Monday, 20 April 2015

On the African Boat People and Katie Hopkins.

My CV reads a lot like that of Katie Hopkins. We both went to RMA Sandhurst. We both dropped out close to commissioning, and both on medical grounds. We both then became polemicist commentators: her on TV, me on here. She made a living out of it, I didn't though. The Strapline of this Blog is "moderate opinions, immoderately put". For much of what Hopkins says is genuine, realpolitik sense spoken in a way morons can understand it. And she winds all the right people up, sort of like a skinny, female Jeremy Clarkson, without the wit.



Then Hopkins referred to the people crammed onto fishing boats trying to cross the Mediterranean sea to get to Europe, as "Cockroaches" and there she and I part company. That such things are said and thought shouldn't surprise anyone. That they are printed in a national paper, though, should. That they were yesterday was shocking, to the extent I don't recognise my country. Hopkins as one who wanted once to be an officer in the British Army, and in the Corps to which she applied, should know better. Much better. Such rhetoric from a bully pulpit such as a Sun Column is how pogroms start. Germany went from Civilised to Nazis in a little under a decade. It could never happen here? I'm not so sure now.

So, Katie Hopkins put herself way, way beyond the pale to me yesterday. She will be forever tainted with those callous, dehumanising words. Ultimately, I'm a libertarian, and believe in the fellowship of man, and feel enormous sympathy with those driven by poverty, to seek a better life. I believe borders are an affront to human dignity, but they are often an unfortunate necessity, when there's a precious example of freedom and good government to which adding too many ill-educated migrants brought up in war-zones would risk. Without the example of the West, the experiment in free-market liberal democracy could be snuffed out to everyone's long-term dis-benefit. Europe cannot accept thousands upon thousands of people from Africa and the Middle east, nor should we be expected to, simply because we are rich, though we should, like the enlargement project seek to extend the principle of free movement, slowly, surely and incrementally to countries which share our values.

Given that the Northern European countries who're the ultimate destination of the migrants, cannot and will not accept everyone who wants to make Europe home we must try to stop them coming. But nor can we let people drown at sea. It was noticed during the previous 'Mare Nostrum' rescue operation that the traffickers would simply get into EU territorial waters, send a mayday signal, and scuttle the boat, the rescue ensuring their charges made it safely to land. EU Navies were being used as a leg in the Journey. It was thought denying the Traffickers the use of this leg would stop the flow. It did not.

So what should be done?

Big picture: we need to work with the Governments, however corrupt and vile, where the migrants come from. The less vile the regimes, the less hopeless the economies, the fewer refugees and migrants will be tempted to leave and make their way to Europe. UKIP and their poujadiste allies in Europe are wholly wrong on Foreign Aid to suggest that budgetary and technical support to governments is "wasted". No-one though should expect rapid results.

One of the reasons for the current tide is the instability in Libya. One of the things Gadaffi* did for us was to stop the boats. (I am not sure letting them drown at sea is much worse than the methods he used... but 'out of sight out of mind' is the key principle of international humanitarianism...). Western governments, France and the UK especially are partially culpable for helping topple the regime, but not committing the resources for stability. But the culpability is limited. Qaddafi* was going to be toppled anyway, the current chaos was probably inevitable, and the UK and France probably averted a massacre in Benghazi. Nevertheless, the Libyan authorities need help to secure the country. This will require an appetite for an Iraq sized counter-insurgency for a decade, but Britain and France. Yup... this is unlikely to be popular.

An attempt to stem the 'push' from the homelands will be slow. So we need to make the journey less likely to be successful. We need to police the waters, turning back the migrant ships to their ports of origin on the North African coast. This will require investment in Naval and Aviation capacity from the whole EU and their maintenance on station for decades hence, and being comfortable with the use of force. I'm not holding my breath there either.

The good news is for humanity, the forces needed to police the sea lanes in the Mediterranean will also be capable and on station to rescue migrants whose boats sink. There is no need to turn the guns on the people in the boats, nor is there a need to be callous about their survival in the water. We are better than that.  If there are people in need of rescue, however, the rescue at present means the traffickers and the migrant has won. They're in the EU, and there are plenty of people able and willing to play the system to make sure they are never returned from whence they came. So we need somewhere where the rules can be applied a little more quick and dirty.

What the EU needs is somewhere rescued boat people can go to be processed by the Bureaucracy. And unfortunately this means a camp, somewhere outside the EU. This is the Australian approach, they have camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea where migrants who don't make it to Australia are sent, to be returned home. It's likely, if this is a goer, an enclave will need to be taken from Libya, with or without the host Government's permission. This would require the EU to contemplate the long-term use of Hard Power, and this being legislated for EU-wide and under the fire of the Human Rights lawyers. Nope, I'm not holding my breath there either.

Make no mistake. This is a horrible problem, dehumanising for all concerned. But given the unwillingness of Europe to accept people, the journey must be made as difficult, as humanly possible without making it inhumane. No-one comes out of this looking or feeling good. And those who accept some of the necessary steps above, will baulk at the others: A UKIPper despises the foreign aid and unified EU action, like a Green will abhor the necessity of Extra-territorial camps and capable Naval flotillas pointing guns at people.

This is what will work to stop the flow of migrants without letting them die at sea in their thousands. But this is not what will happen. This is why the African boat people are not being mentioned by politicians on the stump. Any soundbite on this subject, will be an anathema to one or other section of the electorate. There are no votes to be won in sorting this mess out, only votes to be lost.

*I never spell it the same way twice.



Friday, 17 April 2015

On the "Patriotism" of UKIP

Patriotism, wrote Samuel Johnson, is the last refuge of the scoundrel. In the election TV debate UKIP leader Nigel Farage claimed the UK couldn't adequately defend the Falklands. As well as being demonstrably untrue, this demonstrates several mental tics of the UKIPper and it's worth going through them.

First, it reveals a determination to re-fight battles already lost and won. This attitude comes from the same place as hankering after "A Leader Like Thatcher" who "Took on the Trades Unions". This is why the thatcherite ultra wing of UKIP cannot see Cameron's cut spending faster than their blessed St. Margaret Ever did. 45% top rate of tax? Wasn't cut to 40% by Nigel Lawson until 1988, 9 years into the great lady's time in office. UKIPpers are stupid, and lack the imagination or understanding to see what battles need to be fought today. Past glories like the re-taking of the Falklands, or the Miners' strike happened when most 'KIPpers were in their youth, and they're hankering after a better yesterday. The world's a bit different now, and the UKIPper wishes it wasn't.

Second it's revealing of a determination to see weakness in yourself, and strength elsewhere. This is behind the UKIPish "admiration" of Vladimir Putin. This is also behind the belief that all the bluster from the Eurocrats like JC Juncker that the UK cannot alter treaties, is truth; while anything David Cameron might say on the subject is merely self-serving bluster. Of course the Eurocrats aren't going to negotiate before the Election, because with Ed Miliband, they won't have to. But Cameron has a much stronger hand in EU negotiations than any 'KIPper will ever admit.

UKIPpers are paranoid. There is simply no indication the Argentines are even thinking about a military solution to the "Malvinas Question".

Farage might have been musing on the fall in the British Army's manpower. But even this reveals the party's ignorance and superficiality. UKIP is obsessed by symbols and totems, not effectiveness. Cap-badges are more important than effective 3-battalion regiments. It should be remembered that the UK recently ran two significant long-term deployments simultaneously AND had spare ISTAR and lift to get the French to Mali and tell them which doors to kick in. "Front Line First" which keeps combat infantry at the expense of support services ignores the fact that it requires a huge number of logistic, signals, intelligence and engineering "enablers" to keep one infantryman in action. 100,000 men kicking undeployable heels in Germany is better in the UKIP mind than 82,000 men who can be picked up, and put down to do a job anywhere on earth.  Would you rather have a platoon of men in battle dress armed with Lee Enfields, or a Section of Modern Infantry with all the logistic tail they need?

UKIP is guilty of hull-counting in the Royal navy too: The Type 45 air defence destroyers can track far, far more targets than the 1960's vintage Type 42s they replace, so fewer are needed. One Type 45 can do the air-defence job of 6 type 42s. Yes, the Navy is smaller, but an Astute class attack sub can hear a ship leaving New York Harbour. From the English Channel.

And lastly but most importantly the idea the Falklands cannot be defended is simply wrong. For a party that claims to be "patriotic" they don't seem to have much faith in the UK or her people. Let's be charitable and say he's talking about an operation to retake the Falklands in the absence of an Aircraft  Carrier. Fair enough - but HMS Queen Elizabeth will be operation by 2020 by which time the UK will be able to dominate the south Atlantic against any nation bar the USA.

In the mean time, there is simply not a credible threat to the Falkland islands. where there are at present 1,200 soldiers which, being British contain a large number of hardened veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, plus a company of Falkland islands defence force who're integrated into the defence plan. This, compared to 57 Royal Marines and no plan in 1982. There is an augmentation force on standby, and a plan to rapidly reinforce the islands from the UK, and an air-bridge to enable it now. There wasn't any of this in 1982. Meanwhile Argentina has no landing ships, no carriers, and and their army has been shrunk to bare-bones, and has no combat experience and little money to undertake serious exercise.

The RAF has 4 Typhoon a 4.5 generation multi-role fighter on the Falklands, which is arguably the finest dogfighter on earth. Whether it's a match for the F22's over the horizon capability is moot, but the RAF isn't up against F22s. The Argentines are flying 6 (if they're lucky) Mirage 3 interceptors, some Mirage 5 multi-role fighters, all purchased in the 1970s, and a handful of assorted multi-role, light fighter-bombers, most of which are probably not airworthy.

As well as the Typhoons, there are air-defence missiles on the islands, and the Royal Navy's Type 45 Destroyers are the finest air-defence platforms afloat. Meanwhile an Argentine Naval ship goes to sea about 12 days a year due to lack of funds. One Argentine naval vessel sank in port in 2013 due to disrepair. Oh, and there's usually a Royal Navy Nuclear attack submarine there, or therabouts, to which the Argentines will be completely blind until a torpedo slams into the hull. The Argentines couldn't get there, have no capability to land forces, couldn't supply any forces they did manage to land, which wouldn't be a match for the forces on the island even if they did. If anything the Falklands are grotesquely over-defended.

UKIP aren't patriots, they're the people who'd have caved in and done a deal with Hitler, as it was all too scary as his victory was "inevitable". UKIP have the paranoid certainty of the mediocre mind, always fearing the worst, but lacking imagination to envision the best; as a result, they're wrong about everything, all the time.



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