Monday 28th August 2017
James Gray, Conservative Party Parliamentary Candidate for North Wiltshire
The United States and Britain’s military adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya may well have been justifiable one way or another in their own rights, and especially in the aftermath of 9/11. Or at least we thought that they were at the time. The removal of dictators in Iraq and Libya, and of the Taliban in Afghanistan, coupled with a six year bloody civil war in Syria, have all left a huge political vacuum at the heart of the Middle East and North Africa, into which Daesh, Al-Nusra, AQAP, Kurdish terrorists and a host of gangsters, of one sort or another, have hurried. The end result of fifteen years of bloodshed in Iraq and Afghanistan is that these countries, and the entire region, are significantly worse than they would have been had we done nothing.
Afghanistan, on which we spent a vast wealth of men and materials, seems likely to go back to the Taliban, or perhaps ISIS, whose links across the border into Pakistan create a potential Jihadist force, chillingly (if Pakistan were to collapse) in possession of nuclear weapons. Indo/Pakistani rivalry, over Kashmir in particular, and religion in general, is ancient, but constitutes one of the most likely causes of a nuclear exchange in the 21st century.
Daesh are still rampant across Iraq, Syria and Libya, while other Jihadist groups are on the rise elsewhere. As a result of that, there has been a horrific spread of terrorist atrocities across Europe and the Middle East, as well as an uncontrollable flow of refugees, asylum seekers and ill-disguised terrorists across our borders.
A resurgent Russia, meanwhile, has invaded Crimea and Eastern Ukraine – both actions, of which, were outlawed by the United Nations. President Putin is widely presumed to be considering what action he can, or should, take in the Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. They have large Russian populations, were part of the USSR, and block Russia’s access to their Baltic enclave, the most heavily militarised zone in the world, Kaliningrad. How Mr Putin must wish he could simply annex them. But they are different to Crimea. They are members of NATO, Article 5, of whose Treaty, swears that foreign aggression against any one member is deemed to be against us all – and also of the European Union. Would we really tolerate a Ukrainian-style attack, even a partial, deniable or covert one, on part of the EU? Surely not.
But what would happen if Russia occupied Jotland, the small Swedish island close to Kaliningrad? It is owned by Sweden, which is not a NATO member. Or what of Spitzbergen? That is a demilitarized and internationally safeguarded series of islands under the Svalbard Treaty of 1920. It is administered by Norway, but houses two beautifully maintained Russian bases – Barentsburg and Pyramiden. Would the presence of a Russian airborne brigade there be a breach of Article 5 of the NATO Treaty or not? NATO lawyers would spend a few happy weeks debating the issue after Mr Putin’s invasion of it.
Russia is simultaneously re-arming significantly in the High North – the Arctic – creating the top end of an arc of power (or chaos?) running from the Arctic, through the Baltics, Ukraine and Crimea and down to Syria. And Russia’s influence in Cyprus and the Mediterranean must not be underestimated.
Never can there have been a greater threat to world peace than Kim Jong-un in North Korea. A further nuclear test- or, worse still, some kind of machismo attack on Seoul or elsewhere – might well trigger war, and who knows where that would end. China, meanwhile, has extensive ambitions in the South China Sea, signalling a real risk of conflict with Vietnam, perhaps Japan or Taiwan, and coming close even to Britain’s allies in Malaysia and Brunei. There is a complex of tensions in the Pacific which makes the Middle East look straightforward.
Throw into that melting pot the little-known world of cyber warfare – using which an enemy could, at the stroke of a few computer keys, paralyse large parts of the West – and you have the outline of a toxic mix.
Britain can only counter all of the above threats by remaining nimble, maintaining a mix of capabilities, seeking to increase defence spending when we can, and remaining fully subscribed to the motto of my own old Regiment, the Honourable Artillery Company: “Arma Pacis Fulcra” (Arms are the Balance of Peace). We all hate warfare, but the only way we can avoid it is by strength of resolution and arms.