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Accountability for Syria

Obama should just give up and admit he got it wrong. A little bit of humility is worth it to avoid a catastrophe in Syria.

It is unclear whether Obama will even ask for Congressional approval. By law he does not have to, despite many requests to do so. But international law does require UN approval for military action against Syria. And whatever Syria has done, the argument that it should be punished for chemical weapons attacks would guarantee that any resulting action was illegal.

Beyond national accountability, the arguments against military action include that it will:

  • cause more loss of innocent life as a direct consequence
  • not work as a deterrence against using such weapons – or even to stop the conflict
  • cause even greater instability and loss of life in the region more widely.

All of which seemed lost on David Cameron who is looking more and more out of his depth. But, to his credit, Cameron has decided to give up on military action against Syria. He agreed to submit to the will of parliament – and demonstrated his accountability. That is far more something to make one feel good, than dropping bombs – even though it seems only bombs could make Lord Ashdown feel good.

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Banking on bombs

Our very own bank, RBS, has a different understanding of killing and maiming to everyone else it seems.

The UK is a signatory to the Ottawa Convention which bans anti-personnel mines, such as cluster bombs. RBS is largely owned by the UK government. So you would have thought they would not be involved in financing cluster bombs. But they are. Unlike Aviva, which has recently withdrawn from supporting cluster bomb manufacturers, RBS says in talking about the Convention, that it “will not knowingly support any application for funding or financial services that would directly contravene these standards and will seek to ensure that our client relationships are not in breach of these principles”.

Well now they do know. So I am sure we can look forward to RBS joining Barclays and HSBC in re-considering their involvement in the arms trade.

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BAE: false accounting – and false accountability

BAE has admitted to false accounting. Conveniently this means that it will not face any fuller disclosure in court or charges of corruption.

In 2000 BAE’s CEO declared: ‘I am pleased to reaffirm BAE Systems plc’s commitment to adhering to the highest ethical standards in the conduct of its business throughout the world’.

Today, the summary of the Woolf Report, which in 2008 set out BAE’s routemap to ’a global reputation for ethical business conduct that matches its reputation for outstanding technical competence’, seems to be mysteriously unavailable from its website…well, they do need a new one.

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The enemy is unwelcome publicity

The official UK guidance on leaks relating to defence matters appears to be that transparency is a bad thing. Alarmingly, what seems to matter most is not just undermining government policy but also simply causing embarrassment to the government.

Of course there are clearly things which are better left unsaid (although most of those are even better left undone). However isn’t the relationship between signficance and embarrassment just the reverse: what embarrases is usually exactly what should be made public?