security Council resolutions. In Economic forums, Britain aggressively pursues economic liberalisation to aid US and British businesses.
Under the New Labour Government of Tony Blair the relationship has only deepened with the US in a number of ways. Blair is clearly an uncritical supporter of Bush’s illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the US-Britain relationship eerily resembles the client/satellite relationship of the erstwhile USSR and its allies. British Ministers and senior diplomats serve as US diplomats to push through the resolutions of its Big Brother at the UN. Sharp differences rose when US imposed tariffs on British steel in early 2002, which were swiftly patched up to pound defenseless countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan to submission. Tony Blair, in the words of the Wall Street Journal, is the newest US ambassador and he relishes his role as the top advisor for Bush. He is the chief propagandist for the Bush government and is a master of telling half-truths. For his domestic constituency, there is constant spin that his Faustian pact with the Neo-Liberal Bush administration is imbued with benevolence and high moral purpose.
When it came to power in 1997, the New Labour tom-tom was the high ethical purpose of its foreign policy and its ‘force for good in the world’. One of the classic exponents of the hoax was none other than Robin Cook, the foreign Secretary, who declared that the new foreign policy under Tony Blair would have an ethical dimension. When asked to provide one example of the ethical dimension, he replied that continuing the sanctions against Iraq would be one such instance. The grotesque irony was lost on the media that the illegal sanctions killed thousands of Iraqi women and children.
Britain’s basic benevolence in foreign policy is largely in the realms of myth making. It is to the credit of scholars such as Mark Curtis who cut through the “Big Lie” layer by layer and exposed the mendacious nature of British imperialism. Delving into official records available in the Public Record Office in London, he constructs a frightening picture of cruelty, venality and hypocrisy of the British elite in pursuit of its imperial agenda.
In recent times, Britain’s sordid record as a gross violator of human rights dates back to 1948 when she declared emergency in Malaya and began a particularly vicious war against the poor and marginalised Chinese labour force. A Colonial Office report in 1950 disclosed that Malaya’s rubber and tin mining industries were the biggest earners for primarily British businesses. As the conditions in the mines owned by British capital was appalling, the Chinese workers struck and demanded better wages and living conditions. The strikes caused financial losses to the British interests and brought about draconian measures being imposed on the trade unions.
To counter the insurgency force of the Malay Chinese of around 3000-6000 Britain conducted 4500 airstrikes in the first five years of the war. Close to 709000 pounds of bombs were dropped on the insurgent encampments. 500-lb fragmentation bombs (forerunner of the notorious cluster bomb) were also used in the unequal conflict between the British Military and the insurgents. Defoliants supplied by the Chemical giant ICA were widely used to destroy crops. Systematic torture was used in interrogation procedures of the British forces to elicit information about the whereabouts of the insurgents.
Decapitation of dead guerillas served as means of identification especially when the bodies were rotting in the jungles. Displaying dead bodies of the guerillas in public was another barbaric method to instill fear in the Chinese squatters. As the Scotsman newspaper quaintly observed it was good practice as ‘ simple-minded Chinese are told and come to believe that the communist leaders are invulernable.’
The insurgency was crushed but that did not prevent the notorious Sir Gerald Templer, the High Commissioner of Colonial Malaya, to fatuously observe ‘ the answer lies not in pouring more troops into the jungle, but in winning the hearts and minds of the people.’ The hearts and minds of the Malay Chinese were won by putting into effect the infamous Briggs Plan. This resettlement programme forcibly evicted the Chinese squatters from their villages and located them in a new village surrounded by barbed wires with searchlights round the periphery to keep an eye on the movements of the squatters at night. The resettlement camp was nothing but a concentration camp.
The resettlement camp was source of cheap labour for the rubber estates. The brutal campaign ended on a self-congratulatory note for the British commercial interests. After all, the Chinese workers learnt the spiritual joy of hard work in rubber estates and their vagrant minds were disciplined for their own good. However, the true nature of the repression surfaced when a lord blurted out ‘What we should do without Malaya, and its earnings in tin and rubber, I do not know.’
The British involvement in destabilizing the legally constituted government of Iran hardly finds mention in the mainstream British media. In August 1953, the M16 and the CIA organised a coup that overthrew the popular and democratically elected government of Mohamed Musaddiq and installed the brutal Shah of Iran. Britain’s Churchill waxed lyrical about the operation and told the CIA agent who masterminded the operation that he ‘would have loved nothing better than to have served under your command in this great venture.’
The bone of contention was the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company- later called British Petroleum, which was controlled and owned by British Government and British Investors. Under the popular government of Mussaddiq uncomfortable questions were asked about the sharing of oil revenues and the resentment grew among the nationalist forces in Iran as to why the government of Iran should get less revenues than AIOC. The dispute soon snowballed into a major crisis with the government of Musaddiq nationalizing the oil operations in May 1951. The Iranian government offered compensation that was legitimate from the perspective of international Law but it angered Britain. From that point onwards the government of Musaddiq was marked for a coup. Sir Donald Logan of the British Embassy in Iran declared ‘Our policy was to get rid of Mossadeq as soon as possible.’ The British preferred a strong dictator who could settle the issue of oil in favour of British interests without messy public discussion in the parliament.
A fake mob bribed with CIA and M16 money staged huge demonstrations in Tehran. The mob was shown as the members of the Iranian Communist Party (Tudeh) to provide the pretext for the coup. Some were agents for the British who threw rocks at the mosques. The Shah’s forces were completely equipped by the Americans with military hardware and after savage fighting in the capital the government of Musaddiq was defeated. The British elite claimed that Iran was free from Communism and blessed the murderous dictator Shah to rule Iran with an iron fist. Free Iranian citizens experienced their taste of freedom in the torture chambers of Shah’s secret police the SAVAK. CIA trained the agents of SAVAK in gruesome torture techniques and the British M16 gave an advanced course in methods of persuasion. By all standards the Shah’s regime topped the torture charts.
The Shah was a star pupil that made the thickset master of Realpolitik Henry Kissinger to sing praises about his protégé ‘ the Shah is the rarest of leaders.’ This rare leader and faithful ally of Anglo-American oil interests went on a blood bath killing 10,000 Iranians. The Shah met his fate in a revolution spearheaded by the Islamic clerics that toppled him. The intense anti-western feelings have their roots in the Anglo-American complicity of propping up the Shah of Iran that destroyed Iran’s democratic institutions. The contemporary events in Iran suggest a twist of irony: The country is constantly lectured on its human rights violations by the duo Bush-Blair and to add to its poignant woes, it enjoys the dubious distinction of being called a Rogue State by US and Britain.
With a kind of monotonous regularity that numbs the senses, theBritish Colonial Policy in Kenya has pursued in the same brutal and cynical fashion bereft of any moral or ethical values. In 1952 Britain declared a state of emergency in Kenya to quell the Mau Mau uprising against the Colonial government. The Mau Mau was largely drawn from the Kikuyu who constituted the largest ethnic group in Kenya. The racism and the exploitation at the hands of white settlers and the Colonial Government was the root cause of the hatred and the intense Anti-European sentiments. The Kenyans were paid low wages and they lived in appalling conditions. The revolt was against the British Colonial repression. T
he Mau Mau uprising was not a communist plot to oust the British Colonial government but a nationalist movement to resist the British. As the colonial power could not find credible evidence for a communist plot, the Mau Mau revolt was represented as a sinister cult whose members indulged in sexual orgy, cannibalism, occult and black magic. The unrest grew as the British blocked the constitutional road to resolve the crisis. Jomo Kenyatta, the leader of the Kenya African Union (KAU), organised a peaceful struggle against the British Government. The KAU in its declaration noted ‘ The chief characteristic of all labour- skilled or not.. is the low wages…..Due to this, ninety percent of our people live in the most deplorable conditions ever afforded to a human being .. Modern serfdom has come into being as cheap labour.’ The reaction of the British was to jail Kenyatta for seven years on flimsy trumped up charges.
The official version was that the unrest had to put down with paternal firmness with the same sorrow as a father giving his errant son six of the best. The paternal firmness found expression in extreme brutality and gross abuse of human rights. The declassified documents show that the declaration of emergency was done with the intention of curbing the popular nationalist movement and to make land and the rich mineral resources safe for the Colonial Power. In the brutal war between the Mau Mau and the government forces, both sides committed atrocities. The Colonial forces killed 10,000 Africans while the Mau Mau killed 32 Europeans. More white settlers were killed in road accidents in Nairobi than at the hands of Mau Mau. The colonial counter insurgency forces were given a free hand to shoot anybody if they were black.
The Colonial Police used the most extreme forms of torture on Mau Mau suspects such as slicing off ears, boring holes in eardrums, flogging until death, pouring paraffin over suspects who were set alight, and burning eardrums with lit cigarettes. Some suspects were castrated; others had their fingertips cut off. Shortly after the emergency was declared, the Governor passed orders that it could detain whomsoever it wanted in nazi style concentration camps. A former officer in one of the detention camps in 1954-55 witnessed ‘overwork, brutality, humiliating and disgusting treatment and flogging- all in violation of human rights.’ The savage repression and brutal force were instrumental in putting down the uprising and killing about 1,50,000 Kenyans.
After she gained her independence in 1963, the British Government cleverly maneuvered for a moderate government friendly to British interests to come to power. Even Kenyatta abandoned the nationalistic policies and gave concessions to the British. In the words of the political analysts Bethwell Ogot and Tiyambe Zeleza “Kenya (in 1978) was still a dependent export economy, heavily penetrated by foreign capital from all the major capitalist countries, so that she was more firmly and broadly integrated into the world capitalist system than at independence.” The fruits of post independent Kenya were shared between the Kenyan ruling class and foreign interests. The men in bowler hats had finally won.
The British perfidy in giving carte blanche to the Indonesian generals to murder close to one million Indonesians is a closely guarded secret and this terrible secret is rarely mentioned in the media. On the basis of declassified documents available, the British policy in Indonesia is shown in its truest colours: rapacious, brutal and morally bankrupt.
In 1965 Britain and USA gave support to the Army to oust the Indonesian Leader Sukarno. General Suharto who carried out the coup was a corrupt and murderous thug. The real target of the coup was the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). Both the British and American policy experts were worried that the economic resources in Indonesia would be primarily used for the benefit of the Indonesian people and not western interests. The threat of independent development alarmed the British and American Planners.
The army proceeded to hunt down the members of the PKI with the diabolical cruelty unparalleled in modern history. In the reign of terror that followed, the army would pick up any man or women suspected of being members of PKI and shoot them in cold blood. Even elderly persons were not spared. In one incident a village execution squad picked up a woman of 78 and executed her. The Officials of the State Department (US) nodded approvingly when the slaughter went on and gave their blessings to the Generals by providing them with small arms. The British were not far behind and supported Suharto to the hilt. The British Intelligence (M15) ran a propaganda campaign to smear the reputation of Sukarno and the PKI.
The operation was conducted from a base in Singapore known as Phoenix Park. In an interesting letter addressed to the Foreign Office the British Ambassador to Indonesia Sir Andrew Gilchrist quaintly wrote, “I have never concealed from you my belief that a little shooting in Indonesia would be essential preliminary to effective change.” By 1966 ‘the little shooting’ led to the wholesale massacre of PKI and the “good generals” got a pat on their back for efficiently dispatching close to one million Indonesians to oblivion. The corrupt military regime of Suharto plundered Indonesia for nearly thirty years with the active support of Britain and US and the grateful general showed his gratitude by creating favourable business climate for western companies to take their share of the loot. Suharto was ousted in 1998 but the damage was done to the concept of an equitable society by the concentration of economic and political power vesting in the hands of the few.
The British role in Kenya, Iran, Malaya and Indonesia showed that high ideal and benevolent purpose were empty rhetoric and the true purpose was to safeguard British commercial interests if necessary with brute force. Curtis admirably sums up thus: ‘ the first is how brutal in war, and abusive of human rights, British elites have been in the past, much more so than is usually presented. Second, they show Britain’s overwhelming need to keep economic resources in Western hands- elites who give favourable treatment to Western business. Third, they show that the primary threat to British elite interests throughout the postwar period was not so much communism or Soviet expansion- the official threats intended for public consumption- but indigenous nationalism arising from within those countries. These nationalistic forces offered in many cases the prospect of real development for poverty-stricken populations. But they were crushed by Britain. Fourth, they reveal the British elites contempt for democratic, popular groups when they fail to promote British interests.’
The contempt that the New Labour under Tony Blair has for international law is merely a continuation of its traditional colonial policies. Britain has become an outlaw terrorist state and has scant respect for the United Nations. Recent events only confirm this: Britains role in imposing one of the cruelest sanctions known to mankind was instrumental in killing ordinary women and children in Iraq. When other member countries of the Security Council wanted the sanctions to be lifted, Britain and US alone wanted the sanctions to stay. The sanctions, which grossly abused human rights of ordinary Iraqi men, women and children, destroyed Iraq as a country. The country was left without essential life support medicines. The most vulnerable sections of the society, namely, children died in thousands. UN estimates that the sanctions which were imposed in August 1990 were responsible for 500,000 children under the age of five dying in Iraq. Denis Halliday, the former UN coordinator for Iraq, provides more chilling statistics: the death toll for children is closer to 600,000 for 1990-1998; if adults are included the toll climbs to one million deaths.
The unlawful aggression against Iraq in 2003 was without the UN mandate with other member countries refusing to pass the resolution for war. The pretext for waging the war was the time worn cliché: to protect the world from Weapons of Mass Destruction of Saddam Hussain. The Bush-Blair duo waged an illegal, immoral war destroying the basic infrastructure of Iraq such as water electricity and television stations, which is against international law. These constitute war crimes. The use of depleted uranium shells and cluster bombs on Iraqi people was gross violation of the Geneva Convention and crimes against humanity. Iraq, a proud country with a civilization dating back to ancient times, was reduced to the stone age.
Also suppressed from the public and from international scrutiny was the imposition of no fly zones by the British and US that are illegal and contrary to international Law. What was also concealed from the public was the softening up of air defense systems of Iraq to pave the way for a full-scale war in 2003 commenced much earlier sometime in 2002. This crucial fact throws light on the charade of UN weapon’s inspection team and the refusal of Iraq to cooperate with the UN team. US-Britain had already decided to attack Iraq and the controversy of the Iraqi obduracy was a ruse to cobble international support for its aggression. British complicity in aiding the US to wage war against Iraq is eloquent testimony of Britain becoming a global bully with the absurd pretension of enforcing international law.
The Anglo-American aggression on Afghanistan is a variation of the same theme: Good versus Evil. The ostensible purpose was again a noble one: to destroy the Al’ Qaida network and the Taliban regime. The added bonus of the noble war was to capture dead or alive the elusive Osama. In a ferocious bombing campaign that followed the unilateral declaration of war the US-British forces pulverised Afghanistan. In the first six months of the campaign more than 22000 bombs/ missiles were dropped. As usual the targets were civilians. One estimate places the civilians who died as a result of the aggression at 10,000 to 20,000. The Taliban fell but it was spurious claim that the Al’Qaida could be destroyed. The Al’Qaida did not have a centralised command and was not located in one geographical area. It was dispersed all over in the form of decentralised network.
The raison d’être of the Anglo-American aggression on Iraq and Afghanistan was oil. The importance of controlling oil was understood by the British Foreign Office as early as 1947 as ‘a vital prize for any power interested in world influence or domination.’ ‘Oil is designated to be controlled by the Western allies’, adds Curtis, ‘in the Middle East to ensure that industry profits accrue to Western companies and are invested in Western economies.’ To further this goal both Britain and US have backed repressive regimes in oil producing countries that are supportive of US-British interests in the region.
The US-British élites realised that western access to oil was threatened; The Saudi regime was shaky and bound to collapse, Iran was anti-west and Iraq was turning away from Britain and US. The crime of the Iraqi people was that their oil, the vital prize, was coveted by the US-British companies and they had the temerity to suggest that the prize belonged to them. In Afghanistan the reason was that Al’Qaida had to be destroyed as the organisation headed by Osama Bin Laden was opposed to the Saudi ruling family, who is the supporter of US interests in the region. The other reason is that the oil resources of Central Asia are considered to be vital to US interests. Afghanistan is located strategically to transport the oil through pipelines from Central Asia. Hence the necessity of having a change of regimes to one favourable to US-British oil needs. The Taliban had to go, as they were perceived as unreliable allies to accommodate US-British interests in the region.
Apart from its imperial past, which is largely inglorious, and its junior partner status in aiding US in its acts of aggression, which is disgraceful, there is incontrovertible evidence that Britain sponsors global terrorism through its arms trade. Britain is truly a global player in the death business. It is the world’s second largest arms exporter (after US) selling around five billion pounds worth of arms to 140 countries. For British armament industry mass murder is good business. British companies such as BAE Systems and GEC-Marconi rake in huge profits by supplying arms to unstable areas in war or civil strife. The tax subsidy for Research & Development is estimated to be in the region of one billion pounds a year. ‘ The Labour party,’ adds Curtis, ‘ holds nearly 30000 shares in BAE Systems, which is reported to have donated 5000 pounds to Labour funds in 1998 and 2000.’ According to a Report by the Campaign Against Arms Trade, the Labour party also holds shares of more than 45,000 in GEC and Vickers. The brisk sale of arms is given a fillip by arming both sides in a conflict. Notorious examples are Iran and Iraq, Greece and Turkey, China and Taiwan. Britain is also selling arms to both India and Pakistan who are locked in a senseless and bloody dispute over Kashmir.
Britain armed Indonesia, which has one of the worst human rights records in history. The blood bath in East Timor was inaugurated first by repressive Suharto regime and then continued by successive Indonesian governments until international protests stopped the genocide. The people of East Timor killed by the Indonesian Military are estimated to be in the region of half a million. The British supplied Scorpion tanks to the Indonesian Military, which were used against Indonesians protesting against military brutality and bus fare increases. Britain supplies arms to poor developing countries, for example, Botswana, Gambia, Tanzania, Zambia to name a few. With Blair, as the Chief Arms Salesman, cheerfully announcing ‘ the Labour Government would be committed to creating the conditions in which the defense industries can thrive and prosper.’ The prospects for the death merchants appear rosy.
Britain plans and executes its own brand of terrorism through its shadowy arm: the M16. The covert operations of British Intelligence are shrouded in mystery and romance. In the novels of Ian Fleming, James Bond eternally battles against villains and saves the world from catastrophe. The available evidence suggests a different picture: it is a criminal enterprise largely engaged in subversion and assassination of political leaders opposed to British interests. It planned the assassination of Nasser in a quaint manner: M16 injected poison into chocolates meant for the Egyptian Leader but Nasser did not nibble. M16 also planned to assassinate the Indonesian Leader Sukarno who was opposed to Western interests. The M15 plotted to ‘ zap’ Ugandan President Milton Obote, Mufti of Jerusalem and Subhas Chandra Bose. One of the major terrorist acts of the 1980’s was the car bombing outside a mosque, which killed eighty men, women and children and left more than two hundred injured. The agencies responsible – the CIA, Saudi Intelligence and Britain’s M16- have not been exposed and brought to book. The most shocking is the death of UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold who died in 1961 when the plane exploded. The latest evidence suggests British, US, and South African involvement. The letters uncovered by Archbishop Desmond Tutu disclosed the plans to place TNT in the wheel bay of the aircraft.
The myth of the British policy being a force for good in the world is nurtured by the mainstream British media. Sordid details of British terrorism in pursuit of its hidden agenda are never exposed. Edward Herman, a media scholar, once said, ‘it is the function of experts and the mainstream media to normalise the unthinkable for the general public.’ ‘When presented in the mainstream media’, observes Curtis, ‘none of these outcomes tend to elicit the horror they deserve; all are normal.’ The brutality of Britain’s colonial past is excised from the pages of history and its collaboration with US aggression is described as noble cause. Dissent and criticism are marginalised as being one of the many views on the subject. The elite consensus dictates the debate on various issues and invisible lines are drawn beyond which no journalist can traverse. The retail violence of the victims of Western domination and its allies are described as threats to International order while wholesale massacre by the Western Powers and its client states are described as beneficial force. Disproportionate force used in form of cluster bombs, tomahawk missiles, depleted uranium shells killing women, children and men are described as necessary costs to be borne in the war against terrorism. This is Blair’s Britain where the victims are the unpeople, expendable people, who have died in the thousands whether in Iraq, or Afghanistan. They died in obscurity and lie buried in unnamed graves.
But there is a glimmering of hope: millions of people, decent men and women, all over the world have stood shoulder to shoulder and have said in one voice ‘No more blood for oil.’ For the victims of Western State Terrorism, the unpeople, there is vindication of sorts: the vigorous dissent and exemplary scholarship of Chomsky, Edward Said, and Mark Curtis and the courageous journalism of John Pilger, David Monibot, and Robert Fisk have kept alive the suffering of the vanquished. The legacy they have left behind is an important one for mankind: that the victims of Western State Terrorism shall not disappear into the black hole of official history.