Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The pawning of Britain

Sometimes, when I read through the commentaries on newspaper websites, I wonder why these newspapers pay such huge salaries to certain people to write drivel. Today's piece about the worsening of Anglo-Russian relations by Simon Jenkins on the Guardian website is a prime example.

Jenkins starts off by saying that it's "puerile" to suggest that the latest diplomatic breakdown can be compared to the old days of the Cold War. That's about the only part of his article I agree with, but just because it's puerile to suggest it doesn't justify writing puerile nonsense of the type Jenkins comes up with.

Today's dispute is more a 19th-century trial of strength over resources and national pride. It has nothing like the cataclysmic potential of the cold war, but it is still dangerous because both sides are unpredictably led.

There are several things wrong with that statement. First of all, in the 19th century there was a reasonable balance of strength between the two protagonists - Britain being, probably, the slightly stronger of the two. This is not the case today. Russia has the upper hand militarily and economically - they have the oil and gas.

Secondly, it has nothing to do with national pride. The murder of a Russian by Russians is of no consequence to Britain or it's national pride - even if it took place in Britain. I suppose it could be argued that it is about national pride for Russia, but frankly - who cares? Iranian gunboats seizing Royal Navy sailors at gunpoint and holding them hostage is about national pride, but there wasn't much concern from The Guardian or the government back then. Both agreed that the best thing to do was grovel and wait for them to be handed back. This has more to do with government's saving face than national pride - not the same thing at all.

Thirdly, the idea that both sides are "unpredictably led" is risible. Putin is totally predictable because he is a throwback to the Cold War era and we know what they were like. The British government is less predictable - by British government standards - but it's pretty certain that when push comes to shove they will fold faster than a grand master at the world origami championships.

Jenkins, predictably, then goes on to suggest that the root cause of all these problems is - wait for it - America. Isn't it always?

Putin's revival of the oldest paranoia in his nation's history, of continental encirclement, was bound to follow defeat in the cold war. The US's breach of understandings reached in the 1990s between Russia and an enlarged Nato by proposing to locate military installations in Poland and the Czech Republic was as provocative and militarily useless as could be imagined. Russia's "retargeting" of its missiles and withdrawal from the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty were comparatively mild responses.

It's funny how Jenkins considers the siting of purely defensive missile early warning systems - which the US have offered to Russia - as provocative and useless - but considers nuclear missiles aimed at London and Birmingham as "mild".

It is not surprising that Putin should also counter with his energy weapon. Hence his pipeline deal with Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and Gazprom's partnership with France and Italy rather than the US or Britain.

The naivety of that statement simply amazes me. Leaving aside the economic aspects of the respective deals, if you are going to use energy as a "weapon" it's better to use it as a weapon against those it will be effective against. Britain and the US have gas and oil reserves of their own - France and Italy do not. In military terms, they are the undefended flank.

Jenkins then rabbits on nonsensically about how "shared interests" override these little arguments - particularly the shared interest of "Islamic militancy".

The agenda also includes the confronting of Islamist militancy now seeping north from Bush's legacy, the "arc of instability" from the Middle East to Pakistan, and potentially heading deep into the former Soviet Union.

What an idiot! The current "arc of instability" is not heading deep into the former empire of the Soviet Union - it started there. In Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo and all long before Bush came to power. The west has been under attack from Islamic militants for 50 years - Islamic militants often armed and financed by the Soviet Union. But the only thing the pathetic hack Jenkins can remember is "Bush's legacy" and to justify his blinkered leftist worldview he distorts and reworks history to present the image he wants. The guy should be working for the BBC!

When America and Britain finally summon up the courage to withdraw troops from the region, both they and Russia, with 10 million resident Muslims, have a powerful interest in minimising the ensuing chaos.

It doesn't take courage to run away when things get sticky - it takes courage to see something through to a resolution. The "ensuing chaos" (which is actually an ongoing chaos that started long before any British or US involvement in Afghanistan or Iraq) will be inflamed by withdrawal - not minimised by it.

I share Jenkins view that this recent degradation in Anglo-Russian relations is nothing like the Cold War, but not for the same reasons. Russia is not starting to feel confident and assertive on the world stage once more - a stage that Britain has largely withdrawn from favouring, instead, an EU led approach to foreign policy. Consequently, Russia feels confident it can swat away British complaints with impunity knowing full well that there is nothing we can do about it.

Furthermore, with increasing EU reliance on Russian fuel for energy, Russia is fully aware that it can apply pressure not just directly on Britain, but indirectly through the EU. Putin will not hesitate to use these connections to apply pressure on Britain and all we can ever do, ultimately, is back down. The days when Britain walked softly and carried a big stick are gone - and in it's place is a nation that is all talk.

That is what happens when you give up your sovereign powers.

You become a pawn.


W G Gruff said...

An interesting piece, Stan, and well written, as usual. I think you're unfair to castigate Jenkins (who, like you, I think idiotic) for his assessment of Russian tendencies to indulge in 'schadenfreude' over the reversal in our fortunes but generally I agree with you; Lawrence of Arabia was exciting the Arabs before Dubbya's daddy was a dream in his daddy's eye.

It isn't fair to blame the Yanks for the situation in the Middle East because they think they have assumed our role in the world, and they think they do the job we used to do, albeit without our understanding of its mechanics, and we have encouraged them.

No responsible parent would allow his child to play with matches, unsupervised, and then condemn the child for starting a conflagration.

We English have only the Br*tish to blame.

Alexander said...

Read "An Ordinary Black Cat" to gain a real understanding of what is a real problem and why the humans' attraction to revenge creates even more evil than all natural disasters could cause including the ice age you refered to in your other article!