Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The argument that Russia is an existential Nuclear threat whichjustifies the renewal of Trident is unpersuasive.

We need a Nuclear deterrent to stand up to those States threatening us with Nuclear weapons. Remind me again which are they ?

The answer to the above question which I posed on Twitter was, not surprisingly, "Russia". And certainly Vladamir Putin has been posturing plenty in recent times and that posturing could be characterised as presenting an existential threat. But if in its post war history the Soviet Union never used Nuclear weapons - at a time when it was challenged ideologically and militarily by the West - why would it's successor, Russia, contemplate using them now? 

The West is fighting no proxy wars against Russia - even in Ukraine where some would say we should be involved despite there being no obligation on us to do so and in a country which, like it or not, arguably is in Russia's back yard. And whilst the Soviet Union actively opposed the West around the world Russia tends to stay within its borders. 

The West actually has no quarrel with Putin's Russia. Or, to be more accurate, no quarrel which in any way compares with the opposition to the USSR of the Cold War. On Human Rights grounds there is plenty to be repulsed by in Russia, but the same applies (and more so) to States like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which we actually arm with British manufactured weapons! 

The question "Cui Bono?" (Who benefits?) can be applied to Russia. It is impossible to think of any scenario under which Russia would benefit from the use of Nuclear weapons. Those who argue that the threat is real need to answer that question. For the USSR to have used such weapons to protect its hegemony behind the Iron Curtain in the late 1980s is just about imaginable. It didn't happen of course (Deo gracias!) but defending territorial integrity is the most common cause of war and it could have happened. But it didn't.

If Putin's predecessors didn't defend the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons to prevent it disintegrating    why and under what circumstances would Putin use them now? Nobody in the West is challenging Russia to give up any of its territory. Chechnya is not a high interest subject and there is no possibility of NATO intervenng. Ukraine is problematic but would Putin risk a nuclear conflict to further his ambitions (whatever they are) there? Obviously not. And is Putin actually threatening any of the ex USSR member States which are now independent ? I don't think so,

So is Russia really a Nuclear threat to the West? I find, bombast aside, no evidence to suggest so. For Britain to be allied with our fellow Europeans and the United States and others to repulse the real threats of these times (especially terrorism)  is desirable. Our conventional forces as part of these alliances have a role to play. But if the only rationale for the renewal of Trident is because Russia is a threat I just don't buy it. And nor should we. 

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Jeremy Corbyn goes a tad too far, but his views on use of Armed Forces deserve respect

I am not a pacifist. That said like Jeremy Corbyn I would need persuading before unilaterally launching British troops into action. For me the key word here is "unilaterally". If Britain is required as part of a proper Alliance and with due political endorsement to be part of a military operation we should do it. The "proper Alliances" I'm thinking of here are those of the UN, NATO and - I hope - the European Union. (I would prefer the EU to be our main military association not NATO via a beefed up European Defence Force. But that is another point for another time.) If the UN launched an attack on ISIS which had been properly endorsed by the Security Council I would support Britain being part of it. The Iraq War did not have that proper endorsement and was predominately an American NeoCon initiative. I agree with Corbyn that we should apologise for having been sucked into it. It was wrong.

As far as "unilateral" action by the UK alone is concerned like Corbyn I can conceive of no circumstances under which that might be necessary. The oft-parroted cry that "something must be done" (by Britain) as another conflagration occurs in a faraway country of which we know nothing is dangerous tub-thumping. In a post-Imperial world our duty to "do something" on our own is extremely limited. The Falklands is about the only territory that it is both under threat and Britain's responsibility. However if Argentina did invade again there must be doubt as to whether on our own we have the capability to take them back. Should we nevertheless launch a death or glory mission ? I would say not. 

Where I differ from Corbyn is that I can quite envisage British troops being involved in (as I say) properly authorised allied actions. Also the troops are available and used for civil actions to deal with emergencies like floods or terrorist attacks - quite rightly.

Jeremy Corbyn has a better understanding of Britain's role in the modern world than many. There are those who see us of being capable of gun boat diplomacy as if Victoria was still on the throne. He knows we cannot be a policeman on our own - and he is right. 

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The human obligation the haves owe the have nots...

My wife and I lived in Hong Kong in the late 1980s when thousands of refugees fleeing from horrors in Vietnam arrived in small boats in the Territory which was then still a British colony. My wife volunteered to work in the temporary camps in which they were housed. The refugees were treated with kindness and consideration - a duty that not only the HK Administration but also Margaret Thatcher's UK Government fulfilled. Over the years these refugees, both individuals and families, were successfully resettled. Mainly in the U.S., Canada and Australia. A few years later I met one or two of these resettled refugees and without exception they were successfully making their way in their new countries.

Hong Kong was rich and could afford to help. The volunteers gave willingly of their time. That was the human obligation which the haves, like us, owed to the have nots.