5 Jan 2015

Time to end the special UK 'military relationship' with America?

For the first time in nearly a decade and a half we are not formally at war. We have departed Afghanistan and Iraq although in both we have lefts a rump military presence perhaps to train, perhaps to influence, perhaps to spy.

Exactly how many “security”, or even “military” people we have left behind is an imprecise matter. As a defence source told me, “it depends when and how you count.”

The morass we have left behind in Iraq now sports Islamic State militants on the battlefield. The chaos is contiguous with the chaos in Syria.

An honest assessment of how the UK emerged from these two wars is evaluated in five excellent books reviewed in the London Review of Books.

The writer James Meek concludes, from reading all five that Britain suffered “worse than a defeat.”

As the UK parliamentary vote on attacking Syria illustrated, there is unlikely to be a democratic mandate for Britain to go to wars like Iraq and Afghanistan again.

We may finally have entered an age in which Britain only goes to war to defend its own, and just possibly Europe’s and even Nato’s immediate interests.

It is hard indeed to argue that the UK’s disastrous engagements in Basra and Helmand achieved much more than alienating the people who lived there.

Read more: time to un-redact the mother of parliaments

One hardly dares think of the pain and grief that families on all sides are suffering for the losses of loved ones that each has suffered.

In both the wars we have escaped from, we were in tight alliance with the United States.

In the immediate aftermath of the traumatic events of 9/11- which were seen as an attack on the whole western world, it was inevitable that western governments would stand shoulder to shoulder to identify and perhaps neutralise the threat.

It’s hard to find many instances in which America has gone to war since the Korean war and emerged with the world concluding that the US had either won, or alternatively had at least waged a “just war.”

Vietnam was disaster, as was Cambodia. History, its seems, may already be starting to judge Iraq and Afghanistan as no better.

Read more: when it came to Ronald Reagan, the Iron Lady was a pussycat

Is it then so wise to follow the United States so willingly into war? How heroic Prime Minister Harold Wilson now emerges for his refusal to join America’s Vietnam and Cambodian adventures.

And yet Wilson’s courage and wisdom in that instance has never been matched since.

So will Britain now review its strategic relationship with America? Don’t get me wrong. I have lived in America, love many aspects of it, but fear some features that render the US a very different entity to our European allies.

Europe too has a few issues in her own back yard- the Italians in Libya, the French in Algeria, the Germans everywhere.

Perhaps as politicians wrangle about defence needs and costs for Britain, maybe the moment has come right now, this very new year, to take stock of what our true defensive needs really are.

What should we do with our nuclear deterrent? What will we do with our two massive new aircraft carriers in a navy without enough ships to defend them? Above all, when Washington says “come”, need we ever again cry “yes please?”

Oh, and perhaps in order to take proper stock, how about having the courage to publish the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War, right now?

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