The US Electorate Trumps Their Political Establishment

Hail the Don!  Trump is the next president and the political commentariat are in meltdown.  I’m not.

Firstly, don’t be scared.  Such is the inertia of the US government machine that even with Republicans in the White House, Senate and House of Representatives it is very hard for any president to get anything tangible done, (c.f. Obamacare).  And few Republicans are Trump fans. Yes the dollar will wobble a bit – as will T Bond yields, but that is just the speculators adjusting their forecasts and unwinding positions.

Foreign policy might change a bit – President Don might be less willing to expend US lives in remote places – which, given the near disastrous last two US forays might be a good thing.  He may also be reluctant to prop up NATO members who don’t pay their way, which is also a good thing.  If he is a little less keen on confronting Putin that may also be a good thing; generally, wars are far easier to start than to finish.  Being selfish, Trump likes the UK despite the foolish comments of some recent Prime Ministerial failures.  The United States is already by far out largest export partner – with 11% of exports heading there.

How is that a problem for the UK?  Good question.  To the US political establishment, the unthinkable has happened, and outsider has won.  Worse, he won unexpectedly and despite little media support.  This is either because the US electorate is dumb, or the political establishment is out of touch (or both).  Expect a raft of psephologists seeking to demonstrate that Trump was elected by white working class males.  He may have been popular among them and in the rust-belt states, but there are not enough white working class males in the US to elect a president.  More people voted for Trump, and from many more electoral segments.

This squealing by political analysts, (akin to that in the UK post Brexit), is a symptom of the problem that both countries demonstrably face.  Their political thought is out of step with their population, and hasn’t noticed it. This is a surprising outcome in any country – and one that is potentially a source of unrest.  It is astonishing that it occurs in the two self-proclaimed bastions of liberal democracy.

That, not Trump or Brexit, is the problem on both sides of the Atlantic.  The question therefore divides into two; how did this happen and how do we fix it?

The first part of this is going to be a field day for left of centre social economists – inequality caused by free market capitalism.  That these are the same social economists who have been advocating the policies that led to these electoral shocks is a delicious irony and further demonstration of the problem.  I content that this is not about economics (broadly an outcome) but process.  And one (Bill) Clinton slogan – “It’s the economy, stupid.”

I am increasingly of the opinion that in a free market capitalist economy the best economic policy a government can hope for is not to screw it up.  An economically competent government may well lay the grounds for growth, but it is not the government who risks wealth to create the growth (and creating growth requires private capital).  Nor is it the government which suffers the pecuniary loss associated with commercial failure – and growth is risky. It is ridiculous for politicians to claim credit for the work and appetite for risk of a very few of their population.  When a Chancellor says “We have created growth of X% this year” what he should be saying, and actually mean is “I managed not to cock it up for another year.”  The hubris of taking political credit for the efforts of others is at the root of the problems of Westminster and Washington.

This tendency has been exacerbated in the UK by the politicisation of the Civil Service and the scourge of the Special Political Adviser (SPAD).  In the US they have had this problem from the start – many senior administrative appointments are politicised.  Such politicisation a government machine that seeks to curry political favour as well as do its job.  This leads inexorably to pork barrel politics, whether it is turning UK marginal seats into special economic areas or building NASA’s launch facilities in an alligator infested swamp.  And the politicisation is pointless; as three time New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia said “There is no Democratic or Republican way of cleaning the streets.”  So why politicise it?

The SPAD evolution has also led inexorably to the professional politician (who grew up as a SPAD).  How do you get to become a politician? Start as a SPAD.  How do you become a SPAD?  Know someone who is prepared to take you on.  The array of political individuals in the main parties is thus being homogenised and decreasingly aware of the non-political world.  Thus, political thought is succumbing to a group-think.

Of course, the media should be challenging this.  Unfortunately, the path between media commentator and politician is well trodden and, with some noble exceptions, few interviewers or reporters are able or willing to confront the delusions of our legislators. This is a problem of the BBC.  What was started as an impartial organisation to inform, educate and entertain at public expense has (inevitably) become highly politicised with an interest in “big government” to maintain and increase its taxpayer funding.

Murder has been illegal since Moses went hill walking, countless laws have been passed against it and yet it continues.  There is a limit to what legislation can achieve, and yet every year more and more laws are passed – many of which have unintended consequences and some of which are highly divisive in the real world that exists outside the capital.  As the American satirist PJ O’Rourke pointed out at the American bi-centenary, surely there comes a point when a society has enough laws?

Money is a problem too.  SPADs, researchers and the publicity process all cost money which political parties must fund from members or donors.  In the UK we have fairly tight rules on spending but even here there are moves towards the state (that is, taxpayer) funding of political parties.  In the US, with no spending limits, a candidate’s ability to get elected is constrained by their ability to raise funds.  In the UK most people don’t fund politicians – those who do tend to expect something for it, be it a bauble or access.  It exacerbates the shrinking of the political parties’ universe.

So, on both sides of the Atlantic we have had electoral shock after outcomes that the establishment neither wanted nor expected.  In the UK the government has (reluctantly) committed to Brexit but many politicians have not. Instead they persist in thinking and acting as if they better know what is the interest of the country and its population.  It is increasingly obvious that they do not.

What happens next?  The sun came up this morning despite the outcome, as it did on 24th June.  The world will continue much as before in the short term. In the medium term the relationship between political parties, political thought (such as it is), the media and the population must evolve and reconnect with their populations.  How this will happen is less clear, as is the time frame.  But it would be a foolish member of the political elite who considered Brexit and Trump one off aberrations.

The “New” Russian T-14 Armata is not a “super-tank” so don’t panic. Yet.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that the latest Russian tank, (the T-14 Armata), could vanquish the British Army, and indeed NATO.  Great headline – now let’s look at the facts.

The T-14 is the first deployed tank to have an unmanned turret.  This should allow it to have a larger gun in a smaller, more easily protected volume and that is indeed potentially effective.  I say potentially, because there is more to good tanks (and winning battles) than firepower – although it is important.  Having spent a decade or so as a tank commander, there are benefits to being in the turret – primarily one can see much better, and much further.  That gives better spatial awareness, which is crucial for maintaining order and cohesion in the chaos of battle.  The T-14 design has been experimented with repeatedly, and rejected repeatedly, over the years for just this reason.  Yes, modern electronics and optronics mean that it is possible to relay views from one part of a tank to others more easily now than in the 1970s.  But that does not make it battle winning.

Big guns are important – in simple terms the bigger the gun the more one can kill at a greater distance.  Current western tanks (and indeed Russian ones) can knock out opposing tanks at well over 2,000m.  What range you need rather depends on where you are fighting (tank rounds travel pretty much along lines of sight – you can’t hit what you can’t see).  In Western Europe, which is what western kit was designed for, the average engagement range would be around 1,200m (this figure comes from the shape of the ground, and is computed from survey data).  In the deserts of Iraq it was somewhat further, as it would be on the Russian Steppes.  However opening fire also gives your position away, and invites all sorts of retaliation.  That said, the current version of the T-14 has similar firepower to western tanks.

The T-14 crew are more protected than that of any other tank.  But that does not mean that the tank as a weapon system is better protected.  A hit on the turret is still likely to disable the gun.  Arguably, given the additional complexity of the T-14 design, the turret is more vulnerable than a conventional one.

The article states that the T-14 also has an integrated active defence system to defeat missiles.  These are not new; the Israelis have one in use on their latest Merkava.  And it won’t work against an incoming tank round.  Most western countries are investigating retro fits (there are other issues that make them more complicated).  The article also claims that the T14 has excellent composite armour.  So do most Western tanks – although the British claim that the latest version of the Challenger 2’s Chobham armour is starting to sound a little jingoistic (obviously the real data is highly classified).

Where the article is spot on is that the concerns over casualties to IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) in both the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns has meant that the British Army has ignored tanks.  For historic reasons the British has always had a bias towards infantry, and that has got out of hand in the past decade or so.  The article also, rightly, makes the point that the British Army tank strength is risible in terms of numbers and the Challenger2 is an old design in need of an upgrade (which it is getting).  It also (rightly) questions whether the Army’s new reconnaissance vehicle is going to be all that was hoped – although that is a different story.

If the British people wish to continue to benefit from an Army that can fight any enemy, anywhere then it needs to have a long hard look at its ability to fight armoured warfare (which remains the method of choice for those with ambitions of territorial expansion, like Putin).  We can probably just about do it now, but it is on the limit of both the equipment, the numbers and the level of training.  Increasing our capability to what is necessary will not come cheap, and will probably need rather more than the 2% annual increase in current plans.

It is not quite time to panic – the T-14 is not a “supertank” and has not altered the balance of power.  However, it is time to take a long, hard and critical look at our military capability in the light of possible future conflicts.

Don’t Blame the Judges, it’s the Politicians who are Idiots..

Yesterday the High Court ruled that the government cannot use Crown prerogative to give notice to leave the EU under Article 50.  Unlike most who are commenting on this, I have read the judgement (here).  Although I am no lawyer, the prose is clear and the point simple.

Firstly, Laws can only be made, amended or repealed by Parliament (i.e. both the House of Lords and the House of Commons).  In this context, a law is anything that affects the rights of a UK citizen.  However, the Crown (i.e. the government) can do things that don’t affect the rights of UK citizen without reference to Parliament, including entering into Foreign Treaties and going to war.  Now these actions may well affect the wealth, health and happiness of the UK citizens, but they don’t affect their rights and so don’t require Parliamentary approval.

Although our membership of the EU is by Treaty (currently the Lisbon Treaty) it also grants the UK citizen rights in UK law, courtesy of the European Community Act 1972, as amended.  Triggering Article 50 means that, absent any agreement with the EU to the contrary, the UK would leave in 2 years.  some of the rights granted in ECA 1972 would expire, and that therefore means that Article 50 cannot be triggered Crown privilege.  Hence the ruling.

Now, there are grounds for arguing that the ruling is wrong, or that the case should not have been heard. No doubt the government will make them on appeal. It may or may not win.  However, as we stand we have a population that voted to leave, a government that undertook to enact the result of referendum and a Prime Minister who is now hamstrung.  The situation is exacerbated by the bleating of self-interested politicians opposed to Brexit (and their acolytes in media and elsewhere) who are currently conflating the need for Parliamentary approval to trigger Article 50 with a line by line negotiation of an exit, or at least setting out the exit terms.

The ruling does not of itself require Parliamentary oversight of the exit process.  All it requires is an Act to trigger Article 50, accepting that doing so will cause the loss of certain individual rights (most of them are quite arcane or silly, like losing the right to elect an MEP as the main rights accruing to EU citizens are already incorporated in UK law).  Such an Act would probably get through the House of Commons, but it might stall in the House of Lords – although Mrs May could solve that by creating 200 or more Brexit peers.  She might also be able to invoke the Parliament Act.

However, all of this is going to take time, and that time is causing uncertainty which in turn is doing economic damage to the UK. It is also frustrating the will of most of the people and is showing in stark relief just how unfit our current Parliament is.  While it would be unprecedented for a referendum to be binding the Referendum Act 2016 could have expressly included wording to allow the use of Crown prerogative – as David Cameron clearly stated he intended to.  But perhaps such an obvious provision was left out on purpose. It remains a scandal that the entire government operated on the assumption that the vote would be to remain.  If it is the case that no consideration was given to how to leave (in a technical, legal sense) as part of the preparation of the Referendum Act then the cabinet of the time were fools, and their advisers incompetents.

While I can see the obvious attraction for Mrs May in winning an appeal, there is a significant chance that the government will lose it – certainly its performance thus far in court has been pretty poor. And it if loses it may lose worse.  I think Mrs May’s best course is to introduce a sort Act, defy anyone in the House of Commons to vote against it (as it is now government policy she can and must whip it).  The House of Lords, which you may recall remains in a state of unreformed idiocy, will then face the choice of obstructing the people’s will and that of their government, or gritting their teeth and passing it.

Tomorrow is the 5th of November.  As Parliamentarians and their advisers head off for their recess they should reflect upon the mess that they have created.

BOOK REVIEW: Deborah and the War of the Tanks 1917

On 20th November 1917 the British launched the first massed tank attack in history at Cambrai on the Western Front.  Within a few hours they broke through the German front and support trenches and, for a couple of hours, were posed to break out from the mud and the blood to the green fields beyond.  The tank that got the furthest was D-51 Deborah. Astonishingly that tank was found buried underground a few hundred metres away from where her advance ended in Flesquieres.  She has been dug up, rehoused in a barn and is now becoming a memorial to the battle.  This book is the story of that tank and, importantly, her crew.

The tale starts with the earlier use of tanks, with limited success, at Paschendale.  The narrative then works through the very close all arms training with 51st Highland Division (demonstrating that the British Army then was perfectly capable of learning from mistakes and solving them, contrary to the Lions led by Donkeys school), followed by the action itself.

It is here the single tank viewpoint works most effectively.  Aided by superb maps, conveniently placed and well annotated (a simple feature that all too many books fail to achieve) we see the battle unfold.  D-51 was in the reserve company of D Battalion, which was attacking Flesquieres with the Gordon Highlanders of 153 Brigade.  The initial success generated an opportunity that was not fully exploited, the delay allowing the Germans to remuster and (somehow) hold on. The impact of the fog of war is made clear, as are the challenges of commanding an all arms action on the offensive, by this stage infantry, artillery, sappers, cavalry and aviation were all in action in conjunction with the new-fangled tanks.  The book’s account is objective, seeking to portray what did or did not happen, why and the possible consequences.  Rather than seeking scapegoats it effectively describes the environment in which surviving commanders found themselves (on both sides).  The author also makes the often overlooked point that had the cavalry attacked without Flesquieres being captured they would have been annihilated.  There may have been an opportunity to open up the Western Front at Cambrai, but it was not seized.  However the battle demonstrated that the British had, through a combination of technical innovation, tactical development, sound military training and experimentation finally found a way to achieve a break through.

The author never loses sight of the fact that warfare is about men, not machines.  He therefore describes the subsequent lives of the individuals mentioned, several of whom also fought in the Second World War.  The tale also includes the exploits of Phillipe Gorczynski, a Belgian hotelier fascinated by the battle who found D-51, arranged for her relocation and caused this story to be told.

This book is everything that military history should be.  Diligently researched, factual, objective and at times achingly poignant.  The prose is engaging, the narrative is clear and it flows well.  It is a fitting tribute to the remarkable men who fought in these early tanks.  I urge you to read it and have no hesitation whatsoever in awarding it five out of five.  I would give it six were that possible.


This review was originally written for ARRSE ( and appears here with their kind permission

There is only one flavour of Brexit

Thanks to UKIP’s pugilists the party conference season has been more interesting than usual. Predictably the Labour party has gone navel gazing while Tim Fallon (who?) and the Liberal Democrats want a rematch on the referendum – oh the irony. Meanwhile some Tories and some commentators seem to have invented the “Hard” and “Soft” flavours of Brexit. Clearly there has been some weed smoking…
The facts are simple. The result was out. The EU bureaucracy does not want us to leave; nor do many of the member states nor a fair chunk of the UK government establishment. Their solution is to kick the can down the road and just keep talking, pretending the vote never happened.

The EU treaties provide for a simple exit, via Article 50. They do not provide for membership of the single market without the acceptance of free movement. While it is perhaps possible that the EU treaties could be amended to allow this, it is unlikely to happen in any fast time frame. As such a treaty change would probably require ratification by all member states it’s a reasonable bet that it would never pass.

So there is no point in discussing it. Which means that there is no “hard” of “soft” option on Brexit. We just do it. there are some minor discussions to be had within agencies such as Europol, but they are all minor and in most of them we hold the whip had – (“You want access to our intelligence? Then show us your own” etc.) With nothing to negotiate and nothing to agree, we could be gone in six months.

Now, while leaving the EU means leaving the single market there is no reason why the UK could not offer EU members the opportunity to export to the UK tariff free. Given that the UK is a major market for the EU the member states would be likely to rather want that. Particularly the Germans. (The top selling car in the UK is the Ford Fiesta. Made in German. Number 2 is the Ford Focus, made in Germany. In fact seven of the top 10 selling cars in the UK are made in Germany).
Of course, the UK is not a charity so we would request reciprocation – any tariff being charged on any UK export to EU would result in the UK charging tariffs on imports from the EU. The genius of this position is that if gives the problem to the EU to sort out with its remaining member states. While some Eurocrats may want to savage the UK it is unlikely that their paymaster, Mrs Merkel, will be able to survive allowing the EU to destroy the German car industry and prevent it from taking advantage of the UK’s open market policies.

And it does not require a treaty. The agreement would exist de facto, not de jure. Those who remember the Cold War should remind themselves that the entire country of East Germany was never recognised in English (and other) Law. Yes, we noticed their wall and fence. Yes, we prepared to deal with their armed forces and no doubt expended treasure upsetting their regime – but we did not recognise it as a country. In the same vein, therefore, we simply do not have to recognise the Single Market, just deal with it on tariff free terms.

We can adopt a similar approach to passporting, enabling our financial service industry to operate in the EU but outside their regulation. We just apply a higher level and offer the reciprocal to them. For example, we allow Deutsche Bank, BNP and the rest to continue operating in the UK under (effectively) EU regulation provided that NatWest and HSBC may operate in EU, as they do today. We can also point out that bank operations are largely dominated by the Basle conventions, which are voluntary and global, rather than the EU directives. London is the largest financial market in the world. Paris and Frankfurt don’t even make the top 10 and last time I checked most EU currencies and financial companies desperately need access to the vast pool of capital and expertise that exists in London. Again, we make the offer to the member states who can then instruct the EU apparatus.

Having thus solved the problem of Brexit and evaded the (alleged) downsides the government can then turn to a more serious problem.

It is appalling that there was no contingency planning in place to cover the possibility of a Brexit vote. This is an abject failure by the Civil Service. My understanding is that the Cabinet Secretary, Jeremy Heywood, was instructed to prevent any such preparations from happening by David Cameron, citing a similar (apparently) instruction issued by Gordon Brown in the run up to the Scottish Independence Referendum. It was felt, I understand, that making such preparations risked them leaking and demonstrating that the out option was viable.

The result of this is that since Brexit we have had no clear leadership, no action and no plan. This has directly impacted upon the value of the pound and indeed allowed the development of the hard / soft fallacy. This has done material damage to the economy and could even constitute maladministration – which is (broadly) the crime of deliberately governing badly. Mrs May has already had to remind the Civil Service and government machine that Brexit is Brexit and it will happen. She should now take them to task for their abject failure to prepare. “My political masters told me to do it” is not a defence if the instruction was clearly against the country’s interest.

The government can use the time thus saved to return to the very real problems confronting the country; the deficit, public sector productivity and the rest. They may well find it easier to find solutions now that Brussels plays no part in our law making.

Brexit is Brexit, out is out. Just do it.


Tom Watson MP, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, made a speech yesterday in which one passage explained fully clearly and succinctly the importance of the private sector. His words:

Capitalism, comrades, is not the enemy. Money’s not the problem. Business isn’t bad. The real world is more complicated than that, as any practical trade unionist will tell you. Businesses are where people work. The private sector’s what generates the money to pay for our schools and hospitals.
We can afford the best health service in the world because we are one of the most prosperous countries in the world. That’s a fact and we forget it at our peril. And I don’t say this because it’s what wins elections, I say it because it is true. And people know that it’s true. And that’s why it wins elections.”

He was applauded throughout, in itself strange given the members’ choice of leader.
But of course his problem is that is not what some of the Labour party believes – including its leader, his former consort (the absurd Dianne Abbot) and those who voted for a return to red socialism, state sponsored industry and the other lunacies.

And there you have the dilemma of the Labour Party; one part wedded to socialism – a philosophy that most of the world now realises does not work – and the rest craving power and trying to find a way of achieving that with a tarnished brand, a socialist infrastructure which includes the trade unions, several BBC presenters and assorted class warriors.

What Mr Watson does not understand (or dare not utter) is that capitalism requires free markets – which are a near impossibility under any form of interventionist government, including socialist ones. Note that free markets are not unregulated, the rule of law has to prevail and (as those who have actually read Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations know) the law must prevent monopolies. So socialism and capitalism are incompatible – as any Islington Marxist could have told him.

So it seems that Mr Watson is either a complete charlatan or half way along a path that will lead him to a Damascene conversion to free market capitalism. In his 2015 conference speech he, correctly, identified that small companies with under 10 employees are the lifeblood of the economy and the engine of economic growth, increasing employment and social change. But they are not socialist.

It will be interesting to watch how Mr Watson squares the conflict between his logic and his soul; doublethink is alive and well in the Labour Party. Big Brother would be proud.  Whether Jeremy Corbyn is equally delighted we will find out this afternoon.

Mrs May, it’s time for you to sort out the law for our armed forces

Friday’s Telegraph reported that, on Thursday, Mrs May told Defence Chiefs “to make every effort” to prevent abuse of the legal system by lawyers suing British servicemen over events in Iraq (and, presumably, Afghanistan).

Excellent start, and I hope that the Defence Chiefs immediately cease the current 1,500 investigations, consign them all to the shredder and redeploy the resources to defending the Realm.

However, it is not the role of the Armed Forces to regulate the operation of UK law.

The problem arises because of fears that if the UK does not investigate claims, they may instead be investigated by the UN’s International Criminal Court (although this has never actually happened). This has led the Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, to advise that ceasing the current inquiries might be risky. Mrs May needs to have a word in his ear.

She should start by pointing out that the ICC is a UN body that has less than unanimous support and membership. The USA, Israel, Iraq, China, Russia and India are all not signatories. Why is the UK? (Answer: some deluded concept of ethical foreign policy invented by St Tone). Perhaps we should leave.

She could go on to point out that the UK armed forces are regulated by the Armed Forces Act, passed every 5 years, last time in 2011 and a Bill is currently before Parliament. The Armed Forces Act makes any UK offence an offence under the act. Last time I checked, murder, detention without trial, rape and the rest were all UK offences. The point, therefore, is that the British armed forces are perfectly well regulated. Ask (ex) Sergeant Blackman, who is currently in jail for shooting a prisoner in Afghanistan, or those members of the Army who were prosecuted for failings in Abu Ghraib.

On that basis, she could suggest that Mr Wright mans up, and informs the ICC (and the world) that as far as the UK is concerned its armed forces operate to the highest professional, ethical and legal standards and are perfectly capable of maintaining them.

She might also invite him to note that while MPs have the legal cost of any action against them arising from their duties covered by the State, soldiers have a means-tested form of legal aid. So the MPs who sent them to war are safe from the financial consequences – but Tommy Atkins is not. Perhaps a change to the law is necessary.

Surely she will not have to remind him of the problems of double jeopardy, exacerbated by the evidential problems of dealing with incidents some time ago with an absence of witnesses. Or to point at the ludicrously expensive fiasco of the Saville Enquiry.

She could also point out that the majority of the actions threatened have been brought by two firms. One is already closed (due Legal Aid finding accounting problems). The other, Leigh Day, is under investigation for “irregularities” in the handling of some cases.

While she is at it she should also suggest that the Attorney General reminds the Law Society (the solicitor’s trade union) that the rule of law is not the rule of lawyers. Moreover, she could invite him to point out to them that if access to law is unaffordable, justice is threatened. Perhaps all lawyers should be required to perform (say) 200 hours work per year free, pro bono? Or perhaps Parliament, whose concerns included justice, the law and the economy, should set the rate for all lawyers.

She could end by pointing out that world class armed forces are very rare and hard to replace. Lawyers are three a penny…

NOTE – I am now proud and delighted to be a regular blogger about defence matters on The Conservative Woman  where this post first appeared.  If you like this you may well like some of the other posts on TCW so click here and have a look

Brexit may save the British Army

You may have noticed that there has been a bit of a kerfuffle with the Army being sued for alleged human rights abuses in Iraq – the kerfuffle being that these turned out to be spurious. The relevant firm is now being shut down.

You may not recall that there used to be a thing called Crown Immunity, which was provided by Section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act. This meant that the Crown could not be sued for from actions for death or personal injury caused by members of the British Armed Forces. When the EC incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into EC Law Section 10 was deemed incompatible, and was thus repealed by Saint Tone’s Human Rights Act 1998. Net result, chaos on the battlefield and subsequently in court. Soldiers feel that the society that sends them to war is now penalising them for prosecuting such a war. This is not good for morale, recruitment or retention.
Brexit (when Mrs May gets around to setting it in motion) provides an opportunity to resolve this matter as we will no longer be bound by the ECHR, or indeed any other law that does not originate in and be passed by Parliament. So what laws does one need to control soldiers?

Firstly, some background. Before 1998 the British Army had been in existence for over 300 years, won a substantial number of wars was generally viewed as disciplined and lawful. Repealing Section 10 therefore, like so much of St Tone’s work, solved a problem that did not exist. Warfare is bound by the Geneva (and other conventions) which generally provide for the acceptance and treatment of prisoners and the safety of non-combatants, cultural icons etc. Of course, not all states are signatories and not all wars are between states. But the basic ideas are straightforward and easily interpreted. Note also that orders are only binding if lawful, so “shoot that prisoner” is not a lawful order. This is well understood and is enforced rigorously, as Sergeant Blackman found out.

Surrendering is actually not easy. Standing up on a battlefield is inherently dangerous and white flags are not issued to soldiers. Moreover, there comes a moment when surrender is no longer practically possible and accepting a surrender is equally dangerous, as members of 2 Para found at Goose Green in the Falklands, were a platoon commander was killed as he went forward to accept the surrender of a position waving a white flag.

Outside of general war the situation is more complicated. British troops serving in Ulster had no more rights to kill than anyone else under (then) common law. They were allowed to use lethal force only if a life was in imminent danger and there was no other way of preventing this. This was encapsulated in the Yellow Card, with all soldiers learned and understood by heart. There may or may not have been a breakdown on Bloody Sunday. The Saville Enquiry proved little beyond how much lawyers can charge and how memories of adrenaline fueled people who believe that they are in mortal peril are neither complete nor consistent.

A word on non-combatants. The battlefield is a very dangerous place whether you are armed or not. Mistakes are made, and mistakes with weaponry tend to be fatal to someone. While there is currently media interest in pursuing the perpetrator, the proximate cause is going to war in the first place and that decision lies in Westminster. And a note on scale. It is reckoned that some 116,000 Iraqi non-combatants were killed (by all sides and forces) in the 10 years following the invasion. The coalition was trying to avoid civilian casualties. By comparison, in the three months fighting in France after D Day in June 1944, over 20,000 French non-combatants were killed. (By way of context, the RAF killed more Frenchmen by mistake that the Luftwaffe did Britons on purpose during the Blitz). The point is simple, warfare gets people killed and is most dangerous for non-combatants.

Quite how to evaluate which deaths are collateral damage and which are the result of genocide is a rationalist’s nightmare and a lawyer’s gravy train. Clearly the answer lies in intent. The bombing of Caen in 1944 was intended to facilitate the British forcing the Germans out. It failed in that and killed many French non-combatants. The killing of the non-combatants was not the intention, but was a reasonably predictable side effect. Does that make it criminally reckless? And would that recklessness be more criminal than sending in British troops without the fire support that commanders at the time deemed necessary?

The brutal truth is that there is really only one rule in war; don’t come second.

Who’s Afraid of Fat Boy Kim?

North Korea has always struck me as being quaintly bizarre, a regime so closed that it almost seems to seek a different planet. Thanks to its version of communism North Koreans enjoy a GDP per head of some $1,800, compared to the $36,500 per head of the South Korans. The economy is a basket case, but in spite of this Kim has some 25 nuclear warheads (possibly a hydrogen bomb), chemical weapons, missiles able to hit Japan, China and parts of Russia, the largest Army in the world and the stated intention to develop a missile capable of hitting the United States.
Should we Brits be worried about it? Korea is, after all, on the other side of the world so we’re unlikely to become enmeshed in any direct action – unless the US or Canada is attacked by North Korea and invokes Article 4 of the NATO agreement.
The Korean border remains the most intensely militarised frontier in the world, (remember the Korean War has not ended, they’re is just a 60+ year long ceasefire in place), so a war could start there very quickly. That war would immediately involve the US, which has some 30,000 troops based there. While the North Korean army is huge and its kit generally good (circa Soviet 1990 capability), the terrain is not easy, as was proved last time around. The combination of the formidable South Korean armed forces, backed by the US, is probably too tough for the North Korans to sweep aside in a conventional battle. The use of chemical weapons by the North would be unlikely to confer sufficient tactical benefit to triumph. Which leaves them the choice of stay at home, or roll the dice with nuclear weapons.
Of course, these nuclear weapons prevent, or at least enormously complicate, any attack on North Korea in pursuit of regime change. While such an invasion may have been an interesting option a decade ago, the Iraq and Afghanistan fiascos have dampened enthusiasm for such objectives. In many ways, therefore, the song remains the same. The North cannot invade the South, and vice versa. All the nuclear weapons do is increase the stakes.
Of course, Fat-boy has the option of launching his missiles at nearby cities, with chemical and conventional warheads as well as nuclear ones. But what does that benefit him? Such an attack would deplete his arsenal and invite retaliation, either in kind or (more likely) the incremental destruction of his armed forces by the massively superior technology of the west – akin to the operations over Serbia. It is unlikely that smothering the South in fallout and nerve agent would facilitate invasion, or the benefits of such an invasion. While North Korea is undoubtedly bizarre, it is not irrational.
Whereas the similarly bizarre Albania under Enver Hoxha eased its way into the modern world following Hoxha’s death, North Korea is now on its third generation of Kim. At some point the regime will change, probably as a result of spending unsustainable levels of its GDP on the military (some 16%, which is a similar level to that which eventually broke the Soviet Union). Quite how that will happen is unfathomable, but that will be the time of greatest concern as instability and nuclear weapons are unhealthy partners.
It is increasingly possible to destroy ballistic missiles in flight. The Patriots shooting at Scuds in the 1990 Gulf War were lucky, but technology has moved on. Note that it is significantly harder to hit an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) than tactical / theatre missiles like Scud. (The reasons are both simple, ICBMs fly higher so fall faster, and complicated – some ICBMs are capable of violently evasive actions). North Korea is seeking to develop ICBMs, but most tests have failed – although North Korea has launched satellites. Moscow is “protected” by an anti ICBM system which itself uses nuclear warheads. The US also has a system.
For other ballistic missiles the counters are much more potent. As well as Russia and the US, Israel has several systems; modern anti-aircraft missiles have the capacity.
So, Fat-boy has some nuclear warheads that he can’t deliver with any great certainty of success, a huge army that probably can’t conquer the south and an air-force that is generally reckoned to be unable to protect its own airspace. He is not, therefore, a threat. He would become one if his ICBM worked – as they surely will one day, unless his regime falls apart.
So it’s a case of keep calm and carry on. Rather than worrying about nuclear war, ponder how to help a collapsing authoritarian state change in a stable manner. More wisdom, not more belligerence.

Further Thoughts on Jihadist Terrorists

The UK faces a threat to public safety and public order from suicidal, murderous, home-grown jihadists whose actions are to some extent coordinated by a range of Muslim lunatics labelled ISIL. Other EU states face a similar threat – as does the United States.  As the perpetrators are home-grown the solutions will vary from country to country.  Selfishly perhaps, I am predominantly concerned with the UK.

Continue reading Further Thoughts on Jihadist Terrorists

The thoughts, rants, insights and dissertations of a British man in his fifties.

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