Britain’s global role: fantasy vs reality

October 15, 2017

Paul Rogers opens: “The UK’s government and military are trapped in a futile search for greatness, thus missing the country’s true security challenges”. 

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson delivering his speech at the Conservative party conference at the Manchester Central Convention Complex in Manchester.

Several recent events at the heart of Britain’s state and government suggest that the country’s failure to come to terms with its post-imperial position in the world is turning critical.

A prime exhibit is foreign secretary Boris Johnson, whose position and high profile make him a leading symbol of the United Kingdom’s current status. His fixation with empire was reflected in a crass suggestion, during a visit in January 2017 to the Shwedagon temple in Yangon, Myanmar, that he might recite lines from Rudyard Kipling’s colonial-era poem “The Road to Mandalay”. This was thankfully parried by the British ambassador. But nothing stopped him from addressing the Conservative Party conference this week in Manchester on the theme of “let the British lion roar”.

The embarrassingly dysfunctional Conservative gathering seemed in other ways to embody the desperate search for national purpose in the wake of Brexit, even as its language and attitudes aspired only to repackaging the past.

There is much wider evidence of a move into an era of “The (British) Empire Strikes Back”. A significant example is the launch of two huge new aircraft-carriers. The lead ship of the pair, HMS Queen Elizabeth, has already been handed over to the Royal Navy for sea trials, and is now followed by the 65,000-ton supercarrier, HMS Prince of Wales. These are by far the largest warships to be deployed in Britain’s history. With so much of the navy’s power focused around such ships, it is ever easier to press the idea that Britain’s way forward is the return to a global role.

A speech delivered on 11 September by the navy’s senior admiral, Sir Philip Jones, reinforces the point. He argues precisely that carriers such as these now enable the UK to resume its old role in Asia and the Pacific, one largely abandoned in the 1970s after the military’s withdrawal from “east of Suez”. This is already happening: a small naval base has been constructed in Bahrain, the port of Duqm in Oman is being adapted to support the aircraft-carriers, and a defence office has been established in Singapore where the Royal Navy has berthing rights. Moreover, the UK is also preparing to help defend South Korea at a time of rising tensions in the region. Interestingly, the admiral linked this reorientation directly to Brexit and the UK’s need to develop new trading partners outside Europe.

There is a catch, though. Warships of the size and complexity of the Queen Elizabeth or Prince of Wales will never operate on their own. The norm for these carriers will be, at the very least, a fleet comprising an air-defence destroyer, one or two anti-submarine frigates, a Royal Fleet Auxiliary supply-ship, a tanker, and a nuclear-powered attack-submarine. In recent months the navy has been able only to deploy frigates and destroyers in very small numbers – six or seven out of the nineteen theoretically available. This is unlikely to change any time soon because of long-term shortages of crew and a host of engineering problems. Certainly the navy will not have the resources to have more than one carrier at a time operational.

The challenges here are steep enough. In addition, though, the Royal Navy is responsible for Britain’s submarine-based nuclear force. Since that requires “deterrence support” in the form of surface warships and attack-submarines, there is a real sense of Britain being reduced to a two-ship navy – able to deploy one carrier strike-group and one strategic nuclear-missile submarine, but not much else (see “Britain’s deep-sea defence: out of time?“, 3 March 2016).

Thus, the navy-led shift towards a revived global posture – analysed in depth in Global Britain: A Pacific Presence?, a new briefing by Richard Reeve for the Oxford Research Group – is accompanied by a great overstretch of resources and commitments. In this sense the fate of the Royal Navy is emblematic of the UK’s deep-rooted desire for the status of a great power, or at least a pretty big power.

This is a delusion. By the mid-2020s, the UK will be able to kill many millions of people in a nuclear war and to deploy a single supercarrier – largely as an appendage of the United States navy when it next goes to war. That will be about it as far as the Royal Navy is concerned, suggesting that the reality behind the pretence of a major power is merely a “bigger than average little power”.

As well as a delusion, Britain’s military direction is a lost opportunity – for it is already made irrelevant by the evolving global-security challenges that will dominate the 2020s and 2030s. On present trends, the world will by then have moved more fully towards extreme economic division and marginalisation, where millions experience accelerating climate disruption and an increased risk of irregular war. In face of all this, supercarriers and thermonuclear weapons really aren’t much use.

It would be possible to design a foreign policy that was far more focused on conflict prevention, peacekeeping, peacebuilding and economic and environmental reform – all of which could begin to offer leadership in meeting these challenges. That option is a far cry from the current outlook, but it is there for the asking. If it were taken, Britain might at last replace fantasy with reality, get rid of its imperial shackles, and discover a truer form of “greatness”.

Source: https://www.opendemocracy.net/paul-rogers/britains-global-role-fantasy-vs-reality

 

 

 

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Will Japan be ‘reset”, maintaining the pacifist principles enshrined in its constitution?

September 29, 2017

Following Shinzo Abe’s dissolution of the Japanese parliament for a snap election on October 22, Seiji Maehara, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, announced to his MPs that he would not field any candidates. He encouraged them to apply instead to run for a new party established by the governor of Tokyo only two days ago.

Tokyo’s governor,  Yuriko Koike, has announced the formation of the Party of Hope (Kibo no To) to contest the election She  laid out her party’s vision: to “reset” Japan, operating free of the interests of the political establishment and maintaining its pacifist principles, which are enshrined in its constitution.

Maehara’s proposal to shift allegiance to Koike’s movement was unanimously approved at a general meeting of DP MPs the same day. Under the plan, all DP candidates for the general election have been asked to abandon party membership and apply to join the official ticket of Kibo no To.

“I made this proposal after thinking about what would realize a change in power again,” Maehara told DP MPs during the meeting.  According to Maehara’s plan, the DP will give “full support” to Koike’s party in election campaigns, including financial support for former DP members running on the Kibo no To ticket.

During a TV interview on Wednesday, Koike said her party will choose applicants from the DP after close consideration of their views on constitutional revision and security issues.

 

 

 

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Indian boxer’s message of peace

August 7, 2017

A stand-off in a remote frontier region beside the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has become increasingly tense. At the heart of the dispute are different interpretations of where the “trijunction” – the point where the three countries’ borders meet – precisely lies. China argues its territory extends south to an area called Gamochen, while India says Chinese control ends at Batanga La, further to the north.

Avoiding escalation

To avoid escalation, frontline troops in the area do not generally carry weapons, and the Chinese and Indian troops reportedly clashed by “jostling” bumping chests, without punching or kicking, in order to force the other side backwards – see video (Hindi commentary).

The current standoff began on 16 June when a column of Chinese troops accompanied by construction vehicles and road-building equipment began moving south into what Bhutan considers its territory. Bhutan requested assistance from Delhi, which sent forces to resist the Chinese advance.

On Thursday, China demanded India immediately remove troops from the border, accusing it of building up troops and repairing roads along its side of the border next to the Indian state of Sikkim.

 

The BBC reports that Vijender Singh, a middleweight Indian boxer, beat China’s Zulpikar Maimaitiali on points on Saturday to retain his WBO Asia Pacific super middleweight title and take his opponent’s WBO Oriental super belt. But he dedicated his win to “India-China friendship”.

After the unanimous verdict in Mumbai, Singh returned to the ring, taking the microphone and saying: “I don’t want this title. I will give it (and the belt) back to Zulpikar.” He added: “I don’t want tension on the border. It’s a message of peace. That’s important.”

 

 

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Many readers will echo Verhofstadt’s view on the EU: “Once we fought now we talk!”

August 3, 2017

 

Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: “On this day in 1914, Germany declared war on France. Once we fought now we talk! This is why I am proud to be European!” 

Verhofstadt was once suggested as a candidate to replace Romano Prodi as the next President of the European Commission, but his candidacy was opposed and rejected by a coalition led by Tony Blair and other leaders who had disagreed with Verhofstadt’s uncompromising criticisms of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq the previous year.”

The writer wanted to learn more about this Belgian politician after receiving this link from Felicity Arbuthnot, whose recent audio account of the past and present of Mosul some readers will have heard.

Guy Verhofstadt served as the 47th Prime Minister of Belgium from 1999 to 2008. He is the Leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group and has been an MEP since 2009.

At one stage, he and his party, Flemish Liberals and Democrats (VLD), formed a coalition with the French-speaking Flemish socialists and Greens in Brussels and Wallonia.

He has been put forward as the possible candidate for replacing José Manuel Barroso as the president of the European Commission by a coalition of Greens, Socialists and Liberals.

In 2015 he supported the European Commission’s proposal to distribute asylum requests for migrants over all countries of the European Union, opposed by UK and France. He also called on governments of France, the UK, and Hungary to stop building walls and increasing border security measures and redirect their efforts to  humanitarian assistance.

There were other subjects on which we would not agree, but his position on migrants seems just and humane. He also fosters progressive political alliances which many in this country advocate.

 

 

 

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