Boris Johnson won’t achieve “Global Britain” by ordering military confrontation, but he may well achieve military escalation, Brian Cloughley writes.
As the U.S.-NATO military alliance retreats from its failure to overcome a few thousand raggy-baggy militants in Afghanistan and regroups in the Persian Gulf with 5,000 troops in Iraq on a so-called training mission, it continues deployment of troops, surveillance systems, combat ships and strike aircraft along Russia’s borders in order to provoke reaction that it considers will justify its existence.
On June 28, while the evacuation of Afghanistan gathered pace, the U.S. carried out airstrikes in Syria and Iraq on what were claimed to be bases of “Iranian-backed militias”. Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi condemned the raids as a “blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty and Iraqi national security” but he was wasting his time, because this sort of protest has no effect whatever on Washington which had not even informed the Iraqi government of its intentions.
It was possibly coincidental that on the same day that that the U.S. Air Force was rocketing and bombing targets in Iraq and Syria, a chain of U.S.-NATO military manoeuvres called “Sea Breeze” began some 1000 km to the north.
Reuters reported that “Ukraine and the United States will start a military exercise involving more than 30 countries in the Black Sea and southern Ukraine on Monday, despite Russian calls to cancel the drills” and Deutsche Welle detailed that “a total of 32 ships, 40 aircraft and helicopters and 5,000 soldiers from 24 countries are taking part in the exercises, which last through July 10. Participating countries include the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Turkey, Israel, Morocco, Japan, South Korea and Australia. Germany, which has been involved in the past, is not taking part this year. It’s the largest manoeuvres in decades, after last year’s drills were shortened due to the pandemic. Various exercises are planned at sea, on land and in the air with the goal of bringing Ukraine up to NATO standards.”
It is obvious that this sort of military roaring and splashing along Russia’s borders is infantile and deliberately confrontational, and the tone was set five days before Sea Breeze began when there was an incident involving the British destroyer HMS Defender which had been ordered to conduct manoeuvres in the Black Sea specifically in order to provoke Russian reaction.
Russian forces intercepted the British warship and the BBC’s correspondent “who had been invited on board the ship before the incident happened, saw more than 20 aircraft overhead and two Russian coastguard boats which at times were just 100 m (328 ft) away. This is at odds with statements from both the British prime minister’s office and defence ministry, which denied any confrontation.” Of course they denied confrontation, because the automatic response of the Johnson government in London is to tell lies when faced with an embarrassing or otherwise awkward situation. But it goes further than that, because classified documents relating to the Black Sea fandangos were found by a member of the public in England and made known to the media which promptly published details of what was really behind the British government’s attempts to provoke Russia to react.
The BBC lived up to its reputation for factual and objective reportage and blew the lid off the government’s attempts to mislead British citizens (and the world) which won’t do it any good and will have the effect of hardening the ruling Conservative Party’s determination to neutralise and if possible privatise it to become Britain’s equivalent of the United States’ pantomime Fox News channel.
It noted that the documents, many relating to power-point presentations given to government representatives, “show that a mission described by the Ministry of Defence as an ‘innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters’, with guns covered and the ship’s helicopter stowed in its hangar, was conducted in the expectation that Russia might respond aggressively” [emphasis added]. The documents indicated that there was no military requirement to send the warship so close to Crimea and that “an alternative route was considered, which would have kept HMS Defender well away from contested waters. This would have avoided confrontation, the presentation noted, but ran the risk of being portrayed by Russia as evidence of ‘the UK being scared/running away’, allowing Russia to claim that the UK had belatedly accepted Moscow’s claim to Crimean territorial waters.” And that’s where the emphasis lies.
The British government refuses to acknowledge that the people of Crimea prefer to be part of the Russian Federation rather than of Ukraine, as pointed out by a commentator in the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper, Peter Hitchens, who wrote that “in 1991 the people of Crimea voted overwhelmingly (93 per cent of an 80 per cent turnout) for Crimean autonomy — that is, separating the peninsula from the direct authority of Ukraine . . . In December 1991, Ukraine voted in a referendum to leave the Russian empire. Moscow rightly accepted this. The leaders of Ukraine were happy to win their own freedom by such a vote. But there was one rule for them and another for the Crimea . . . Ukraine could vote itself out of Russia, but Crimea was not allowed to vote itself out of Ukraine. Do you think that fair or right? I don’t.”
But the British government wants to ramp up the country’s international profile, and the fact that Britain has no commercial or strategic interests in or associated with Ukraine, Crimea or the Black Sea is irrelevant to what passes for analysis in London. National policy and military posture are focused on Prime Minister Johnson’s declaration that he seeks to “make the United Kingdom stronger, safer and more prosperous, while standing up for our values.” What he does not understand is that national leaders do not make their citizens safer by indulging in confrontational antics specifically designed to provoke another country to take military action.
The London Times newspaper reported that “the head of the armed forces has said that incidents such as this week’s Black Sea confrontation with Russia are giving him sleepless nights. General Sir Nick Carter said that the conflict between the British destroyer HMS Defender and Russian forces in contested waters off the Crimea coast was an example of where a miscalculation could come from ‘unwarranted escalation’.” But the sensible voice of the most senior officer of the British armed services was not heeded, and it is intriguing, even bizarre, that he was not consulted before the government decided to commit forces to engage in military action that could indeed lead to “unwarranted escalation.”
Prime Minister Johnson desperately wants to develop “Global Britain”, and is using compliant NATO to help him in his attempts to cavort on the world stage. He won’t achieve “Global Britain” by ordering military confrontation, but he may well achieve military escalation, which is not the route to safety and prosperity. He is playing with fire.