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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Middle East Eye: Peter Oborne reviews Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy     

July 2, 2017

Last month’s statistics show visitors from seventeen countries, with  ‘Neutral or non-aggressive countries and states’ as the most widely read entry and twice as many readers from the United States as from UK. Today we draw on Peter Oborne’s article about the foreign policy of the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.

After a reference to the ‘colossal debt of gratitude for restoring genuine political debate to Britain’ and ‘his extremely brave and radical decision to break with the foreign policy analysis of Blair and his successors’ Oborne considers the Labour (pre-general election) manifesto: ‘a well-argued and coherent critique of the foreign policy consensus which has done so much damage over the last quarter of a century’ – stating that it offers a serious alternative to the catastrophic system of cross-party politics that gave the world the Iraq, Afghan and Libyan calamities.

He compares the Conservative manifesto, which ‘contains no specific foreign policy pledges and no mention of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Palestine or the Middle East at all’, with Corbyn’s promise to implement the will of parliament and recognise the state of Palestine.in a vote three years ago.

The Labour position on the Yemeni bombardment is described as admirable and that of the last two administrations condemned:

“Under Cameron, and now Theresa May, Britain has thrown its weight behind the Saudi bombing campaign. I am afraid that Michael Fallon . . . recently said that the murderous Saudi bombing raids have been carried out in “self-defence”. This comment was frankly obscene, and Fallon owes an apology to the thousands of Yemeni families who have been bereaved as a result of Saudi attacks . . . his approach is sadly typical of the series of misstatements and lies emanating from the British government over this terrible Yemen business”. (Below, a ruined hospital, one of 20 filed photographs of the onslaught on Yemen)

Oborne points out that Corbyn demands comprehensive, independent, UN-led investigations into alleged violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen, including air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition and the suspension of any further arms sales for use in the conflict until that investigation is concluded.

He continues: “Needless to say, the British media (and in particular the BBC, which has a constitutional duty to ensure fair play during general elections) has practically ignored Corbyn’s foreign policy manifesto”. Oborne also adds that, as Mark Curtis has pointed out, the BBC website carried only 10 articles on Yemen but 97 on Syria in the six weeks to 15 May “focusing on the crimes of an official enemy rather than our own”. Further:

“His manifesto pledges to ‘commit to working through the UN’ and to ‘end support for unilateral aggressive wars of intervention’. We have been waiting to hear a mainstream British politician say this for years, and at last Corbyn (supported by his capable foreign affairs spokesperson Emily Thornberry) has spoken out against the pattern of illegal intervention favoured by the United States and its allies.

“Corbyn has also had the moral courage to highlight the predicament of the Chagos Islanders, supporting their right to “return to their homelands. He bravely but correctly compares the British betrayal of the Chagossians – deprived of their Indian Ocean home as a result of a squalid deal between Britain and the US in the 1960s – with our national loyalty to the Falkland Islands, the South Atlantic territory that Britain sent a taskforce to recapture following an Argentinian invasion in 1982. But it is deeply upsetting that the BBC has betrayed its own rules of impartiality and ignored Corbyn’s brave stand on this issue”. He concludes:

“Jeremy Corbyn has raised matters of deep importance that go right to the heart of Britain’s role in the world, and in particular the Middle East. Yet his radical and brave manifesto is being traduced, misrepresented, and ignored. That is wrong – and a betrayal of British democracy”.

Peter Oborne was named freelancer of the year 2016 by the Online Media Awards for an article he wrote for Middle East Eye. He was British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015- see his blistering account of his reasons here

His books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, and Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran.

 

 

 

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David Edwards of Media Lens asks disturbing ‘basic questions’

March 21, 2014

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media lens header.

      • Who actually shapes foreign policy?
      • What are their goals?
      • How much influence does the public really have?

He adds: “In our society, as we have noted, defence issues are barely mentioned at election time, while foreign policy options among the major parties are limited to pro-war choices”.

Turning for help to the official record – released government documents – he quotes a passage revealing the thinking behind the mid-twentieth century wars in Vietnam and Korea, Southeast Asia: 

“The UK, the US and France agreed that it was ‘important for the economy of Western Europe that Western Europe trading and business interests in Southeast Asia should be maintained’, since it was ‘rich in natural resources and certain countries in the area at present produce surplus foodstuffs’. (Quoted, Ibid, p.20).”

The Pew Research Journalism Project found last September that ‘the No.1 message’ on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and Al Jazeera, was ‘that the U.S. should get involved in the conflict’ in Syria.

war damage

The ruinous consequences of military action

Edwards comments: “The surprise failure to achieve that war has been a festering wound in the psyches of cruise missile liberals everywhere ever since”. One such, Michael Ignatieff, is said to portray himself as a man of peace reluctantly forced to endorse war as a last resort. In March 2003, he wrote in the Guardian:

“Bush is right when he says Iraq would be better off if Saddam were disarmed and, if necessary, replaced by force . . . The problem is not that overthrowing Saddam by force is “morally unjustified”. Who seriously believes that 25 million Iraqis would not be better off if Saddam were overthrown?” Edwards disagrees: “No rational person can doubt (that 25 million Iraqis are not better off) after one million post-invasion deaths”.

Another journalist, Paul Mason, in his Channel 4 News blog last month, ‘How the west slipped into powerlessness,’ wrote: ‘When the USA decided, last summer, it could not sell military intervention in Syria – either to its parliaments, its people or its military – it sent a signal to every dictator, torturer and autocrat in the world . . . “. Media Lens challenged Mason who failed to reply. Points made included:

      • It is simply wrong to claim that the US is not intervening in Syria.
      • What right the US has to act as world policeman?

The US case for waging war without UN approval was clear: the alleged Syrian government use of chemical weapons. Given that this claim has been seriously challenged, Media Lens asked Mason what other basis he had in mind for waging war.

Finally, they asked him if the utterly horrific death toll resulting from the US-UK wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya caused him to question his view that the obstruction of a US attack was a ‘disaster’ for Syria.

They quoted epidemiologist Les Roberts, co-author of the 2004 and 2006 Lancet studies on the Iraq death toll: ‘There are a series of surveys now implying 1/2 million deaths is a low side estimate… I think the 650,000 estimate in the second Lancet study was low…Thus, I think there is little doubt 1/2 million died violently. I suspect the direct and indirect deaths exceeded 1,000,000…’ (Email to Media Lens, Les Roberts, January 11, 2014)

Western and regional governments share responsibility for Libya imploding into chaos and violence –  and so should the media

Patrick Cockburn notes in the Independent: “’Western and regional governments share responsibility for much that has happened in Libya, but so too should the media. The Libyan uprising was reported as a simple-minded clash between good and evil”. But Edwards describes the assault on Libya as “a major war crime, a blatant abuse of UN resolution 1973 in pursuit of regime change – illegal under international law”.

Media Lens puts these issues into perspective: “Spare a thought for people struggling to survive in Afghanistan. Or people dying under drone attack in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Or people dying under the tyrannies ‘we’ arm and support in Egypt, Israel, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and so on.

Read the article here: http://medialens.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=758:killing-trend-the-cruise-missile-liberals&catid=52:alerts-2014&Itemid=245