Cameron and Obama will meet at the Nato summit beginning today. Photo: Getty
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Cameron and Obama pledge to “confront” Islamic State, ahead of Nato summit

The Prime Minister and US President have vowed against isolationism in the face of Islamic militants and the situation in Ukraine; will Cameron finally clarify Britain's stance on air strikes against Islamic State?

A two-day Nato summit will begin today in Newport, Wales, and unsurprisingly the priority subjects are the rise of militant group Islamic State (also known as Isis) in Iraq and Syria, and Russia’s interference in Ukraine.

David Cameron and Barack Obama have both been criticised repeatedly for lack of action on overseas affairs in general, seemingly “paralysed” – a word former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw used on the BBC’s Today programme yesterday morning – by former foreign policy mistakes, compounded by the chaotic aftermath of the Iraq invasion.

Cameron has been hit by the UK press for appearing not to know how to combat IS, with the Mail accusing him of mouthing “foolish nothings” and “dithering, posturing and waffle”. Obama, similarly, has been criticised for failing to halt Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions in Ukraine; a Times leader article over last weekend used the adjective “hapless” to describe the US President, and called for Nato leaders attending the summit to move away from “the reactive politics of the Obama era” towards “credible deterrence”. Scepticism about their approach to the Middle East is summed up in the first line of the Sun's leader this morning: "David Cameron and Barack Obama have a few things in common. One is that they both need to grow a spine."

Now the two leaders – whose strong point in the eyes of the world does not seem to be foreign policy – are meeting at the Nato summit, with other Nato leaders, to address the crises spanning the Middle East and eastern Europe.

Ahead of the summit, they have written a joint editorial in the Times, headlined, “We will not be cowed by barbaric killers”, which not only uses strong, determined language to make clear they will be turning up the pressure on the dangers that face the world today, but also reveals an acknowledgement that many are cynical about their hitherto relatively hands-off approach to overseas crises.

Here are some extracts:

 

Avoiding isolationism

There are some who say that we shouldn’t get involved in addressing these threats. There are others who doubt if Nato can adapt to meet the challenges we face. It is crucial we address these beliefs head on.

First, those who want to adopt an isolationist approach misunderstand the nature of security in the 21st century. Developments in other parts of the world, particularly in Iraq and Syria, threaten our security at home.

And Nato is not just an alliance of friends who come to the aid of each other in times of need. It is also an alliance based on national self-interest. Whether it is regional aggression going unchecked or the prospect that foreign fighters could return from Iraq and Syria to pose a threat in our countries, the problems we face today threaten the security of British and American people, and the wider world.

 

Islamic State

… we will not waver in our determination to confront Isil. If terrorists think we will weaken in the face of their threats they could not be more wrong. Countries like Britain and America will not be cowed by barbaric killers. We will be more forthright in the defence of our values, not least because a world of greater freedom is a fundamental part of how we keep our people safe.

 

Russia

With Russia trying to force a sovereign state to abandon its right to democracy at the barrel of a gun, we should support Ukraine’s right to determine its own democratic future and continue our efforts to enhance Ukrainian capabilities. We must use our military to ensure a persistent presence in eastern Europe, making clear to Russia that we will always uphold our Article 5 commitments to collective self-defence.

And we must back this up with a multinational rapid response force, composed of land, air, maritime and special forces, that could deploy anywhere in the world at very short notice. All this will also require investment from Nato countries in the necessary capabilities.

 

The proof of Cameron and Obama’s more forthright stance will be in their actions, rather than words, however – and the results of this week’s Nato summit will signal how they intend to act, or not to act. Both Cameron and Obama are known to talk a good game – and they’ve written a good game in the Times this morning – but new strategies, rather than words, are what the world will be watching out for.

On the Today programme this morning, the PM in an interview said, “I don’t rule anything out”, when asked about joining the US in air strikes against IS.

“I think we should judge all these things in terms of our own national interest… I absolutely think Islamic State is a direct threat to the United Kingdom. There’s no doubt we face a threat from this organisation… [that’s why we should] work with partners to put a fatal squeeze on this organisation.”

When asked for a second time whether Britain would be taking a more direct offensive role in the situation in the Middle East, he repeated: “we’re not ruling anything out”.

However, he warned that there is “no simple, straightforward, military-led answer to this” and called for a, “tough, long-term, intelligent approach”, cautioning against “Western intervention over the heads of neighbouring states [and people on the ground]”.

Asked whether he would consider working with President Assad in Syria to unite against IS, Cameron replied: “My view is that President Assad is part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Part of the answer [to why IS has risen to prominence] is Assad’s brutality in Syria gave credence to this group.” Most notable from this interview was the PM's view that President Assad's "war crimes on his own people" means that he believes there is no legal barrier to attacking Syria, because Assad's government can be judged as "illegitimate".

His view of why a significant number of British nationals are joining the jihadists is that, “I’m very clear about what the nature of the problem is. There is a poisonous narrative of an extremist Islamic worldview… it is a perversion and it needs to be confronted and defeated in all its forms… The core problem is this extremist, medievalist, murderous world view.”

Perhaps the Nato summit will decide whether Cameron takes the UK, alongside the US, into a more militaristic role against IS.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.