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As an ex-British Army officer, I can see the UK’s new mission to bring ‘freedom’ to Eastern Europe will end in disaster

One of the more amusing features of the last few years has been the sound of British pundits accusing Russians of failing to get over the loss of their empire. The words ‘pot’, ‘kettle’ and ‘black’ keep coming to mind. Churchillian delusions of Britain standing alone against the forces of evil continue to drive the United Kingdom’s perception of itself as a great power whose military might is all that stands between the world and chaos. Add to this some post-Brexit fantasies of ‘Global Britain’, and a distinct lack of ability to engage in critical self-reflection, and you have rather a dangerous cocktail on the world stage.

The vacuousness of British foreign policy thinking emerges clearly in an article penned this weekend by British Foreign Minister Liz Truss on the topic of the refugee/migrant crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border. In four short columns, Truss uses the word ‘freedom’ 11 times, and the words ‘democracy’ or ‘democrats’ nine times, while contrasting these with expressions like “malign autocratic regimes” and “malign actors,” who apparently want nothing more than to “destabilize” the West’s “freedom-loving democracies” at every opportunity.

It’s a black and white view of the world. It also ignores inconvenient truths, such as the fact that hundreds of air force personnel from far-from-democratic Saudi Arabia have received training in the UK from the Royal Air Force, and that the Saudis’ British-supplied Typhoon jets have played a leading role in that country’s brutal, and utterly unsuccessful, war in Yemen. Truss’s view of the world is not merely simplistic, but also displays a shocking lack of self-awareness.

Beyond that, Truss displays a very poor understanding of Eastern European affairs. Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko is seeking to “undermine regional security,” she says, claiming that he is using “desperate migrants as pawns in his bid to create instability.” Yet, there’s no evidence to suggest that Lukashenko is looking either to “undermine regional security” or to “create instability.” Insofar as there is a logic to his alleged actions, it’s to pressure the European Union to relax the sanctions that it has imposed on Belarus, rather than sow chaos for chaos’ sake. Europe may not like that, but it’s hardly a threat to its security or stability.

Next, Truss takes on Russia. “Russia has a clear responsibility here,” she writes, “It must press the Belarusian authorities to end the crisis and enter into dialogue.” There are few things seriously wrong with this. First, as is becoming increasingly clear, Moscow doesn’t control Minsk. It’s hard, therefore, to see what “responsibility” it has. Second, Truss is in effect saying that if Lukashenko isn’t Russian President Vladimir Putin’s puppet, he ought to be. In light of all the complaints about ‘Russian interference’ in other countries, it’s odd that the UK now seems to want Russia to interfere.

Beyond that, it’s just not true that Belarus is refusing to enter into dialogue. Quite the opposite. In fact, the cause of the crisis appears to be Lukashenko’s desire to get the Europeans to speak to him. It’s the Europeans who won’t engage in dialogue, because they have decided that Lukashenko is not the legitimate leader of Belarus. Truss seems to not understand what’s going on.

Even more bizarrely, Truss’ article uses Belarus to go off a tangent about defence spending. The Belarusian crisis, she says, shows “why we remain the largest European spender on defence in NATO,” as if a couple of thousand refugee/migrants on the Polish border justifies the expenditure of around $50 billion a year on tanks, planes, aircraft carriers, and the like. It’s a ridiculous leap of logic.

Still more ridiculously, Truss adds that the crisis shows “why we are working with friends and allies in south-east Asia.” Belarus – south east Asia? Does anyone see the connection? Because I definitely don’t. It’s all a bit bizarre.

Sadly, though, it’s typical of what comes out of the British establishment nowadays – trite clichés about freedom and democracy allied to a total lack of grasp of detail, all used to justify increased defence spending and an assertive military policy in areas far removed from the United Kingdom, for causes that appear to have absolutely no relevance to British security and whose only purpose seems to be to boost the British elites’ sense of moral superiority and global importance.

If it were just talk, that would be one thing, but sadly the UK seems determined to back its belligerent rhetoric with action. This is particularly evident in its relations with Russia.

Speaking last week, the outgoing British chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, said that the UK “must be ready for war with Russia.” The problem with such rhetoric is that it risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fearing that someone might attack you, you take action against them, so provoking the very attack you were trying to avoid. This is precisely what the UK is now doing, as shown by the recent incursion of a British warship into waters off Crimea, and news this weekend that the British are considering sending 600 troops to Ukraine “amid fears that Russia is poised to invade its neighbour.” 

Russia, of course, is not about to invade Ukraine. Indeed, Russian TV reported this weekend that President Putin had rejected a proposal by the Ministry of Defence to hold exercises in the Black Sea in response to recent NATO deployments there, saying that, “We don’t need an escalation.” 

The British, therefore, are responding to a threat that doesn’t exist. But given that Russia has said that a NATO presence in Ukraine represents a red line that it will not tolerate, the UK is playing a dangerous game, needlessly ramping up tensions in a region where all-out war remains a very real possibility.

As a former British army officer, I find the reckless and counter-productive policies pursued by the UK over the past 20-30 years decidedly disturbing. Self-righteous proclamations of Britain defending ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ against the forces of evil contrast badly with repeated acts of aggression that have harmed the UK as much as anybody else. Before writing more articles accusing others of ‘destabilizing’ the world, Liz Truss and her colleagues ought to take a good, long look in the mirror.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

© 2021, paradox. All rights reserved.

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