When a memo containing (or revealing, however you take the biscuit) a sure-fire guarantee that the UK was not prepared to engage in military action concerning the Ukraine/Crimea crisis was photographed by journalists last month, a sigh of relief was breathed around the country.
Whether this was a move straight out of Malcolm Tucker’s playbook remains to be seen, but the general feeling was that despite Russia’s clinical and illegal ‘intervention’, the UK would not use force to combat this threat to the harmony and security of the EU and NATO; a wise move, considering the amount of continental wars that have been started by military muscle flexing.
So why, if we’ve learnt the lessons from previous conflicts, is a former chief of general staff in the British army calling for recruitment of more soldiers and the retention of 3,000 British troops in Germany? You can see the logic behind Lord Dannatt’s statements. Nothing can possibly be gained, territorially or politically, from shows of weakness.
Orwell’s concept of a “cold war” may not be as prescient as it was thirty years ago, but that does not mean Vladimir Putin has gone soft.
Yet to brandish diplomacy in the form of military strength does very little to alleviate some of the symptoms of the crisis. Dannatt spoke of “war-weariness and war-wariness” dampening the chance to strengthen Britain’s diplomatic position, i.e. to be taken seriously as a major international player it had to demonstrate to Putin that his apparent expansion would not go unnoticed or indeed unchallenged.
Valid sentiments, considering how laxly the Kremlin and its officials have reacted to the threat of sanctions. But his comments have raised the issue of the way in which we are to treat Putin and Russia. Is it feasible to don the white gloves, continue to decry what is now no longer an altruistically-guised incursion but a blatant absorption into the Russian state, yet with no obvious counteractive measures in place? Or does the UK have a duty to postpone its planned military reductions in order to add bulk to the NATO bloc? For this is what the build-up of more and more troops surely show Russia.
Without a determined political resolve that necessitates the presence of such a deterrent (or force, depending on your level of cynicism), it is unlikely that such a move will represent the kind of strength Lord Dannatt is advocating; rather the opposite. An acknowledgement of chinks in the armour of British military capability and the politicians who are charged with wielding it.