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The Case for Humiliation

To some political commentators Britain’s impotence in the face of Russian aggression is regarded as a humiliation.   Why? 

Britain’s global power pretensions have been laid bare for decades, despite our participation in the so-called campaigns of ‘liberation’ in Iraq and Afghanistan.   And anyway, in each of those wars, Britain played second fiddle to the Americans, our involvement no more than a gesture in support of dubious western, meaning American, objectives.  Even so, it was a gesture that cost our armed services several hundred lives.

As long ago as the white rebellion in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, in the 1960s, Britain was demonstrating its inability to mount a military response.  The then Prime Minister Harold Wilson promised that Britain would “not stand idly by” while Ian Fraser and his party declined to extend the franchise to black voters.  Britain then proceeded to do exactly that – nothing.  The Rhodesia situation was eventually resolved only after a bloody civil war, in which Britain sensibly declined to participate.

Those of us old enough to have witnessed the rapid decline and fall of the British Empire after the Second World War – a process that involved the commitment of military resources on a scale that we could ill afford, and much spilling of civilian blood – did so with relief rather than regret.  The myth persists that Britain unwound its colonial possessions with dignity and good grace, but that is saying nothing more than that we managed to do it more expeditiously and more tidily than certain other colonial powers.

But still commentators seem to bemoan our reduced standing on the world stage.  Con Coughlin, in the Daily Telegraph, writes of, “….the humiliating revelation that our policy for confronting Vladimir Putin’s Crimean land grab is to do … precisely nothing”. 

One wonders what he expects us to do. Send in troops?  The number of Russian troops gathered on Ukraine’s borders is greater than that of the entire British army.  Our means of delivering them to the war zone, moreover, and our ability to provide air support once they were in place, no longer exist. 

Coughlin concludes his lament with this: “The Prime Minister has only himself to blame for this disastrous state of affairs – for he has encouraged the likes of Mr. Powell (his national security advisor) to reconfigure Britain’s global ambitions to a level more suited to Scandinavia than to a leading world power.  The result is that, far from playing a prominent role in efforts to bring Mr. Putin to his senses, Britain will be left watching timorously from the sidelines”.

Quite right, too, I say.  How big would our army, navy and air force have to be in order to deter Mr. Putin from his adventure?  More than we can afford, is the answer, and more – far more – than we ought to contemplate ever spending again.

And by the way, I would happily exchange the British standard of living for that enjoyed by any one of our three northern neighbours, none of which has given a moment’s thought to restoring historical military glories.

Mr. Putin may be wrong.  He may be a Stalinesque monster consumed by yearnings for a reversion to Soviet-style hegemony in the region.  But our inability to mount an effective military response is not a matter for regret.  It is a matter of reality.     

The reality is that Britain will make all the right noises in support of poor downtrodden Ukraine (a country with a less than commendable record in picking allies and in protecting civil rights) and do nothing.  When doing something is militarily a practical impossibility, doing nothing is a sensible option.

Britons should be no more regretful about this state of affairs than the citizens of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. They should insist, instead, insist that the government spend the tax-payers’ money on turning the country into an economic powerhouse, not on restoring it to a military power – whatever the American Secretary of Defense might think of the idea.    

Incidentally, what are the Americans, with their vast arsenal and manpower resources going to do?  Nothing is my guess.

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