Russia is as much of a threat to Britain as the Klingons

Britain could not cope with an attack by either, but then neither are likely to invade any time soon

By Peter Hitchens. This article first appeared in Peter Hitchens’ blog. and also appeared in Russia Insider. It is used with full permission of the author. He writes a regular column for the Mail on Sunday.

I can’t blame the Army for trying to save itself from the current mad round of cuts, but could there be anything more ludicrous than a warning that we need to beef up the Army because it can’t cope with an attack on Britain by Russia? Likewise we could not cope with an attack on Britain by Klingons (who don’t as far as I know exist), or, come to that, by the Chinese People’s Republic (which does exist).  But these attacks are not likely, let alone imminent.

I say, please plan for what is realistically likely, rather than frightening people with bogeymen, and so perhaps creating the preconditions for a war which, if you had not been so silly, would never have happened.

General Sir Nick Carter, head of the army, was all over the media this morning warning of the Muscovite threat.

What is he talking about? Years ago, the great conservative satirist Michael Wharton (who wrote under the name ‘Peter Simple’ in the old Daily Telegraph, a very different newspaper from the one that now bears that name) invented a war between Sweden and Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was then a country in the South-East of Europe, not having been dismantled to suit the convenience of the EU. It was also about as far as one could get from Sweden, while staying in the European landmass.

I forget what grievance had sparked this fictional conflict. One day I shall write a Wikipedia entry on the Suedo-Yugoslav war (I wonder how long it will take them to notice) which will doubtless explain all these things.

But the real lasting joke was of course that the two enemies could never find each other. They had nothing to fight about, no common border, no territorial dispute. It could have lasted for decades without an actual shot being fired.

Much the same is true of our relations with Russia. We have no land or maritime border. We have very little mutual trade or any other connection which might lead to war. We are far away from each other.

Silly media reports contrive to suggest that Britain is ceaselessly ‘confronting’ or ‘escorting’ Russian ships or planes which fly through international waters or airspace near our islands. But read them carefully. They often seem to suggest that Russian planes have violated our airspace. As far as I know, this has not happened. Likewise, Russian naval vessels have a perfect right under the International Law of the Sea, to pass through the North Sea and the Channel (I have checked the laws on this) provided they undertake no hostile action. Indeed, it would be hard to see how else they could get from their home ports to Atlantic or Mediterranean destinations unless they took these routes.

As I have pointed out in myriad posts on this indexed, archived and searchable blog, Russia is not a very significant country, even though it takes up a lot of space on the map. Its GDP, the best measure of economic importance, is roughly the same as that of Italy, a country which rightly does not trouble us.

Its nuclear weapons are unusable (like ours). Most of Russia’s conventional army and air force is deployed to defend its home territory, because (unlike us)  it has no natural physical borders in the shape of seas or mountain-ranges, and is vulnerable to invasion (see recent history). Its second most important city suffered countless deaths by starvation thanks to a siege by German invaders within living memory.

Many widely-believed myths about Russia are not true. Russia did not start the recent conflict between Russia and Georgia. The EU’s own Tagliavini report concluded that this was begun by Georgia.

Russia has long regarded NATO eastward expansion as hostile and expansionist, and sought to counter it through diplomatic warnings at the highest level. These were ignored. NATO expansion was not the consequence of some desire by the peoples of the region. The Baltic States, for instance, gained their independence from Moscow in 1991 and maintained it for many years without any threat or danger, without needing to join NATO. Expansion was in fact the result of expensive lobbying of the US Senate by American arms and manufacturers in the 1990s, exposed by the New York Times at the time. It was specifically warned against by George Kennan, architect of the containment of the USSR, who came out of retirement aged 93 to say it was dangerous folly.

Russia’s response only became military when NATO countries openly backed the violent overthrow of a non-aligned government in Ukraine in a lawless putsch, and its replacement (contrary to the Ukraine constitution and with armed men present in the Kiev Parliament building) by a pro-NATO regime. Russia’s response has in fact been highly limited and cautious. Russia has as legitimate a claim to Crimea (largely populated by Russians who were prevented from voting on their future by the Ukrainian government in 1992) as Britain has to the Falklands, and at least as good a claim as NATO Turkey has to North Cyprus. Russia’s troops were stationed in Crimea quite legally in accordance with international treaties. Russia is undoubtedly using covert and undeclared forces in Ukraine, but it should be pointed out that Western countries have done the same or similar things, notably in the Middle East and SE Asia. It is at the very least likely that NATO countries have also taken (and continue to take) covert action in Ukraine, and in my view laughable to suggest that they have not.  But the important thing is that the conflict was initiated by Western, not Russian action. Russia’s principal policy since 1989 (dictated by economic weakness which still persists) has been to retreat without violence from the countries it previously occupied. It did so on the basis of what it took to be promises that NATO (an alliance against whom, by the way?) would not expand into the areas from which Russia had withdrawn.

I have no purpose in writing the above except that it is the truth and that (having witnessed some of it) I hate war and wish to ensure that we do not wander into one through stupidity and ignorance. I also have some experience and knowledge of the region, having lived in Moscow form 1990 to 1992 and travelled in the former USSR reasonably extensively.  I regard Vladimir Putin as a sinister tyrant, repeatedly say so in unequivocal terms and have no relationship, direct or indirect, with the Russian state or any of its organs.  If we are truly so worried about Russian internal politics, it is odd that we were entirely complacent, and even supportive while Boris Yeltsin was using tanks to bombard his own Parliament back in 1993. The fact was that Yeltsin let the west push him around, whereas Putin does not. That, and not Mr Putin’s internal regime, is the reason for the change in posture towards Russia. Beware of this stuff. History shows that those who pick fights with Russia are seldom glad that they have done so, once the combat is over.

Photo by newandrew

EU finally comes clean on future UK-EU military objectives, but risks remain

By David Banks. This piece first appeared on the Veterans for Britain website and is reproduced with permission.

In a speech in Berlin today, Michel Barnier (the EU’s Brexit negotiator) for the first time explicitly spells out some interpretations over future UK-EU military relations under Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), the new EU policy ambition in this field.  The text can be found here.

Some of these comments are welcome. In particular, in saying “Any voluntary participation of the United Kingdom in European defence will confer rights and obligations in proportion to the level of this participation,” Mr Barnier is indicating that UK participation on an ad hoc basis in missions can generate corresponding engagement at the political level. Clarity is needed on this point, but it does seem that the approach is heading towards a flexible structure rather than seeking to tie the UK down in fixed EU treaty obligations.

Again, Mr Barnier acknowledges that there are several existing models of cooperation and not just the Norway one, a model which is tied into membership of the Single Market. That requirement appears to have been dropped by the Commission. More widely, this may even be the first admission that a special FTA deal is achievable, since several such models do already exist lying between WTO Status and EEA membership.

However, there are also clear remaining issues. While UK membership of the European Defence Agency is ruled out, some sort of structured affiliation is not. Yet the EDA is core to future EU defence integration and formal UK adhesion beyond observer status carries budgetary obligations and political risks.

Also, the EU recognises the UK will continue to play a bilateral and multilateral role, especially through NATO. But PESCO has identified non-NATO multilaterals as targets to come increasingly under the PESCO banner. We also note the cheeky attempt to appropriate the St Mâlo agreement at the very end. The EU has wide eyes and a big appetite in agreements that are not part of the menu.

Tellingly, Barnier is tacitly admitting, in saying that “The British have never wanted to turn the Union into a military power”, that the EU now seeks to do just that.

Major-General Julian Thompson, chairman of Veterans for Britain, said:

“M. Barnier offers a backhanded compliment to the importance of the UK to European Defence – a term which of course is not the same thing as the EU’s precocious military appetite.

“It is not in the UK’s interest to institutionally weld itself to this ‘Security ERM’. Post Brexit, the UK should cooperate in missions and projects of clear joint interest. It is a positive sign that the Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator recognises this prospect.”

Colonel Richard Kemp also of Veterans for Britain said:

“EU defence integration clearly remains a threat to NATO, and to UK multilateralism inside Europe but outside the EU. EU ambitions are extensive and dangerous.”

Referring to the outrageous opening inference of the Brexit vote as a betrayal of the fight against terror, Col Kemp added:

“This is an insult to the electorate of the first order. But then, the European Commission has never understood either democracy or adverse votes.

“The EU has brought a lot of its terror-related problems on itself. In contrast, the UK has been the most capable in defence and security and has been the bulwark of anti-terrorism in Europe.”

Photo by DVIDSHUB

UK avoids military merger this time, but risks remain

Our colleagues in Veterans for Britain have produced a briefing paper on the ongoing risks of being sucked into EU military integration. You can access this briefing paper by clicking on this link.

VfB has summarised last week’s decision not to sign up to PESCO as follows:-

The UK dramatically halted its blanket consent to EU military schemes at the EU Council meeting of 13 November 2017 by refusing to enter the ‘PESCO’ military union agreement.

Where does that leave the ongoing risk to the UK from entanglement in EU schemes? Our paper  describes the continuing problem. In fact, the risk has not receded.

The PESCO agreement itself is designed to attract and engulf unwitting non-EU countries.

Background: PESCO, or Permanent Structured Cooperation, means participants agree to coordinate all defence decision-making and impose a single rigid structure on their militaries under collective EU authority. Besides the UK, only Ireland, Portugal, Malta and Denmark chose not to enter this merger project.

We would recommend that anyone wishing to be involved in campaigning to maintain our military independence should keep a close watch for new posts on the Veterans for Britain website, as they have considerable expertise in this critical area and thus know what the points at issue really are. We in CIB offer them our full support.

UKIP Launches “Save our services”

A report by Edward Spalton

CIB is, of course, a non-party organisation but, as I had received an invitation to their press conference I thought I should attend. I wanted to meet Henry Bolton, their new leader, on this first public event since he took office. It is seventeen years since I left UKIP to campaign on a cross-party basis but I met some old friends and was pleased that several people, whom I had not met before, told me they appreciated CIB, mentioning recent articles on the website.

The event was well-attended, briskly and cheerfully organised. The first speaker was Mike Hookem MEP, who included a video presentation of his work amongst veterans who had fallen on hard times and were not receiving the help either from government or local authorities which the Military Covenant says they “should” receive – but do not. Service charities were doing their best to fill the gaps but it was not enough.

He called for a Minister and a department, like the American Veterans’ Administration, to be in charge of welfare for former service personnel and to help them back into civilian life. It was no good telling local authorities what they “should” do, it needed to be “must”. He also called for ex service personnel with good records to be given favourable consideration for employment in the police and other public services where their skills and discipline would be an advantage to the community.

Henry Bolton took the podium and ranged further and wider, mentioning the sharp cuts which had been made not only to the armed forces but to the police, reducing our defences against internal terrorism and criminality as well as external hostility, at the very time when they were all increasing. The government had not signed up on Monday 13th November to integration of British forces with the increasingly unified EU military command under the PESCO agreement, which would suck resources away from NATO. It had signed up to much else and EU absorption still remained a threat.

Whilst British armed forces should be capable of joint operations with our neighbours, they must always retain the ability of independent action – or we were not a sovereign country. Tied in with the developing EU army and trapped in sourcing our military supplies under EU tendering rules, we would not only be unable to act independently in the field but forbidden to maintain the necessary British industrial base for supplying our forces. EU arms suppliers, under political direction, could in effect, choke off any significant operations by British forces of which the EU did not approve – by simply withholding supplies or, for instance, the use of aircraft on which we had an expectation to rely.

I was able to ask Henry Bolton one short question. Did he think that Political Correctness in local authorities, particularly left wing authorities, was pushing the welfare of ex-servicemen and women to the end of the queue? He replied that authorities of all political colours were negligent in this matter.

From what had been said by government, it appeared that the needs of returning Jihadists for housing, “re-education” and employment would take precedence over the welfare of our own ex-service people. This was monstrous. Those known to have been in arms for Jihadism should be charged with adhering to our country’s foes – what used to be called treason, rather than handled with kid gloves for the sake of “community relations”.

I think we will be hearing more of Henry Bolton and many people will like what he has to say.

Half way there, but have we even started?

Last week marked the half way point between 23rd June 2016 – that euphoric day when we voted to leave the EU – and the actual day on which we will actually leave:- March 29th 2019.

On Friday, Mrs May confirmed that she plans to set the date for our departure from the EU into law. There will be no slippage and no turning back. This comes against a background of growing concern that Brexit could be stopped.  Today, Lord Kerr, a former UK ambassador to the EU, insisted that the Article 50 process could be stopped or reversed. No way, replied Mrs May. Her proposed law will make it irreversible.

This is good news for those of us who fought so hard to secure that historic victory in June last year. I have dealt with more than my fair share of correspondence recently from people concerned that the government is going to back track. My views have not changed since writing this article that Mrs May and the Tories, whatever side they supported during the referendum campaign, have no choice but to deliver Brexit because failure to do so would provoke the worst crisis in the party since the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846.  Backtracking would be suicidal. Thankfully, a lust for power is deeply entrenched into the Conservatives’ psyche and given their shock at last June’s General Election result, they know that delivering a good Brexit is essential if they are to avoid  electoral meltdown in 2022.

Probe a bit deeper, however, and the picture is not quite so rosy.  In spite of the Brexit vote last year, as  Veterans for Britain has been keen to point out, the Government has taken us deeper into the EU’s military integration process, with there being considerable support to signing us up to PESCO, the Permanent Structured Cooperation of the EU’s external action force – set up in reality to undermine and replace NATO. Brexit can only mean Brexit if we are completely detached militarily and we can but hope that even at this 11th hour, Gavin Williamson, the new defence secretary who has little experience of military matters, will listen to those members of our armed forces who know what they are talking about and step back from this process.

Sadly, of our daily newspapers, only the Express  has so far been willing to cover this disturbing development. However, to repeat, even if Williamson’s predecessor Michael Fallon was able to get away with betraying the UK’s armed forces without being subject to too much scrutiny, it will be out of the bag by 2022 and the Tories will reap the whirlwind electorally.

Equally disturbing is this statement from the Prime Minister’s office which was passed to one of our supporters. Note the section he has highlighted in yellow:-  It also means that the existing body of EU law will become British law. So this provides certainty and clarity for all businesses and families across the country from the very moment we leave the EU.”

This is true when it comes to legislation which would only be applied internally. For instance,  the rules governing bathing water have been devised by the EU. It is no great problem for us to continue to use them over the Brexit period. They work satisfactorily so even if they could be improved, there is no urgency until we have settled down as a sovereign, independent country.

It is a different matter, however, when it comes to legislation which involves the relationship of an independent UK with the rest of the EU. We have previously highlighted the fallacy of this approach with regards fisheries, but it also applies to the general question of trade. the PM appears to be repeating the mistake that because our regulations will be aligned with those of the EU up to Brexit day, some sort of seamless trade arrangement should not be a problem,

The transitional arrangement which she seeks is essentially based on this misunderstanding – we can be essentially honorary EU members for two years while a bespoke long-term deal is sorted out. We would obey all the rules and pay into the EU’s coffers without any representation. Such a deal would be unacceptable to many Tory backbenchers, not to mention the wider Brexit-supporting community. Thankfully, although the penny seems not to have dropped in Westminster, the EU has said it is a non-runner.

The European Parliament  set out its position, where, among other things,  it “reaffirms that membership of the internal market and the customs union entails acceptance of the four freedoms, the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union, general budgetary contributions and adherence to the European Union’s common commercial policy”  – in other words, you’re either in or you’re out. To repeat, it’s not about regulatory convergence but the legal relationship of a future EU-UK relationship. We will no longer be subject to the EU’s treaties, Article 50 is quite clear about this. We need to seek a new legal basis and any transitional agreement would require almost as complicated a legal ratification process than a long-term bespoke relationship.

The EU’s guidelines also say, “To the extent necessary and legally possible, the negotiations may also seek to determine transitional arrangements which are in the interest of the union and, as appropriate, to provide for bridges towards the foreseeable framework for the future relationship in the light of progress made. Any such transitional arrangements must be clearly defined, limited in time and subject to effective enforcement mechanisms. Should a time-limited prolongation of Union Acquis be considered, this would require existing Union regulatory supervisory, judiciary and enforcement instruments and structures to apply.”

This affirm that the EU will allow us to go ahead with a transitional deal, but it must be on the EU’s terms and subject to the appropriate legal processes being completed in time, which looks very doubtful. In other words, to repeat, it’s a non-starter and a red herring.

So until there is a change in mindset among UK’s negotiators we will continue to go round in circles. Last Friday also saw the usual Barnier/Davis press conference following the latest round of “negotiations” and there is still no indication from the EU side that they feel ready to start trade talks as insufficient progress has been made on the three critical issues of the Irish border, the rights of EU citizens resident in the EU and the “divorce bill.” Agreement must be reached within two weeks or trade talks will not be starting any time soon. Sadly, David Davis’s response was to call for the EU to show “flexibility  and imagination.” Unfortunately, the EU’s legal structure doesn’t allow it to be flexible. Mr Davis can repeat this little phrase as much as he likes. It will not make a shred of difference.

So at this point when we have just reached the half way point to Brexit, it is sobering to think that this milestone has been reached with the two sides so far apart and so little real progress made. Not what any of us expected on that incredible morning when the result of the referendum was announced. A Brexit of sorts will almost certainly happen on 29th March 2019, but unless the government raises its game, we could find ourselves, more by default rather than design, either crashing out following a breakdown of the talks or suffering a Brexit that isn’t really Brexit in any meaningful way.

Government must scrap its compromises over EU military schemes

By David Banks. This post originally appeared on the Bruges Group website and is reproduced with permission

Since the Brexit vote, the UK has given a green light to the juggernaut of EU military schemes on the understanding we would be outside of them.

However, government position papers incredibly propose STAYING IN joint EU schemes on military finance, research and assets.

The schemes, which have never been voted on by MPs, would mean the UK staying in EU Common Defence Policy, the European Defence Agency and even EU defence procurement directives. Norway is the only non-EU country in the schemes and was obliged to accept these rules.

The PM has rightly declared the UK’s unconditional commitment to Europe’s defence via NATO.

However, we fear that MPs and ministers are not aware of the full implications of a Norway-style military union agreement. Many civil servants are aware of these implications and are pushing for UK entry relentlessly.

At the same time as these new EU military finance and structure schemes are being agreed, the EU is growing the remit of its Common Security and Defence Policy in a way that consolidates its control over EU Council-agreed military responses. The EU’s new military HQ, the MPCC, which UK diplomats tried in vain to change, is just a small part of this.

The EU is also tightening defence asset production rules to make an EU defence market in which member state governments will find it impossible to protect domestic defence jobs and industry eg Scottish shipyards in the UK’s case.

Sadly, the Government’s National Shipbuilding Strategy of September 2017 fully adheres to the latest EU rules in cross-border defence tendering – clearly anticipating a future where the UK would need to comply.

It is essential that at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester delegates are made aware of the risk to Scottish shipyards, particularly Ruth Davidson and her Scottish Conservatives team. The UK is heading towards a scenario where it is dictated by these EU procurement rules which will only become more assertive when the UK is fully committed to them.