Sunday, August 31, 2008

By Jingo!

The development of the crisis in the Caucasus cannot help but lead me to recall the time when a jingoistic mob stoned the windows of my home because I dared speak against Turkish massacres in the Balkans. The mob wanted war with Russia, not Turkey, and to reprise the disaster of Crimea.

Sometimes in our relations with foreign countries we may feel in our hearts that there are no good people, no real Christian nations with whom we can deal. It is a mistake to rush into alliance in the belief that one nation or cause represents a lesser evil. Yes, alliances are sometimes necessary; but not immutable alliances that tie us irrevocably to nations with dubious practices and intentions that may be concealed from ourselves.

When I hear the British Prime Minister, the Queen's ghillie, speak, I am reminded of the song so memorably chanted by that mob:

The Dogs of War are loose and the rugged Russian Bear,

Full bent on blood and robbery, has crawled out of his lair,
It seems a thrashing now and then, will never help to tame,
The brute, and so he's bent upon the same old game.
The Lion did his best to find him some excuse,
To crawl back to his den again, all efforts were not use,
He hunger'd for his victim, he's pleased when blood is shed,
But let us hope his crimes may all recoil upon his head.

We don't want to fight, but by jingo if we do,

We've got the ships, we've got the men, we've got the money too.
We've fought the Bear before, and while we're Britons true,
The Russians shall not have Constantinople.

Mr Brown states: "When Russia has a grievance over an issue such as South Ossetia, it should act multilaterally by consent rather than unilaterally by force."
Mr Brown is quite correct in the content of his words but he has no authority to make this statement as he was part of a government that acted in folly and in defiance of the international community in making war.

He proceeds to state: "We are also reflecting on the Nato response. We must re-evaluate the alliance's relationship with Russia, and intensify our support to Georgia and others who may face Russian aggression."

As I have indicated previously I find this alarming. Just as did the fool Disraeli, Mr Brown now seeks to define foreign policy in opposition to Russia. NATO I understand was created to oppose Russia, a different Russia from that which now exists. Indeed NATO - or rather America and its allies - has declared other enemies, previously Iraq, now Iran. How many enemies is NATO going to have? Is Europe going to become again a beleaguered peninsula of the great Eurasian continent?

Russia is not the democracy we would wish it to be. It is a vexatious, irritable Bear and undoubtedly its scoundrel politicians resort to patriotism to exhort its people. But it is also the case that the leadership of Britain and of America is beleaguered and their people are suffering fear and hardship, not from external forces but from internal crises. As their misshapen policies bear rotten fruit, they too may see advantages in resorting to jingoism. Why are politicians competing to make enemies at a time when they need friends? Perhaps it is because they have squandered the respect and good will they held in the international community and it is time for them to be replaced.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Cameron catastrophe

The Conservative leader's comments on the crisis in the Caucasus have attracted praise in some quarters. For myself I find them disturbing, both naive and ill-considered and symptomatic of an approach to foreign policy that would be dangerous if adopted in government.

I would quote Mr David Cameron's direct words: "For a start it is about energy security". What kind of comment is this? "For a start", as I have argued several times, and indeed quite recently, it is a flawed policy to base your economy upon petroleum; so how much more flawed is it to base your international policy on one product in one sector.

I can well appreciate that oil fuelled the 20th century. Indeed it fuelled two terrible wars and the devastation of the global environment. It fuels jet planes and missiles, I understand, in a way that few other fuels are able to do so. It also helped fuel economic growth and some limited global prosperity; but it has never been beyond the wit of man to develop alternative sources of energy. The good Lord has bestowed energy in abundance upon us in the natural world and our scientists have long known how to harvest this energy. But oil has made mankind lazy; and the notion that it should continue to trigger wars and global confrontations is most terrible indeed.

This Cameron would seek to lead Britain in the global interest in the 21st century; yet his feet appear planted in the miserable 20th century.

He then proceeds to state: "What's more, it's about global security. History has shown that if you leave aggression to go unchecked, greater crises will only emerge in the future." I have heard Cameron speak to an audience and have been impressed by his bonhomie. I can hear him speak this sentence; it is worthy of a history undergraduate who would scrape his degree with a poor third. Europe suffered a severe trauma in the last century, I fully understand, and young Churchill distinguished himself wonderfully. Indeed it is little surprise that a son of Jo Chamberlain should bear responsibility for the debacle of 1939. But in the grand sweep of history, it remains only one war, one crisis, and the public will be fooled repeatedly if they believe this argument can be applied to every incident, every exchange of gunfire in a remote mountain republic. Indeed to do so, is to do a grave disservice to those millions who perished in that most awful of conflicts.

The Conservative leader's next statement calls for the community of nations to condemn Russia's actions. With this I concur. The Georgians acted foolishly in South Ossetia and have left a legacy of bitterness, a devastated capital, amongst one of those mountain races who can be so dangerous in adversity. This was no justification for the invasion of Georgia, the bombing of its cities or the Russian procrastination in observing a just cease-fire agreement. It is an unrealistic proposal, even this, however; for Russia wields a veto in the United Nations. Nevertheless let us not stay silent about injustice on all sides of this conflict.

Mr Cameron proceeds to call for the acceleration of recruitment of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO. This is foolishness in the extreme. It would only serve to provoke Russia; and as I have stated repeatedly would not help add clarity to the purposes and objectives of NATO. Does Mr Cameron see its purpose as to contain Russia? Or to act as a world peace-keeper? If it has a purpose it must be as an alliance of like-minded democracies. In history neither Georgia nor Ukraine has a good claim to independent existence. Indeed Ukraine is Russia; its capital Kiev the historic capital of Russia; and its region of Crimea, that which was defended so bloodily by the Tsars against the adventurism of our own nation. For America or Britain to absorb these regions of old Russia into an anti-Russian alliance might be seen as provocation in the extreme. Let talks proceed, by all means, but let diplomacy continue also and let Russia be reassured that NATO's purpose is to enhance the security and freedom of all nations, that it no longer holds its cold-war objective of being in opposition to Russia.

And let us not forget that NATO has no call to condemn Russia for military adventurism, for the invasion of a sovereign nation and the occupation of its lands. Our protests must sound in Moscow like the man in our Lord's parable who complained of a moat, a speck of dust, in his friend's eye when there was a beam protruding from his own.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The rise of Beaconsfield

Sometime ago I warned of the return of Beaconsfield, a man whose reputation belies the evil he did to the world, a man whose silky tongue and undoubted personal achievement concealed an overweening ambition and a ruthless disdain for the peoples of this earth.

In my recent historical researches I have been astounded that for a time he was held up as a beacon for the moderate wing of the Conservative Party, as if his battlecry of "one nation" was anything more than a euphemism for the creation of an unwonted empire. Indeed it grieves me enormously that these same moderates frequently equate him with Sir Robert Peel, a man who would not sit on the same benches as this individual and who must be held in the highest esteem for his contribution to the freedom of nations and civilised commerce between peoples.

Now it seems his heir, the MP for Beaconsfield, has been elevated to high status and may indeed hope to hold one of the highest offices in the land. I would not condemn this personage, Mr Dominic Grieve, as I would his predecessor. He seems to me a gentleman of estimable intentions; but my instinct in my earlier encounter with him was that there was a dangerous dearth of ideas.

Now it seems I am proved right. On the one hand Mr Grieve declared his support for his predecessor's declaration of war on behalf of liberty; on the other hand, I am informed, he now espouses measures that would remove the liberties of ordinary people to an extent that has not been experienced since Waterloo.

This is how liberty dies - with thunderous applause I believe is an appropriate quotation from a modern piece of popular literature.

The same author refers me to a gentleman called Milton, who also defends the intrusion of the state on the individual for petty matters. This Milton cannot, I dare hope, be a descendant of the poet who wrote that great declaration of freedom, the Areopagitica.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Georgia on my mind

Unoubtedly the crisis in the Caucasus is now intensifying. Georgia is paying a heavy price for tugging the tail of the bear and such international diplomacy as has been possible may have failed.

The Georgians in the end took the correct steps and withdrew from South Ossetia. But the bear continues to growl and lash and, according to news reports, now has troops on the ground within Georgia itself.

There are now many thousands of innocents caught up in this battle, as in all battles of this kind, people whose lives have been torn from worlds of peace and stability in an instant. War may seem distant from the clubhouses of London but statesmen must always remember it is no game of chess or draughts or even "poker"; any conflict brings unspeakable horrors, drawing in innocent and involuntary participants just as much as professional merchants of death.

There are those, such as Cicero, who have launched Phillippic denunciations of Mr Putin, suggesting that the former President, now Prime Minister, is intent on expansion by provocation. Cicero was ever thus, a man made for troubled times and ready to believe the worst of all.

The Russians, it seems clear, have few friends and are happy to be friendless. If they choose to overrun Georgia, the world must stand by and watch. Georgia is not a member of NATO although it has sought to ingratiate itself with the NATO powers. Russian treatment of its own rebel provinces has often been brutal, if not as brutal as in the darkest days of the communist hegemony. I have heard speculation that Russia might then proceed to threaten the borders of NATO, to seek to dismantle this burgeoning alliance. It may indeed be that for South Ossetia to summon Russia to its aid was as catastrophic as the Britons placing their trust in Hengist and Horsa.

In these circumstances there are those who show no knowledge of history and those who turn to the past to justify their stance. I may have missed events of the last century; but it seems to me that 1914 and 1939 give diametrically opposite lessons. In the first instance a world of alliances tumbled into conflict because statesmen drew clear maps, unpassable boundaries, and let them determine an unstoppable and catastrophic course of events. In the second, weak statesmen were bullied by a weak bully that puffed itself up to be stronger than it was.

If Russia does occupy Georgia we will know what manner of beast it is and what is the depth of its respect for international law. Statesmen must indeed then cooperate to contain it. But let us not fall into the trap that I worked for so long to avoid, of creating a world where nations tumble carelessly into catastrophe.


Saturday, August 9, 2008

Marching through Georgia

It was alas premature to hope the spirit of the Olympics, of Delphi, would permeate the world and declare it at peace for this period. Such hopes are revealed as pagan superstition by the tragedy of the outbreak of violence in the Caucasus, where two mighty nations align great engines of war in face of each other.

The experience of history is that Russia has to be regarded in much the same fashion as China. It is a dozing bear, whose tail must not be tweaked for one thrash of its paws can be as deadly as the mightiest roar of smaller nations.

It would be easy to misread the current crisis without deep knowledge of the situation and I confess that events have marched on somewhat in the last 150 years. The nation of Georgia, which was once part of Russia, has hopes of joining the western alliance of NATO, I gather. NATO's original aim was to contain the Russian empire which was at one time ruled by the Communist party as brutally as if by any Czar. NATO no longer declares its aim to be to keep Russia at bay, merely to maintain the peace.

I am perplexed therefore as to why Georgia appears to have launched an offensive against the tiny nation that lies between itself and Russia, a land whose name could have been conjured from a fairy-tale and whose existence, I hear, is equally magical. This land of South Ossetia has sought independent existence but Georgia has responded in the last few hours by breaching the Olympic spirit and launching an invasion.

I will not condone the Russian response; I will merely repeat that if you tug the tail of a bear it will slash with its paw. Russia has always liked to maintain a buffer zone. Rather it had been South Ossetia than Georgia.

I hear as I write a declaration from the lamentable idiot who currently, briefly presides over our great allies in America. He calls for Russia to restrain itself; rather he should order Georgia to restrain itself and withdraw troops from the Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, and he should remind it firmly that the purpose of NATO is to maintain peace. It may be he considers Georgia to be a state of the United States; more likely he is aware that Georgia has supported his preposterous adventure in Mesopotamia. If he has any influence he should use it to bring peace and justice to this region. I fear that otherwise there will be Russian troops marching through Georgia.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Chinese question

I am among the greatest admirers of the Chinese people and of the Chinese nation; it is a matter to be celebrated that the Olympic sports are to be displayed in Peking over the next few days.

There are those who call China an inscrutable nation. It is an ancient civilisation and the present hierarchy can be viewed as little different from the other dynasties that have ruled it over many centuries. I would wish China to be democratic and liberal; but I cannot concur with those who state that democracy is necessary for free trade and industrial development.

It is also a nation racked by frequent natural catastrophes and even as I write I learn of another earthquake in its devastated central provinces.

Does this mean we should, like Lord Nelson, turn a blinded eye to developments in the western part of this nation? By no means!

The Chinese have usually sought a unified and harmonised state; and I believe their experience a century ago, when the country disintegrated, has reinforced this view. Such a philosophy poses special dangers however when rulers seek to integrate ethnicities and religions that are not in accord with their own. I believe that danger applies in particular to the nation of Tibet and the province of Xinjiang, which is at this moment causing alarm to the Chinese authorities. Xinjiang lies in the heart of the vast continent of Asia. The expanse of this region cannot be imagined; I have heard a reporter today describe this single province as being the size of Europe. These people I understand are Muslims, that is they are not adherents to a religion such as Buddhism which will encourage its followers to submit to an invader.

Without liberty and democracy it is inevitable, if regrettable, that they take to arms to advance their cause. The authorities call these fighters "terrorists" and I hear this word echoed by British government reporters. Perhaps they are freedom fighters. Perhaps they are misguided and should bide their time. It is a distant territory of which we know little and yet we should recognise the yearnings of all peoples at all times to be free.

I repeat that the correct approach to China is not and never was to condemn, to make an enemy of this great nation and its great history of civilisation. The level of enterprise within the Chinese people, their ability to make the utmost of those freedoms granted to them is to be admired.

The leaders of western nations should give this eastern Behemoth full respect. But diplomacy and trade may achieve better results than the bluster of a gunboat. Indeed we should continue to urge the advantages of democracy, of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.

In the meantime let us celebrate the convergence of nations in the ancient and peaceful contest of the Olympics. Oh that all nations should declare peace for this brief period - as was the custom in ancient times.