The duplicity of British politicians condemning Russia in Syria but supporting the Saudi bombing of Yemen is revolting, argues Lindsey German
The announcement by Michael Fallon last week that an increased number of British troops will be sent to the Baltic state of Estonia is the latest ratchet in a conflict which threatens to repeat the tensions and threats of military action during the cold war.
This deployment of British troops, an increase to 800 from the original 500 promised for next spring, is in fact the largest since the Berlin Wall came down. The soldiers will be stationed at a base only 100 miles from the Russian border, and are estimated to be the start of a permanent presence there.
In addition, RAF Typhoon aircraft will be sent to Romania for four months as part of Nato deployment. This military escalation comes against a background of growing conflicts rooted in a number of issues. Chief of these is the war in Syria where Russia is intervening on the side of President Bashar al-Assad and the Nato forces are intervening against him.
Russia has been bombing in Syria for over a year, most notably in Aleppo where it has been responsible for many civilian deaths. Russia’s interventions in support of Assad must be condemned. There can be no justification for the Russian bombing which has included attacks on schools and hospitals.
But it is deceitful and hypocritical to pretend that Nato members are not also intervening in this war with deadly consequences. The war began as a rising against the Assad government five and a half years ago but rapidly became a civil war in which most of the major world and regional powers have intervened on one side of the other — a situation which helped militarise the conflict.
The Syrian civil war now resembles the bloody 30 years’ war of the 17th century in that there are so many conflicting powers that the repeated “peace deals” fail because so many have an interest in prolonging the conflict.
The atmosphere of military rivalry between Russia and the West which has grown in recent years was exemplified in the recent press furore when a Russian fleet destined for the Mediterranean sailed through the English Channel — a perfectly legal thing to do and one regulated by international agreements but which was met by press and government hysteria.
Pressure was put on the Spanish government not to allow the fleet to refuel in its North African colony of Ceuta on the grounds that the fleet was heading for Syria and that as a Nato member Spain should sanction Russia.
There are other reasons for the tensions between Russia and the West. One is the lack of trust which has existed following the Libya bombing in 2011 when Russia and China agreed to a no-fly zone only to see it turn into an operation for regime change.
Central too, are the divisions in eastern Europe, which spilled over during the war in Ukraine. These have their roots in the expansion of Nato which has gone alongside and exceeded EU enlargement over the past decade and a half.
This process is not over. Nato membership is being pursued in the former Yugoslav countries of Croatia and Bosnia — which will be resisted by Russian ally Serbia. It is claimed by Nato leaders that this enlargement and the troop deployment in Estonia are about defence but this is a travesty of Nato’s role, which has been increasingly expansive and aggressive since the end of the cold war.
The truth is that Russia’s territorial and military might is a fraction of what it was then. And while under Putin there has been an increase in military spending, Russia’s weight militarily and territorially is far, far below that of its Nato opponents.
As always with war, the people who suffer most from this are the ordinary people themselves. This is clear in Syria where they are caught in the middle of the conflict, their lives ruined by it and often facing death or the prospect of fleeing. Already 5 million are estimated to be refugees. Civilians are being killed on both sides.
One would hardly know this from the public pronouncements of politicians. They claim that their warmongering saves lives and there are widespread calls for a no-fly zone to restrict Russian and Syrian planes — a move which would not bring peace but would lead to a military escalation of the war and the probability of an overt conflict with Russia.
That even this can be considered a possibility demonstrates what a failure the recent cycle of interventions has been. Every single one of them has been a disaster and caused havoc for the people of the countries concerned.
The British role in these conflicts has been excoriated in a series of official reports over the past few months — most famously in the Chilcot report on Iraq but also the parliamentary select committees which have strongly criticised David Cameron’s role over Libya and over the intervention in Syria agreed in last December’s Commons vote.
The revolting spectacle of more than 100 Labour MPs abstaining (few with good reason) on a motion which would have suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia over human rights breaches in Yemen demonstrates yet again how much most MPs repeatedly adopt a war and military agenda.
The British Parliament appears addicted to war, despite widespread public opposition. The hypocrisy of backing the Saudis while claiming concern for human rights in the region should be more widely recognised. We should remember this vote the next time we are asked to back yet another bombing campaign in Syria, Iraq or anywhere else.
The latest troop deployment in eastern Europe cannot be separated from the Middle East war and the need for Western imperialism to assert its dominance. But we should consider for a minute what war would mean in eastern Europe. It would be a war between Russia and its allies and the Nato powers. A war which would likely engulf a number of countries and several nuclear powers. The prospect is too horrible for any sensible person to contemplate.
Yet there are too many politicians who seem to want just that. Nato spokesmen are constantly invoking a greater need for “defence.” In Britain, the Tory government wants to maintain its role post-Brexit at least in part through its military power, hence the commitment to greater spending on the military. Putin relies on nationalism as a means of bolstering his support. We face a US election where, whichever candidate is elected, the appetite for military aggression is likely to grow. Remarkably, there is a strong bipartisan approach from Washington think tanks which want more intervention internationally once Obama departs the scene.
What starts out with small numbers of troops or aircraft being deployed on foreign soil can all too easily escalate into major conflict. It is essential we stem the drift to war.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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