#6 Syria – talk loudly, carrying a twig

An old adage says that, if you have to walk through a dark and dangerous place, you should ‘talk quietly, and carry a big stick’. The government – and the foreign secretary in particular – seem to have modified this advice somewhat, by talking aggressively whilst carrying a twig.

The one reality that no-one seems to have raised about Britain’s aggressive stance over Syria is that the UK is in no position to use military force against the Assad regime.

Compared with the minimum number of about 300 cruise missiles needed to have a material effect, Britain can deploy a maximum of perhaps eight from a single Trafalgar-class submarine. Adding a handful of Tornadoes to this would make little or no difference. After the Labour administration stripped the Navy of its aircraft, the present government has completed the job by taking away the carriers as well.

What are we supposed to attack Assad with?

One cannot fail to admire David Cameron for his principled anger over the use of chemical weapons. His government is right to articulate anger, but not to threaten. It is difficult to imagine an action more heinous than gassing innocent civilians. Indeed, the only worse crime that comes to mind is that of carrying out a nuclear murder on foreign soil, heedless of the risk to innocent bystanders. Prior to the Syrian affair, though, William Hague’s most assertive language had been reserved for the Ecuadorians.

Many parallels have been drawn between the Syrian crisis and the invasion of Iraq. At least, in that instance, the then government had the partial excuse of being influenced by a gung-ho American administration. It is to be hoped that the Iraq invasion will one day make it to the silver screen. Given Hollywood’s love of sequels, The Madness of President George seems an obvious title.

This time around, Washington seems significantly more measured, and has provided no prompting for the aggressive language used, most noticeably, by Hague. France, of course, has been equally assertive, but the French do at least have an aircraft carrier to send.

If talking quietly and carrying a big stick is good advice, the most important step should be to recover the stick. This can happen, at the end of this decade, if both of the new carriers enter service, suitably funded and equipped with full complements of aircraft.

Until then, talking quietly should be the order of the day.  

2 thoughts on “#6 Syria – talk loudly, carrying a twig

  1. I would add that before you buy the big stick, you should ensure you aren’t too feeble to carry it.

    The idea that the UK economy can support 2 nuclear carriers fleets with a full compliment of excruciatingly expensive American aircraft is frankly ludicrous. Its ludicrous now in 2013 – by the time they are delivered in the 20’s it will be utter folly.

    There are many reasons why the UK is bankrupt but excessive defence spending is part of the mix, Post world war 2 we squandered much of our national resources trying to maintain the pretence of being a global military power and we still live with this legacy. Its no co-incidence that the two demilitarised nations, Japan and Germany, became major industrial powers whilst our industry was decimated with the exception of the tax payer funded defence industry.

    Perhaps we can find a foreign buyer for them – best increase our foreign aid budget I think.

    • Dave

      Good points. Part of what I’m getting at is the mis-match over Syria, where UK threats of “military action” really mean “action carried out by the US”.

      In fairness to the MoD, they’re not planning anything on quite that scale – the new carriers will not be nuclear powered, or the size of the US behemoths, but I still agree that they do not look affordable.

      This is really a case of going from one extreme to the other – planning big (unaffordable) carriers for the future, meanwhile getting rid of even the small ones we already had – yet posturing like a world power in foreign policy.

      I thought that our smaller (Invincible-class) carriers were a good compromise, at least until Labour got rid of the Sea Harriers. I would have preferred retaining 2 Invincibles, building replacements on a far more affordable scale, and developing British Harrier-type aircraft further, perhaps jointly with the US Marine Corps, who use Harrier derivatives. Other nations do manage affordable carriers, many using developed Harriers.

      Also, of course, the cost of replacing Trident will dwarf the cost of the big carriers, let alone the cost an “affordable carrier” replacement.

      The general point about the economy is a good one (though Japan’s “self defence” forces are actually pretty big). It could be argued that an investment in British carriers and British aircraft might help the economy, where buying foreign does not?

      Lastly, the UK economy can be regenerated – but not unless policies change drastically……

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