Thursday, August 28, 2008

This is fun

Victor Davis Hanson, one of the best writers and columnists around (he is also a military historian and a classicist), puts the Democratic National Convention into perspective, in particular having a go at that "Greek temple" that will be the background to Obama's acceptance speech.

Sheffield rally, anyone? Heh!

Where is the new political geometry?

Whatever happened to the new post-Cold War political geometry? The one that was going to have the European Union as its leader and exemplar? Gone, all gone. Well, not permanently, we expect, since the EU common foreign policy rises from dead more frequently than Dracula in an average Hammer Horror Film, but for the moment we are back to familiar territory.

NATO ships, led by the US Navy, are exercising in the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea, watched and growled at by Russia, who has missed the chance so far of upgrading its naval strength, if not to compete, at least to start catching up with NATO. Sinking one Georgian boat, the great boast of the war in Georgia is not the same as going against the naval power of the West.

There is talk of a new Cold War (though some of us have been saying for some time that it is there in existence) and what Britain should do. The Henry Jackson Society, for instance, has come up with various ideas with a press release today that has what one can only describe as a mish-mash of suggestions.

The Henry Jackson Society recommends the following:

· An urgent defence review following Russia’s military threats and aggression

· Increasing the national defence budget

· A permanent Defence Secretary to end the farce of having a part-time job share

· Boosting our military forces in Germany

· Starting a mass recruitment exercise for the armed services

· Calling for other European countries to take on greater military responsibility and commitments

· Strengthening NATO by encouraging its members to take European defence more seriously by having more joint military exercises and building stronger armed forces within the EU.

· NATO to accept the Ukraine’s immediate membership into the organisation

Best not to enquire too closely what purpose European defence and armed forces within the EU might mean. I suspect the well-meaning HJS has not yet managed to work out that the EU is part of the problem not the solution.

The G7, which became the G8 in the general post-Cold War euphoria and desire to be nice to Russia is now issuing condemnations of that country.
"We, the foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom, condemn the action," the group said, in what the UK Foreign Office described as an "unprecedented step".

"We deplore Russia's excessive use of military force in Georgia and its continued occupation of parts of Georgia.

"We call unanimously on the Russian government to implement in full the six-point peace plan brokered by President Sarkozy on behalf of the EU, in particular to withdraw its forces behind the pre-conflict lines."
Well, they can call for what they like. The time to issue warnings was some months ago. Still, there is something spectacular in the way Russia has managed to unite almost everyone against her without, it would appear, achieving a great deal.

But where, oh where is the European Union in all this? Where is Javier Solana, who is supposed to speak for the EU in matters of international importance? What will President Sarkozy, whose country is in the EU's presidential seat, do now that his efforts have been comprehensively trashed by President Medvedev? How long can Germany and France bleat about the need not to isolate Russia and to keep talking nicely to her? Where, in short, is the new soft power?

Friday, August 22, 2008

The EU and Olympics

Not content with making a mess of things over the Caucasus (though Sarkozy must be running up quite spectacular air miles) the EU is once again poking its collective nose into matters to do with sport.

Yesterday I was rung up by a journalist from the Sunday Express, who was working on an article about the EU wanting to have just one Olympic team. What did I think about that? Well, I was on a bus so it would have been difficult to say openly what I thought of such an incredibly stupid idea, so I contented myself with laughing heartily.

Iain Dale raised the subject a few days ago, making it clear that he did not agree either. The point is that some bright sparks have added up the medals that the various EU member states have won and pointed out that together they would have put the EU into top position.

Of course, I explained to the journalist, this is not how it would work. The EU operates on a proportional input principle and every member state would have to supply the right number of athletes to create a "real European" team. It would not be merely all the existing teams put together.

I must admit the journalist was sceptical that this idea would ever have legs. After all, he said, we are doing rather well in the medals table and are unlikely to support the idea of becoming part of a European Union team. That is true though it is an inadequate argument since it implies that if we were doing our usual not-very-bright sporting best, the notion of joining up with the others in one team would become acceptable.

Can you imagine, I asked, anybody cheering for an EU Olympic team. He could not even though journalists, in my experience, can believe six impossible things before breakfast with great ease.

So, will this idea now die, he asked. Certainly not. It will come up with the next Olympics, Winter Olympics and any other international competition. The point is that the EU is desperate to create that famed European identity and is failing to do so. Support for one's team is visceral and if only that could be transferred to a "European" team away from the existing national ones, the EU would see its way clear towards that "identity". Let's face it, nothing else has worked.

I did not add the obvious rider, which is that the Olympic Games are not supposed to be about national teams, anyway. That famous Olympic spirit, always trotted out pompously by the IOC when any criticism of certain countries, such as China, are voiced, says that it is individual or sport team (such as football or relay) achievements that matter not what nationality the contestants are. What a nice idea. I wonder if they will have flying pig competitions.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Forty years ago

There has been a great deal written about the events forty years ago in Czechoslovakia, not least because certain far more recent events in Georgia have been a reminder though not, I fear, necessarily that hackneyed thing, a wake-up call.

For all of that, much has changed, not least in Russia itself. On the one hand, we are unlikely to see those brave dissidents who went out to protest on Red Square - the population appears to be more supine and accepting, being somewhat tired of history, one suspects.

On the other hand, the Russian military is in a far worse state than it was forty years ago. The numbers are still there when one speaks of a small country like Georgia. But they are only just there. The birthrate has fallen below replacement levels while life expectancy, especially among men, is going down.

Military technology has not been upgraded despite the many millions poured into it, as became obvious to many observers. The country's infrastructure is falling apart and, apparently, no money is being invested in it. The revenue from gas and oil is not being used to diversify the economy and make it into a first-class modern one.

A military adventure may seem to be a good idea to divert people's attention from the undoubted problems the country has, especially, it continues Putin's policy of whipping up fear of neighbours with endless references back to the horrors of the Second World War. But a long-drawn out military adventure may cost more than the country can afford and a diversification of military adventures will, most probably, bring about a crisis. Not that's particularly useful to the rest of the world, as history will confirm.

More on the anniversary on EUReferendum.

A new venture

Tim Montgomerie, editor of Conservative Home, has started a new site: America in the World. This is a much needed corrective to the prevailing and mindless anti-Americanism, particularly dangerous as we survey the world now, August 2008. We wish him good luck and hope to be able to link to the site frequently.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Don't confuse us with facts

One of the many accusations levelled at Americans (all Americans, all 370 million of them) is that they are completely ignorant of the world outside their own, admittedly very large and varied country. Actually, the ones who tend to be ignorant of both the world outside and the United States itself are the sort of "liberal" semi-intellectuals our own media and analysts love to talk to.

Two things come to mind: people in Britain asserting with a snigger that "ironically" those who were killed in the twin tower and Pentago attacks did not even know anything about the people who attacked them. It seems a little incredible that people who worked in various companies in the World Trade Centre or in the Pentagon had no idea about the rest of the world. What was ironic was that many of those sniggerers would, themselves, have been hard put to find Afghanistan, for instance, on the map.

The other chestnut is Americans know nothing about various rather unimportant British and European places. "They think Hull is just outside London," - someone said to me indignanttly once. Well, if you look at the distances, Hull is not far outside London to an American eye.

More to the point is why anyone outside Englans should want to know where Hull is. After all, the person who complained did not know where Seattle was and that is of greater importance to the world.

But, anyway, the natural assumption is that Americans know nothing about the rest of the world and that is why they blunder around. Whereas the sophisticated Europeans and, of course, British do know and do understand. In particular, they know about the United States and that is why they are entitled to make judgements about that country. Right? Well, up to a point, as Glenn Reynolds points out on Instapundit.

Actually, he links to an article in the Daily Telegraph but I tend to eschew that newspaper's American coverage because it tends to be so ignorant, out of date and biased, particularly as its correspondents in the US have made themselves into cheerleaders for Senator Obama.

This article, however, is of interest. Based on a recent opinion poll conducted by YouGov/PHI showed that on almost every subject there was a complete ignorance of the truth among the British respondents.
A poll of nearly 2,000 Britons by YouGov/PHI found that 70 per cent of respondents incorrectly said it was true that the US had done a worse job than the European Union in reducing carbon emissions since 2000. More than 50 per cent presumed that polygamy was legal in the US, when it is illegal in all 50 states. ...

The survey showed that a majority agreed with the false statement that since the Second World War the US had more often sided with non-Muslims when they had come into conflict with Muslims. In fact in 11 out of 12 major conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims, Muslims and secular forces, or Arabs and non-Arabs, the US has sided with the former group. Those conflicts included Turkey and Greece, Bosnia and Yugoslavia, and and Kosovo and Yugoslavia.

Asked if it was true that "from 1973 to 1990 the United States sold Saddam Hussein more than a quarter of his weapons," 80 per cent of British respondents said yes. However the US sold just 0.46 per cent of Saddam's arsenal to him, compared to Russia's 57 per cent, France's 13 per cent and China's 12 per cent. ....
There is more about internal matters but not, perhaps, enough where many of these ignorant and erroneous opinions come from. Could it be the bulk of our media?

Let us not forget that opinion and the media that shapes it also influence policies. The reluctance to support the United States and acknowledge that the West should stick together or the importance of the Anglosphere has led, indirectly, to the crisis we are facing now in the Caucasus.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A picture's worth a thousand words

And three pictures, which is the norm of the daily dose of the Day by Day cartoon, is obviously worth three thousand words. Today's certainly cannot be bettered by any number of superfluous words.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

That foreign policy remains non-common

Another one of “Europe’s hours”, a phrase first used with reference to the war in former Yugoslavia at the beginning of the nineties, has come and gone with that foreign policy remains stubbornly non-common.

Let’s forget about President Sarkozy’s great achievements. What he did was to abandon whatever plan his own foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, had signed with President Saakashvili, and simply accepted what President Medvedev gave him as a working plan. He then flew to Tbilisi, got Saaksashvili’s agreement and smiled for the cameras.

Meanwhile, Russia has proceeded to ignore her own six-point peace plan, has continued fighting in Georgia, targeting largely civilian population and advancing towards the capital, Tbilisi.

The rest of the EU has split as is its wont whenever there is a real crisis. For once, Britain is nowhere, as we no longer have a foreign policy. It took days for both the Prime Minister and the Leader of HM Loyal Opposition to make any statements that made the slightest bit of sense.

Other Europeans have been somewhat bolder.
President Lech Kaczynski of Poland and his counterparts from Ukraine and the three Baltic countries traveled to Tbilisi on Tuesday to express their solidarity with Georgia, a country that, like their own nations, spent decades in the grip of the Soviet Union.

"Russia has again shown its true face," Kaczynski said Tuesday, questioning whether the Russian decision to halt military activity in Georgia was permanent.

The trip by Kaczynski, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia, President Valdis Zatlers of Latvia, President Valdas Adamkus of Lithuania and President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine comes three days after their countries issued a joint statement urging the European Union and NATO to "stand up against the spread of imperialist and revisionist policy" by Russia.
How right the Polish president was to wonder.
These views from Eastern Europe stand in stark contrast to the calibrated statements from French and German officials, which have refrained from designating a culprit in the conflict. On the other end of the spectrum, Italian officials appeared to side with Russia.

"We cannot create an anti-Russia coalition in Europe, and on this point we are close to Putin's position," the Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, told La Stampa in an interview published Monday, stressing that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was a close ally of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia. Frattini is also European Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security.
We have been told on numerous occasions that if only the EU would speak with one voice all would be well and Russia would see the light. But what would the EU say with its one voice? Would it take the Polish approach or the Italian one? Or would it issue those “calibrated” Franco-German statements.

Still, it is good to know that when they met the foreign ministers of the EU decided to paper over their differences and agree to send monitors to the Caucasus to oversee the “negotiated truce”. Given the news coming out of Georgia, there appears to be no need for monitors. We know what is happening and the truce has become non-existent. What will the EU propose now?

UPDATE: Der Spiegel gives a summary of German press opinions about the row within the EU over Russia's invasion of Georgia (no, we are not talking South Ossetia or Abkhazia here). It's all very well to say that "deep division has led to weakness of response" but would an EU united behind the rather feeble French and German politicians have produced a stronger one?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Back home and that elephant

It is difficult to pay attention to anything at the moment outside the Caucasus and Russia making fools out of Western politicians, who have had plenty of warnings that this would happen. Nevertheless, other matters to obtrude.

For instance, there was a certain amount of excitement about MPs demanding that Britain should have a Bill of Rights. Well, of course, Britain does have a Bill of Rights and it predates everybody else’s, as it became law in 1689. The trouble is that many of its provisions have been abolished by succeeding Parliaments, especially some of the most recent ones.

This Bill of Rights will be different because it will not simply enumerate the rights people have and the government cannot take away, such as the original 1689 one and the first ten Amendments to the American Constitution are, this one will specify what rights they are to be given by the benevolent government.

The Guardian, for example, says:
"A UK bill of rights and freedoms would be a constitutional landmark. It would provide a framework both for protecting the liberty of the individual against the intrusion of state power, and for protecting the 'little person' against powerful interests," the committee's chairman, Andrew Dismore MP, explained yesterday.

Such a move could open up the gradual prospect of individuals - especially the "vulnerable and marginalised" - being able to go to court to enforce the right to decent housing, healthcare or education for a child with special needs.

It might also prevent failed asylum seekers being denied benefits as is currently official policy, the joint Lords-Commons committee on human rights (JCHR) says in a new report. Such changes might help offset "the popular misconception that human rights are a charter for criminals and terrorism".
Of course, special rights for special groups is not precisely what a Bill of Rights should be about. The real Bill of Rights was about rights for all. With this lot one has to ask what about our rights not to be taxes till the pips squeak in order to provide failed asylum seekers benefits that even our own citizens probably should not have.

We are no longer talking about rights as something inherent but as something decided on and imposed by the state – the exact opposite of what a Bill of Rights ought to be.

However, there is another problem here. It is our old friend, the elephant in the room. Do these MPs not know that the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty, which this country has already ratified, includes a Charter of Fundamental Rights? That is the one this country’s population, both resident and transient will be governed by and MPs can say whatever they like. They will not be heeded.

Monday, August 11, 2008


A few people have noted an odd coincidence. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline (BTC), the only one that carries crude oil from Azerbaijan and is not controlled by Russia, was hit by an explosion on Turkish territory about a week before the war in South Ossetia and Georgia started.

BP, a major shareholder in the pipeline says that the fire has been extinguished but repairs will take another week or two. There seems to be some debate as to what caused the fire.
Kurdish separatists claimed responsibility for the explosion and said they would carry out more attacks on economic targets inside Turkey. Military and local official sources said the fire was due to a technical error and was not due to sabotage.
By Kurdish separatists, the Guardian presumably means the PKK, the organization that is widely believed to have been responsible for other recent explosions in Istanbul. The PKK is not only a terrorist but a Marxist organization with close links in the past with the Soviet Union.

If they did cause the explosion on the BTC pipeline it would be of some interest, as, since then the Russians have bombed the Georgian section of it. Or, at least, dropped bombs near to the pipeline. Or, at least, so said the Georgian Economy Minister, Eka Sharashidze, with the Russians neither confirming nor denying, according to Bloomberg.

In the Daily Telegraph Business Section we find BP denying that there is a problem.
Local reports recorded 51 missile strikes that left craters less than 100 yards on either side of a pressure vent.

A BP spokesman said that, after thorough checks, the company had "disclosed no bombing in the vicinity of the BTC line".
They may be right. Then again, BP is having a bit of a ding-dong with its Russian partners in TNK-BP and the CEO had to leave the country and retreat to an undisclosed destination not so long ago. So, they are unlikely to make any more waves.

It may not be an explosion by the PKK and there may have been no bombings, merely a case of Georgians trying to enlist Western help. Then again, there may be coincidences here that we should at least pay attention to, even if later on, we discard as being nothing more.

The West needs to look to its interests

James Sherr, acknowledged expert in post-Soviet developments and head of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, writes on the war in the Caucasus and what it implies for other former Soviet republics, NATO and the West. He has been warning about Russia's intentions for some time.

Of course, with the authoritarian regimes on the attack, the notion of splitting the Western alliance and undermining the Western alliance through the determined creation of the EU's common foreign policy becomes even more dangerous.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Solana is on the job

Fine. No need to worry. The mess in the Caucasus - well the one in South Ossetia, anyway, because there are other messy situations in the Caucasus as the word Chechnya might remind everyone - is as good as solved.
An EU diplomatic delegation headed by South Caucasus envoy Peter Semneby and a U.S. team led by Matthew Byrza was heading to the Georgian capital Tblisi, the EU Observer reported. Lithuanian foreign minister Petras Vaitiekunas is also going on a separate, fact-finding mission for the EU, the newspaper said.

EU president France says there have been "multiple contacts" with Russia and Georgia and that it is "in liaison with all the protagonists" to hammer out a ceasefire. The Observer said EU foreign policy chief Javieer Solana has been in touch with the Georgian and Russian foreign ministers as well.
This will undoubtedly make the Russians withdraw and stop attacking Georgia proper, as opposed to invading South Ossetia and Abkhazia. After all, we can ... well, we can .... errm, do nothing and let them get bogged down. Or repeat in South Ossetia the behaviour that was so successful in Chechnya. At least this time the Russians cannot claim that the war against Georgia is part of the war against terror. Just as well. Given the air of appeasement around they would certainly get the support.

The referendum is off

No, not that referendum. We still don't know what will happen in Ireland where they may well have to vote again, as they got the original answer wrong. There will be no referendum in the UK or in Denmark, the country we are talking about.

However, a little while ago the Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, announced that he was thinking of holding one or more referendums (that is the correct plural) on those opt-outs Denmark had been given rather grudgingly when the country first voted to reject the Maastricth Treaty.

He also thought it was time to have another referendum on the euro, which had been rejected by the Danes in 2000. This announcement was closely followed by speculation that Mr Rasmussen was a serious contender for the position of the European Council President, a new position established by the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty.

It seems that Mr Rasmussen has suddenly felt a chill in his toes. The idea of a referendum (or several referendums) on all those various opt-outs has been abandoned.
Denmark has abandoned plans for an imminent referendum on its four EU opt-outs because of uncertainty following the Irish rejection of the Lisbon treaty, the prime minister said in an interview Friday.

"We initially thought we would discuss the EU this autumn and perhaps organise a popular vote," explained Danish premier Anders Fogh Rasmussen in an interview published in the daily Jyllands-Posten.

"But because of the problems caused by the Irish referendum it is no longer the most pressing issue."

He said a referendum on whether to drop one or some of the Danish opt-outs to its membership of the European Union has been postponed to an unspecified date.
Hmm, I wonder what that uncertainty might be. Could it be actually a near-certainty of a resounding Danish no?

Where is the EU's soft power?

The news from the Caucasus is becoming very serious and very muddled, as such things always are. Some reports talk of 1,500 dead; others insist that the figures are lower than that.

To the usual fog of war there is the problem of conflicting political statements. Russia, who has sent a large contingent of troops to South Ossetia is talking angrily about Georgian misdemeanours and about the fact that Russian peacekeepers were fired at. The Russian troops, announced a tight-lipped President Medvedev, went in to support those peacekeepers.

This is an interesting twist on the usual tale, which is about Russian troops going in because they have been invited by the peace-loving people of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, fill in your own country.

According to the BBC Russian Service, President Medvedev has also announced that the Georgians will be forced to agree to a peace settlement. The South Ossetian government has announced that Georgian fire is preventing the transportation of wounded to hospitals.

The Russian operation, which involves contingents of the 58th Army, is conducted by General Vladimir Boldyrev, recently appointed to the overall command of the Russian land forces.

Also according to the BBC Russian Service, the Russian Ministry of Defence, has accused Ukraine in supporting Georgia in its ethnic cleansing of South Ossetia. At the moment, such accusations are to be taken very seriously.

One wonders whether this could have been avoided by a greater display of courage by certain West European countries, such as Germany, France, Spain and the Benelux, who made it clear at the last NATO Summit that they were prepared to act on Russian instructions if it meant "standing up to America" and, of course, ensuring no break in that energy supply.

Come to think of it, where is the soft power of the EU? This war is unfolding reasonably close, yet neither the EU nor its member states, whose leaders are, of course, on holiday or in Beijing, seem to have any ideas beyond wringing their hands and pleading with all sides to be good little children and play nicely with each other.

The UN, that supposed source of international law and good behaviour, is divided as Georgian and Russian representatives are trading insults. How familiar it all looks.
Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador, said Georgia was deliberately targeting Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia and accused Tbilisi of "ethnic cleansing".

"Tbilisi is using a tactic of scorched earth. A number of towns in South Ossetia have been fully destroyed according to some reports," he said.

"Georgian snipers are not letting through ambulances, not allowing the medical services to get on with saving people."

Irakli Alasania, Georgia's envoy to the UN, rejected Churkin's charges and accused the Moscow of aggression.

"Russia is openly challenging the international community and jeopardising established international order and stability," he said. "We demand the Russian Federation immediately terminate aerial bombardments, immediately pull out the occupying forces, and negotiate ceasefire," he said, adding that Saakashvili was ready for direct peace talks with the Russians.

Towards the end of the meeting, he turned directly to Churkin, and asked, "Are you ready to stop the fighter jets who are in the air who will soon be bombing my comrades in Georgia, and what will the security council do about this now? How are we going to address this?"

He received no reply.
Insults are also traded on the BBC Russian Service Forum though there is one interesting comment on it. If you want to know who really is the aggressor, says one contributor, look at the movement of the refugees. Which way are they running? This is an extremely important point. Back in the days of the war in Croatia (not much noted in Britain, where too many people think that the Yugoslav wars started in 1999 in Kosovo) Croat refugees ignored the age-old enmity between themselves and Hungarians as well as the supposed Slav brotherhood. They ran to Hungary away from the Serbs.

It looks like the South Ossetians are running to North Ossetia, which would make a good deal of sense - they are more or less the same people, though being a tribal nation, the Ossetians fight a good deal among themselves. However, Al-Jazeera adds an interesting and little-noted detail:
Moscow began to transport on Saturday South Ossetian refugees - whom it considers as its own citizens - into the neighbouring Russian province of North Ossetia.
So, are those refugees fleeing or are they being bundled into coaches and lorries and transported?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Another crisis for the EU's common foreign policy

While the media is oohing and aahing about the spectacle China has put together for the opening of the Olympic Games, a grimmer tale is unfolding to the north-west. Georgia and Russia are on the brink of a war in South Ossetia, nominally part of Georgia but de facto independent of that country and heavily dependent on Russia.

I shall try to do a longish posting on it later this evening or tomorrow to go through the saga as it has been unfolding. Suffice it to say that while the CFSP's Chief Panjandrum, Javier Solana, was sending good-will messages to Beijing, Georgia has decided to respond to the constant attacks from South Ossetia, inspired, the Georgian government says, by the Russian military peacekeepers by shelling the capital of the break-away region.

Earlier today it was announced that the Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian Prime Minister, has ordered his troops to stop fighting and suggested negotiations with Russia as guarantor of South Ossetia's autonomy, as long as the region stays within Georgia.

This does not seem to have worked and Russia has sent in heavy armoured vehicles and tanks to strengthen their troops peacekeepers.

The West in general, and the EU in particular, are, as usual, wringing their hands. NATO, which came up with a complicated solution at its summit to the problem of Georgia is worried:
"We are very closely following the situation, and the NATO Secretary General (Jaap de Hoop Scheffer) calls on all sides for an immediate end of the armed clashes and calls for direct talks between the parties," a NATO statement said.
The EU, the still-hopeful new soft power, is also worried:
A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the EU was very concerned by how the situation was evolving. "We repeat our message to all parties to immediately stop the violence," he said.
All parties, eh? That would be what? Invaders and defenders, attackers and counter-attackers? Well, it is a complicated situation but it is hardly an unexpected one as Vladimir Socor of the Jamestown Foundation makes clear. But, of course, the EU has no idea what to do or say about Russia or the Caucasus.

We have already seen the problem. Germany is terrified of nay-saying Russia because it is so heavily dependent on that country for its energy supplies. Of course, the chances of Russia not supplying Germany with gas and oil are very slim but that is not how the German government and Chancellor see the issue.

The new member states, particularly the Balts, on the other hand are more than a little worried. If Russia is starting proxy wars in former Soviet republics, being unable to exercise its supposed renewed power any other way, who is going to be next. Lithuania, for one, is not waiting for that famous CFSP to kick into action but has sent her own foreign minister on a fact-finding mission.

The story is developing.

Funny sort of teachers they have

Yesterday's Daily Telegraph carried an article entitled "How the public is spending £7 million on Beijing Olympic staff". (The Telegraph link is a little iffy but here is one to the article in the Daily Mail. The wording is almost exactly the same, which makes one wonder which news agency provided the copy in the first place.) This details the many officials, politicians and BBC journalists that are going to the Olympics at the taxpayers' expense.

Here is the full list of the 631 people in question. Team GB (what a name!) comprises of 313 people. They are the ones who are supposed to be going to the Olympics if we must take part in this ridiculous farce.

Why does the Prime Minister need an entourage of 20 people? Why does Boris Johnson need 13? Why do all these government departments need to be represented in such numbers? Could it be because a trip to China is still very expensive and the Olympics are a good opportunity to indulge oneself in a tax-funded "jolly" at a time when most people are thinking of tightening their belts?

On the whole it was this that really shocked me:
In addition, the taxpayer is footing the £240,000 bill for 39 Metropolitan Police staff to go on a fact-finding tour in Beijing.

Dorset Police is sending four people to find out how to police the 2012 sailing event and Greenwich council, which will help host the gymnastics in 2012 in the O2 Arena, is sending six officials at a cost of £14,000.
Time was, dear reader, when police from all over the world came to Britain to learn about crowd control. Now our boys and girls in blue go abroad to do the same. Not just any old abroad but to one of the most oppressive and brutal regimes in the world. Well, well.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Alexander Isayevich Solzhenitsyn 1918 - 2008

It is not right that the death of such a supremely important if controversial person pass unnoted on this blog or on any other. I wrote a longish piece, part obituary, part appraisal on Umbrella 3 (one of the spin-offs from EUReferendum) and can do no better than link to it here.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Did history ever go away?

This keeps happening to me. By the time I read Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History and the Last Man” – a couple of years after it was published – the main thesis, always rather hard to sustain, in my opinion, was out of date.

Now I have started Robert Kagan’s considerably smaller and more digestible “The Return of History and the End of Dreams” a little after it has caused much discussion on the other side of the Pond, though it has not been out in Britain for very long. Its thesis is not out of date but I cannot help wondering what the fuss is about.

Eventually, I shall write a proper review on the book. In the meantime, let me make just one or two points. The basic theme of the book is that the great hopes of the early nineties, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, that the world would come together, forget all enmities and proceed forward in a more or less amicable, economically and politically ever more open fashion towards a liberal, post-national future, have died.

We are back, says Mr Kagan, in a situation where great or not so great powers (of which, apparently, Europe or the European Union used interchangeably, is one) are battling for power and influence just as they did in the bad old days; where liberalism and autocracy are at war, though not openly; and where the West and Islam or, rather, some form of it are at war fairly openly.

History is back, according to this, with a vengeance. The question is did it go away. It seems to me that some of Mr Kagan’s assumptions as to what happened in the nineties and immediately after are a little foggy.

First of all, the collapse of the Soviet Union was not the beginning of a post-national period that, according to Mr Kagan, did not last. The Soviet Union was supposed to be the first and finest example of a post-national state (unlike the multinational states that were all the rage in the nineteenth century though Mr Kagan seems to avoid that point) and its collapse brought back a number of strongly nationalistic states into the political arena. Confusing the Soviet Union and Russia gets us nowhere very far. Russia’s reviving power (severely overrated by Mr Kagan in my opinion) is a reaction not to the post-national liberal world order that was supposed to be constructed in the nineties but to the nationalism of the erstwhile Soviet republics and colonies.

Secondly, the European Union, whose aim is to create a new nation possibly and a new state certainly, is not a twenty-first century construct that is facing a nineteenth century power, Russia. It is a twentieth century idea, dealing with twentieth century problems and providing twentieth century answers: doing away with the nation state, which has, in fact been reviving everywhere since the late eighties.

Thirdly, the EU’s weakness, which Mr Kagan rightly notes, comes from its basic structure and ideology. To have a common foreign policy, as we keep saying ad nauseam, one must have common interests. Absent those, there can be no common policy and, clearly, no real desire to put it into action. This is true for all transnational organizations which put policies into place as decided by their unaccountable elites. (Mr Kagan seems to think that it was the nations of Europe who decided to gamble in the nineties and put into place economic and political integration.) A world run by these organizations is not a dream but a nightmare.

More on the book and its very interesting ideas to follow in future postings.

More on Eric Varley's obituary

So many aspects of politics in those years have been forgotten. I was interested to read the following in the obituary:
When the second pit dispute erupted, Varley articulated Labour's argument that the miners had a strong case and the Government had mishandled the situation. Heath's creation of a Department of Energy under Lord Carrington led Wilson to appoint Varley as his "shadow", and he performed soundly during the snap election of February 1974. In the resulting minority Labour government, Varley at 41 became Energy Secretary.

Varley and Michael Foot, now Employment Secretary, speedily discharged Labour's mandate of getting the miners back to work. The next challenge was the arrival of North Sea oil, which was expected to transform the economy; Varley announced that a State-owned British National Oil Corporation would take a 51 per cent stake.

He paid obeisance to coal by pouring money into the industry – while upbraiding the miners for absenteeism – and curbing the nuclear energy programme, rejecting a switch to the US-designed pressurised water reactor.
There was a combination of three factors: the absolute faith that North Sea oil would solve Britain's problems, instead of which the curse of oil struck, though on a smaller scale than usual; the assumption that the miners could not be taken on and had to be subsidized indefinitely; and the normal left-wing fear of nuclear power.

Thirty-odd years on we are still paying for those decisions.