The West’s Tankies Finally Get Their Way in Ukraine – but Where Does that Way Lead?
Why is Britain sending 14 tanks to Ukraine? When this odd and risky decision was announced on Monday by the Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, not one questioning voice was raised in the House of Commons. Can this be sensible? I personally cannot see the point of a Parliament where there is no real opposition, especially at moments such as this.
Unlike almost everyone else in the British media, I am not a military expert. I have no idea what the outcome of the Ukraine War will be. But I am absolutely certain that decisions as big as this deserve to be discussed, and that people who are worried about them should not be afraid to question them.
As one of our greatest advocates of free speech, John Stuart Mill, said long ago, argument is not just good in itself. It ensures that good cases are tested and strengthened, and bad proposals shown to be wrong. As he put it ‘The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing …those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose … the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.’
My suspicion is that the national silence over Ukraine is partly the result of ignorance. Almost nobody in Britain, especially in the government and the BBC, knows anything about this part of the world. But it is also the result of fear. If you express any doubts about the policy, as I can personally testify, you will be called a traitor, ‘Lord Haw Haw’, an appeaser, a war-crimes denier and a Putin apologist. As it happens, I am none of these things. I am a British patriot who bases all his foreign policy beliefs on the best interests of this country and its people. I believe in strong national defences. My late father, my daughter and my son-in-law all served in serious harm’s way in our armed forces. I might add that I have unwillingly seen the horrible results of armed combat. I am also familiar with the geography and history of the current war zone. Meanwhile I reckon 95% of those with the strongest opinions on the Ukraine war have never been there and could not find it unaided on a blank map.
How many of them know that vicious armed combat began in Ukraine in 2014, and that the Ukrainian Army was credibly accused in the years afterwards of cruel and brutal attacks on civilians in Ukraine’s largely Russian-speaking east? How many know that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky was actually elected in 2019 on a platform of seeking peace with Russia? To his great credit, he tried to keep his promise. But even fewer know that he was prevented from doing this by a combination of militant Ukrainian nationalists (some of them actually in Ukraine’s Army) who openly snubbed their own head of state and the man he had defeated in the Presidential election, Petro Poroshenko.
And now it emerges, in an interview of former French President Francois Hollande by a Kiev newspaper, that Western leaders who sponsored peace talks during that period now say they were buying time for Ukraine to prepare for a renewed war. The newspaper noted that former German Chancellor Angela Merkel had recently said ‘It was obvious that the conflict was going to be frozen, that the problem was not solved, but it just gave Ukraine precious time’. And it asked Mr Hollande ‘Do you also believe that the negotiations in Minsk were intended to delay Russian advances in Ukraine? Mr Hollande replied: ‘Yes, Angela Merkel is right on this point…The Minsk agreements stopped the Russian offensive for a while. What was very important was to know how the West would use this respite to prevent any further Russian attempts’.
Add to this the extraordinary article in ‘Foreign Affairs’ in the spring of 2022, by Robert Kagan. Kagan is no friend of Russia. He is a ferocious neo-conservative militant. His wife, Victoria Nuland, is now Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (a more senior role than the title suggests) in the State Department in Washington. She was involved in the events which led to the overthrow of Ukraine’s legitimate president, Viktor Yanukovych, in February 2014. One of America’s most distinguished diplomats, Ronald Reagan’s ambassador to Moscow Jack Matlock, has described these events as a US-backed coup d’état.
But Mr Kagan conceded a thing which most politicians and commentators in the West often actively deny. He wrote: ‘Although it is obscene to blame the United States for Putin’s inhumane attack on Ukraine, to insist that the invasion was entirely unprovoked is misleading.’ He added: ‘Russian decisions have been a response to the expanding post–Cold War hegemony of the United States and its allies in Europe. Putin alone is to blame for his actions, but the invasion of Ukraine is taking place in a historical and geopolitical context in which the United States has played and still plays the principal role, and Americans must grapple with this fact.’ People might also want to note that Leon Panetta, a former White House Chief of Staff, Secretary of Defence and CIA chief, said in March last year that the Ukraine conflict was ‘a proxy war with Russia whether we say so or not’. Please note that the people I quote here are all Western, and mostly American. None of this is Russian propaganda or ‘disinformation’. So I return to my question about why Britain is involved, and in so deep. A year ago, we would have regarded sending aggressive weapons such as tanks as dangerous escalation of our involvement in a war whose end cannot be foretold. War has a nasty habit of spreading. Now Mr Wallace announces the tank decision and there is no whisper of doubt. Even the risk of their being captured is ignored (odd, given that they are protected by top-secret armour which we surely would not want Russia to get hold of). Of course these few tanks could not turn the course of the war and our decision is aimed at embarrassing Germany into allowing the use of its armour. But why? The USA may want a proxy war with Russia for reasons of its own. But what are our aims? How does this help Britain become safer, more free, more prosperous? We cannot and do not join wars against every crime and injustice in the world, and sometimes we do wrong ourselves, as we did in Iraq when we too lawlessly invaded a sovereign country. But in those days we still had freedom of debate. You could oppose the Iraq War (as you could have opposed the Suez war or the Vietnam war) and be given a fair hearing. But who now will even listen to dissent as we take this dangerous path into the dark and the unknown?
References for statements quoted above;
Interview of Francois Hollande
Robert Kagan in ‘Foreign Affairs’
Leon Panetta on proxy war
(2 minutes 10 seconds)
Victoria Nuland blows the gaffe
(2 minutes 36 seconds)