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DEFENDING BRITAIN AND EUROPE (AGAINST RUSSIA)

Britain should be concerned primarily with its own defence not with the global project led by the US. Britain First! Although the views Jeremy Corbyn defended prior to becoming leader of the Labour Party were attacked as 'left wing' they weren't necessarily all that far removed from the foreign and defence policies of the Daily Mail, or even of the British National Party - both of which have been fairly consistent in their opposition to overseas adventures - meaning that this isn't necessarily a policy that the British public would regard as unpatriotic or even hostile to the armed forces. The British public loved Margaret Thatcher for defending the Falkland Islands, but they could, rightly or wrongly, be regarded as British territory. Other military adventures have excited much less enthusiasm.

A policy of concentrating on actual defence would enable a huge reduction in military expenditure. The title 'Ministry of Defence' is as things stand a misnomer of the order of George Orwell's 'Ministry of Truth.' It is a Ministry of Military Action in Places far Removed from our own Borders. If we consider the actual threats we as a nation face we find that they are not very substantial. Terrorism as we have experienced it is a matter for the police. The idea that by invading Afghanistan we were combatting terrorism is enough to make a cat laugh (it brings to mind a wonderful phrase which can be found in the Defence Committee Report - 'projecting stability'!). None of our neighbours are threatening us even despite the misery our brexit trauma is causing them. The best candidate for enemy status is Russia, which is still quite far removed from our own borders.

I take a relatively benign view of Russia, seeing its 'aggressive' policies in Ukraine, Georgia and Syria as mainly defensive. In the case of Ukraine, this is curiously confirmed by Professor Phillips O'Brien, Professor of Strategic Studies in the University of St Andrew, quoted in the Defence Committee report (para 7):

'The last few years have shown the success of NATO, in why the Russians had to act in Ukraine before it joined. They haven’t acted in the Baltics when they could have easily tried to foment some of their own things, because the Baltics are within NATO. The Russians were scared of the prospect of Ukraine in NATO. That is why they went in. It shows the success of the alliance and the effectiveness it has had that Russia has acted in that way.'

So NATO forced Russia to intervene in Ukraine and that is credited as a success! Anyone with any knowledge of Ukraine knew that stability there required maintaining a very delicate balance between the generally pro-Russian East (incorporated into the Russian Empire in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) and the generally anti-Russian West (incorporated into the Soviet Union by Stalin as a result of the Second World War). The US invested a great deal of effort and money (5) to cultivating anti-Russian pro-Western sentiment in Ukraine. The clear direction of travel, more or less acknowledged in Prof O'Brien's testimony quoted above, is that Ukraine would join NATO. (6) We just have to remember the US reaction to Cuba when it allied with the Soviet Union, or the blood that has been shed to prevent left wing deviations in South America (even as far away from the US border as Chile) to see that Russia could not allow NATO to take Crimea, thereby controlling the Black Sea. Nor could we expect that the majority Russian population in eastern Ukraine would feel very secure with a militantly anti-Russian government in charge. Do we really want to structure our defence policy round being useful to a country that behaves systematically in such an irresponsible manner?

(5)   $5 billion according to Victoria Nuland, Obama's Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, quoted frequently and approvingly in the Defence Committee's report

(6)  Much the same could be said of Georgia which has also been spoken of as a candidate for NATO membership despite its distance from the North Atlantic. The Russian intervention there, under Medvedev, was a response to the Georgian attack, encouraged by the US, on Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Similarly with Syria. The US, UK, French, Turkish, Qatari, Saudi, UAE (7) policy of encouraging a militant Islamic takeover in Syria was a real threat to the Russian Federation which borders Syria and has its own problems with militant Islam. Our engagement with Syria (we provided training for the Muslim Brotherhood's 'Free Syrian Army' in Turkey) was aggressive, the Russian engagement was defensive. Our involvement, and that of our allies, could only prolong the war since there was no clear element capable of forming a government (8)at the end of it. The Russian involvement is now bringing the war to an end. 

(7)  I've left Israel out of the list since initially I think Israel was dubious about the whole enterprise. Assad was a known entity on its borders and it wasn't clear what would result from his overthrow especially when the most likely beneficiaries - the Muslim Brotherhood - were the main backers for Hamas. However, as it became clear that there was no opposition force able to impose any sort of stable - and therefore threatening - government, Israel was more and more drawn in because of the engagement of Iran and Lebanese Hizbollah in support of Assad. It should be clearly understood that the primary reason why we and our allies wanted to overthrow Assad was the prospect of good relations being established between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hizbollah (the 'Shi'i crescent') following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the consequently inevitable transfer of power to the Shi'i majority in Iraq.

(8)  In the very earliest stages it might have been possible to envisage a Muslim Brotherhood government (regrettable as this may have been for Syria's Alawite and Christian minorities). This was certainly the aim of the major sponsors of disorder, Turkey and Qatar. There was a real prospect that the Muslim Brotherhood would become a great unifying force in the Muslim world, the major beneficiary of the 'Arab spring' coming to power in Egypt, and Tunisia as well as in Syria, and closely in alliance with Turkey, Qatar and with Hamas in Gaza. This prospect was however immensely alarming to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which therefore fed the more militant jihadi elements into the equation. Hence the opposition to Assad became the scene of a proxy war between Turkey and Qatar on the one hand and Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the other. Complicated as that might appear to be it is a gross simplification given the colourful array of more or less autonomous armed factions that made up 'the opposition' to Assad. It has of course gone largely unremarked that the body on which we and the US pinned our hopes - the Free Syrian Army - was responsible on Turkey's behalf for taking Afrin in Northern Syria from the US's Kurdish allies.

The Defence Committee Report is much exercised with 'the increased state-based threat in Europe' meaning, presumably, a threat posed by Russia to Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. For this reason the committee is unhappy about the current policy of withdrawing troops from Germany. In this context it is surprising to read this in the submission from the normally very gung ho Henry Jackson Society:

'It is unlikely that Moscow has any intention of seizing territory in ether [sic] Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia.'

They then go on to say we should nonetheless prepare for that eventuality. Which may be prudent but it is by no means obvious that we are best placed to do it. A Russian seizure of the Baltic states or of Eastern Europe would pose no threat to us. We were perfectly happy to see the Baltic States and the whole of Eastern Europe under Soviet domination for some fifty years after the 1939-45 war. We still liked to think we won that war even though we had originally launched it supposedly to save Poland. In the event we did nothing to save Poland. We declared war then sat on our hands through what we called the 'Phoney War' (the French called it the 'drôle de guerre' - the funny war) while Hitler bombed Warsaw and in the end Poland (including Western Ukraine) was taken by our ally, Stalin. Given that history, the Baltic states would be foolish to rely on us for their defence. If they were genuinely in danger and needed a protector the obvious candidate, geographically and culturally so much closer, would be Germany. This would be an argument for supporting President Trump's call on Germany to increase its military expenditure rather than, as the Committee Report recommends, maintaining our own military presence in Germany or throwing away our money responding to needs that are unlikely to arise, that we are not well placed to address and that are in any case not our concern.

Our main concern - if it really is defence that concerns us and not our usefulness to the worldwide projects of the USA - should be with the 'near abroad.' In the whole document I could see only one item that could be considered as a danger in the near abroad, assuming that Russia is a potential enemy - and clearly, given the provocative policies being pursued by NATO, that is a possibility. To quote the Committee's report:

'The Oxford Research group told us that "the decline of British anti-submarine capabilities and the ability (a core role within NATO) to patrol the North Atlantic" needed to be addressed given the Russian navy's comparative advantage in submarine construction and warfare.'

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