Monday, 23 May 2016

On the EU Army Nonsense.

The UK military has operated independently twice in the past 400 years with a 1-1 scoreline. The treasonous war of American so-called "independence", and the Falklands conflict. Otherwise we always operate in an alphabet soup of foreign alliances.

The EU Military staff doesn't directly command troops, who usually (but not always) operate under the auspices of NATO.  Most military co-operation in Europe is bi-lateral such as Anglo-French missions to Mali, or multi-lateral and Ad Hoc, like EuroFor. Eurofor, which has deployed several times, isn't an EU army but multi-lateral co-operation between Italy, France, Portugal and Spain, and has mainly operated in the francophone Africa.

The EU battlegroup training on salisbury plain recently isn't a nascent EU army, just one of the alphabet soup of foreign co-operative organisations of which the UK military is part, one which hasn't deployed anywhere, and is a bit like the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps of which the UK has long been the core.

The French, long suspicious of NATO and who want to make the EU a counterweight to EU power, have accepted that while the UK is a member of the EU, an EU army isn't going to happen and rejoined NATO's command in 2009. They pulled out in 1966 arguing (no, seriously...) that NATO (get this, right...) undermined their sovereignty. (Lol).

The EU army isn't going to happen, because the UK has consistently vetoed the formation of an independent EU military command.

Of course were we to leave the EU, then the French would be free to get their way, leaving NATO's command again and possibly taking the Germans with them in time. We must remain to prevent the French using the EU to undermine NATO.



Friday, 13 May 2016

On the "Brexit and War" Question: Not as Silly as it Sounds

Russia conducted an exercise of 80,000 troops in 2014 simulating an invasion of the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. It isn't unreasonable that our Article IV NATO allies and EU partners feel a mite worried about the bellicose behaviour of their nuclear-armed Neighbour, who has 800,000 men under arms. Russia could bring forces to bear, invade, and mop up all resistance in the Baltic states within a week. The only thing stopping him taking back what Putin has described as "not real countries", is the security guarantee they enjoy from NATO, and especially the USA.

Far from being "provocative", the Western alliance has bent over backwards to accommodate Russia's paranoia. No troops have been permanently stationed in the Baltic until recently. There is constant communication (from NATO) in order to prevent misunderstandings. (Much less is forthcoming from Russia). NATO exercises in the region have been no more than a few hundred troops. There is certainly no massing of forces that could possibly threaten Russian territory, and the west has no interest in provoking Russia. The idea that the Association Agreement the EU was to sign with Ukraine was in any way "provocative" to Russia should be met with a snort of contempt and derision, let alone the idea the Euromaidan protests were "anti-russian" or orchestrated by "fascists". (So please don't say so in the comments, I'll simply delete such Putin-toadying).

But the Russian state's default position is Paranoia. In the Siloviki, you have, in effect, a state captured by its spooks. They are in thrall to Alexandr Dugin's doctine of Eurasianism, and feel encircled by enemies, chief amongst which in the Kremlin's demonology are NATO and the European Union. NATO is the shield, but the EU is the means by which we will defeat Putin's eurasianism. By bringing countries like the Baltic states and Ukraine into the European system, we demonstrate the profound failure of Russia as an alternative. Ultimately the Russian people would be better off embracing western values, and without Putin's toxic and paranoid statecraft.

While the world watches Syria, Russia is busy pouring poison into western discourse with the explicit aim of breaking the world order in place since the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. So Putin supports “anti-systemic” parties of left and right. He bankrolls the French Front National and Hungarian Jobbik. Alec Salmond and Nigel Farage were regulars, and well paid, on Russia Today, Putin's toxic little propaganda swamp. Aaron Banks, UKIP and Leave.EU's biggest donor is married to a Russian, and has form for repeating Putinist lies. Jeremy Corbyn regularly used to spout Russian Propaganda, before he was forced by circumstance to converse with grown-ups for a change. Green parties have money siphoned to them (anti-fracking, to support Russian energy interests). Putin is absolutely delighted at the Rise of Donald Trump. It has been alleged Russian Bombing of Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria was undertaken deliberately to create refugees, to further destabilize and undermine the European Union. I suspect, though this was not more than a secondary benefit, to the ultimate goal of making Mr. Putin look good on Russian state TV.

We’ve never had an enemy like this before. Russia is a spy agency, which has captured a Nuclear-armed state, but it's not clear Putin is in complete control. The entire apparatus of the state is about creating an alternate reality, in which fact and fiction merge. Maskirovka, raised to a governing philosophy. but with no real end-game in sight. There is something of the Thomas a Beckett about the chaos in Donbass: Putin says "will no-one rid me of this Turbulent Priest" and before you know it, two provinces of Ukraine have declared independence backed by significant invasions of Russian regular soldiers. Putin cannot back down without losing face, but cannot escalate for fear of provoking NATO. The shooting down of MH17 was the moment the Ukrainian donbass separatists over-stepped their mark, but there's no way out for either party. Ukraine faces an existential threat, and the Russian regime is based on never showing weakness.

With a frozen conflict in Ukraine, things can escalate rapidly. It is the Nature of Putin's cult of personality, he needs constant action to keep the narrative of strength going. This was the ultimate reason for the Deployment of Russian Forces to Syria - to get a limited war onto Russian TV that can be used to demonstrate the Greatness of Mother Russia, which makes the sacrifices the long-suffering Russian people worthwhile. But Russian forces have pulled out of Syria, and there's little glory in the stalemate outside Mariupol. What next?

Sweden and Finland, neutral during the cold war, are inches away from Joining NATO, so threatened do they feel. Swedish subs are continuously dealing with Russian incursions. The Russians are actively buzzing US warships in the region. The RAF having to scramble to intercept Russian Nuclear bombers is a weekly occurrence. It’s constant provocation. A Russian flotilla sailed through British waters last week.

Putin may be a master tactician, but he fails as a strategist. This is, to my mind the single biggest risk of the UK leaving the EU. Brexit would send a message (whether or not this is true) that NATO's number two power is no longer serious about its commitments to its allies. He'll have split off Europe's most potent military power from the EU. This will embolden Putin to try to further split the west, because it suggests our Nations' commitments to each other isn't as strong as it was in 1989. This is especially true if there's further success for "anti-establishment" politicians like Donald Trump. If Putin has an opportunity, and he's an expert opportunist, he is likely to take it to try to break NATO, having already broken the EU. We do not want to tempt the Kremlin to gamble on the UK's willingness to spend blood and treasure to defend Narva. Because if the UK won’t, the USA won’t. And if the USA won’t, NATO is finished. And if NATO is finished, the whole of Eastern Europe could well come under Russian suzerainty again. And that, we think (as well as the Survival of one Mr. V.V. Putin) is the ultimate aim of the Russian state.

Finally, EU sanctions matter. With German "ostpolitik" and much of continental politics actively in Putin's pocket, it is the UK who drove sanctions on the Russian regime when they invaded another soverign European nation. And make no mistake, the EU matters, and the sanctions are hurting the regime. The UK is influential in EU foreign policy, perhaps the most influential power. Without the UK in the EU, the EU would not have taken as robust a stance on Crimea as they did.

Now is NOT the time to be upsetting the international institutions which have been so crucial to delivering peace and prosperity to so much of the former soviet empire. “Brexit risks war” isn’t as silly as it sounds.



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