November 22, 2015
For a rollicking sea yarn it is hard to beat ‘Master and Commander – the Far side of the World’ by Patrick O’Brian. The film starred Russell Crowe as the Captain of HMS Surprise, fighting the old enemy during the Napoleonic War. In one scene the ships officers are sat around the dinner table, when Captain Jack Aubrey asks the ship’s surgeon his opinion on two weevils that have emerged from the hard-tack on a plate. Doctor Stephen Maturin, who is also a naturalist, ventures a description of them with the opinion they are identical. Captain Jack presses him to say which one Stephen would choose. Forced to make a choice he goes for the slightly fatter and longer weevil. “There I have you”, declares the Captain, “do you not know that in the Service one must always choose the lesser of two weevils”. With much laughter the officers toast, “The lesser of two weevils”.
This play on words of the maxim ‘the lesser of two evils’ has been proved to be lost on NATO politicians when it comes to the Middle East and in particular Syria. The UK and US in particular have let their obsession with ousting President Assad undermine and override the fight against barbaric ISIL. In this they are totally at odds with public opinion where common sense has prevailed because it is patently clear that whatever faults the Assad regime has, Syria was a modern and pluralistic society that respected the rights of religious and ethnic minorities. In no way is this intended to condone the repression of political opponents by the regime (which coincides with the various Muslim denominations), but this does not justify the obsession of the UK and US with regime change and being the champions of democracy that must be forced on peoples no matter what; even when they are not ready for it or it does not fit with their national psyche. After all, regime change (for which the UK and US have form) is strictly forbidden by the UN Charter. They may have relaxed their demands that Assad must go, but it is still their ultimate aim, and it is clear they have not thought through the end-game. Read the rest of this entry »
October 31, 2015
Keep your enemies close and your friends even closer. This quote from the Godfather seems to contradict perceived wisdom that would dictate you place some distance between an aggressor and yourself. The problem is to know who is your enemy and to question if your friend is really your friend. A new Labour Member of Parliament described the opposition benches as the enemy, but was advised by a wise and experienced Labour MP, “no son the enemy are on this side behind you”. The current civil-war in the Labour Party proves the point. I also have personal experience as an ex-member of the Labour Party when branch meetings were fractious and vicious, with the comrades only too pleased to knife each other in the back. At the same time, as the chief negotiator for my local government union branch, the best industrial relations that we enjoyed was when the Conservative Party won control of the local authority. Just goes to show, beware of presumption.
When it comes to nations and states the situation can be confusing when countries change sides to serve their national interests, and this swing can be like a pendulum. The US and UK have had a stormy relationship ever since the American War of Independence and with the British burning down the White House in the short-lived war of 1812 during the Napoleonic Wars. During the American Civil War the relationship was ambiguous, but since the Great War of 1914-1918 the US and UK have been allies and friends? Except, that during the inter-war years the US adopted a policy of ‘second to none’ and the Washington Naval Treaty ensured parity with the diminution of British naval power. The US had contingency plans for a war against Britain and an aim for the dismantling of the British Empire. The alliance between Japan and Britain, based on naval co-operation, was smashed by the US. Japan an ally in WW1 became an enemy in WW2. During WW2 the US and UK, together with Canada, co-operated in the Manhattan Project for nuclear development of weapons of war. This resulted in the two nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki seventy years ago. Read the rest of this entry »
September 3, 2015
George Osborne has announced a significant expenditure for the upgrade of the Royal Navy submarine base at Faslane. The SNP who oppose the Trident replacement programme have responded with outrage, but their opposition is as usual not clearly defined and is perceived as anti-English in sentiment. There are many good and practical reasons for opposing the Trident programme and the SNP will have the opportunity to make their case in the House of Commons, but they cannot demand a national veto just because the submarines are based on the Clyde in Scotland. The base may be close to heavily populated Glasgow and the potential target for a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile but moving the base, to say Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, would not make them any more safer. Defence is not a devolved issue, it affects everyone in the UK. Even if Scotland did become independent, and based on the Irish example, it is more than likely that Faslane would become a treaty-port. If the SNP wants to gain any traction on this issue they need to be pragmatic and make the argument from an UK perspective.
The main reason why the UK should have the nuclear deterrent is because France has its own independent nuclear deterrent. It is not that France is a threat to the UK, even though the Entente Cordiale does get strained at times, it is about the historical rivalry between the two nations and national pride. The maritime rivalry goes back for hundreds of years and even existed during the Crimean War when the two nations were allies against Russia. Each country still perceived the other as a potential enemy and tried to outdo the other with advances in ship design as they leapfrogged each other in an arms race. The rise of Germany and their naval ambitions was the main catalyst for the Entente Cordiale, with an agreement that France would be the major naval force and power in the Mediterranean Sea while Great Britain would control the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean. This underlying rivalry still persists and to a large extent determines UK defence policy. You may think that this is silly, but it is an important factor in Whitehall especially with regard to foreign policy. The French will only cooperate in joint arms programmes if they can take the lead, otherwise they go their own way with the result that two very similar fighter aircraft (Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon) end up being constructed and compete against each other for export orders. The new aircraft-carriers being constructed for the Royal Navy have been designed deliberately to be bigger than France’s carrier. The UK submarines are bigger than their French equivalent. Once you understand this reality it is much easier to fathom what is happening. Read the rest of this entry »
June 30, 2010
David Cameron is a worry. He has only been Prime Minister for a few weeks and he is already getting carried away with his own rhetoric. It is difficult to rationalise his words and actions. Returning from the G8 and G20 meetings in Canada his message was, the world does not owe us a living and the UK will have to reboot its economy in order to survive. His three point plan for recovery is; get to grip with the deficit; slash benefits to make work pay; and kick-start international trade. In relation to the last point he said that British businessmen and diplomats must do more to attract foreign investors and develop business opportunities abroad. This corresponds with Chancellor Osborne’s Budget plan to reduce the size of the public sector and increase the size of the manufacturing and export sector.
How can this be reconciled with the decision earlier this month by LibDem Treasury Minister, Danny Alexander, to axe a commitment by the outgoing Labour government to make an £80million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters. This was described by LibDem Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam MP, Nick Clegg, as a calculated ploy by Labour to win support in Sheffield just ahead of the election. If the timing of the announcement of the loan was a calculated partisan act it would indeed be reprehensible. It also seems ridiculous for the Government to borrow money and then lend it for a commercial operation. David Cameron justified the axing of the loan, which he ventured offered little value for money, by saying that commercial banking should stump up the money. The reality is somewhat different and Nick Clegg, as a local MP, should know that.
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June 14, 2010
The prime duty of the Head of State and Government is the defence of the realm. This does not come cheap in the new electronic and technological age. Air-power is supreme but limited in scope due to the availability of secure land bases and logistics. Sea-power continues to provide the endurance, reach and flexibility that land based air-power cannot deliver. This is still particularly vital for an island trading nation reliant on the freedom of the seas and trade routes. Modern sea-power requires submarines and aircraft-carriers as part of amphibious task forces. A tank equipped Army is less important now that the prospect of a conventional war in Europe has receded; it is still the foot-soldiers that hold and consolidates ground. But even these ground forces need to be flexible and transportable, with high levels of mechanisation and air-borne with helicopters.
The Royal Navy has traditionally been at the forefront of aircraft-carrier development and operations, being both inventive and innovative. Plans for two new carriers (CVF) – Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales are now in doubt due to financial constraints, with the RN pitted against the Royal Air Force for funding. Faced with another defence review, battle lines have been drawn between the three services because the object of the review is, as ever, all about reducing the cost of defence. Defence expenditure as a percentage of GDP has fallen from 5% to 2.8% and each service Chief is fighting their own corner. From the Treasury point of view this in-fighting diverts attention away from the real need to conduct a review that focuses on identifying the threats, what the realistic need is and then the best way to serve the interest of the Nation. Once that has been decided and costed, the funding then has to be put in place. Read the rest of this entry »
June 14, 2010
Defence @ Resurgence News May 2009
ROCK UNDER ATTACK
Israel has recently launched another attack on Gibraltar. This has now been going on for two years but it does not get reported in the British media. The attacks have been getting progressively elaborate and involving more aircraft. They have reached a new height since Israel acquired AWAC aircraft to control and direct operations. Most of the Israeli Air Force fighter-bomber squadrons are taking part supported by a deployment of in-flight refuelling tankers so that they can undertake flights across the full length of the Mediterranean. Helicopters are also deployed for rescue missions in the event of fighters being downed. Latest reports indicate that the Israel home-defence missile system is being readied to deal with any reprisals directed at their territory. Read the rest of this entry »