UN’s Syria Inspection Led By NATO Shill

Yoichi Shimatsu

Instead of a non-politicized investigation and lab analysis, the UN investigation of alleged nerve-gas attacks inside Syria was led by Professor Ake Sellstrom, a man of mystery who keeps a veil of secrecy around his research and political-military relationships.

Sellstrom’s report on Syria for the UN and his prior inspections record in Iraq are dubious, to say the least. In the eyes of laymen, his seeming objectivity and non-partisanship is based on the myth of Sweden’s neutrality. The public assumes – wrongly- that Sweden never takes sides in wars or geopolitical conflicts.

Fraud of Neutrality

This cosmetic veneer of Swedish neutrality has been deftly exploited by Israel and NATO to perpetrate falsehoods throughout Sellstrom’s work for the UN, including denial of the chemical-and-biological causes for “Gulf War Syndrome” and the shipments of U.S. chemical weapons to the Saddam Hussein regime.

The Hans Blix-Ake Sellstrom inspection teams in Iraq did not investigate the special-weapons bunkers that were bombed by American warplanes in the U.S. invasion.

Sellstrom also never made any attempt to probe the U.S.-produced 20-foot-long cannisters of VX nerve gas discovered at Balad Air Base by American National Guardsmen. His mission was not to prove Iraqi guilt but to get Washington off the hook for supplying tons of nerve gas to Baghdad. Saving U.S. officials like Donald Rumsfeld from disgrace and treason charges is far more important to imperial power that disclosing any facts in a theater of war.

The salient critique of the UN inspections in Iraq was made by American inspector Scott Ritter who accused the team of spying for Washington and NATO. The same question hangs over Sellstrom’s report on Syria. Is Sellstrom acting on behalf of Washington and Tel Aviv?

NATO Front Man

What is publicly known about Sellstrom is that the biochemist heads the European CBRNE Center [Center for advanced Studies of Societal Security and Vulnerability, in particular major incidents with (C)hemical, (B)iological, (R)adiological, (N)uclear and (E)xplosive substances], at Umea University in northern Sweden, which is sponsored by the Swedish Defense Ministry (FOI). Though not a NATO member, the Swedish military and police have a leading role in European security affairs as drafters of the repressive 2009 EU action plan based on the Stockholm Counterterrorism Programme.

Major funding for the CBRNE multidisciplinary research projects at Umea comes from the EU budget for the war on terrorism. These projects include: defense strategy for large-scale terrorist attacks (notice the term “relatively large scale” in his just-released Syria report); recommendations for EU medical emergency responses; and specialized training at Umea for experts, including military officers attached to NATO.

Sweden’s military-industrial complex, which includes Saab and Bofors, is anything but peace-loving and neutral. The kingdom’s cloak of neutrality is most useful for Israeli interests, which have exploited Scandinavia’s clean image to skew international policy against the Palestinians and Arab states, as demonstrated in the half-baked Oslo Accords.

Israeli Infiltration of Scandinavia

Umea University is deeply involved in joint research with Technion (Israel Institute of Technology), the Haifa-based university that provides state-of-art technology to the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and its intelligence agencies. Several departments, which are involved in joint Israeli research, participate in multidisciplinary studies at Sellstrom’s CBRNE center. These include: the computer department, which has cooperated with Technion on control systems since 2004; the medical faculty; and chemistry, his own field of studies.

The Israeli-Swedish research cooperation is fostered by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which provides scholarships and awards to bind together the industries and universities of the two countries. This year the State of Israeli is sponsoring the Start Tel Aviv program for expanded cultural ties, in its relentless campaign to subvert Scandinavia. The political agenda and military links behind the bilateral cooperation has prompted an anti-Israel boycott by conscientious Swedish academics.

No Credibility on Syria

The term “relatively large scale” chemical-weapons attack used in the introduction to the UN report on Syria is hyperbole, since any major attack with sarin would have resulted in tens of thousands of fatalities, especially if dispersed by military rockets. The first videos from Ghouta showed residents pouring out of their homes onto the street, gasping for fresh air. If indeed highly efficient rockets had been used, every one of them would have been killed instantaneous. The gassing, therefore, must have been an accidental release indoors, probably from a hidden rebel arsenal.

Chemical residues from the alleged rockets would have been oxidized by the heat of impact and certainly no intact organophosphate traces would be detectable, since sarin is designed to decompose after 20 minutes. Rockets are designed to use a binary system by which two chemical precursors are mixed during mid-air dispersal. Thus, there is no need for stabilizers or dispersants, meaning an absence of any identifying chemicals. The UN inspectors arrived long after the expiration period for sample testing. There is a possiblity also that the site and rocket parts may have been tampered with falsified evidence by the rebels and their foreign military advisers.

The casualty figures are unverifiable, and certainly not any of the videos showed more than a dozen corpses at a time. The scenes of swaddled infants is typical of war propaganda, certainly not believable when only a few faces were visible. The sum effect of these images is closer to theater than credible reporting.

Sellstrom’s strategy is to point fingers of guilt at the Syrian regime, while avoiding all possibility of alternative and more probable scenarios.

Hidden Agenda

American ambassador to the UN Samantha Power made emphatically clear that the “nerve gas used in Syria was more concentrated than the nerve gas in Iraqi.” Her statement should be rephrased as: “Saddam may have trans-shipped U.S.-supplied nerve gas into Syria, but it wasn’t our nerve gas used against Syrian civilians.”

That is the essential point of the Sellstrom report: To take Washington off the hook for being the major supplier of nerve gas precursors, formulations, delivery technology and storage systems to the Middle East, incluing Israel, Egypt, Libya, Iraq and very possibly Syria (during the Clinton era of good will).

The UN report of chemical weapons on Syria lacks basic credibility due to the duplicitous record of its chief inspector, Ake Sellstrom, who is politically and financially compromised at every level. An impartial fact-finding mission of credible international experts is required, but it would have no chance of conducting a fair investigation so long as Washington provides weapons and political support to the insurgency, including its Al Qaeda faction.

The geopolitical objective underlying the White House orchestrated hystrionics over Syria is to strip Damascus of its limited deterrence capability against Israel’s nuclear forces. Nerve gas may not be much of a counter-strike response compared with atomic warheads, but it seems Israel’s goal is absolute strategic supremacy against the Arab states and Iran. With the new UN report on Syria, Tel Aviv is a giant step closer to the dream of rendering all its neighbors defenseless and divided.

Yoichi Shimatsu, a science journalist based in Hong Kong, led a team of investigative reporters for the Japan Times Weekly and served as consultant to Takarajima 30 magazine during the Tokyo subway gassing in 1995.


USA Maneuvering for UN-Sanctioned Attack vs. Syria

Richard Becker

Having been forced to back off from a threatened military attack on Syria by intense international and domestic opposition, the Obama administration is now seeking to lay the basis for a UN Security Council-sanctioned assault.

On Sept. 13, an agreement was reached between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on a plan to dismantle Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons. The government of Syria expressed support for the agreement, while the Syrian armed opposition has condemned it.

Having been delayed in carrying out a direct military attack, the United States, Britain and France are seeking to use any UN Security Council resolution as the basis for a renewed push toward a Pentagon bombing campaign. Russia and China, which hold the two other seats in the Security Council, are attempting to word any Syria resolution in a way that prevents it from being used or interpreted as a rationale for such an intervention.

France was the colonial power over Lebanon and Syria. Britain was the other major colonial power in the Middle East until the end of World War II. The United States took their place as the major imperial power in the region in the post-World II era.

The ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), which organized protests around the country in the weeks prior to Obama’s announcement that he was pulling back from an imminent military attack on Syria, stated: “We believe that the issue of chemical weapons is being used as a pretext for greater intervention by the United States, Britain and France to carry out a larger but unstated agenda in the Middle East, which is to destroy every single independent, nationalist government in this oil-rich region.”

The United States has more than 5,000 nuclear weapons and is providing more than $3 billion each year to Israel, which has a large stockpile of chemical and biological weapons and, even more importantly, a large number of nuclear weapons. When the United States demanded last week that Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile be destroyed, they made sure to avoid language calling for a regional ban on such weapons since it would have highlighted the fact that the U.S. government’s principal ally, Israel, possesses these weapons.

Maneuvers at the United Nations

The plan agreed to by Syria calls for the Syrian government to turn over a list of its chemical weapons and where they are stored by Sept. 21. UN weapons inspectors are to arrive in Syria by mid-November and the weapons are supposed to be destroyed by the middle of 2014.

The agreement is being turned into a UN Security Council resolution. Kerry is demanding that the resolution include authorization for military strikes on Syria if it is deemed to not having sufficiently complied with the resolution. But the Russian government opposes this provision, and Russia is one of the five states that have veto power in the Security Council.

Both Obama and Kerry have repeatedly threatened that the United States could still carry out a unilateral attack on Syria, regardless of the wording of a UNSC resolution.

Chemical weapons report—More questions

The rationale for the U.S. threats of military action was a chemical weapons attack in Ghouta and the surrounding area east of Syria’s capital Damascus on Aug. 21. Obama and Kerry have blamed the Syrian government for the attack from the start. More than a year ago, the President Obama declared that use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would cross a “red line,” triggering a U.S. military response.

A team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had arrived in Syria on Aug. 18 to investigate an earlier alleged use of chemical weapons in the city of Aleppo.

That the Syrian government would launch a large-scale chemical weapons attack immediately after the arrival of the OPCW team in the country seems illogical, even more so given that the government forces have been making major gains in the war over the past several months.

The OPCW team conducted an investigation of the Aug. 21 attack and issued its report to the UN on Sept. 16 confirming that a chemical weapons attack had taken place, but not assigning responsibility. While the United States, Britain, France and Turkey have all blamed the Syrian government, the Syrian government has adamantly denied using chemical weapons and accused the opposition of staging a provocation to justify a U.S./NATO assault.

On Sept. 18, the Agence France Presse reported that the Syrian government had forwarded “new evidence showing it was opposition forces were behind the sarin attack” to the UN.

Besides responsibility for the Aug. 21 attack, the OPCW report leaves other unanswered questions. The Ghouta area is in Syrian opposition hands and the report states, regarding evidence the OPCW was collecting: “During the time spent at these locations, individuals arrived carrying other suspected munitions indicating that such potential evidence is being moved and possibly manipulated.”

The OPCW report does not include the estimated death toll. While the United States claims that at least 1,429 were killed, Britain and France have reported far lower figures, 350 and 281 respectively.

The report states that a deadly nerve gas, sarin, was delivered by M14 artillery rockets. But the question of whether the armed opposition possesses such munitions and sarin gas itself is not addressed.

There have been numerous reports of rebel forces possessing and seeking to produce sarin. On Sept. 13, the Los Angeles Times reported that a Turkish prosecutor had indicted six members of the Syrian opposition for attempting to procure precursor materials for creating sarin. The government of Turkey, it should be noted, has been strongly supporting the opposition.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition and “Free Syrian Army” have expressed bitter disappointment that the U.S./NATO air strikes they were hoping for did not materialize. They were counting on foreign intervention to tip the military balance in their favor, as it has become clear that they cannot win without it.

While it is worthwhile to skeptically examine the claims of those who are set on attacking Syria, the people’s opposition to a new imperial war against Syria should not be premised on whether or not chemical weapons were used either by pro-government forces or by the armed Syrian opposition. Rather it is necessary to expose the imperial motives of the United States, Britain and France, who are seeking any pretext to carry out their semi-colonial designs on the peoples of the region. These same imperialist forces have used nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Imperialist powers do not go to war because of “moral outrage” about the use of any particular weapon.

While the Obama administration was forced to pull back from military strikes, it has not given up on the objective it shares with the 11 other presidencies dating back to World War II: domination of the oil-rich and strategic Middle East. That means the anti-war movement must stay on alert.

Understanding the New Stage of the Syria Crisis

Brian Becker

Has the United States stepped back from the edge of the precipice?  Has the catastrophe been averted?

The U.S. war threat against Syria has not ended. But the particular path to war has required a shift because of resounding domestic and global opposition.

The U.S. Congress will now be asked to pass a different resolution than the one originally supported by the White House. The new resolution will be constructed to authorize Obama to carry out military strikes if the U.S. government decides that Syria is not in full compliance with a new UN resolution calling for its chemical weapons stockpiles to be totally destroyed.

This was precisely the scenario used by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney when they launched the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Even though the Iraqi government complied with UN weapons inspections demands and was actively disarming its own military forces, Bush simply declared that Saddam Hussein was not complying with UN resolutions and launched the U.S. war that toppled the government.

In Syria, like with Iraq, Libya and Iran for the past decades, the U.S. government goal of toppling independent, nationalist governments uses an assortment of tactics, including economic and financial sanctions, funding and arming internal domestic opposition, providing international legitimacy and recognition to the internal opposition, cyber attacks, and in some cases direct bombings and invasion.

Progressive and anti-colonial people should reject and oppose not simply one tactic like direct bombing but rather expose all forms of imperial domination against targeted countries.

In the case of Syria today, any push back or delay of the U.S. bombing of Syria is of extreme importance for the people of Syria. But it is certainly not the end of the struggle.

Russia’s proposal in context

The Russian government has offered a face-saving proposal to President Obama that is seen as a “way out” of the wildly unpopular U.S. bombing campaign against Syria.

It seemed likely that President Obama’s war resolution was going to fail in the House of Representatives and even possibly in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The people of the United States, in vast numbers, oppose the planned war against Syria even as the president and Secretary of State have tried to win them over by assuring them that only Syrians will bleed, which is the actual political meaning of the oft-repeated phrase “no boots on the ground.”

Although no details are yet available, the Russian proposal was immediately agreed to by Syria. The gist of the proposal is to put Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile under the control of the United Nations for their eventual elimination. Syria said it agreed to the Russian proposal as a way “to uproot U.S. aggression.” Syria has denied that it used chemical weapons on August 21 and suggested that the attack was a staged provocation by those who are seeking to draw in U.S. intervention to topple the regime.

UN as a double-edged sword

There will undoubtedly be another UN proposal put forward that also includes language asserting that the Assad government was responsible for the chemical weapons attack and those responsible for the attack must “be held accountable.” This would lead to the possible indictment and arrest of Assad for war crimes. This is a tack that the imperialists have used in several countries where the government is targeted for regime change by U.S. policy makers.

Such a poison-pill resolution would be unlikely to be accepted by Syria. Hopefully, Russia and China would also openly reject such a resolution, which is designed to lay the basis for open imperialist aggression.

The origins of Obama’s political crisis

Despite global and domestic opposition to the planned bombing campaign, Obama had continued his transition during the past weeks into the camp of John McCain, Lindsey Graham and his neo-con Secretary of State. This was the camp that had argued for direct military intervention because Assad could not be toppled through the civil war.

For the last two years, Obama supported the regime change plan through the agency of a foreign-funded civil war. His CIA, working in Jordan, coordinated the massive shipments of weapons to armed groups that were fighting the Syrian government. They used proxies and partners like Saudi Arabia as the source of the weapons, but it was the Obama administration’s strategy. The weapons go to the Free Syrian Army and other armed groups.

The commanders of the Free Syrian Army are on the CIA payroll, as was reported by Wall Street Journal reporter Adam Entous on Democracy Now. (Sept. 6, 2013)

The announcement of the alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians on August 21 was the pretext used by the interventionists to start the direct military war against Syria.

But from the beginning, the adventure ran into huge hurdles. Substantial sectors of the ruling class and Pentagon brass were unconvinced that another war would not be a disaster for U.S. interests in this oil-rich region. They were afraid that global opposition to the U.S. Empire could reignite and spread, as it had under George W. Bush.

Broadly speaking, public opinion in the United States was opposed to another war.

The whole case was riddled with obvious inconsistencies. They could offer no proof of their claim that Assad ordered the attack. They could cite no law that allowed the U.S. to wage a new aggression. They couldn’t openly identify what the real goal of the military operation was. But Obama , feeling politically trapped, pushed ahead toward the precipice.

Even on September 8,  Obama sent his representatives out to the Sunday morning talk shows arguing for war even as they admitted that they had “no irrefutable” proof that Assad had ordered a chemical weapons attack and that their justification was only based on what they called a “common sense test.” That means they have no proof at all.

Obama was ready to blaze away with cruise missiles and bombs against another small country in the Middle East. His feckless, super rich, blue blood Secretary of State was telling the American people not to worry about the coming catastrophe because the Saudi monarchy was standing solidly behind his efforts. When your Secretary of State loudly and proudly proclaims that he has secured the support of the arch-reactionary autocrats in Saudi Arabia, that has to be understood as sign that your war policy is sinking.

Obama, faced with the current circumstances, has been forced to step back, but there will undoubtedly be a Plan B developed using other mechanisms to intensify the war

Any step back from an imminent bombing of Syria and the certain wider war that would follow should be understood as a result of the global opposition to the planned bombing campaign and the deep division about its possible catastrophic impact on U.S. interests in the Middle East from within the summits of the economic and political establishment.

Syria and Iran have made it clear that if the U.S. undertakes this aggression there will be counter-measures taken. Once such a war is started, it is impossible to know how it ends.

Rather than relying on the United Nations to do the right thing, the most important aspect of the next stage of the struggle against the U.S. imperialist regime change efforts in Syria is for the people of the world to continue to organize all forms of public pressure in favor of a genuine peace that allows the Syrian people the right to determine their own destiny free from threats, sanctions, subversion and war.

Syria: Lies the Imperialists Told Us

Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition

The criminal attack being planned against Syria is based on lies. They are not hard to expose.

The Syrian government was given a formal request on Saturday, Aug. 24 to grant access to a United Nations team of inspectors to the town in the outskirts of Damascus to determine if chemical weapons had been used. The Syrian government granted permission the very next day, Sunday, Aug. 25.

Obama administration officials then immediately declared that the inspections no longer mattered because the Syrian government had delayed UN weapons inspectors’ access to the site. In fact, top U.S.  officials called UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon on Aug. 25 (when Syria agreed that the inspectors could visit) demanding that he cancel the UN weapons inspections because they “were pointless.” (Wall Street Journal, Aug. 26)

The claim against Syria is ludicrous. The Syrian government would not have an interest in using chemical weapons knowing that it would be the trigger for NATO military intervention. The government was winning the war. The foreign-backed armed rebel groups could only win the war if the U.S. and/or NATO intervened directly.

Every imperialist attack and every imperialist-inspired regime change strategy requires a pretext and a public rationale. There needs to be a noble cause to justify the aggression. Since it is the 21st century rather than the 19th century, the politicians of western capitalism have to conceal and mask their predatory aims as they routinely bomb and kill people in the Middle East, Asia and Africa who resist allowing their lands and resources to fall under the domination of western corporations, banks and business interests.

“Public opinion” required a humanitarian motive for the bombing of Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, Libya in 2011 and Syria in 2013.

The greatest purveyors of violence in the world present themselves as the greatest purveyors of humanitarian interests in the world.

Syria is not threatening the United States nor is anyone in the Obama administration suggesting such a threat exists. Thus, the planned military strikes against Syria are a violation of the UN Charter and international law.

The UN Charter and self-defense

The Obama administration is playing a dangerous game, escalating a war that could have devastating regional and global consequences.

The United States and Syria are both members of the United Nations and signatories to the UN Charter.

The UN Charter makes it illegal for one member nation to attack another except in the case of self-defense.

The Obama administration’s calculations on why it can and should bomb Syria are not premised on the idea of “legality” but rather power and power alone. They believe that Syria is so small and vulnerable that it will not be able to defend itself or retaliate against U.S. targets.

But the UN’s Article 51, Chapter VII makes clear that Syria would have such rights in the event of an unprovoked armed attack: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.” (Article 51, Chapter VII).

Syria’s presumed inability to retaliate is the unspoken assumption of the U.S. war planners and their cheerleaders in the mass media. War made easy!

The potential implications of an unprovoked attack on Syria are not even mentioned. The Obama administration implicitly promises the American people that only Syrians will bleed in this new “war.” With this promise they hope that the people of the United States will not rise up against the government that commits war crimes in their name.

During the next days people are going into the streets throughout the United States to say NO to another bombing campaign in the Middle East. Join and organize these demonstrations. The time to act is right now! Click here to join a demonstration in your area.

Fight the “Power”: Venezuela’s Maduro Responds to Obama’s UN Envoy Nominee

Power has also been ‘credited’ with lobbying the Obama Administration to attack Libya

Ryan Mallett-Outrim

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has described comments made by US President Barack Obama’s nominee for envoy to the United Nations as “despicable”, and demanded an apology.

Yesterday Maduro criticised the nominee Samantha Power’s testimony to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. During the speech, Power called for a “contesting” of what she described as a “crackdown on civil society being carried out in countries like Cuba, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela.”

“Power says she’ll fight repression in Venezuela? What repression?” Maduro responded on Venezuelan television.

“There is repression in the United States, where they kill African-Americans with impunity, and where they hunt the youngster Edward Snowden just for telling the truth,” he stated. His comments come in the wake of a Florida jury acquitting George Zimmerman on 13 July for the killing of  Trayvon Martin.

He also called for an “immediate correction by the US government”.

“And the U.S. government says they want to have good relations? What tremendous relations they want,” Maduro stated.

Following his victory in the 14 April presidential elections, Maduro called for closer relations with the US. In June, his foreign minister Elias Jaua met US Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry described the meeting as the “beginning of a good, respectful relationship”.

After the talks, Jaua told Telesur that the Maduro administration is open to a more positive relationship “based on the premise of mutual respect, non-interference in internal affairs and the proper treatment of disagreements”.

“If this is respected then we can move forward in relations with US,” Jaua stated. Today, Jaua announced that the government had issued a letter of protest to the US embassy in Caracas. According to Jaua, the letter asked if there is still “willingness” in Washington to improve relations, “as expressed by the Secretary of State John Kerry”.

Since then, Maduro has criticised the US for its pursuit of whistleblower Edward Snowden, to whom he has offered asylum.

Yesterday, he stated that Power’s comments were being applauded by the “fascist right” in Venezuela. Power’s speech also received positive feedback from a number of committee members, including some Republicans.

Along with calling for more “efficiency and a greater focus on promoting freedom”, Power stated that the UN needs US “leadership” and fairness.

“There cannot be one standard for one country and another standard for all others,” she stated, before criticising the General Assembly and Human Rights Council for passing “one-sided resolutions” against Israel.

“Just as I have done the last four years as President Obama’s UN adviser at the White House, I will stand up for Israel and work tirelessly to defend it,” she said.

From Idealism to Imperialism: Canada’s Dark History of NGO Funding

Julie Lévesque and Nik Barry-Shaw

For many years Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has been heavily criticised for its ideological management of aid funds. Known for its ties to right-wing religious groups and its unwavering pro-Israeli stance, the Harper government has cut the funding of organisations such as KAIROS working to promote, among other objectives,  Palestinian human rights.

The Conservatives recently decided to review the funding of projects in Haiti, arguing there was a “lack of progress”.

We will recall, however, that “progress” in Haiti was greatly hindered when the US with the support of  Canada and France orchestrated a coup d’état against Haiti’s very popular and democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Aristide was to implement measures to improve the living conditions of most Haitians, a move feared by the Haitian elite and their foreign partners making profits from the slavery-like conditions of most Haitians.

A Conservative government would have probably acted just like the Liberals did at the time.

Both the mainstream and alternative media suggest that the Harper government has scrapped the well-established and neutral institution of foreign aid, which was not prone to being influenced by the ruling party’s political and financial interests:

“The issue here is the reversal, by Stephen Harper, of a 60-year consensus shared by all previous governments about the central role of civil society in Canada. Every previous government has funded civil society groups and NGOs even when they espoused policies that contradicted the government’s own. Governments might have done so grudgingly and not as generously as some of us hoped. But it has been one of the quiet glories of Canadian democracy that our governments have often backed groups that criticized them or had competing priorities.

No more. With Stephen Harper, you either buy the party line or you get slapped down.” (Gerry Caplan, Kairos case is a reminder of the real Harper agenda, rabble.ca,February 20, 2011.)

To say that “every previous government has funded civil society groups and NGOs even when they espoused policies that contradicted the government’s own” is an incorrect statement. The  bookPaved with Good Intentions – Canada’s Development NGOs from idealism to imperialism “uncovers the darker side of the role played by NGOs.”

Like most developed countries, Canadian development NGOs have in fact served Canada’s foreign and domestic interests, and it is not only since the present Conservative government took power that NGOs have served Canadian as well as US foreign policy objectives.

Global Research met with one of the authors of the book, Nik Barry Shaw, who explains the origins of development NGOs in Canada and how they are serving political interests.

Here is the first part of the interview.

How and when did you discover the influence of government funding on NGOs?

It started as a conjecture. We were involved in Haiti solidarity activism in the early 2000s and heard many sources criticising NGOs. We knew that their position in Haiti was a hundred per cent in line with the foreign policy interests inCanada. This influence obviously happens behind closed doors and it is hard to demonstrate.

In the late 60s and the 70s, with the antiwar movements and the influence of the liberation theory, a handful of NGOs tried to go in a radical direction doing things which activists nowadays should be doing: criticise Canadian foreign corporate interests in the Global South, in South Africa, Guatemala, the mining interests in Chile, Canada’s foreign policy alignment with the US empire, etc. That criticism became an important part of their work and lots of projects were influenced by what they called the ‘ideology of solidarity’, which was saying to Canadians: “We need to fight on the side of the oppressed in these countries.”

From the beginning, the funding of the NGOs was governmental; it started out as a creation from government and they were looser with the control. They probably did not expect anything to go off the rails, like CUSO – an NGO founded by Keith Spicer and other people who had ties to universities, and the Liberal Party of Canada. They went to Lester B. Pearson and appealed for funding, and a lot of NGOs did the same. CUSO was the first NGO funded by a government. The largess that it received from the government pushed others to ask for funding and that spurred the creation of a matching grant system.

It started as a governmental creation explicitly as a way of winning over ordinary Canadians to the idea that Canada has to be up on the world stage, and that our duty in the Cold War was to develop the Third World, and that NGOs would create that human connection with Canadians and the aid program because otherwise it wouldn’t exist and would have no real relevance for ordinary Canadians

But it’s funny that a handful of them, including CUSO, the biggest NGO at the time, ended up doing the opposite! They made a case against aid and Canada’s foreign policy and went at the root of the issue which was that the corporations dominated the world economy, and the foreign policy of Western governments played a role in that domination and furthered it and were impoverishing the Global South. That, of course, was unacceptable.

So this led to increasing tensions between NGOs and the government, which started increasing control into the funding, eventually cutting it all in the case of CUSO in 1979. They were told they were not getting money until they reorganised their whole structure. Up until this time, under the influence of the more radical elements, they had been pushing toward a more democratic direction, giving more influence to the people in the field, decentralising and allowing programs to be developed by people outside the head office.

The government said, “We are getting rid of the democratically elected board of directors, replacing them with a bunch of people flown from the outside and we’re going to recentralise decision making power back in the hand of the home office.” They wanted someone that was accountable to them not accountable to people in Tanzania they had been working with, for example. So we discovered that there were very clear and very public instances of where the government stepped in and really imposed its agenda on organisations that received government funding.

In the past few years, cuts from the Harper government, related for example to NGOs defending Palestinian human rights, have given the impression that agenda-driven NGO funding is a new trend initiated by the Harper government when in fact government funding has practically always been aligned with foreign policy.

Yes, the first example in the book is in 1970-1975 when CCIC (Canadian Council for International Cooperation) had their funding cut after they organised a delegation to a UN conference in Rome on the food crisis at the time. Look how things change! They criticised very strongly the Canadian government’s position and that echoed back home and led to a pretty big overhaul of the food aid program, which in some ways ameliorated it, but the main impact was that the Liberal government, run by Trudeau at the time cut their funding.

There is definitely a parallel between what was happening internationally with development NGOs and what was happening domestically with community organisations. Trudeau wanted to create a participatory society so a lot of money was given to those orgs but always with conditions and strings attached. In Marxist terms it’s building the hegemony, the idea that the ruling class will appropriate the initiatives and ideas of oppositional movements and turn them into something that is harmless and defends the existing order. So it may seem like the rulers are willing to reform when in fact they absorb the oppositional elements, neutralize them and use them to defend the status quo.

It is basically what we call manufacturing dissent?

Yes. And it’s been going on for a long time.

How did you get the idea of writing about the inner workings of NGO funding?

Through my involvement in Haiti solidarity and the conflicts we had with development NGOs throughout 2004-2005. We expected these organisations who are for democracy and human rights to obviously be opposed to what was happening [the US-French and Canadian coup d’état] in Haiti because it was so blatant, how could they not? [To read more about Haiti and the coup d’état against the first democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, see our file here.]

Do you think these NGOs defended the military intervention deliberately or that they got caught in the propaganda against Aristide?

It’s complex. At the time we were just a bunch of anglo kids with some connections to the Haitian community that was opposed to the coup and we lacked experience and credibility. So we got in touch with other people, tried to build allies in the struggle, and they would tell us, “Well, I know someone at Development and Peace or Alternatives and they’ve been working on this issue for years and they’re good people and they say you’re completely wrong, so – end of discussion.”

It was difficult because they would not look at the facts, but would decide on the basis of their contacts. And if you told them, “You took all this money from the government and have this position on Haiti because of Canada’s implication in the coup, you are sold out, you’re a tool,” they would reply, “No, we’re not a tool, we were faithfully reflecting the position of our partners in Haiti.” And it’s true, they were.

Alternatives worked with a group called The Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development (PAPDA), headed by Camille Chalmers, an economist at the state university in Haiti, and regroups a bunch of left leaning, anti-neoliberal NGOs and it’s true they reflected their position. But the next question is why were they getting funding? Who were the groups that were getting funding? How come you were working with them and not some pro Lavalas groups [President Aristide’s party]? How come there is not one NGO in Canada that was working with the government, that happened to support the government or at least was not vehemently opposed to Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Lavalas movement? And we’re talking about a movement that had 50-60 per cent support, and overwhelmingly amongst the poor.

So are these NGOs being dishonest? I think a lot of it is that you buy into your own thing, especially for the left NGOs. They’ll say, “We’re working with the grassroots, we’re working with the civil society, with the people who are really struggling to change things.” You need to believe that if you’re going to do the work. But it’s not true. Who is Camille Chalmers? Who’s PAPDA? Who’s SAKS and all the NGOs they’re working with? They’re middle class Haitians! University educated, very far from the base, living a comfortable life, they have air-conditioned offices, they are set apart on a class basis from the rest of the society and their positions reflected that.

In the second coup it was overwhelmingly the tiny middle class and the bourgeoisie with members of the former dictatorship against the rest of society, against the government and its supporters in the slums and the countryside.

But the NGOs don’t see that because these groups give up on class analysis and can’t acknowledge the fact that the groups they are working with are not actually that grassroots and are not that connected to ordinary people, because that destroys the whole lies of NGOs, because they’re supposed to work directly with the poor people, the grassroots and social movements or whatever the buzzword they use at the time. They see themselves as working directly with the people, whereas the big, official aid agencies are working with the governments; they are big, top-down institutions and we, the NGOs are bottom up. That’s the appeal, and fundamentally it’s false because they end up creating a lot of little top-down structures and hierarchical relationships throughout society within Haiti and between organizations in Haiti and their relationships with foreign NGOs.

A good example of the lack of interest of NGOs in grassroots organisations is the one you mention at the beginning of your book, where you explain that it is the Haitian grassroots NGOs which initiated the downfall of the Duvalier dictatorship and instead of associating themselves with these organisations, the international NGOs replaced them or linked themselves with NGOs run by the Haitian elite.

In some ways it’s an unconscious and inevitable process. A lot of international NGOs, after the first coup in 1994, went there to try to work with the popular organisations. But the way they are structured and the amount of bureaucracy there is and paperwork there is to fill out and the expectations of the donors who fund the Canadian NGOs have – all of this makes it impossible to work with someone who is genuinely poor working class. You need people who are university educated, who are from the relatively privileged elite, who can talk the talk to get the funding.

It doesn’t automatically mean that they are unrepresentative of the rest of the population but you tend to work with people who aren’t necessarily connected with the grassroots, and if there is no strong accountability between the middle class people at the top getting the funding and the people at the bottom, the grassroots that you claim to be supporting, then sometimes what happens is the organisation becomes a vehicle for the person at the top. And the funding has a tendency to erode the accountability to the bottom and I think that’s what happened to a few organisations in Haiti. They received large amounts of funding after 1994 and they were very militant and very pro-Lavalas for a time, and with more funding it centralised power in the hands of the people who were able to get that funding and made them dependent on continuing to please the donors.

With Rocket Launch, South Korea Escalates Tension on Korean Peninsula

Shortly after the sanction of the United Nations against the DPRK’s launch of Kwangmyongsong-3, the launch of KSLV-1 by South Korea naturally leads to the question: why is South Korea allowed to do it, but not the DPRK?

The Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSVL-1), also known as Naro, blasts off from the Naro Space Center, located 480 kilometers south of Seoul, Jan. 30, 2013. South Korea successfully launched a space rocket in its third attempt to put a satellite into space on Wednesday.

The Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSVL-1), also known as Naro, blasts off from the Naro Space Center, located 480 kilometers south of Seoul, Jan. 30, 2013. South Korea successfully launched a space rocket in its third attempt to put a satellite into space on Wednesday.

People’s Daily

South Korea’s first space rocket Korean Space Launch Vehicle (KSLV-1), also known as Naro, successfully lifted off at Naro Space Center in South Korea on Jan. 30, 2013. Yonhap said South Korea plans to complete the independent research and development of Korean three-stage rocket in 2018–2019.

Backstage considerations

KSLV-1 was launched twice previously and both ended up with failure. The two launching plans last year were also cancelled because of technical fault. The launch on Jan. 30 was “one last shot” which finally succeeded.

Cui Zhiying, director of Korean Peninsula Research Office of the Asia-Pacific Research Center of Tongji University said that pertaining to foreign affairs, the launch of KSLV-1 was stimulated by the launch of Unha-3 rocket by the DPRK, but at the same time gave the latter an excuse to maintain the justification for its launching.

Internally, Pang Zhihao, space expert, executive editor of the International Space magazine said the launch of KSLV-1 has also brought about a lot of gains to South Korea. In politics, it is helpful to improve its international status and national cohesion; economically, KSLV-1 is alleged to have brought South Korea 2 trillion won of output. Finally, it laid an important foundation for the development of medium-range missiles since the rocket technology to launch a satellite can be transformed into ballistic missile technology.

Possible influences

Pang Zhihao said South Korea’s rocket technology is still at primary level and does not pose a threat to other countries. It mainly influences the DPRK but may give rise to a competition situation on the peninsula.

Gong Keyu, deputy director of Asia-Pacific Research Center of Shanghai Institute of International Studies said the DPRK may protest against the launch of KSLV-1 but in fact, the rocket technology of South Korean still lags behind that of the DPRK. Shortly after the sanction of the United Nations against the DPRK’s launch of Kwangmyongsong-3, the launch of KSLV-1 by South Korea naturally leads to the question: why is South Korea allowed to do it, but not the DPRK? This may lead to the alternating upgrade of the situation on the peninsula.

According to some other analysis, the lift of KSLV-1 may be regarded as a new round of provocation by the DPRK, who might even be so angered as to accelerate the process of its third nuclear test.