Sunday, 15 January 2017

Decline of the West: How the Methods of Colonization and Imperialism Have Come Home to Roost


The thesis that Western civilization is in decline is one which has been increasingly posited in recent times.

Centred on the fortunes of the nations comprising North America and Western Europe, such discourse has typically been framed under deconstructions based on alternate predictive models of history such as prescribed by the German philosopher Oswald Spengler or based on eschatological ideologies of religion.

Others have sought explanation by exploring specific issues and their correlation to certain symptoms of degeneration and dysfunction in regard to the institutions and the social fabric of these countries or in relation to their relative power, influence and vitality. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Soviet writer and dissident, asserted that the supplanting of religion by proof-based science which has irresistibly continued to erode morality and traditions was an error “at the very foundation of thought in modern times.”

For some, references to the diminution of the racial stock of Caucasian populations caused by falling birth rates and increased levels of immigration are central while others cite the rise of the economies of nations such as China, Brazil and India. In all cases evidence of such malaise is built around arguments identifying progressive decline in economic power, cultural practices, the codes of social morality operating within the countries as well as in the unethical policies of Western-dominated international financial institutions and the malign effects of the post-Cold War conflicts sponsored by the US-led military alliance of NATO.

Much argument has centered on the fortunes of the United States of America, a global superpower beset by economic ails represented by a trillion-dollar national debt as well as a marked diminution in its prestige and moral leadership owing to its conduct in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and arguably prior to that; in the policy of militarism adopted in the aftermath of collapse of the Soviet bloc and the creation of a unipolar world.

Henry Kissinger may have appropriated Spenglar’s model of analogizing the cycles of human civilizations to the four seasons when in the 1970s he claimed that the United States had “passed its historic high point like so many earlier civilizations.” For Kissinger, the decline of the United States is an historical inevitability: “Every civilization that has ever existed has ultimately collapsed. History is a tale of efforts that failed.”

The intellectual context of such discourse encompasses a range of schools of thought including those that subscribe to race-based explanations of the process of history and civilization such as was given exposition by Lothrop Stoddard in his 1920 work The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy and those who adhere to Marxist thinking which posits the inevitable collapse of capitalist institutions and the culture on which it is based.

While some thinkers have constructed theoretical models they claim as offering a universal explanation of the rise and fall of civilizations, others have focused on developing critiques of the dominant civilizational power. It may also be helpful to add that the fall of a powerful empire is not necessarily synonymous with the fall of a civilization.

For instance, the decline and end of empire for Britain was accompanied by the rise of the United States of America, itself an Anglo-Saxon nation which had been created as part of the idea of constructing a new society as a modern off-shoot of the ‘Old World’ of Western European civilization.

Old Europe was of course the location of empires built up on the ideologies of racial hierarchy and capitalism. These two issues formed the basis of the relationship between the West and the non-white peoples who were colonized and arguably continues to inform the relations between the West and the so-called developing world in the post-colonial era.

The establishment and maintenance of an ascendancy over non-Western people was facilitated by the creation of appropriate institutions and the adoption of policies and techniques through which political, economic and social control could be exercised over colonial and later nominally independent  post-colonial states.

The institutions and their methods of operating ensured the economic exploitation of colonies and former colonies as well as the instituting, when necessary, of brutal measures aimed at maintaining the status quo.

But it came at the cost of contradicting the values on which Western civilization was predicated. And as time has progressed it can be observed that these techniques of colonization and imperialism have been corrupting to the extent that they have been directed inwardly and key elements have been applied to Western and other European countries.

An argument can be made that they have effectively served to undermine Western civilizational values and provided at least part of the framework for its own ruination.

A useful starting point would be to refer to Aime Cesaire, the Martinique-born writer whose work Discours sur le Colonialisme (Discourse on Colonialism), a critique of the relationship between coloniser and colonised, presented rationales which drew from Marxist theory and the philosophy of Negritude. Cesaire asserted that one of the major criticisms of Hitlerism by Europeans was the harshness and the brutality of the implementation of race-based National Socialist policies which they believed were akin to the methods devised by European colonial powers in dealing with their colonial subjects.

The methods adopted by Adolf Hitler in his quest to create a new order on the European continent, namely of establishing a new basis for the relations between the German people and other ethnic groups as well as in realising Lebensraum in the eastern part of the continent owed a great deal to German state policy and practice during the imperial era of the Kaiser. In other words, the policies associated with racial hygiene, the Nuremberg system of racial laws, the merciless war against racial enemies as executed by the Einsatzgruppen and the infrastructure of racial extermination had a prelude under the circumstances of colonial rule.

The management of German-controlled territories on the African continent was predicated on the idea of the racial supremacy of those of German lineage. Laws were passed forbidding intermarriage between those of German stock and African indigenes.

These laws, the forerunner of the Nuremberg Laws which criminalised miscegenation between Germans and those considered as ‘racial inferiors’ on the European continent such as Jews and Romanis, had been influenced by the writings of Eugen Fisher, an anthropologist and eugenicist.

In the early part of the 20th century, Fisher had conducted field research and unethical experiments on the Herero and Namaqua peoples of South West Africa. His racially-motivated study of the bones and skulls of Africans pre-figured the human experimentation conducted by Josef Mengele, to whom he served as mentor, during the Third Reich.

German policies of racial extermination as applied to Jews and Romani in death and labour camps and the mobile death squads of the Einsatzgruppen had their basis in an earlier programme applied against the Herero and Namaqua who were punished for the sin of resisting colonisation via death marches, mass starvation and concentration camps. This was the first genocide of the 20th century and preceded the Ottoman programme against the Armenian people.

The methods of resisting rebellion in European colonies have at various junctures also been transplanted to Western countries. Officers among the British and French armies who battled various anti-colonial insurrections devised and refined various brands of counter-insurgency doctrines. These have involved the strategic use of collective punishment, preventative detention, torture and death squads.

The French experience in Indochina and Argentina produced ideas by the likes of David Galula, Roger Trinquier and Jean Gardes. Trinquier advocated the use of terror and torture in the war with the guerillas of the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN). Gardes, who fled to Argentinian exile after the failed rebellion of the anti-de Gaulle Organisation de L’Armee Secrete (OAS), was one of a group of former French officers who trained and advised members of the Argentinian military in the ‘dirty war’ waged against Marxist guerillas in the 1970s and 1980s.

British counter-insurgency doctrine was also shaped in the waning days of empire in places such as Mandate-era Palestine, Malaya and Kenya. Again, the practice of employing torture was integrated into operations aimed at putting down insurrection. Although torture has been contrary to the English common law for several centuries, it was part and parcel of the range of extraordinary measures built into breaking the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s.

British army methods of what euphemistically came to be known as enhanced interrogation techniques became a highly valued ingredient in another Latin American ‘dirty war’, this time in Brazil. The military Junta which seized power in 1964 also waged a war against Leftists using the panoply of state-sanctioned violence including death squads and torture.

But the crude methods of torture initially employed by the Brazilian military while efficient in the homicidal elimination of state enemies was not as efficient in gathering of intelligence data. British Army advisors, with newly acquired experience of refined techniques of torture from a counter-insurgency in Northern Ireland, were able to provide the necessary expertise in the use of psychological torture which their Brazilian counterparts found to be more effective. Using the ‘Five Techniques’, a strategy which combines the use of sensory deprivation with high stress, information was obtained at a higher rate than was previously the case with dissident prisoners.

The Brazilians even began referring to the new interrogation methods as the ‘English System’.

The British Army, which had been deployed in Northern Ireland to keep the peace between Roman Catholic and Protestant communities soon became embroiled in an insurgency conducted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

The employment of a counterinsurgency strategy influenced by the army theoretician Frank Kitson, a brigadier commanding an infantry brigade in the early part of ‘The Troubles’ in the early 1970s, is argued by many republicans to have worsened a situation that had began as a peaceful civil rights protest movement seeking to end anti-Catholic discrimination.

Fuelled by to an extent by longstanding anti-Irish racism and ancient anti-Catholic sectarian sentiments, Britain, the argument goes, had transferred intact the brutal techniques of suppression fashioned in colonial destinations to a province of the United Kingdom which diehard republicans ruefully refer to as “England’s first colony and its last”.

Britain’s own ‘dirty war’ involved the use of the harshest measures and techniques as had been employed in its recent colonies: Death squads were represented by special military units such as the Military Reaction Force (MRF) and successor creations of British Army intelligence. These units formed the fulcrum through which a vicious war of attrition ensued with the use of loyalist paramilitary proxies from the Protestant community.

Population control techniques such as internment and the surveillance of working class Roman Catholic communities were employed and a system of torture notably at venues such as East Belfast’s Castlereagh interrogation centre was formalised. The use of the ‘Five techniques’ was ruled to amount to torture by the European Commission of Human Rights in 1976. Two years later, the European Court for Human Rights held that that while they did not amount to torture, they still breached the European Convention on Human Rights because they constituted “inhuman and degrading” treatment.

The resistance to introducing the use of plastic bullets to the British mainland despite its decades-long use in Northern Ireland offers confirmation to those Irish who perceive more than a whiff of the colonial master’s mentality in British attitudes to the people its province. The methods utilised for containing the serious breakdown of law and order in the early years of the ‘Troubles’ were not applied in the United Kingdom even though the military theorist Frank Kitson did envisage that they likely would be.

However in the United States where state and local police forces have become more militarised, the increasingly brutish manner employed by officers in dealing with members of the public can be attributed to the training they receive and the doctrine being inculcated from a part of the world involved in an ongoing colonial enterprise. This is the state of Israel.

Many police departments receive training on crowd control, the use of force and surveillance from Israel’s national police, military and intelligence services. The training is not focused on community policing in conventional circumstances but is given in the context of maintaining order in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The United States Department State has backed up the findings of international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International who have cited extrajudicial executions, the use of torture and excessive force against peaceful protesters by Israeli security organisations.

For many American police forces, the emphasis is not on community policing but acting as an occupation force. It is a mindset which owes a great deal to being trained within the framework of the tactics used to suppress Palestinians.

It is no surprise therefore to discover what a US Department of Justice report published in August of 2016 found to be “widespread constitutional violations, discriminatory enforcement and culture of retaliation” in regard to the policing of the American city of Baltimore. The quality of training led to the use of excessive force against juveniles, homeless persons and those with mental health issues.

This form of policing is not restricted to the troubled inner cities of poor African American and Latino communities. The statistics show that incidents involving the shooting of unarmed citizens have shot up by over 500% since the Bush era. The number of civil action claims and settlements have also increased.

The passage of the National Defence Authorization Act and other draconian legislation in the post-9/11 era provides the basis for future government actions that would enable the colonial-like treatment of US citizens. The extensive powers granted to law enforcement bodies tasked with surveillance as well as the potential creation of camps under the auspices of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides ample scope for this.

The rise of the United States as a power on a global scale has meant that it has acquired the characteristics of an empire dictating and controlling other countries. The acquisition of Spanish-speaking territories after the defeat of Spain in the Spanish-American War meant that it inherited an empire including Cuba and the Philippines.

But even before this, the Monroe Doctrine which formalised a fundamental policy of hemispherical domination meant it thought and acted less as a first nation among equals than as an empire controlling a dominion of states. Numerous interventions in Latin American states consolidated the reputation of the United States as a purveyor of ‘Yanqui Imperialism’; a bully state concerned only about economically exploiting its smaller neighbours. Many of the interventions in South and Central America as well as in the Caribbean, were done at the behest of corporations and banks.

General Smedley Butler considered himself to be a racketeer and enforcer for the banks and corporations on Wall Street. He had been he claimed a “gangster for capitalism”.

This continued after its official ascendency to the status of a global superpower in the aftermath of the Second World War. The Cold War era with interventions in Iran, Guatemala and Chile as well as waging a counter-insurgency effort in Vietnam which regardless of its ideological rationale, bore the trappings of a neo-colonial war in Vietnam.

The imperious hand of the United States intervened in the affairs of a number of its Western European allies in order to ensure that they did not fall under the influence of the Soviet camp. The fear of communism meant that these countries were effectively treated as vassal states and in a manner redolent of the methods used by European colonial powers.

The attitude is perhaps best encapsulated by a diatribe of US President Lyndon Johnson. A complaint by Greece’s ambassador to the United States over American meddling in the affairs of his country met with the following harangue from Johnson:

Listen to me, Mr. ambassador. Fuck your parliament and your constitution. America is an elephant. Cyprus is a flea. Greece is a flea. If those two fleas continue itching the elephant, they may just get whacked by the elephant’s trunk. Whacked good...We pay a lot of good American dollars to the Greeks, Mr. Ambassador. If your prime minister gives me talk about democracy, parliaments and constitutions, he, his parliament, and his constitution may not last long.

They were sentiments echoed later on by the CIA station chief in Athens at the time of the military coup staged with United States backing against the democratically elected socialist government of Greece. When the US ambassador expressed disapproval by stating that the coup represented a “rape of democracy”, the station chief retorted: “How can you rape a whore?”

American modes of intervention were not at all dissimilar to those still utilised by Western European countries to keep their former colonies in line once they were nominally independent. The post-colonial policy of Francafrique which sought to bind France politically, economically and diplomatically with its former African colonies effectively maintained French hegemony.

Jacques Foccart, the chief adviser on African policy to the governments respectively of Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou, was for a long period of time, the dominant force behind the management of this relationship. It was one which was decidedly paternalistic in nature and which also undertook a sometimes sinister form. In 1959 Foccart co-founded Service d’Action Civique (SAC), a Gaullist militia that specialized in covert operations in Francophone Africa. Recruited from the ranks of political toughs as well as from the underworld, SAC undertook armed operations in the continent from a base in Gabon.

The strategies employed by the United States in relation to the Western European nations it had liberated from Nazi domination and formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), an anti-communist military alliance, were no less underhand. It is worth reminding that the first successful operation undertaken by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) after its establishment under the US National Security Act of 1947 was to fix the Italian general elections held the following year against the popular communist party.

The irony of French insistence on continued hegemony over its previous African dominions may have been lost on de Gaulle who came to view NATO’s presence on French soil as an affront and a threat to French national sovereignty. When four of his generals staged a coup in French Algeria in 1961 as a prelude to an attempt to overthrow his government, de Gaulle was aware of CIA support for the putschists. He also came to understand that US intelligence was supporting the OAS which was attempting to assassinate him for what they considered to be his betrayal over the issue of Algerian independence.

The OAS was linked to the stay-behind secret armies controlled by NATO. While these cells were ostensibly tasked with the role of preparing to serve as guerrillas sabotaging occupying armies of the Warsaw Pact in the event of an invasion of Western Europe, evidence points to their having morphed into something sinister.

Today known generically as Gladio, the name of the Italian branch, NATO’s secret armies are claimed to have fomented military coups and facilitated acts of terrorism, both with the aim of forestalling communist influence in the governments of Western Europe. Thus the United States sanctioned the overthrow of governments in Turkey and Greece, events helped by the input respectively of Counter-Guerrilla and LOK, the Turkish and Greek versions of Gladio.

In Italy, Germany and Belgium, terror attacks directed at the public and officially blamed on Left-wing groups were in fact carried out by fascist and neo-Nazi groups with the aid of the intelligence branches of state who were influenced by the CIA and NATO intelligence. In Italy, the anni di piombo or ‘years of lead’, featured numerous bombings most notably in Milan, Peteano and Bologna which were part of la strategia della tensione or strategy of tension designed to influence a fearful public to seek protection from politically Right-wing governments.

The revelations of the former neo-fascist Vincenzio Vinciguerra and General Vito Miceli point to American-led NATO involvement in acts of terror and coup plotting. It was a less obvious form of involvement in the affairs of purportedly sovereign nations but no less insidious than its lengthy experience in shaping the political direction of many states through numerous American interventions in Latin America.

There is perhaps no better illustration of how the methods of neo-colonial behaviour in the West has been appropriated and applied to certain European countries than in the manner in which countries are put into spiralling debt before being plundered of their national treasures and resources while effectively losing national sovereignty.

The techniques employed by the World Bank in creating indebtedness in nation states through arrangements made with the leaders and the elites of such countries was given detailed airing by John Perkins in his book Confessions of an Economic Hitman. According to Perkins who worked as a strategic consultant advising institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the role of professionals such as him was to:

...cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They funnel money from the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign “aid” organisations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources. Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex and murder. They play a game as old as empire, but one that has taken on new and terrifying dimensions during this time of globalization.

The result of indebtedness (i.e. when the country is unable to service the development loan) is that the affected developing country would be obliged to enter into a structural adjustment programme. The terms typically mandate that the country consent to privatizing and deregulating its economy. It also entails lifting trade barriers and imposing an economic regime of austerity. The implications for national sovereignty are all too apparent. And where the level of debt is particularly high, it creates the circumstances through which national assets and resources can be taken over by foreign, inevitably Western corporations.

As the economic plight of nations such as Greece and Portugal demonstrate, such economic colonization appears to be applicable to certain European nations. For it appears that the longstanding principle of re-adjusting terms when a debt becomes unserviceable has been abrogated and substituted by one that is insistent that social services and benefits must be slashed and national resources sold.

Thus it has been the case that successive governments in Greece have signed memorandum agreements which have imposed a particularly stringent austerity regime that forces Greece to sell off important public assets. The fact that European Union (EU) and a troika consisting of the European Commission (EC), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have to approve relevant legislation brought before the Greek Parliament is taken by many Greeks as evidence of the forfeiture of their national sovereignty.

There is a belief among some eastern European commentators that the absorption of former Soviet Bloc nations into the European Union has merely created an opportunity for the West to replace presently indebted southern European states such as Greece with new markets to plunder. The fate of central and eastern European members of the EU has, they argue, been one of indebtedness and general economic malaise caused by the sale of national industries to foreign corporations who engage in large-scale asset stripping.

Certainly the experience of post-Soviet Russia at the hands of Western bankers and economists hired to oversee the transition from a centralised, planned economy to one operating according to laissez faire principles, was a hard one tinged with scandal and tragedy. Incomes fell as did life expectancy as social services became near to extinct and the nation’s industry and resources was permitted to be bought up at rock-bottom prices enabling a few individuals rose within a short period of time to form an infamous group of oligarchs. Russia was plundered.

Meditating over the the causes of the presumed decline of a civilization is an inherently weary endeavour. And any attempt at constructing a universally accepted paradigm based on a range of criteria ranging from the scientific to the eschatological will never achieve universal acceptance.

But the evidence from trends which are retrogressive and trajectories that are harmful are all too apparent. The path taken toward militarism, the importation of a police state culture and evolving oligarchic capitalism all have dire implications for social justice, economic fairness and democratic values.

It is also clear to those with an understanding of history and the contemporary world that the attitudes and the practices of the West towards the non-western world have a bearing both on elevating its civilizational values as well as diminishing such values. And it is with regard to the latter that a substantial part of any discourse on the decline of the West should necessarily focus.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2016)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Frank Kitson - A Soldier’s Legacy

General Sir Frank Kitson, GBE, KCB, MC & Bar, DL

Army generals unsurprisingly have tended to be remembered best for feats concocted on the battlefield when managing formations of soldiers pitted against similar opposition in an international or a civil war.
But the changing nature of military conflict since the end of the Second World War has seen a diminution of all out wars between massed national armies and an increase in what are termed low intensity conflicts where a national army has to contend with an insurgency.
The wars fought by the fading colonial powers Britain and France to put down insurrections in the post-war period such as occurred in Palestine, Indochina, Malaya, Kenya, Algeria and others, are notable examples. These conflicts provided fertile breeding ground for a type of soldier immersed in the sort of strategies and tactics not imparted in many staff colleges of the time which focused on conventional warfare.
And while the idea of unorthodox warfare was not invented during this period, the experience of fighting against miscellaneous national liberation movements while utilizing irregular methods of warfare brought about new theoretical constructs that began to reshape the thinking of many military staff colleges about the manner in which they trained their officers.
Up to this point in time, the ‘warrior-scholar’ was perhaps best exemplified by the German General Heinz Guderian whose writings about the use of mobile mass tank formations in battle provided an innovation from the largely static trench-warfare fought during the First World War. The experience of colonial wars produced military theoreticians in the art of counter-insurgency such as Roger Trinquier and David Galula, both French officers, the former who served during the First Indochina War and the Algerian War and the latter in Algeria.

British military officers have also made significant contributions to the development of counter-insurgency techniques. This is not surprising given over two centuries of imperial policing and combating revolutionary movements. Robert Thompson’s experience of the counter-insurgency effort in Malaya provided a theoretical template geared towards defeating the Maoist technique of rural guerrilla insurgency.
Frank Kitson, whose soldiering career developed during the waning years of empire is another such figure. He served in Malaya, Kenya, Aden and Northern Ireland, and his theories have alongside Thompson’s become the official counter-insurgency doctrine of the British Army.
It is often argued that while Thompson’s theories are focused on the strategic and operational level, Kitson’s are practically orientated to the operational and tactical level. Another important area of distinction between both men relates to the collation of intelligence. Where Thompson felt that this was a matter for the relevant police organisation, Kitson stressed that this should be centred with the army.
One crucial factor that sets Kitson apart from Thompson is his notoriety. He was deeply involved in what are now universally acknowledged to have been ‘dirty wars’ fought by the British Army in Malaya, Kenya and Northern Ireland.
In Northern Ireland, he initiated a covert intelligence military organisation known as the Military Reaction Force (MRF) which carried out missions that effectively amounted to state-sanctioned assassinations. He also had under his charge the Parachute Regiment’s Support Company which played a crucial role in the 1972 massacre of protesting civilians known as ‘Bloody Sunday’.
Moreover, his experiences in Kenya formed the backdrop of his books Gangs and Counter-Gangs (1960) and Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency and Peacekeeping (1971), both of which prescribe counter-insurgency tactics which still form the DNA of the British Army’s response to insurgencies.
Kitson clearly subscribed to the philosophy of the ancient Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu, that to understand your enemy, you need to be your enemy. Thus, a key plank of Kitson’s formula for waging asymmetric warfare was the concept of the ‘counter-gang’ or ‘pseudo-gang’.
It was a development from the ‘government gangs’ strategy of an earlier British army officer named Orde Wingate who successfully implemented a counter-terror policy against Ethiopian Shiftas in British Sudan and a counter-insurgency in British-ruled Palestine during the Arab Revolt of 1936 to 1939.
Kitson’s idea of a counter-gang consisted of members of the counter-insurgent army and ‘turned’ members of the guerrilla force. The intelligence-driven rationale of the concept meant that the guerrillas had to be infiltrated by traitors and information collated and stored in a large database of information.
Aside from infiltration, Kitson accepted Wingate’s tactic of imitating the modus operandi of the irregulars and taking the fight to them. Infiltration and imitation by the parallel gang provided possibilities for sowing confusion in both the guerrilla-gang and the wider population by launching ‘false flag’ operations designed to discredit them. As a former MRF soldier explained in a BBC Panorama documentary Britain’s Secret Terror Force which was broadcast in 2013, “We were not there to act like an Army unit, we were there to act like a terror group”.
The combination of growing intelligence on the gang resulting in arrest or compromise as informers and government agents together with psychological operations which demoralise its membership and denude its capabilities would, Kitson theorized, ultimately subjugate an insurgent force.

Kitson’s view of insurgency also stressed the importance of integrating the military effort with a flexible legal background, the resources of the media and political action to provide a favourable outcome to the conflict.
While Kitson claimed that working within the law was an important factor in managing a successful counter-insurgency campaign, it is clear that the methods employed in Kenya and in Northern Ireland respectively against Mau Mau and Irish Republican Army insurgents went outside the boundaries respectively of the relevant colonial laws in place as well as British law.
That he believed there was a need to abrogate ethical and legal constraints is clear from a statement Kitson made in 1971, when he was captured on film asserting the following:
In order to put an insurgency campaign down, one must use a mix of measures and it is sometimes necessary to do unpleasant things which lose a certain amount of allegiance for a moment in order to produce your overall result.
This doctrine formed the basis of the strategy employed by the British Army in countering the IRA during ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, in the early stages by the use of British Army personnel, the aforementioned MRF, as a counter-gang, and later by the use and manipulation of loyalist terror groups via military intelligence organisations such as the Special Reconnaissance Unit (SRU) and the Force Research Unit (FRU). Further, 14 Intelligence Company was a surveillance unit whose work paved the way for lethal counter-terror operations conducted by Special Forces.
The MRF functioned in the first instance as a surveillance and intelligence gathering unit and then acting on information gathered as a direct action counter-terrorist unit. As a ‘counter-gang’, the MRF aimed to denude the IRA’s capabilities and to demoralize its members.
Also, those actions by MRF units such as drive-by shootings which could be attributed to loyalist paramilitary gangs, were designed to draw the IRA into a fight with rival Protestant paramilitary organisations and so divert the IRA from attacking British troops.
Furthermore, targeting and shooting dead IRA guerrillas and inflicting civilian casualties was designed to show that the IRA was vulnerable and that the Roman Catholic community could not rely on the organisation for protection.
The shooting of a sixteen-year old outside of a school disco and of three men chatting at a bus stop were typical of many actions traceable to the MRF. The unit’s members did not operate under the Yellow Card rules of engagement which governed the use of force employed by soldiers in Northern Ireland. MRF operatives opened fire on unarmed civilians and shot at IRA suspects even if it was uncertain that they were carrying weapons. As one MRF soldier said, “If they needed shooting they’d be shot”.
While they may have felt they were hunting down ‘baby-killers’ and ‘psychopaths’, many in the Republican community considered their activities to have amounted to state-sanctioned murder. And the figure they believe bears the responsibility for these acts is Frank Kitson.
In 2015, he was made subject of a legal suit accusing him of been “liable personally for negligence and misfeasance in public office” on the basis that in creating this policy, he was “reckless as to whether state agents would be involved in murder.”
Kitson’s response was to assert that he was only a commander of troops and not a policymaker. He made no specific references to his experiences in Northern Ireland in his 1977 book Bunch of Five, a military autobiography, given the sensitivity associated with a still ongoing conflict.  MRF organisational records have been destroyed and while there may be a temptation to portray Frank Kitson as having been merely the spiritus rector of early and later techniques employed in the counter-insurgency, there is ample evidence pointing to Kitson as having been the architect of the overall policy as well as the specific creator of the MRF.
For starters, his service in Northern Ireland dating from September 1970 when he was posted there as a Brigadier commanding the 39th Infantry Brigade until his departure in April 1972 coincides with the time frame of the MRF’s creation and its area of activity.

The MRF operated from the summer of 1971 to the early part of 1973. Kitson’s brigade, which operated as 39 Airportable, was responsible for the area of Belfast and the eastern part of the province -areas covered by MRF activity. The MRF’s camp and armory were located in Palace Barracks, Holywood -east of Belfast- in County Down which functioned as the Brigade’s headquarters. In fact, during the June 1973 attempted murder trial of one Sergeant Clive Williams, Williams identified himself as belonging to an MRF unit attached to 39th Infantry Brigade.
Moreover, Lord Carver, the British officer who served as head of army administration during the Kenyan crisis and as a government advisor during the early part of ‘The Troubles’ was quoted by Mark Urban, the historian and journalist, in his book Big Boys Rules: The SAS and the Secret Struggle against the IRA, as stating that Kitson was the initiator of the MRF.

“For some time,” said Carver, “various surveillance operations by soldiers in plain clothes had been in train, initiated by Frank Kitson when he commanded the (39) Brigade in Belfast, some of them exploiting ex-members or supporters of the IRA.”
Although he was never the most senior officer serving in Northern Ireland, Kitson’s importance to covert and overt operations is made clear by General Sir Mike Jackson who in his memoirs described Kitson as being “the sun around which the planets revolved” who “very much set the tone for the operational style in Belfast.”
Kitson secured the approval of his superiors to set up the MRF and those MRF members who had been recruited from the ranks of the IRA –known as ‘Freds’- were sent to live in a married quarters section of Palace Barracks. Clear evidence of his involvement can be ascertained from a paper Kitson penned for the Home Office entitled Future Developments in Belfast by Commander 39 Airportable Brigade. Dated the fourth of December 1971, Kitson, when explaining the need for more organisational efficiency on the part of the British Army, writes, “As you know, we are taking steps to do this in terms of building up and developing the MRF...”
Kitson’s philosophy and activities in Northern Ireland is also important to consider in the context of Britain at the time. This is because he believed that there was a strong possibility that the breakdown in law and order in Northern Ireland could be mirrored in the rest of Britain and that the tactics employed there would be required on the mainland.
This is not at all fanciful. The country which Kitson was serving in the late 1960s and the 1970s, was one severely challenged by a range of maladies which threatened to get out of hand. The loss of empire and a sense of economic malaise represented by the devaluation of the pound, high levels of unemployment, a militant trade union movement which some influential people believed was being guided by a ‘communist Trojan Horse’ all contributed to a growing pessimism on the part of certain influential members of the Establishment that Britain was bedevilled by ineffective governance and on the brink of economic collapse.
England was no longer a ‘green and pleasant land’ and the possibility existed that ‘unpleasant’ measures of the sort advocated by Kitson might need to be put into effect.
Certainly, among the measures considered was that of a military takeover. In the late 1960s, the newspaper baron Cecil King was the focus of a plot by renegade MI5 officers in an enterprise which would have engineered the overthrow the Labour government of Harold Wilson and the installation of Lord Mountbatten as the head of a military regime.

In 1974, a series of army deployments around Heathrow Airport in January and June were viewed as dress rehearsals for a coup by Wilson who had not been given advance warning or notified about who gave the orders.
While retired military figures such as General Walter Walker, a former NATO commander, and David Stirling, the founder of the SAS, had garnered publicity because of their endeavours in setting up private armies which they intended to use to keep the country functioning in the event of a union-led general strike, behind the scenes, serving officers in the military are believed to have readied themselves for action.
If a coup or similar extraordinary action involving a declared state of emergency had taken place, it would have been facilitated by the likes of Kitson. His book Low Intensity Operations had advocated the use of the army in a situation of severe civil disorder. The army, he believed, needed to be deployed against ‘subversion’ as it had been against ‘insurgency’.

To Kitson, the tools of subversion involved the “use of political and economic pressure, strikes, protest marches, and propaganda” which could be employed to pressure the government to “do things they do not want to do” and coercing the public into giving support.

A close reading of his words could identify any non-violent direct action protest movements including the trade union movement as potential sources of subversion. In a television interview, Kitson stated that it might be necessary for the military to “take over against terrorist plots and conspiracies” which might develop in Britain.

These views according to a BBC news reporter implicated Kitson in the planning of a military coup – an accusation which he strongly denied. There was a fundamental difference, Kitson argued, between upholding the civilian government and undermining democracy.
Yet, it is the the case that the methods employed by Kitson in colonial emergencies and in the domestic circumstance of Northern Ireland offended the rule of law. His theories and their application are laced with ambiguity and contradiction. For instance, the assertion that counter-insurgency methods should be applied within the law is qualified by an insistence that the law be flexible and accommodating of certain measures that needed to be taken to defeat the insurgents. As he wrote in Bunch of Five:

No country which relies on the law of the land to regulate the lives of its citizens can afford to see that law flouted by its own government, even in an insurgency situation. In other words, everything done by a government and its agents in combating insurgency must be legal. But this does not mean that the government must work within exactly the same set of laws during an insurgency as existed beforehand, because it is a function of government to make new laws when necessary

It is a form of logic that echoes the old Cromwellian adage about those “great occasions in which some men are called to great services, in the doing of which they are excused from the common rule of morality.” In essence, Kitson argued that a peaceful state of affairs could be restored by resorting to the use of morally disagreeable tactics.

But what was intended to serve as a peacekeeping force in Northern Ireland became a partisan one and could not be considered as a neutral broker between the warring communities since the British army essentially took sides with Protestant paramilitaries.

The esteem with which Frank Kitson is held for his service to the British state is evidenced by the assortment of military medals he received. These include the Military Cross and a Bar. His award of the Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1968 was upgraded to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1972 for his operational service in Northern Ireland the previous year. He ended his army career with the rank of general and as a sign of the favour in which he is held by the state was for a time the aide-de-camp general to the sovereign.

He is also a figure of respect and even held in reverence by a large segment of his contemporaries and subsequent generations of soldiers. General Mike Jackson, a young paratrooper serving a tour of duty in Northern Ireland at the time Kitson was posted there, considered him an “incisive thinker and military theorist”, while US General David Petraeus paid him a visit at his Devon home prior to the major counter-insurgency effort in Iraq known as ‘the surge’.

While the ending of the conflict in Northern Ireland, starting with the declaration by the IRA in 1994 of a “complete ceasefire”, is characterised by sympathizers of the Republican movement as a stalemate followed by political compromise, the fact that the IRA’s demands for the complete withdrawal of British troops and the reunification of Ireland was not accomplished is interpreted by British military figures as a victory of the British state. If this view is accepted, it vindicates Kitson’s methods. But at what cost?

Those with a rudimentary knowledge of ‘The Troubles’ will know that the arrival of British troops was initially welcomed by the Roman Catholic community. Yet, the tide changed and Kitson and his methods are held out as a model of how not to win the hearts and minds of a population within which an insurgency is taking place. While the British Army’s efforts cannot solely be taken as the reason for the transformation of a peaceful civil rights movement seeking to end anti-Catholic discrimination into a violent state of affairs, the measures adopted from its prevailing counter-insurgency doctrine cannot have helped.

Kitson, claimed Paddy Devlin of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, “probably did more than any other individual to sour relations between the Catholic community and the security forces”. The view that the paratroop unit under his command, nicknamed’ ‘Kitson’s private army’, had a reputation for thuggishness and of being ‘out of control’, is one which was allegedly held by other British army units. This unit was involved in the massacres respectively of Ballymurphy in August of 1971 and Derry in January 1972.

The misgivings and distrust on the part of Catholics about Kitson’s policies are affirmed by specific incidents involving the MRF and 1 Para as well as the atmosphere of repression and coercion alluded to when he wrote that “conditions can be made reasonably uncomfortable for the population as a whole in order to provide an incentive for a return to normal life and to act as a deterrent towards a resumption of the campaign.” Kitson’s transfer during 1972 from operational duties to that of training soldiers at the Infantry School at Warminster may be viewed as a concession to the Catholic community by the then home secretary William Whitelaw.

The polarized views on Frank Kitson the warrior are not surprising since they reflect the perennial contending issues of how best to deal with a violent insurgency while attempting to maintain adherence to the law. British methods in countering first Arab and then Jewish terrorism in Palestine were marked by the ruthless methods employed by the army and police.

It is a curious but noteworthy fact that many military theorists and practitioners of counter-insurgency warfare who hailed from democracies such as Britain and France did not shirk from developing brutal strategies aimed at defeating insurgencies. As Kitson wrote, what he described as the “more intelligent officers” find themselves
developing a new “deviousness” in terms of outwitting what often turn out to be determined and resourceful foes “by all means”.

Many of the French officers with experience of the conflicts in Indochina and Algeria became adept in the conduct of so-called psychological operations. A number of them, including Colonel Jean Gardes went on to become members of the Organisation de l’Armee Secrete (OAS), and after fleeing into exile, they came to serve as trainers and advisors to the Argentinean military officers who conducted the ‘dirty war’ against Marxist guerrillas in the 1970s and 80s. One of Colonel Roger Trinquier’s prerequisites for fighting an anti-guerrilla campaign was the use of terror and torture as necessary evils.

The counter-insurgency doctrine of the United States as implemented during the Vietnam War, Central America and then Iraq also revealed a rich underbelly of amoral strategies that have left in their wake a recurring pattern of serious human rights violations including murder and torture.

What sets Kitson apart from these other exponents is that the application of his policies was not limited to foreign jurisdictions which were colonised, occupied or which served as client states, but that it was transferred to a province of the United Kingdom.

One way in which Frank Kitson’s legacy may be explored is to refrain from taking the path requiring that he be cast unambiguously as either a hero for valiant services offered to Queen and country at times of great difficulty or as the villainous author of murder and mayhem.

Instead, it can be argued that in the theory and practice of his special brand of warfare, we see an illumination of the perennial dilemmas when countries are confronted with national security emergencies; that which attempts to reconcile the desire to achieve a restoration of peace and security with the sort of severe measures which compromise the values of human rights and the rule of law.

Those who consider the near three decade-long programme of counter-insurgency in Northern Ireland to have been a success and by extension a vindication of Kitson’s theories must contend with the evidence of the deliberate murder of non-combatant civilians alongside the extra-judicial executions of suspects and reflect on the cost to the democratic and civilizational values which the state claimed to be fighting to uphold.

It is always a dangerous path to tread the logic which holds that the ends will always justify the means.
© Adeyinka Makinde (2016)
Adeyinka Makinde is a London-based law lecturer with interests in military history and intelligence & security studies