John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas


I took part in a two day seminar in Maynooth University discussing how Ireland fared as an EU member over the past half century. 

Many of the contributors stressed the economic benefits. 

These included a huge increase in the number of jobs in Ireland.  This happened  because much improved access to world markets flowed from EU membership. Tariffs and other barriers to trade were removed. Equally importantly EU membership  eased trade in and out of Ireland through having a single set of rules for goods and services.  

These rules 

  •    are made democratically through the European Parliament and Council
  •    interpreted consistently under the aegis of the European Court of Justice and
  •    enforced , in an even handed  and transparent way, by the European Commission.

They apply in all 27 EU states , and this has dramatically reduced the bureaucracy that would  apply if there were 27 different states each  with their own “sovereign” rules. This is something that is being discovered by the UK, now that it has left the EU.

The Single unified set of  rules in the EU has enabled Ireland to attract investment, notably from the US. 

EU funds enabled Ireland to modernise its educational system over the past 50 years . 

In my contribution to the discussion, I stressed that the benefits to Ireland of EU membership were much wider than economic. 

Prior to EU membership, Ireland was overshadowed by Britain, psychologically as well as economically. As an EU member we developed a much healthier relationship with Britain, with fewer complexes.

 That helped the Irish and British governments to work together to seek solutions to the problems in Northern Ireland. 

As an EU member we were able to defend our global interest, with the support of 26 other member states. 

Indeed one of the remarkable things about the EU over the past 50 years has been the EU’s tendency to find common EU solutions to problem, even where, legally, member states might be entitled to look for a “national” solution. This has been especially noteworthy in regard to issues like Brexit, the purchase of vaccines for Covid, climate change, and the response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. By working with other EU states, Ireland magnifies its influence.

I believe we, in Ireland, must work harder to understand the needs of all the other EU states. We need, as far as possible, to understand their languages and unique histories. Like us, each EU state has its own sensitivities. 


I have just finished reading two very well written biographies of Conservative Prime Ministers, Neville Chamberlain and Edward Heath, the first of whom held Prime Ministerial office in the 1930’s and the latter in the 1970’s. 

“Neville Chamberlain’s legacy…Hitler , Munich and the path to war”  was written by Nicholas Milton, published by Pen and Sword.

The other book is an autobiography , and is entitled “The Course of My life “ and is by  Edward Heath, and published  in 1998 by Hodder and Stoughton.

Chamberlain and Heath’s political lives span the entire period of British history from 1920 to 2000, and the two books are a good introduction to this long period of British history, and show how the priorities ( and “philosophy”) of a major political party  adapts to changed circumstances.


Neville Chamberlain is, of course, remembered for his attempts to find a modus vivendi with Hitler by forcing Czechoslovak territorial concessions. But there was much more to Chamberlain than this.

He was Minister for Health in the 1920s, and was responsible for initiating a huge programme of social housing. 

He introduced Widows Pensions.

 He was a “Levelling up “ Prime Minister , who actually did some levelling up. 

He was not impeded in this by any free market dogma. He had been a local councillor and Mayor in Birmingham before entering the House of Commons, and had seen poverty at first hand. 

He was no pacifist. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, after the 1936 General Election, he imposed a 3p in the £ income tax increase to pay for more defence spending, particularly of aircraft. This investment proved important in the Battle of Britain.

But when it came to negotiating for peace, Chamberlain failed to understand Hitler, who was a gambler and utterly reckless. Chamberlain acted towards Hitler as if he was a normal calculating politician. 

Chamberlains did buy significant extra time for British rearmament by appeasing Hitler in 1938.

 The ”Irish Times” wrote in September 1938 of this that Chamberlain 

“had done more than any other individual save mankind from another war”.

The paper added that this had required great courage. De Valera also admired Chamberlains policy in 1938.

If Chamberlain’s political life is to be evaluated on the basis of whether he achieved his goal, which was peace in Europe, he failed, and the failure was sadly evident to him before his death in 1940.


The great goal of Edward Heath’s political life also was peace in Europe. Heath sought to reach that goal by bringing the UK into the European Union, which he saw as a structure of peace in Europe, binding countries so closely together  economically that they could never contemplate war with one another. 

Fortunately for Edward Heath , he did not live to see  his work  partly undone, when the UK  voted to leave the EU in the 2016 Referendum. He had died in 2005.

Edward Heath was an excellent writer,  and his autobiography keeps the reader’s attention over its full 736 pages. 

He gives a good account of his personal life.

He was brought up in a semi detached house on the Kent coast. His father was a qualified carpenter who made a living as a small builder. 

Edward Heath became an undergraduate in Oxford University before the War, on the basis of his academic results. While there he became active in college politics, and in the student Conservative Party. 

As a student politician, he opposed Chamberlains appeasement politics in 1938, having observed Hitlers Nuremberg Rally in person. 

The book gives an entertaining account of Heath’s search for a parliamentary seat after the War,  in which he  had served bravely.

He gives an entertaining account of his conversations with different constituency associations.

 One association wanted an assurance that he would reply to all correspondence personally , and in longhand, as the previous MP had done. Heath would not give that assurance, so he had to look elsewhere.

Another wanted an MP who might become a Minister. 

This  seat was Bexley in Kent, just on the eastern edge of London. He was elected to serve that constituency in the General Election of 1950. Heath served it loyally as its MP. And Bexley remained loyal to him too, despite his public differences with the leadership of Margaret Thatcher.

Heath devotes much of the book to his work in negotiating British entry to the EU. 

 He points out that the true political nature of the EU was set out for the British people. It was not presented as just an economic arrangement. This was done before their Parliament voted to join the EU and the people approved it on this basis in a referendum in 1975.  They were not misled at the time of that referendum, as Brexiters tried to argue in 2016.

Heath  gives his version of the difficult relationship he had with Margaret Thatcher. 

Early in their career they had much in common, and were good friends. It is a pity she did not find an opportunity to bring him back into government at some stage after she replaced him as leader of the Party in 1977.  On the other hand he may have expected too much too soon. 

 The breach between them, and their philosophies remains unhealed, with the Thatcher version of conservatism ultimately triumphant. 

The title of the Chamberlain book suggests the book would reveal Chamberlain’s “legacy.” It does not do so. 

My own assessment is that the actual legacy of Chamberlain’s efforts to avoid a Second World War was to give any form of “appeasement”  a bad name. The perceived failure of what is called appeasement in 1938 has led to mistakes by British and American leaders negotiating with dictators since then…..for example by making the wrong assumption that Saddam Hussein had weapons  of mass destructionin 1991 , when he did not,  and  then going to war on that  false basis. 

Hitler may not have been bluffing in 1938, but Saddam WAS bluffing in 1991.

Both Prime Ministers has outside hobbies which helped them keep their minds relaxed despite the pressures of Prime Ministerial office. 

In Chamberlains case, his interests were angling, birdwatching and the study of moths and butterflies. 

In Heath’s case, his outside interests were music and sailing, in both of which he reached a very high standard.


The Chamberlain book deals very slightly with his relations with Ireland. 

He settled the economic war in 1938, on financial terms that were favourable to Ireland, something that is forgotten in Ireland. 

He also gave Ireland back the Treaty ports, which enabled Ireland to remain neutral in the war. 

These  two very important developments are not explored in the book.

In his book, Edward Heath devotes a chapter to Ireland. 

He approved the introduction of internment without trial  by the Stormont  government. This was justified that juries would be intimidated because juries would be intimidated. He seems to have given insufficient thought, then or since, to the outworking of this radical decision. He did not explore alternatives.

On the other hand, he was the first UK Prime Minister to say that the UK had no selfish interest in Ireland. He was the first UK PM to visit this state , when he met Liam Cosgrave in Baldonnel in 1973. Earlier Britsh PMs, in the previous 50 years, had expected their Irish counterpart to go to London.

He sought to negotiate a settlement to the conflict in the Agreement reached at Sunningdale.  He claimed  that , at Sunningdale in 1973, Liam Cosgrave lacked the courage to  promise to hold a referendum to remove Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution.  These Articles included a territorial claim by Dublin to rule Northern Ireland. This was to be  a price  paid for setting up a Council of Ireland, with consultative functions. 

Given that partition had been accepted in practice by Dublin as early as 1925, this territorial claim should never have been inserted in the Irish Constitution in 1937.  But once it was there, removing it was bound to be divisive. 

Heath seemed to have forgotten that Cosgrave headed a coalition government, and that some of his  strong minded Ministers were quite nationalistic. The main opposition party, Fianna Fail, was even more nationalistic. The risk of defeat in such a Referendum, and a resulting government split , was vey very high. 

Lack of courage was the last thing of which Liam Cosgrave could be accused..

This shows that even enlightened British leaders sometimes have a poor understanding of Ireland. 


The Red C opinion poll ,published last Sunday ,shows a combined Fine Gael and Fianna Fail vote of 38%. This is well ahead of the Sinn Fein vote of 31%. This belies the supposed inevitability of Finn Fein leading the next government. The Sinn Fein vote is very big but it is not increasing in recent polls.

The next largest bloc of votes are independent candidates who amassed 12%. 

In terms of policy, the two parties forming the present government are closer to one another  than either of them is to Sinn Fein.

Would independent oriented voters tip the balance toward Sinn Fein?  

This seems unlikely if the voting pattern of independent TDs in the Dail is a guide. They tend to vote more  with Fine Gael and Fianna Fail  than with Sinn Fein.

It was also interesting to analyse the breakdown as between


Genders and

Age groups.

Fine Gael does slightly better among female voters, and Fianna Fail does a bit better among male voters, but the margin is too small to signify much.  Sinn Fein does equally well as between men and women (33%).

Age is a big differentiator. Sinn Fein gets 38%  among voters aged between 35 and 54, but gets only 22% among voters who are over 55. These older voters remember the support Sinn Fein gave to the pointless armed struggle of the IRA, which caused so much pain and suffering. 

In regional terms , Sinn Fein do slightly better in Leinster than they do elsewhere. 

Fine Gael are comparatively at their weakest  in Connacht/Ulster and strongest in Dublin and Leinster. Fianna Fail are relatively strongest in Connacht /Ulster. Independent candidates are relatively strongest in Connacht / Ulster too.

This suggests that Connacht/ Ulster may have the most leverage , when post Election decisions are being taken about the formation of the next government. None of the big parties is making an appeal to moderately socially conservative voters, which is an omission. 

According to the poll, only 10% of voters have yet to make up their mind as to how they will vote. Many of these “undecideds” may not vote at all.



I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of my old friend, Hugh Byrne.

In 1969, Liam Cosgrave appointed the two of us as joint assistant Whips to our Chief Whip, the late Dick Burke. 

It was a delight get to know Hugh. He had a unique sense of humour and great popular appeal. He will be missed greatly by anyone who got to know him. I extend deep sympathy to all his friends and family



Notwithstanding the worldwide support for the Good Friday Agreement and the peace it facilitated, it looks as if the stalemate in the politics of Northern Ireland will continue.  This leaves an empty space. It deprives people of a forum to discuss their problems. It makes it harder for politicians even to meet one another.

If a political vacuum like this is not filled by elected politicians, it leaves the door wide open for those with undemocratic agendas, for people who are willing to use  murder to make themselves heard.

The immediate problem is the DUP boycott of the institutions, intended as a lever to change the Windsor Framework. But there are deeper problems. Unless these are addressed, this sort of thing could happen again in the future.  The Windsor Framework will not be amended.  That has been made clear. The UK and the EU have a lot of other business to do together, in face of grave global threats.

Perhaps there are other things that could be done that might reassure DUP voters. But, so far, the DUP has offered no concrete ideas in writing.

The DUP itself might itself also acknowledge that it is the exacting consumer and animal health protection requirements of the EU Single market that necessitate borders somewhere. The DUP  could usefully sketch out practical proposals , using the local knowledge its members have, for improving the operation of such borders, rather than  wait for others to do so.

 More generally, the impasse raises questions about the meaning of Ulster Unionism in the 21st century. It also demands creative thinking on the nationalist side.

Unionists self identify around their loyalty to the UK and to UK institutions.  But this “unionism” is conditional. Perhaps it could be said that its loyalty is to an idealised version of the UK, the sort of UK that existed in the 1950’s, rather than to the diverse and hyper globalised UK, that actually exists in the 2023.

Of course, unionists must focus on Westminster and on constitutional issues. The concerns they expressed about the protocol were genuine.

But they must also focus their thinking on younger voters in Northern Ireland , who self identify as neither unionist nor nationalist.

These are the swing voters who will determine the future direction of Northern Ireland. These swing voters may look for an entirely new dispensation for Northern Ireland, one that is neither nationalist nor unionist, in the binary and irreconcilable way in which that choice is unfortunately presented in the Good Friday Agreement.

Unionist leaders would best serve the interests of voters by working out ways to persuade non unionists to  contentedly accept arrangements within which all will feel secure and respected. That is a huge task, and a challenge to the unionist imagination. But realistic unionists know in their hearts that it the only way.

Rather than focussing all their energies on EU goods standards being applied in Northern Ireland, the DUP should be putting forward much broader intellectual, political and economic arguments. They should be working for arrangements in which unionists, nationalists   and voter who are neither can all feel secure.

  To achieve this, Unionism would have to present itself in a completely different way, emphasising symbols that the entire community can embrace , rather than symbols that repel some.

This would require a huge infusion of self confidence in unionism.  It would be uncomfortable for the “base” of the party, but the base will never deliver a majority

  At its core, the conflict is about Identity. Identity is not a simple idea. It is about far more than politics, territory or sovereignties.

Can we not build a shared identity to which all the people of Northern Ireland could subscribe?

Identity is, of course,  includes history and aspects of it of which we  feel proud.

But, every day, we write some new history.

 I believe identity can be cultivated in two radically different ways.

 It can be built on the basis

  •         of rivalry with the “other” community, or
  •         on the basis of shared achievement.

Some good work can be done at community level, but it is difficult to have shared achievements,  at least at  political level, if the institutions  of governance are not  up and working.

 “Shared Achievement” is the best way to build a shared identity.

 The forced choice, in the Belfast Agreement ,between the two fundamentally contradictory aspirations ,union with Dublin or union with Westminster, works against the building of a shared identity. We must move on from this.

The parallel consent rules in the Assembly should be changed. Giving extra weight to the votes of MLAs, who have chosen one or other of  the two contradictory aspirations, is not the best way to protect minorities. In fact, it oppresses the middle ground minority.

As I have said, unionism has a lot of difficult thinking to do.

Nationalism may also going down a corridor that leads to frustration.

By putting all its energy into looking for a border poll, nationalism is setting up a conflict which it may not win. There are signs that Sinn Fein is beginning to see this.

Gerry Adams told a reporter from the Currency magazine recently, that

“Irish unity is not a 50% +1 equation. Unionists will need to buy in too”

This is a welcome and important statement.  Unfortunately. it is not the way the Good Friday Agreement is framed.

The Agreement provides for irrevocable Irish unity to be voted through on a 50%+1 basis. It will be interesting to see what the current Sinn Fein leadership, and the SDLP, say about the outworking of Gerry Adams idea and the rewording of the Good Friday  Agreement that it would require.

Finally, we should remind ourselves of the unrealized goal of the Belfast/ Good Friday Agreement…..reconciliation and trust.

Here we should remember the importance of symbolic gestures.

 When I was Taoiseach in 1995 I organised a Commemoration at the War Memorial in Islandbridge to commemorate the end of the second World War, and the Irish who had died in that war in British uniform. Sinn Fein sent a representative, Tom Hartley.  That was an important gesture.

 So also was Arlene Foster attending the Ulster  Gaelic Football  final in Clones.  We need more gestures like that from all sides.

Perhaps when the Local Elections are over, the two governments  and the parties should think about events and activities  , independent of politics, that could promote reconciliation and thus create emotional space for political compromise.



The most worrying phenomenon in the world today is the warlike rhetoric being exchanged between China and the United States.

Almost the only topic, on which Republicans and Democrats agree nowadays , is that China must be curbed economically and militarily.

President Trump imposed punitive tariffs on Chinese goods worth $50 billion. He cited the theft of intellectual property and currency manipulation among the reasons for penalising China.  President Biden has kept these tariffs

Former Vice President Pence said the US must henceforth prioritise competition over cooperation, in its relations with China.

 The Biden Administration is not only continuing with Trumps tariffs , it is introducing restrictions on the export of certain semiconductor chips to China, in order to hobble the Chinese semiconductor industry.

 A lot of the world’s semiconductors are made in Taiwan, an island that is officially part of China but militarily and politically independent of Beijing. US media are full of speculation about a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

China is restricting the exports of rare earths need to build the batteries necessary for Renewable power.

Meanwhile Chinese military spending increased by 15% pa every year from 1990 to 2005. China is prioritising its navy, and navies can be used to enforce blocades.

In any confrontation with China, the US enjoys the support of  its allies in NATO, and from countries like Japan, South Korea the Phillipines and Australia.

China, on the other hand, has no significant allies, except perhaps Russia.

Interestingly, the country whose population  feels itself most threated by China is India (78% are of that opinion).

 Next is Japan (73%), and the US (61%). 

Only 48% of the French, and 40% of Germans, feel China poses a risk to their country.

 Notwithstanding its concern that China be required to trade fairly, the US continues to weaken the World Trade Organisation (WTO), a body that could discipline unfair trade practices by China.

Former Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has called for a structured relationship between China and the US. He calls for “Managed Strategic Competition”.

  Working out the terms of this arrangement to manage relations between the world’s two biggest powers would not be easy. It would creativity, and a measure of good will on both sides, which may be absent. On the other hand, President Bidens remarks about China in Ottawa this week were hopeful and proportionate.

Democracy in Peril

 “Peril” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, published by Simon and Schuster, is an account of the last year of the outgoing Trump Administration, and the first year of the Biden Administration.

It is full of atmospheric detail, but lacks analysis and an easy to follow and coherent narrative.

I found the background to the rushed US and allied exit from Afghanistan revealing, but also incomplete.

I was in Washington, as EU Ambassador,  in 2009 when President Obama announced to assembled Ambassadors that he planned to dramatically increase US troop presence in the country….. to initiate the  so called “Surge” .

 Obama was motivated by a desire to strengthen  the US global military position, and also to make Afghanistan  human rights respecting democracy.

 It seemed over ambitious to me at the time, in light of the very recent  US failure to achieve similar goals in Iraq.

“Peril” tells us that Obama’s vice President at the time, Joe Biden, was totally opposed to the Surge. But Hillary Clinton, Secretary Gates and the generals prevailed. The Surge went ahead.

 When President Trump took over, he wanted to get US troops out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible. But inertia , and lack of focus on his part,  meant that he never actually did it.  It fell to Biden to implement  this part of the Trump agenda ( just as he follows the Trump agenda on China).

 The actual withdrawal was a botched job, and Afghans who had loyally served the allies were abandoned.  Woodward and Costa offer no explanations for this.

The book does offer an insight into Biden’s style of negotiation with Congress. He is tough and relentless in his pursuit of detail. He was, and is, determined to put money in the pockets of working class Americans . He has been so good at this that his Stimulus Bills may have contributed to demand led inflation in the US.

Did Donald Trump’s contribution to inciting violence, and   to the attempt to overturn the vote of the people, add up to a crime for which he could be convicted in a court of law?

I believe the answer is to be found in the speech made by Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, after the second attempt to impeach Trump had failed.

Describing what happened on 6 January as a “disgrace” and an “act of terrorism”, he said

“There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible “

but added

 “by the strict criminal standard, the President’s speech probably was not incitement”.

Donal Trump, after all he has done, still leads the Republican polls.

The peril to American democracy comes from kindly, decent Americans, who are putting cultural and party loyalty , ahead of the interests of democracy in America.


It looks as if the UK Parliament will endorse the Windsor Framework.  The flexibilities it has introduced into the Northern Ireland Protocol will be  beneficial to people in their daily lives. It will restore good relations between Britain and the EU, something good in itself.

It will not necessarily resolve the crisis in the Good Friday Agreement quickly though. It is not certain that the Executive and Assembly will be restored. The split in the DUP on the Protocol is not healed. There is still a border in the Irish Sea.

For the DUP, taking part in the Executive still means serving in a body in which a Sinn Fein politician will be “First” Minister. In reality, of course, the Deputy First Minister, presumably a DUP member, would have exactly equal power to the First Minister, but it does not look like that, and appearances matter.

We need to keep a sense of proportion. 

Although the Good Friday Agreement is 20 years old, it was only fully operational half the time. When it was operational, the Executive did not really operate on a basis of full collective responsibility, as illustrated in the  “Cash for Ash Inquiry”

Neither the North/South not East/West institutions of the Agreement operated at anything near their full potential. 

The Agreement did provide a pre text in 1998 for paramilitaries to end their violence, which they already knew was getting them nowhere. In that contextual sense, it has brought us peace. But it is hard to say that there has been significant political or cultural reconciliation between the communities because of the Agreement. Arguably the communities are further apart.

The two novelties in the Windsor Framework are the “Stormont Brake”, and the provision of a Green lane for goods destined to stay in Northern Ireland.

The brake has got the most attention.

It is not a veto. It is a mechanism whereby 30 MLA’s can raise a red flag about a new or amended EU law that is to apply in Northern Ireland, and force an examination of it.

Given the negative perceptions of the EU in Ulster Unionist circles, there are worries that this mechanism could be triggered capriciously, as a partisan lever, rather than for practical reasons. 

The Windsor Framework says the brake is only to be used as a “last resort”, and where there is a risk of “significant or lasting damage”. 

These terms are open to varying interpretations, especially if there is a trust deficit between some MLAs and the EU.

It may be that, after a long delay, specific cases, in which the brake has been pulled, will go to international arbitrators, who will then tell us exactly what these terms mean in practice. 

Meanwhile a lot of time will have been lost and business disrupted.

The UK is currently going through a process of deciding which EU laws it will continue to apply in Britain and which it will “restate, revoke or replace”. 

Nearly 3,800 pieces of EU sourced regulation will have to be examined and a decision made on whether to restate, revoke or amend them. Most of this work will take place behind closed doors, and at breakneck speed, because the whole process is supposed to be complete by the end of this year.

The risk of catastrophic regulatory mistakes is enormous. 

The area of biggest concern is food safety.  We all know how food scares can do lasting reputational damage to a country. I hope that the civil service in the UK is sufficiently well staffed to do the job well.

The worry on this side of the border is that substandard ingredients might enter Northern Ireland, via the newly liberalised Green lane, and then find their way into final products, exported from here to continental Europe or further afield. 

This would be especially alarming if food products are involved. 

The combination of a lightly regulated Green lane, with no controls at all on our land border with the UK, mean that the risk is not negligible.

It is true that only goods that meet EU standards will be allowed to enter the EU tariff free under the EU/UK Trade Agreement, and the tariffs can be collected at any time. But once something, that fails to meet EU standard gets into the supply chain, the damage is done.

Detection will be key. One hopes that technologies and artificial intelligence can be used to help in this work. We will need to invest heavily in this.

All in all, the Windsor Framework is a good day’s work. It happened because there was mutual respect between Rishi Sunak and his EU counterparts, of a kind that did not exist between the EU and recent previous UK Prime Ministers. There are valuable lessons to be learned from this.


I have just reread “Revolutionary Iran, a history of the Islamic Republic” by the late Michael Axworthy, who was a leading expert on Iran in the UK Foreign Office.

Iran is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations. Its population is well educated and instinctively pro Western.  70% of Iranians said in an opinion poll a few years back that they would favour better relations with the West.

The terrorists who attacked the US on 9/11 came from America’s ally Saudi Arabia, and not from Iran.

 Yet it is Iran than has had to endure the most severe western trade and investment sanctions over the last 30 years, while Saudi Arabia is courted assiduously by both Trump and Biden Administrations.

Iran was supportive of the US in the wake of 9/11, and allowed US planes to over fly Iran during initial US actions  against the Taliban in Afghanistan  who were sheltering the 9/11 terrorists. Yet President Bush included Iran in the “axis of Evil”  in the speech he gave in response to 9/11. I do not understand why he did this.

This   negative US attitude to Iran may be due to the fact that Israel has developed back channels for cooperation with the Saudis,  while the Iran/Israel relationship is marked by enduring hostility. But the US should consider itself free to develop its own foreign policy without always adopting the Israeli view. In any event, the Israeli position has not been consistent. Israel helped Iran in its decade long war with Iraq.

The policy of sanctioning Iran dates back to legislation passed by the US Congress in 1996, and has become ever more severe since then.

 When one looks at the failure of US sanctions in changing the politics of Cuba, and the continuing failure of US sanctions against Iran, one must question the efficacy of sanctions as  a diplomatic tool.

In recent times the Iranian regime has indeed become more and more oppressive, with liberal us of execution as a means of dealing with opposition.

 But there have been times when the Iranian leadership was open to compromise. Khatami and Rafsanjani were open to compromise, but these opportunities were not taken up in any sustained way by western governments. In the early years after the Islamic revolution, election were somehat free and fair, but the 2009 elections were rigged.

There is a long standing democratic tradition in Iran, dating back to the democratic constitution of 1906.

Unfortunately that 1906 constitution was overthrown in 1908 by the then Shah, with help from the Russians and the British, who felt they could more easily do business with an autocratic regime. A similar exercise in supressing Iranian democracy was undertaken by the last Shah with aid of the British and the Americans in the 1950s. Again the outsiders felt they could get better access to Iranian oil from autocrats than from democrats.

Axworthy deals extensively with long and  bloody war that followed from an Iraqi attack on Iran.

This book filled a major gap in my knowledge of the Middle East, and I recommend it.


We have no choice in the matter,  but the economic cost of cutting climate damaging CO2 emissions is probably being underestimated. 

To achieve our ambitious goals for 2050, we will need to divert money

  • Away from current spending ( eg. consumer goods, healthcare, pensions, travel etc) and 
  • Towards  capital spending ( eg. new forms of electricity generation, renewing the electricity grid, public transport) designed to replace present polluting forms of power generation.

We will simultaneously have to invest heavily in flood and drought prevention schemes to adapt the effect of climate change that is already baked into our atmosphere. 

This adaptation spending will also involve diversion of resources away from current spending. In an era of higher interest rates, government fiscal policy in other areas will have to be restrained so as to release funds for climate related policies. Public opinion will need to be prepared for this.


We are familiar with the environmental costs cause by burning coal, oil and natural gas. We are less familiar with the environmental costs arising from renewable energy systems. 

A few examples

An onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources in its construction than does a gas burning plant producing the same amount of electricity.

Solar and wind power generation will, by 2040, generate an increase in demand for minerals of between 300% and 700%.

Copper supplies will have to double if we are to meet out targets for substituting electricity for hydrocarbon based fuels.

A typical electric car battery  requires 8kg of lithium, 35kg of nickel, 20kg of manganese and 14kg og Cobalt.


Mining, especially open cast mining, is very controversial in the location where the mine is to be located. Legal and other objections are to be expected. Opening mines may take twice as long as expected, and the delays will have to be financed by somebody. Meanwhile there will be supply shortages and volatile prices.

Much of the mining may be in poorer countries. It may damage local water supplies and interfere with local agriculture. Local people will need to be compensated. 

While renewable energy is a good thing. Reducing energy consumption is even better! Conspicuous energy consumption should be penalised.

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