“Cry ‘Havoc’ and let slip the dogs of war.” Shakespeare’s words seem to have been taken to heart by President Putin whose dogs of war continue to wreak their own particular brand of havoc in eastern Ukraine. And even the shooting down of MH17 has, so far, not brought a pause in proceedings with safe access to the crash site denied to international investigators. But what to do?
For Poland’s Foreign Minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, the answer is clear: “Ukraine’s integrity must be restored,” and “tougher sanctions should be enforced” on Russia following the MH17 catastrophe, the responsibility for which should be borne by “those who supplied the weapons”.
These were his comments following a meeting yesterday in Warsaw between Sikorski, and Polish defence minister Tomasz Siemniak and the British Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond and Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon. The joint talks between the foreign and defence ministers inevitably focussed on developments in Ukraine and the need to “take a quick decision” over sanctions on Russia (quick – how much longer do they need?). “We believe that sanctions should be imposed as the responsibility for this tragedy is held by those people – the Russian Federation – who supplied and continue to supply advanced weaponry to so-called ‘separatists’,” Sikorski added.
Returning to a familiar theme, Sikorski said that it is crucial to strengthen NATO’s eastern borders since “it is time to feel just as safe in Poland as in our other partners in the alliance”. For his part, Michael Fallon said that the UK and Poland stand “arm in arm” over the crisis in Ukraine and that the events in Poland’s eastern neighbour “underline the importance of NATO, which is the backbone of Poland’s and the UK’s security.” Fine words, as ever, but is anything practical being done?
Yes, sort of. The UK will send a battle group to take part in major military training, Exercise Black Eagle, in October as part of a NATO package to reassure allies in eastern Europe. The full battle group will comprise of 1,350 personnel and more than 350 armoured and other vehicles. This new commitment is the UK’s largest to the region since 2008 and is one of a planned series of NATO manoeuvres due to take place throughout the autumn in support of allies in eastern Europe and the Baltic states. Since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, the UK has deployed RAF Typhoon jets to the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission and at the end of August light infantry troops from 1st Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment will take part in Exercise Sabre Junction, a US-led exercise involving 16 NATO and partner nations which is also taking place in Poland.
The difficulty is, of course, that actions speak louder than words (ask brother Putin). The Defence Secretary may well be sincere when he said: “It is right that NATO members and partners demonstrate our commitment to the collective security of our allies in eastern Europe” but that actually means very little if aggressors see continued cuts in defence capability and an apparent unwillingness actually to stand up for those values in which we profess we believe. As I wrote last time (please see Missile) all the weapons and manoeuvres in the world (and we have an ever smaller share, by the way) are of no use without the will and determination to use them if needs be. And, in this context, is anybody else rather troubled by the use of “collective security” in this context? It failed spectacularly when faced by the arch bully in the period leading up to the Second World War and it would be tragic to make that mistake again.
Make no mistake, war is to be avoided, but we avoid it not by platitudes and tweets but by demonstrating the will and determination to stand fast in defending what is right. Having set the Middle East ablaze with no discernable benefit to anyone, a blot on the escutcheon of biblical proportions, we simply must do better in Europe. After all, in the words of Sun Tzu: “the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”