Turkey strikes Syria…

In June this year, Syrian forces shot down a Turkish military jet, claiming that it was in Syrian airspace. Turkey maintains that it was clearly in Turkish airspace. So began a militarisation of the conflict between Turkey and Syria – neighbours, former allies and potentially powerful enemies.

Recently, the Turkish parliament passed a Bill allowing unilateral military action against Syria, resulting from a shell fired over the border having killed 5 civilians. “It is not a bill for war”, said Besir Atalay, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minsiter, though it is intended to possess “deterrent qualities”.  Turkey retains one of the world’s largest standing armies, at roughly half a million soldiers it is larger than the professional armies of the UK, France and Germany combined. It is second only in size, within the Nato bloc, to that of the US. Similarly, as of last year, there are serious and considered plans to yet further double the size of the Turkish army – to a million soliders trained and paid for by the Turkish state. The aim being to both solve issues Turkey has had for many years with terrorism and its Kurdish separatists in the southeast, and long term structural unemployment.

Turkey has been reserved in its response to the growing violence in Syria, fearing unilateral involvement, and actively pursuing a UN resolution or a broader NATO containment force to be deployed. It is critically aware of historic sentiments towards its Ottoman rule over much of the Middle East. Yet, like the quiet but forceful boy in the playground, it’s not really wise for Syria to go poking him in the eye…

30,000 estimated deaths in Syria, as of early October 2012, is still apparently not enough to prompt either a consensual UN resolution, or an intention from NATO to deploy force. The rebels are not tiring of their all too just cause, and Assad feels strengthened both by this International inertia and the civil strife in the country his family has dominated for two generations.

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US Soldier breaks under pressure…

For all of their training, soldiers are people first and soldiers second. This simple fact can be seen yet again in the breakdown of one of these people, resulting in him shooting dead 16 people, in an unprovoked, premeditated act of murder.

Is a man guilty if he loses his mind? What are the ethical views of a society towards such a man; a society who recruited him, trained him, armed him and sent him out into a workplace – an arena of war, where he lost his mind. Does that society have a duty of care to this soldier? Is it really likely that such a person would be a mass killer in other circumstance? Lost his self regulation, forgot his empathy for his fellow man and took away their right to life.

This incident in not unique – just over two years ago, a middle ranking Officer and a senior professional (a US Army Major, serving as a psychiatrist), shot dead 13 people and injured 29 others, in the worst single act to take place on a secure American military base. How bad can things be, when the professional employed by the Army to address and resolve mental health issues in the soldiers for whom he has responsibility, himself loses his mind and instead of caring for and counselling his charge, he kills them.

On the latest figures we found (for 2010), US Army suicides were up 80%, from 2004, following the invasion of Iraq – to a total of 160 personnel. Previously suicide rates were far lower than amongst the civilian population. This was for a host of well documented reasons: camaraderie; purposeful occupation; role of physical exercise in mental well being; the importance of “joint purpose”. For this situation to have so catastrophically switched around is devastating to the lives of the serving soldiers, their families, the broader Army ethos and not least for their victims.

In a war that is operationally winding down – and all parties know this, its outcome will be measured by hostile actions of the Taliban in Afghanistan, within two years of US withdrawal, and the civil disorder still prevalent in Iraq. For the ISAF soldier, this outcome will more tangibly be measured by the mental health state they are left managing as they retire from the military and return to civilian life, along with the rest of us.

History speeds up…

This has been a momentous year. On the 17th December 2010, unemployed Tunisian youth, Mohamed Bouazizi, after having his vegetable stall removed by the police, sets fire to himself in protest. He later dies – this was the literal spark the garnered Tunisian youth into rebellion. Within a month, Tunisian President Ben Ali, had fled to Saudi Arabia, his regime collapsing.

This movement was soon adopted by the Egyptians, Jordanians, Palestinians and Syrians, to a greater or lesser degree of earnest application, and repressive crackdown. Syria is ongoing; Libya spawned a Conflict all of its own, involving a myriad of Nato forces – though, no manpower on the ground. So. we heralded the “Arab Spring”…the US, for once impressive in its restraint, adopted  a “wait and see” policy – one it still maintains.

The year moves on: Mubarak finally resigns (“finally” in this context should be qualified: after a 30 year reign, to take a couple of months to oust, is no mean feat.) Libya, however, entrenches – Colonel Gaddafi isn’t going anywhere…months of violence ensue, cities are bombed, thousands displaced, hundreds killed. The western countries follow an aerial bombing campaign, a war of attrition from the sky begins and formal alliances with the rebels are established. The bombing begins to co-ordinate with rebel movement on the ground; Gaddafi flees. He is later captured, physically violated and killed by those he has ruled for 40 years, those who he swore would die to protect him…

Meanwhile, back in Europe, things are not looking quite so rosy either. We enter the fourth year of either recessionary or significantly below trend growth. The countries of the Eurozone experience further problems in their fiscal positions. Europe, in the main (Italy always being the exception), has a recent history typified by stable government. The problems of the Euro and unsustainable debt begin to take their toll – as does almost 40% youth unemployment in areas of some member countries. Individual nations begin circling around that great spiral known as “Default”. The prospect of an ignominious exit from the greatest project of European unity, now seems an all too certain outcome. Greece is likely to be the first taker. Ireland, once the doyen of the Euro enthusiasts, now is littered with entire apartment blocks nobody wants to buy, and heartbreakingly, a new exodus of its’ talents…the first mass emigration out of the western European nation’s…

So…what do we conclude? Simply, that few things are knowable, that history itself  is speeding up and our path uncertain. That mass media and technology act as both a catalyst and spur, and moreover – witness. We are all participants, we are all stakeholders and some of us get to be drivers…which direction shall we head in 2012?

Collateral Damage is a bizarrely levelling force

Collateral Damage is a bizarrely levelling force. It presents an unjust and unedifying mordant dread for those caught unawares in its blistering range. And for those deliberate enough to exploit and capitalise on the vulnerable within their geographic range, they are merely, it seems, a hand to be played.

This past week has brought all the main rudiments of loss of life and limb to innocent participants in others’ conflict. British holiday makers suffer miserably as a splinter group of Kurdish separatists use their presence to publicise a cause that is both known, and widely supported in the democratic European Union, to which Turkey seeks entry. Ironically, such actions can only further jeopardise Turkey’s chances of successful entry into the EU. No matter, reason the separatists – their concerns are more immediate than the lengthy ongoing accession negotiations.

Similarly, in our last Blog item, we wrote about Hezbollah and their manipulation of the local population in Southern Lebanon. Collateral Damage knows no borders, no ideologies nor moralities. It is what it is, a blunt and terrifying presence – not showing favour as too which side suffers more acutely. Which side, that is, of the perpetrators: the victims are non-aligned – that is their designation.

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