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Trump and Corbyn, Le Pen and Farage; Putin and the Crisis of Democracy

Vladimir Putin runs a managed democracy. He controls the media, he ensures that any opposition figures that make it to telly, are risible tosspots. Credible ones are killed, unless they’re too famous, like Gary Kasparov, then they’re just ignored. The country Putin governs responded to the collapse of its empire and subsequent “humiliation” by electing, and then submitting to someone who trades in a simple narrative; that of Russian greatness. We’ve been here before.

Those homo-erotic pictures of a bare-chested Putin hunting, much mocked in the west, are part of a pretty scary cult of personality centred on someone who is by some measures the richest person in the world. He oversees a kleptocracy where wealth flows from power, and power flows from the Kremlin. Why did the Sochi winter olympics cost $51bn? Because grand construction projects are a good way to distribute state funds to chosen cronies.

Much is made of Russia’s “humiliation”. In reality, the former satellites of Russia’s brutal empire are seeking protection against their former master. The Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians and Poles who escaped Moscow’s grip have absolutely no desire to go back. Georgians sent troops to work with Americans in Afghanistan in a desperate bid to secure NATO membership, and the protection that offers from Russian aggression. Ukrainian’s government are desperate for western support against Russia in their frozen conflict in the East.

Meanwhile Russia is pumping out their Narrative: that Ukraine is “not a real country”, that Russia is responding to NATO “aggression”, and that its neighbours do not warrant full autonomy as independent nations. And useful idiots from left and right lap up this toxic, stupid narrative. Otherwise intelligent people claim there’s moral equivalence between Estonia’s enthusiastic and voluntary membership of NATO with the aggressive annexation of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Crimea and the ambiguous warfare in the Donbass. Putin’s lie that the people who stood on the Maidan in Kiev were “fascists” and that the protests were “western-backed” stands no scrutiny. Fascists made up 3% of the parliament post-Yanukovych. The Maidan protests were not western backed, and any agents provocateurs there may have been on the Maidan were most likely (though no proof as yet) to have been Regime-backing Russians.

Recently, in a grand and theatrical gesture, Russia deployed a few squadrons of bombers to Syria to prop up the ailing Assad regime. This wasn’t done to “fight ISIL” as many would have you believe. They’re mostly bombing the people the west want to win. It was to secure a say in post-Assad Syria, place Russia (and by extension, Mr. Putin) at the centre of world affairs; ultimately to buy bargaining chips for Putin to negotiate away the sanctions that are crippling his country’s economy. Further benefits: destabilising the middle east may raise the oil price, and the ongoing refugee crisis (made worse by Russian bombing) destabilizes the EU, an organisation second only to NATO in the Kremlin’s demonology.

Social media discourse on politics in general and Russia in particular has become prone to what is known as the “Pish gallop” in Scottish politics. Putin was one of the Few world leaders to endorse Scottish independence, and Russian observers were the source of the rumours of stuffed ballot boxes: the “Pish Gallop” describes the tactic of overwhelming an opponent with multiple lies, each of them egregious but without sufficient time to refute them all, you end up leaving the central idea unchallenged: the grand lie that Russia is responding to NATO “provocation”.

What has this to do with the west?

The lunatic fringes, left and right buy into the narrative of a corrupt and decadent western “elite” which is somehow to blame for everything bad. Syria? the west’s fault for invading Iraq. Libya: the west’s fault for bombing an armoured column in a country that’s already at war. No Arab; not Mohammed Bouazizi, nor the people from Benghazi to Cairo who rose up to overthrow dictators are credited with any agency in all of this. Everything is somehow a grand (and often “zionist”) conspiracy. This is comforting to people who want to see themselves as courageous crusaders against a decadent establishment. But this is self-serving and childish disatisfaction with the messy compromises of electoral politics. Morons have always yearned for Fuhrerprinzip of the charismatic dictator.

Putin is busy corrupting discourse on social media, with professional trolls who go around commenting on everything from the Daily Mail, to this blog. These trolls support all opponents of the status quo, from Anti-fracking activists (Putin has no interest in Western Europe being self-sufficient in oil), to UKIP (an EU without the UK would be much weaker) and “Peace” activists (who mostly share the Kremlin’s belief that NATO is always the problem) and political extremists of all stripes in a general policy of throwing sand in the faces of the entire decision-making apparatus of a free democracy.

Even if these Fringe politicians steer clear of outright support for Putin, the Trumps and Farages, the Corbyns and Le Pens all share some or all of the Kremlin’s assumptions. While Putin’s Russia is far, far weaker than the old USSR, the moral certainty the west once enjoyed has gone. The Kremlin may be weaker, but its “Useful Idiots” are stronger.

The problem is without an enemy – and we’ve been schooled to see Russia as a friend for most of the last 25 years – freedom becomes complacency. The success of western economies means people way down the income distribution no longer have a significant struggle to find enough calories or shelter, and thanks to social media, their voice is now being heard. Those who once struggled for survival are now looking for self-actualisation and respect. Putin is pouring poison into the discourse and seeking to crow-bar open the cracks in our society, even as its success becomes manifest.

Take a step back. The UK spends 2.2% of GDP on its military, lower than at any point in our history. NATO is an association of free democracies (though Turkey is at the moment stretching that definition). Russia is an aggressive kleptocracy, who spends disproportionately on a new and highly mobile military; a nation with an appalling human rights record which has repeatedly annexed territory from its weaker neighbours, and is bent on overturning the post-war security architecture of the world. NATO’s “aggression” is, in reality holding at arms length Russia’s former clients, who’re clamouring to join us in the west with our freedom and market economies. The west faces no significant challenge, but we’re blind to the poison being poured in.

The aim of all this disinformation and posturing is that when the little green men pop up in Narva to “defend” the “Rights” of “Russians” living in Estonia (defence they’ve not asked for, of rights they’re not denied), and Estonia asks for help, the populations of the west will not support NATO kicking the Russians out. The result of which is the Baltic states must once again fall under the sway of Moscow, slice by slice. And this means their proud nations, this time, will die. Is this the best we can we offer the two million brave people (about 1/3rd of the population) who joined hands in 1989, determined to look west? And where will an emboldened Russia stop? Donetsk (Twinned, ironically, with Narva)? Kiev? The Vistula? We’ve seen a dictator play this salami-slicing game before. Stopped early, war can be prevented.

Putin is feeding the “anti-establishment” lines, which get far more traction than they deserve. Our “elite” is not “corrupt”, NATO is not “an aggressor”, our democracy isn’t a sham, Russia isn’t being “provoked”, Fracking doesn’t “poison the water supply”. The ballot boxes were not stuffed in the Scots independence referendum, we are not being lied to by “the mainstream media”. Please stop repeating Putin’s lies, however much you want to agree with them. Please be sceptical of Russia Today. Please don’t say “Putin stands up for his people” because he doesn’t. He is prepared and able, unlike our leaders, to sacrifice the Russian people at will, to the greater aim of Greater Glory of Vladimir Vladimirovic Putin. Do not be his useful idiot.

What is Putin up to in Syria?

First let’s get one thing clear, Putin is not making a principled, humanitarian intervention against Islamic State.

Assad is Russia’s ally in the region. The major disagreement between Russia and the West is Assad’s place in the post-civil war Syria. Putin thinks it’s Damascus, the west thinks Assad belongs in The Hague. Failure by the west to intervene left a power Vacuum into which Putin waded with his military. This served a number of purposes.

  1. It put Vladimir Putin centre stage in negotiations which allows him to present himself as someone who’s made Russia a force once more in world affairs. Those handshakes with the American president are extremely important in the Russian Media.
  2. By deploying credible forces to the region Putin gains a seat at the table and earns a bargaining chip, potentially in return for the easing of Sanctions. This should be resisted.
  3. Helps secure Russia’s southern flank, itself vulnerable to Jihadists 
  4. It’s a show of military strength – a rapid expeditionary deployment of forces at short notice. In doing so he’s made a virtue of necessity: you cannot hide such a deployment 70 miles from the British listening station on Cyprus, so use it to distract from the ongoing destabilisation of Ukraine and demonstrate capability.
  5. Finally, most refugees aren’t fleeing the theatrical murderers of Islamic State, but the desperate Assad regime, which is killing seven times as many Syrians as the “Caliphate”. The refugees are therefore fleeing a war which Assad is at present losing, and probably would have already lost by now were it not for Russian support. The resultant refugee crisis weakens the EU, another Putin bugbear, so he’s perfectly happy to prolong the Syrian slaughter.

The fact is Assad isn’t fighting IS all that much, but is instead losing ground to moderate rebel groups in the south, Jabat al Nusra (the official Al Qaeda franchise in the region)  and many others in the west. He’s even ceded some ground to Hezbollah, in return for their military support. The Kurds, Hezbollah and JAN Islamists are the main opposition to IS. Most Russian actions appear to be against non-IS rebels too. The main purpose is to support Assad.

The main function of bombing IS is for Putin to further play to his supporters in the west’s belief that “here is a man of action and a man of principle”. Assad’s regime is propped up. The refugees continue to split Europe, and western inaction exposed as weakness.

For the west’s part, there’s nothing that would solve many of our Foreign policy problems more than Russia getting sucked into an unwinnable war in the Middle East. By taking the best kit south, it would take pressure off Central Europe and Ukraine. It would cost Russia money it doesn’t have, weakening them in the long run.

It’s all breathtakingly cynical. We should not be persuaded by any of it. The Western powers had an opportunity to intervene in 2013 and earlier. Now it’s too late. The Russians have made their play, and we (and above all the Syrians) must live with the consequences. If you take “Iraq” as a cautionary tale of going to action, Syria is a cautionary tale against inaction. Of the two, Iraq was basically a draw, and Syria is a catastrophic cluster-fuck that’s strengthened one of the worst people in the world. Inaction appears to be worse.

On Germany’s “Morality”

Germany’s population is falling, German women are breeding below replacement rates and so they have 1.7m empty homes. Thus offering to house 800,000 Syrians is a great deal easier for Germany than it is for the UK, which has net migration of more than 300,000 last year, plus something of a baby-boom (now tailing off). Germany can, and indeed needs, more immigrants. The UK does not. Syrian immigrants solve a problem for Germany – low housing prices, declining population and economic drift in many regions. The very same people in the UK would merely add to pressure on housing, and do little to boost an already strong economy.

Build more houses you say? The UK is building at capacity, there’s a shortage of Bricks and Brickies, and we’re not keeping up.

So there you go. It’s handy when morality solves a problem for you. Cheap too.

On the UK, Russia and the EU

The Centrepiece of this parliament will be the in/out referendum on British Membership of the European Union. It will probably define the UK’s very survival as a nation, and define the UK’s place in the world over the next few years. I am sceptical about the EU project, I regard the parliament as a risible cargo-cult democracy. It lacks a ‘demos’ so any attempt to give someone like JC Juncker ‘legitimacy’ are a fig-leaf. It’s bureaucratic, pumping out regulation and diktat, pouring glue into the economies of Europe. It’s a costly vanity project for politicians who’ve either come from very small countries and need supra-national bodies to contain their egos, or for Politicians who’ve been rejected by their domestic electorates. But none of this really matters.

Because the EU has been a stunning success. Several countries, Spain, Portugal, and the former communist East were dictatorships in my living memory. And while it’s the Atlantic alliance which beat communism, it’s the EU which ensured Poland is a country where a return to autocracy is as unthinkable as it is in Spain by entrenching free-market liberal democracy and building institutions. Money, too was poured into the post Fascist south and again into the post Communist east. Nothing says “we’re friends now” like building roads and hospitals. The world east of the Iron Curtain, and south of the Pyrenees, is immeasurably better, freer and safer thanks to the EU.

 

YES, because the EU is bigger than a Cost Benefit Analysis for the UK

Of course the stupid, hubristic, economically illiterate, clumsy vanity project, the single European Currency has undone much of the good work in Spain and Portugal. But this isn’t a post about the Euro, which the UK will never join, but about the EU.

The UK is not a small country, unable to survive outside a big trading block. So any argument from Europhiles which suggests the UK will be a great deal poorer outside simply won’t wash. The EU would be forced to treat with the UK, a nuclear-armed UNSC permanent member with the 5th largest economy on earth, (and rising we will probably overtake Germany some time this century) with slightly more respect than they show Norway (which is, as an aside, the country with the world’s highest living standards) or Switzerland (not known as an economic basket-case). What this means is ‘Brexit’ is unlikely to be as disruptive as many imagine.

The flip-side of this, is there simply aren’t many benefits from leaving. Much EU regulation comes from world bodies, and the EU, as the World’s largest market has enormous influence in the WTO and the like, and the UK working with likes of Germany and Poland in favour of Free Trade against the French, mean the EU is more likely to deliver the world trade Environment made in the UK’s image.

The EU is a bulwark, alongside NATO against autocracy. Putin is creating an odious personality cult. He’s spent his oil revenues building a highly effective military with which he threatens his neighbours. He’s tearing up the rule-book, annexing territories under a doctrine not dissimilar to Hitler’s  ‘Heim ins Reich‘ by which he justifies aggression with the rights of Ethnic Russians in neighbouring countries. And it should be remembered that ‘neighbouring countries’ include EU and NATO article 5 members.

At present, the Baltic states are indefensible against the forces Russia can bring to bear right now. NATO is enervated, divided and indecisive. And Putin’s philosophy sees NATO and the EU as organisations that threaten his regime. And he’s right, but not in the way he thinks. When Yanukovych suspended laws necessary to implement the EU-Ukraine association agreement, thereby giving in to Russian threats of trade sanctions, and outright bribery, the people of Ukraine stormed Maidan square in Kiev. The people of the Putinist world want a better world, even as oligarchs and governments try to crack down on dissent. And it is the duty of the Free world to stand up for the vast majority of people who rather like democracy and freedom. They vote with their feet in vast numbers, as soon as they get the money and leave the hell holes their countries have become for bolt-holes in London, Spain and Cyprus.

At about the time of the Maidan protests, Russia started planning the annexation of Crimea. Putin’s military is dependent upon Ukrainian uranium, and several strategic resources – the gears for his armoured forces, and avionics for his aircraft for example are made in Ukraine. So the EU association agreement heralded a Ukraine looking west. And made Russia even more vulnerable to EU sanctions than they are now.

Worse, from Putin’s point of view is the threat posed to Russia’s oligarchic kleptocracy by a stable, uncorrupt, westernising Ukraine on Russia’s border. Eastern Poland and western Ukraine were mostly part of the same country almost in living memory. Those regions which formed the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Poland are the rich, western-looking bits of Ukraine (they are the poor bits of Poland – the rich bits used to be Prussia – History runs deep). And they had the same living standards as their cousins in Poland in 1990. Now the poles are three times richer, and Ukrainians are looking at Poland and saying “I want some of that”. The fact is, unless there is a stunning military success, Putin has already lost. Kiev will probably be an EU city within a decade; The people of Ukraine, West of Donetsk and Mariopol at least, certainly want that. Putin cannot sustain the unrest in Ukraine indefinitely as it costs vast money which in a years’ time, he simply won’t have.

None of this makes Putin’s gamble in Ukraine valid or reasonable, and those who argue that it does are despicable quislings.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes. Russia is in the same place as Germany was in the 1930s. A once-great power, humiliated by defeat, who elected a demagogue promising to restore Russia’s Glory, who rebuilt a mighty military, and who sees the world in zero-sum, ethnic terms. That demagogue enjoys total control of the media, and near total public support. Like Germany (and Japan) in the 1930s Russia faces enemies awakening to the threat, and who are slowly reacting and re-arming. (Yes we are: an Army can be built in a year or two, Notice how the Navy is getting the Lion’s share of defence spending right now – Carriers, world class destroyers and frigates, and in the Astute class, the finest Nuclear subs asink?). And Like the axis powers, there is a calculation that can be made that they possess the power to sweep all aside RIGHT NOW, but know they will inevitably lose any protracted war. Russia will run out of Foreign exchange reserves this year, absent a rise in the oil price above $80. The demography means they cannot fill their establishment of conscripts, and the health of recruits is not good. Russians have long been breeding below replacement rate, and this is reflected in future cohorts being smaller than Putin deems necessary. Russia’s economy is broken. They export oil, money and people. The population is falling. Male life-expectancy at 55 is worse than much of Sub-Saharan Africa, worse even than eastern Glasgow. Putin has created a hellish society, capable only of suffering for mother Russia, despite the talents and education of her people. If Russia is to defeat NATO, he must go NOW or be slowly squeezed by sanctions and demography, and see the EU and western democracy advance to his Border with Ukraine. There will be no “buffer” protecting Muscovy from Europe.

For there is only one possible result of a protracted war between NATO and Russia, and that is Russia’s total and complete defeat. But what Putin (and his quisling cheerleaders in the west) might calculate is that the Article 5 defence of Estonia for example is a paper promise. If Putin can annex a chunk of Lithuania or Estonia, and it doesn’t trigger a massive response from NATO, then NATO’ s broken. And Putin is busy making the mistake of Dictators through history: mistaking the slowness of decision-making in democracy for weakness. But Britain Germany and France together spend more than Russia does on Weapons. The USA is still mighty beyond compare. And the People of the EU will simply not accept Russian aggression. Would I as a (still, just, semi-detached) soldier die in a ditch for Estonia. Yes. I would. Indeed this is the one issue keeping me in the reserve forces. When Yamato launched the assault on Pearl Harbour, he said “all I fear I have done is roused a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible desire for vengeance“. The Sleeping giants are in this instance, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Germany, France, Poland, Finland, Norway, Italy, Spain. The world’s 2nd Largest economy, the World’s largest economic bloc. Anyone think the Australians wouldn’t help? And China would not tolerate an aggressively expansionist Russia, with whom they have territorial disputes. A total Russian defeat would suit China quite nicely. I would make the same warning to Putin. You think you’re surrounded by enemies? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Ukraine is not an Article 5 NATO country. Ethnic Russians in the Donbass, long dependent on Russian Putin-toadying media, will believe the lies about Nazis in Kiev. And Putin’s aim is to ensure there is sufficient unrest in the East that it exists below the NATO threshold of action, but above which the EU will be comfortable taking Kiev on Board. I don’t think Putin desires war with NATO, but we’re in a situation where miscalculations like MH-17 when (probably) separatist rebels used Russian-supplied kit to shoot down a Malaysian Airliner. Would NATO have been so phlegmatic had a British Airways airliner been shot down?

Given the geopolitical risk, now is not the time to break up the institution which offers millions of Ukrainians hope there’s a better way than Putinist Kleptocratic oligarchy to which they’re condemned, and the instability it threatens for the world. Ultimately, a victory of the West, Kiev, Minsk, and Moscow one day becoming EU cities, will be a victory for the Russian, Belorussian and Ukrainian people over the oligarchs and governments which blight their lives and keep them poor.

The same is true of the UK. A broken UK will effectively remove one power with potential to make a meaningful contribution to stopping Putin and Putinism, leaving a greatly diminished rump UK. And ‘Brexit’ will trigger another Scottish referendum, and probably destroy the country I most care about. Mine.

The world stands on the cusp of war, in reality closer to global thermonuclear war than at any time since the 1960s. Now is not the time to start breaking up our alliances. Rather than break up the EU, I want to see it expand further. Free movement from Vladivostok to Lisbon, from Helsinki to Gibraltar, maybe, hopefully including Istanbul one day. That is a libertarian view. Imagine all those Russian engineers, capable of putting men into space using slide-rules and duct-tape working for the general good in a liberal free-market democracy. The EU has its faults, and those faults are mostly French. But it is overwhelmingly a force for good, with a better track record of entrenching democracy than any institution on earth (with the possible exception of the British Empire). Even if the narrow cost-benefit analysis of EU membership is marginal for the UK, Think big. British European Policy has been consistent on ‘Europe’ for 500 years: if the Hegemonic power in the Continent cannot be England, then we will ensure no-one is. Let’s reform, and thereby strengthen the EU, thereby defend the UK, and vote to stay in the European Union, not wholly for our sake, but for theirs.

Should the UK remain in the European Union? I will be voting Yes.

On the “Patriotism” of UKIP

Patriotism, wrote Samuel Johnson, is the last refuge of the scoundrel. In the election TV debate UKIP leader Nigel Farage claimed the UK couldn’t adequately defend the Falklands. As well as being demonstrably untrue, this demonstrates several mental tics of the UKIPper and it’s worth going through them.

First, it reveals a determination to re-fight battles already lost and won. This attitude comes from the same place as hankering after “A Leader Like Thatcher” who “Took on the Trades Unions”. This is why the thatcherite ultra wing of UKIP cannot see Cameron’s cut spending faster than their blessed St. Margaret Ever did. 45% top rate of tax? Wasn’t cut to 40% by Nigel Lawson until 1988, 9 years into the great lady’s time in office. UKIPpers are stupid, and lack the imagination or understanding to see what battles need to be fought today. Past glories like the re-taking of the Falklands, or the Miners’ strike happened when most ‘KIPpers were in their youth, and they’re hankering after a better yesterday. The world’s a bit different now, and the UKIPper wishes it wasn’t.

Second it’s revealing of a determination to see weakness in yourself, and strength elsewhere. This is behind the UKIPish “admiration” of Vladimir Putin. This is also behind the belief that all the bluster from the Eurocrats like JC Juncker that the UK cannot alter treaties, is truth; while anything David Cameron might say on the subject is merely self-serving bluster. Of course the Eurocrats aren’t going to negotiate before the Election, because with Ed Miliband, they won’t have to. But Cameron has a much stronger hand in EU negotiations than any ‘KIPper will ever admit.

UKIPpers are paranoid. There is simply no indication the Argentines are even thinking about a military solution to the “Malvinas Question”.

Farage might have been musing on the fall in the British Army’s manpower. But even this reveals the party’s ignorance and superficiality. UKIP is obsessed by symbols and totems, not effectiveness. Cap-badges are more important than effective 3-battalion regiments. It should be remembered that the UK recently ran two significant long-term deployments simultaneously AND had spare ISTAR and lift to get the French to Mali and tell them which doors to kick in. “Front Line First” which keeps combat infantry at the expense of support services ignores the fact that it requires a huge number of logistic, signals, intelligence and engineering “enablers” to keep one infantryman in action. 100,000 men kicking undeployable heels in Germany is better in the UKIP mind than 82,000 men who can be picked up, and put down to do a job anywhere on earth.  Would you rather have a platoon of men in battle dress armed with Lee Enfields, or a Section of Modern Infantry with all the logistic tail they need?

UKIP is guilty of hull-counting in the Royal navy too: The Type 45 air defence destroyers can track far, far more targets than the 1960’s vintage Type 42s they replace, so fewer are needed. One Type 45 can do the air-defence job of 6 type 42s. Yes, the Navy is smaller, but an Astute class attack sub can hear a ship leaving New York Harbour. From the English Channel.

And lastly but most importantly the idea the Falklands cannot be defended is simply wrong. For a party that claims to be “patriotic” they don’t seem to have much faith in the UK or her people. Let’s be charitable and say he’s talking about an operation to retake the Falklands in the absence of an Aircraft  Carrier. Fair enough – but HMS Queen Elizabeth will be operation by 2020 by which time the UK will be able to dominate the south Atlantic against any nation bar the USA.

In the mean time, there is simply not a credible threat to the Falkland islands. where there are at present 1,200 soldiers which, being British contain a large number of hardened veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, plus a company of Falkland islands defence force who’re integrated into the defence plan. This, compared to 57 Royal Marines and no plan in 1982. There is an augmentation force on standby, and a plan to rapidly reinforce the islands from the UK, and an air-bridge to enable it now. There wasn’t any of this in 1982. Meanwhile Argentina has no landing ships, no carriers, and and their army has been shrunk to bare-bones, and has no combat experience and little money to undertake serious exercise.

The RAF has 4 Typhoon a 4.5 generation multi-role fighter on the Falklands, which is arguably the finest dogfighter on earth. Whether it’s a match for the F22’s over the horizon capability is moot, but the RAF isn’t up against F22s. The Argentines are flying 6 (if they’re lucky) Mirage 3 interceptors, some Mirage 5 multi-role fighters, all purchased in the 1970s, and a handful of assorted multi-role, light fighter-bombers, most of which are probably not airworthy.

As well as the Typhoons, there are air-defence missiles on the islands, and the Royal Navy’s Type 45 Destroyers are the finest air-defence platforms afloat. Meanwhile an Argentine Naval ship goes to sea about 12 days a year due to lack of funds. One Argentine naval vessel sank in port in 2013 due to disrepair. Oh, and there’s usually a Royal Navy Nuclear attack submarine there, or therabouts, to which the Argentines will be completely blind until a torpedo slams into the hull. The Argentines couldn’t get there, have no capability to land forces, couldn’t supply any forces they did manage to land, which wouldn’t be a match for the forces on the island even if they did. If anything the Falklands are grotesquely over-defended.

UKIP aren’t patriots, they’re the people who’d have caved in and done a deal with Hitler, as it was all too scary as his victory was “inevitable”. UKIP have the paranoid certainty of the mediocre mind, always fearing the worst, but lacking imagination to envision the best; as a result, they’re wrong about everything, all the time.

The Triumphs of British Foreign Policy Are So Complete, We Take it For Granted.

The British Empire was founded on Trade, not conquest. We largely bought our empire, then co-opted its citizens by encouraging them to get rich and take up cricket. And then when they tired of the British Empire’s excesses, the Empire became too expensive to run, and we left. Trying, mostly with some success, to leave functioning democracies behind.

We left behind the world’s Largest democracy, India. And British ideas influenced the Second largest: The United States of America.

There are two models of democracy: Broadly the Franco-Yankish model with an executive president, and the British Parliamentary model. And of the two, the latter is much, much more stable, because it doesn’t concentrate power in the hands of a single individual with a personal mandate, and so the constitution is harder to abuse. The legislature finds it easier to hold the executive to account when the executive head is chosen from the legislature. But equally, there are fewer veto points, so legislative gridlock is less likely. (See this excellent essay by Fukuyama in Foreign Affairs)

The European Convention on Human Rights was written by British and American Lawyers, on British and American principles, and underpins the European Union, the enlargement of which to the East was a British-led project, against French wishes. The EU has strengthened institutions in Eastern Europe. Poland’s democracy was not a given when the Berlin wall came down. Thanks to the EU, Britain has a large, growing, increasingly prosperous ally in NATO, and the EU. Poland’s democracy is secure.

The World Trade Organisation seeks to Promote free trade, long a British principle. The EU is, thanks to Britain, a leading proponents of free trade in the Great councils of the world, something the French mutter about, but about which they cannot do anything. The Germans largely see it our way.

Across the world, the English Language is the language of trade, science and diplomacy. This is not going to change any time soon. We’ve exported our way of Government more successfully than the Americans, and not just to former colonies. And people yearn, across the world to be part of clubs we’re in. Georgia flies the European Union flag outside its new Parliament in Tiblisi

In Ukraine, the Eastern Quarter may have a majority which wants to be Russian. This is debatable, because no-one’s asked them properly. It’s probable a majority of Crimeans indeed want to be Russian. We’ll never know, because that referendum was neither Free nor Fair. The rest of Ukraine now looks firmly west.

Intelligent political commentators are overawed by the scale of Russia’s military spending, and the tactical subtlety of her annexation of bits of Ukraine. Yet mistake tactical for Strategic success. We have struggled, it’s true to come to terms with Russia’s doctrine of “information war”, as we cannot ascertain her goals. Meanwhile Russia is spreading disinformation, using extreme parties of the left (the greens are against Fracking which threatens Russia’s economy) and the Right (Jobbik, Le Front National and possibly UKIP which want to break up the EU) enjoy Russian support, and whose spokesmen turn up on Putin’s grotty little propaganda machine, Russia Today, with depressing regularity. Most of the people most enthusiastically backing Putin, and claim he’s winning, are on the loony fringes of politics.

Putin wants a Buffer between him and “the West” which he fears, because the west represents a threat to his power. It does, of course. Mainly because our world-view is better and more attractive than his. Putin has probably captured a wretched little  rust-belt, which will forever need his country’s financial support, while inviting the EU to his Border. Kiev will be an EU city within a decade, and there is almost nothing Putin can do about it. He could invade in a couple of weeks, but it would bankrupt him, and I doubt he could make it stick in the long term.

The fact is countries are clamouring to Join the EU and NATO, to exist under a security umbrella largely provided by the Americans, and to enjoy the institutional security of the EU, while more or less designing their democracy along British principles. Poland, for example has a Bicameral legislature, with a symbolic head of state, and the executive head of Government chosen from the legislature. Neither of the EU nor NATO are perfect, by any means. But to imagine the EU a greater threat to the UK’s interests than Putin’s Russia, as many ‘KIPpers do, is just insane. The EU ploughs mostly British Foreign policy in Ukraine, in the WTO and elsewhere. That foreign policy isn’t what ‘KIPpers think it should be, but it is consistent with 500 years of history.

The inhabitants of a damp, foggy archipelago off the north western coast of Europe, a medium-sized population, have nevertheless managed to shape the world in their image, and continue to do so, despite being overtaken by larger, wealthier powers. Somehow, it always goes Britain’s way in the end.

Real global great powers do not have trouble keeping their satellites in orbit. The West is built on British ideas, speaks English, and enjoys overwhelming economic, military and cultural dominance. The world watches English Football, listens to American and British music, and its most able people want to come to our cities, risking death and mutilation if necessary to do so. Compare with Russia, which will be just China’s petrol station in 3 years, lacking (our western) money, their military spending will be unsustainable. Russia’s people, as soon as they have money, leave. If the oil price stays low, Russia will be bankrupt in 3-5 years. Even China herself knows her power such as it is, is based on access to western Markets. The west, confident and united, can stand against any power, or combination of powers that could possibly be ranged against it. We can lose every tactical battle, Ukraine for example, and still win the war.

All it requires is that we don’t blink.

Charybdis and Scylla

Alone among the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain), Greece was running a massive structural deficit before the crisis. Ireland and Spain in particular were torpedoed by the financial crisis, despite running prudent fiscal surpluses in 2007, which was the only bubble-cooling option available to their governments in the absence of monetary levers. The Irish and Spanish were not partying on Germany’s tick, but were instead trying to manage the structural flaws in the Euro. The Greeks on the other hand were using Germany’s credit card to pay the settlement of their civil war.

Since the 2008 crisis, the Greek right has, inflicted enormous pain on the population, removing graft and non-jobs which had become a birthright for many, and tried to deal with the widespread tax-evasion (evasion probably isn’t strong enough. Many Greeks simply ignored the need to pay much in the way of taxes). Tax rises (for that is what making people accustomed to not paying cough up is) and cutting spending (for that is what dealing with graft and non-jobs is) represents a fundamental re-structuring of the Greek economy, which is now 25% smaller than it was before the crisis. This is beyond depression, and looks more like an economy emerging from a major war.
However, on its own terms, Greece’s austerity has worked. The population now has a GDP per capita more appropriate to their actual productivity, and the country is running a primary (ie before debt service) surplus. More taxes are paid, and public sector jobs mostly exist and require their holders to turn up. This is an appropriate time to default as the smoke can clear before the country needs to tap the bond-markets again. The Greek right will take the opprobrium for the pain of the last few years, the left the plaudits for the recovery. Ain’t it ever thus?
Germany, for its part, will have to wave goodbye to the money it lent Greece, and muse on the fact that it has the European empire the desire for which has burned in the Teutonic heart since the country was unified under the Hohenzollerns, and that means it must sometimes pay others’ bills. Think of it as payback for living under the US security guarantee, which costs American taxpayers 4% of GDP, when Germany spends 1%. With power, comes responsibility.  
Greece should default. Germany should pay. Greece cannot default unilaterally, as they lack the resources to stand behind their banks, so they need Troika co-operation to do so. There’s ultimately no need for Greece to leave the Euro, even though this would probably be better in the long-run for everyone; this would allow the Greeks to default, devalue and move on. However there is no political will for this amongst the players that matter (Greece and Germany), however much British anti-EU types yearn for it. Grexit won’t happen. The default and devaluation would probably mean another 2 years of economic uncertainty, and Greek society may not be able to cope without descending into violence, and it’s probably not worth that risk.
Syriza will not be able to deliver promised spending increases, though the austerity is probably going to be a lot less severe from now on. This is going to leave a lot of people very disappointed. The non-jobs, the state pensions paid for life to siblings, the fictional tax returns Greeks used to enjoy are not coming back. The only certainty is whatever happens, Alexis Tsipras is going to get a very sharp lesson in economic reality and power politics when he sits down in front of Frau Merkel.
Muddling through with a Grumpy German taxpayer picking up the bill for a Battered Greek economy, leaving the fundamental structural flaws of the Euro in place is probably the least bad solution all round.

The Iron Curtain

For my generation, growing up, the Cold war was a fact. There was “us”: the Americans, and the Atlantic Alliance, and there were the Soviets. And there was a line through Europe that was called the Iron Curtain.

I was born in 1977. I remember the Gerontocrats of the Soviet Union dying off. Breznhev, Andropov and Chernenko. I mainly remember it in the form of a Spitting Image skit, in which a queue of elderly men on gurneys with drips in, waiting their turn to be soviet leader. I remember my Father’s plan for WW3, which given we lived close to the Radio masts used to control Britain’s Polaris, later, Trident fleet, was to grab the best brandy and whatever wine we thought suitable from the Cellar, go to the top of Honey Hill, and watch the fireworks.

Then, As a young teenager, I remember the Berlin Wall coming down, and feeling optimistic about the world. We, the free west, had defeated tyranny. Again. This was a time of Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history”, in which a liberal, free-market democracy became the universal form of Government.

Buoyed by confidence of the times, I remember devouring the news of the first Gulf war. Having seen even their top-flight kit swept aside with contemptuous ease in the desert by the United States, UK, France and others, the Soviet Union had a crisis of will. Or rather the Crisis of will that was the logic of Gorbachev’s Perestroika and Glasnost came to a head with the realisation that they no longer had conventional superiority in the European theatre. They’d long lost nuclear supremacy. It was over, the Soviet Empire crumbled, and their enslaved peoples of Central and Eastern Europe clamoured to be free. They joined NATO, and they Joined the EU. Thanks to the former they were safe from the Russians, and thanks to the latter they got rich and comfortable, From Estonia to the Black sea.

Finland shares an Iron Curtain Border with Russia, as do Lithuania and Poland (with Kaliningrad), but the rest of the Iron Curtain consists of undefended and unpoliced borders. Some people think the EU is useless, but it has entrenched and enforced democratic norms in central Europe, and set people free to move about Europe for trade and cultural exchange at will. While we need NATO to provide a credible defence against a wounded Russian Bear, it will be the EU’s soft power that finally brings the conflict to a close.

Kiev will be an EU city within a decade. Putin will not last much longer as Russian leader, so completely has he flown the plane into the god-damn mountain. And whoever succeeds him will need to deliver prosperity to the Russian people. And the best way for a Russian leader to deliver prosperity will be closer economic co-operation with the rich countries to the West. Perhaps Francis Fukuyama was right, but just a bit early.

Some people think the world isn’t getting better. What was the Iron Curtain, is now a cycle path.

A “One-State” Solution for Israel/Palestine?

The Israel/Palestine question splits neatly along left/right lines. The rights and wrongs of this conflict are characterised by grievance-mongering from the supporters of either side. For the left, it’s axiomatic that Israel is an aggressive, invasive, occupying power, and an outpost of the American Imperium, guilty of war-crimes and even genocide. For the right, the Palestinians are terrorists, who’re using their own people as human shields while Israel stands as a doughty democracy floating in a sea of ignorance and tyranny.

Were I brought up in Israel, or on the West Bank, no doubt I would think differently. But it is the role of the outsider, without a dog in the fight, to try to cut through the issues and seek to understand why people act as they do, rather than counting dead babies to score cheap political points.

You’ll often see the following graphic:

Which is designed to show that Israel is an aggressive, imperial coloniser. But this is a wildly dishonest picture, for a whole number of reasons. Palestine in 1946, had a bit of Jewish OWNED land in a British-run mandate territory called Palestine. The second picture, takes the whole state of Israel post independence as “Jewish” despite the significant (about 20%) Arab population, who can and do own land in Israel. That’s before you take into account the enormous migration into Palestine which coincided with widespread Jewish settlement of the Palestinian mandate, and the consequent economic opportunities as the desert bloomed. The Third picture is the Israel borders Israel was prepared to accept, but which Arab countries weren’t, and who sought to push Israel into the sea. The Arabs have never recovered from the humiliations of having the combined might of the Arab world have its arse handed to it on a plate in 1st Arab Israeli war in 1948, 6-day war in 1967, and again in the Yom-Kippur war of 1973. The settlements in the Palestinian west bank, the wall, and so forth have been effectively annexed since in a half-century of low-level conflict, which, It has to be said, Israel is winning, hands down. It is quite remarkable just how utterly inept the Arabs have been. Because defeating Israel in war, a small nation without natural barriers, with huge internal divisions and few reliable international friends, should be a cake-walk for the hundred million or so neighbouring Arabs.

Palestinians’ paramilitary organisations cannot stand up to Israeli conventional military in a toe-to-toe conventional battle. The Egyptians, Syrians, Lebanese and Jordanians show little appetite, and the Iranians know Israel’s (alleged) nukes are pointed at Tehran. So they’ve done what the underdog has done since time-immemorial and fought an asymmetric war. This explains the human shields, the tunnels, the rockets indiscriminately thrown against southern Israel. Their strategy is to provoke an over-reaction from the Israelis, and so cut Israel off from their half-hearted support in the west, and undermine the legitimacy of the entire Israeli state. It is stupid to suggest the Palestinian use of asymmetric tactics is any less “moral” than when used by the Maquis in 1944. War is immoral, and only victory ends it. The Palestinians face a mighty military with what they believe to be the moral high ground, and with near total population buy-in to the struggle. Whatever you think of their beliefs, their beliefs are a fact.

But Israel’s borders in 1967, which they were prepared to accept, as they were in 1948, were militarily indefensible. Given the demonstrated attitude of the Arab world, to treat the west-bank as a foreign, sovereign territory is to invite an invasion from there, which would easily cut Israel in half. The main road along the coast is within artillery range of the West-Bank, from which it would take a tank 30 minutes to drive. So Israel’s military policy, faced with Neighbours who wish to destroy her, requires defence in depth. The West Bank will, while Israel exists, never be independent. Sure, Israel pays lip-service to a two-state solution, even as they strangle and annex the west bank bit by bit. To do anything else would, for the Israelis, be suicide. What is true of the West Bank is equally true of the Golan heights, a strategically vital buffer between Israel and Syria, which helps the Israelis combat the militants of Hizbollah in southern Lebanon. Given the current situation in Syria, I cannot see there being a return of the Golan Heights any time soon.

Most of the criticisms coming from both sides, aimed at either the Palestinians or the Israelis are spurious, or utterly neglect the context of the decisions being made. What is important is what WILL happen, not what should. I cannot see Israel allowing a viable Palestinian state for the reasons outlined above. As they see it, they tried negotiating borders in good faith, and got the 6-day war for their trouble. Israel will therefore create facts on the ground and negotiate around these. And the slow plantation of the west bank is part of that strategy. Gaza is irrelevant. Sinai has been de-militarised, and a weakend, unstable Egypt which in any case has typically been the Arab state least ill-disposed towards Israel, poses Israel no signficant threat. But the rest of the Arab world DOES pose a threat, and to secede their buffer-zones to their east and north
would be for the Israelis to invite annihilation.

Many people see the Israel Palestine situation as though it is Analogous to that in Northern Ireland, and hope that a shiny Democrat president can bang some heads together and forge a deal. This is wishful thinking. Though I deliberately used the term “plantation” for what is happening in the West Bank, it doesn’t mean the solutions which worked in the province will be applicable to Palestine. Equally, charges that Israel is an Apartheid state are ludicrous, and the hope that some Mandela figure can use towering moral authority to create a solution, is likewise a pipe-dream. Moral authority is nothing next to military necessity.

If you want a historical parallel, it’s one that no-one will thank me for. The crusader kingdom of the Holy Land was an expeditionary military outpost of Anglo-French feudalism in the levant, which maintained itself in the face of overwhelming odds for nearly 200 years. I Suspect the Israelis will have more luck than the Kings of Jerusalem.

In my view, the Palestinians are brave, but misguided. They have been lied to about the feasibilities of the “right of return” and they have been used for half a century as human shields by a leadership which is not primarily interested in their well being. Herded into cities that are still ludicrously referred to as “refugee camps” they are denied so much economic opportunity, they have been cruelly used by the Fatah and Hamas alike as bargaining chips. The Israeli response to provocation from Hamas has at times been cruel to the Palestinian people. But the people most often forgotten by everyone are the Arabs citizens of Israel who are the richest, freest and least oppressed Arabs in the middle east. Druze Israelis serve alongside their Jewish compatriots, and the Bedouin have a long tradition of voluntary service in the IDF.  Syrians in the Golan heights are applying for Israeli citizenship in ever-greater numbers. By far the best solution for the Israelis and Palestinians alike would be a secular democracy of Israel/Palestine, encompassing both entities within the borders of the Old Mandate, which can live at peace with its neighbours. Peace is something I don’t think is possible with Palestine still in existence. It will just take some time.

“I hope Putin wins”

I know it’s cheap and tawdry to base an essay on a comment on the Daily Mail website but bear with me OK?

The Mail pointed out that the Ukraine crisis might just be the start of WW3. Personally, I think this unlikely. I doubt Russia will even Annex Kiev, but will take eastern Ukraine back into its fold. Next up is Moldova, with Russian bases in Transnitria, already swirling down the plughole of Russian annexation. Further conflict with Georgia beckons as does closer ties with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Belarus. None of this will be fought over by anyone in the West. Meanwhile the damage this will do to the Russian economy, will be immense.

By far the most entertaining comment to this story, and there are many such on the Daily Mail website, reads

I hope you are RIGHT! the west has started this, with its Liberal ways, forcing our ways on to the rest of the world whilst our own communities suffer and fail… I hope Putin wins.

By someone calling themselves TheTruthHurts. However lumpen and stupid wishing a war over our “liberal ways” or thinking “our communities”, which are amongst the richest and most free on earth, will “suffer and fail” might be, he has stumbled onto a Truth. Putin’s Russia IS seeking leadership of socially conservative countries that reject gay rights, women’s equality and all that messy democracy stuff. And there will always be a market for people like our friend above who admire a dictator’s “strength” over what he perceives as a democrat’s weakness.

It is precisely this Fuhrerprinzip that led Farage to suggest he admired Putin “as an operator”. And there are no shortage of CyberKIPpers ranting about how the Ukrainian crisis isn’t a failing former superpower meddling in its former empire, but actually the EU’s fault for daring to enter trade deals with sovereign countries on its borders. Of course UKIPpers blame the EU for the rain, but Putin knows free market, liberal democracy works. He, as a former KGB operative, just doesn’t know why.

the world’s queer-basher in-chief.

But for now, Putin, and his pathetic little Lord Haw Haw, Nigel Farage, have a ready audience of people whom the world has passed by. People who reject Gay rights, ethnic diversity, immigration, women’s equality and who yearn for strong rulers from an imagined past. In Britain’s case, Churchill and Thatcher, and in Russia’s case Peter the Great and Stalin, who’re associated with the pomp and power of empire.

Of course democracies aren’t weak. We are quite capable of expending enormous amounts of blood and treasure, if we can persuade the people our cause is just. Which is why free men from around the world stormed ashore in Normandy, to defeat the most odious tyranny, and why we maintain expeditionary forces round the world to this day. Indeed, we’re stronger now than then and can win wars without making the Guns/butter trade-off. The US defence budget is just 4% of GDP, yet it dwarfs the next dozen or so. All but 2 of the 10 largest defence budgets on earth are NATO democracies.

It’s economies that win wars. Putin’s isolation from the rich, free and extremely powerful west will eventually cost the people (and more importantly, the oligarchs) money. In the short term, the Russian regime will absorb more economic pain than can the administrations in the west, but in the longer run, Putin needs German money, even more than Germany needs Russian gas. Already the isolation is hurting Russian growth, which far from the days of the BRIC boom, is forecast to grow a measly 1.3% this year. And if the Oil price falls, Putin will struggle to pay his over-manned and decrepit army.

The Annexation of Eastern Ukraine will isolate Russia, and even potential allies like China are keeping their distance, fearful over their own shared and disputed borders. This is not the Beginning of WW3. Putin’s isolation and Russia’s economic weakness will see to that. The friends Putin can reliably call on, fellow gay-bashers like Iran, have no power or pull. There’s no alliance of powers capable of posing a threat to NATO, so long as our political will remains. The risk to the west comes with Estonia, an article 5 NATO country and member of the EU. Will we fight for a few Eastern Counties of Estonia? If we do not, NATO which has guaranteed security in Europe for so long will be finished. But there is a lot of water to cross before we get there, and I’m not sure Russia has the appetite, or even the economic and military capacity for the journey.

The Borders of Europe will be redrawn, and not for the last time. If you want historical parallels, this is probably the Galtieri Gambit, not the march into the Sudetenland. Like the Argentine general, Putin’s military adventures were popular. For a while, until the cost of taking on a democracy, and rousing it to anger became apparent.