hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Sunday 21 April 2024

Phony Baloney Power

 “Today, the UK is undoubtedly less politically and economically influential than in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. This trend is likely to continue given the simple arithmetic of demography and compound economic growth.”

The World in 2040: Renewing the UK’s Approach to International Affairs

Phony Baloney Power

April 22, 2024. Britain is now in a pre-war situation but London cannot afford to prevent it. On the one hand, Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Defence (Defence Minister), says the West is in a “pre-war” phase. On the other hand, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says defence expenditure will only be increased when Britain’s economic circumstances permit. Or, rather, London will only match threat to investment when economic circumstances permit.  Welcome to phony baloney power. 

Phony baloney power is the talk big, do-little appeasement by a British Establishment that lives in an alternative power reality to much of the world.  Let me give you the prime example - Ukraine. Following last week's Iranian attack on Israel Rishi Sunak said that Britain will always stand in the path of aggression.  At the same time, Sunak has given much of Britain’s fighting power to Ukraine, although not enough to ensure Ukrainians can successfully defend themselves. And, every weekend the Government watches on impotently as Central London is effectively surrendered to anti-Semitic and anti-Western hatred.

Perhaps the most egregious example of Britain's phony baloney power is British Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron travelling the globe to lecture leaders who really understand about power when he clearly does not.  For most leaders with any sense of history it must be galling to say the very least to smile politely to the man who did more than any other recent leader to reduce Britain (and its armed forces) to what it now is, whilst he warns them of the dangers of making the wrong decisions. Chutzpah or what? At least he has the experience.

Phony Baloney Globalisation

Britain's leaders and other European phony baloney globalists have been caught out by hard on nationalists like Putin and Xi and now have really very little to deter them other than the hope the Americans will not vanish down the rabbit hole of their own domestic political nervous breakdown.  If Cameron needed any reminding that neither he nor his (my) country are as important as he seems to think then his recent failed visit to Washington should have been a painful reminder.  The message from the Americans was clear: you are a failed former prime minister in a failed government of a former great power that you did your utmost to weaken by imposing deep cuts on your armed forces right in the middle of a major campaign in Afghanistan.

He is sadly not alone. This month, three grandees of Britain’s foreign policy establishment published a report on Britain in the future world.   Entitled “The World in 2040: Renewing the UK’s Approach to International Affairs” my first reaction was that the report read like an elongated job application to join the incoming Labour government. To  be fair, Tom Fletcher, Moazzam Malik, and Mark Sedwill, make a host of sound proposals with which I agree such as modernising and streamlining Britain’s external engagement, not least the strengthening of the National Security Council, and  better aligning London's instruments of British power with the aims of British policy. However, the report still reads like a phony baloney globalist manifesto from those trapped in a no man’s land between values and interests.  It also reveals (again) that much of the British Establishment no longer believes in Britain as a power, or even believes Britain has a right to power.

Phony Baloney Policy

There are two statements that are particularly revealing of the extent to which managing decline and assuaging misplaced guilt remain the driving 'inspirations' of a failed British Establishment, not to mention much of academia. The first states that “Today, the UK is undoubtedly less politically and economically influential than in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. This trend is likely to continue given the simple arithmetic of demography and compound economic growth”.  Why?  Being very big and having lots of poor people is a curse not a blessing and no guarantee of economic growth. China faces demographic meltdown, India is a bureaucratic mess, the EU is like the old Forth Rail Bridge in that most of its enormous structure is devoted to simply holding itself up.  It is also trapped between centralising Eurocrats and decentralising democracy, whilst Russia is destroying its economy in a war. The real question those that lead Britain should answer is what role should a well-led top ten world economic and military power of 70 or so million relatively well-educated and networked souls which is at the centre of alliances and partnerships aspire to play in the world given that it is also a nuclear-armed island off the northwest coast of the Eurasian landmass?   Answer?  Be far better led!

The second statement reads thus: “We cannot simply brush aside concerns around the UK’s historical legacy and questions of nationhood. The exit from the EU has opened many questions, including in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Former colonies are making increasingly vocal demands around the need for reparations from colonialism and compensation for the loss and damage arising from historical industrial emissions”.  Why not?  That was then and this is now.  If  British rule had been so bad why have so many of these sovereign countries kept so many of the structures and institutions Britain bequeathed them.  I want these countries to succeed and I am prepared to offer them British aid to do just that if it is in the British interest.  Equally, I also want in return a 21st century relationship with these countries, not some archaic post-colonialism that implies that Britain will only increase its influence in the future world by assuaging the unassuageable. Reparations for “historical legacy” would reduce British foreign policy to little more than virtue imperialism.

The Black Knight?

Listening to Sunak, Cameron et al I am reminded of the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who, despite having had his arms and legs chopped off by King Arthur, continues to believe he is invincible.  Fletcher, Malik and Sedwill even have the temerity to suggest that, “Over the medium term, allocate 1% GNI (Gross National Income) for international engagement to complement the commitment to 2% GDP defence spending”.  The use of 1% GNI is clever because it would be significantly larger than 1% GDP and as such is soft power sleight of hand because they also call for defence expenditure to be measured as a percentage of GDP, Gross Domestic Product. Sadly, such a call also reinforces the strategic illiteracy beloved of the British Establishment and the dangerous belief that Britain can only afford so much threat. Indeed, it is precisely why Britain's security and defence policy is mired in the mother of all ends, ways and means crises.

Peace and Power

What Xi, Putin, the Ayatollahs and others are once again demonstrating is that a state can only have real influence if soft power is matched by relevant and relative hard power.  Soft power without hard power is simply a covenant without a sword. 

To claim that Britain is both in a “pre-war” situation whilst London will only increase defence expenditure to prevent such a war when the economic conditions permit reveals the phony baloney that is British foreign. security and defence policy.  Britain is either in a ‘pre-war’ situation which demands they must do everything necessary to prevent it, or it is a peace. Phoney war? What is clear is that London has a peacetime mindset in a pre-war situation which is very, very dangerous. Why?  The benighted government economists and their lawyer friends who really ‘rule’ London simply do not understand how wars start.  They start because some autocratic asshole with far more power than brains has a romantic dream about rebuilding a lost empire in the hope it will confirm his control over the state and is prepared to sacrifice most of those around him to do just that!  

If we want peace, and I certainly do, now is the time for democracies like Britain to act irrespective of their immediate economic circumstances because now is the hour of danger.  That means ending the phony baloney power which is making war more not less likely.  To do that, London must end the exaggeration of Britain's influence, as well as the self-flagellation of Britain’s past and face up squarely to Britain’s future.  I will NEVER apologise for my country or its past.  That is because I am an historian. If some people don’t like that…tough!  

Julian Lindley-French