“War mongers are on a course that would lead to war between nuclear powers”
By Simon Fletcher
It is necessary to derail the war mongers who now advocate a course of military deployment that would lead to war between British, US and other Nato forces with Russia. Those hawks ought to be kept at bay if we are to prevent a slide into an even more deadly situation, one that could involve the use of nuclear weapons, with shattering consequences.
Simply because the Nato countries and Russia have nuclear weapons, it will be assumed by some that no side has any interest in doing anything to risk a conflagration. That would be a very dangerous assumption to make, as arguments in recent days have shown.
Pressure for military escalation comes in the shape of the demand for a no-fly zone over Ukraine, from senior figures within the Prime Minister’s own party and from former senior members of the military establishment.
The Tory MP David Davis argued late last week, ‘it is far too late to get boots on the ground but it is not too late to provide air support to the Ukrainian army which may neutralize Putin’s overwhelming armoured superiority’. He added, ‘There are no zero-risk options. If we do not act militarily, then NATO will be significantly weakened and we must fear for the safety of every state that borders Russia.’
Another Tory MP, Tobias Ellwood, raised the proposition that military steps such as a no-fly zone would be necessary. The New Statesman reported: “Given that further military support and economic sanctions will be necessary, he thinks Britain should and must act now [my emphasis]. ‘If we see massacres taking place over Ukraine,’ he adds, ‘there’s actually a UN convention duty of care to step in. The minimum we could do is offer a no-fly zone.’”
Ellwood does not deny that this constitutes a military engagement: “Of course it will put us in direct confrontation with Russia.”
He repeated his call for a no-fly zone in the Mail on Sunday this weekend. Tobias Ellwood is not a minor backbench Tory MP. He is chair of the Defence Select Committee, and a former defence minister.
Last night, Sir Richard Barrons, Commander of the Joint Forces Command 2013-2016 set out a scenario for as soon as Thursday or Friday of this week for the discussion of Nato military power, “perhaps through the sky and definitely against heavy weapons.” Asked by Mark Urban of Newsnight if measures like the enforcement of a no-fly zone would mean we would be going to war with Russia, Barrons was clear, saying “it does mean war with Russia” – before going on to suggest that this could somehow be contained to merely war with Russia in Ukraine only.
As the New Statesman’s senior editor, George Eaton, said in response to Barrons, “isn’t this how World War III starts?”
To understand exactly what a no-fly zone is, retired Gen. Philip Breedlove, who was Nato Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) from 2013 to 2016, explained it to Foreign Policy this weekend:
“the reality of a no-fly zone is, it is an act of war. There are a lot of people who don’t understand no-fly zones. You don’t just say, ‘That’s a no fly zone.’ You have to enforce a no-fly zone, which means you have to be willing to use force against those who break the no-fly zone. The second thing, which nobody understands, is if you put a no-fly zone in the eastern part of Ukraine, for instance, and we’re going to fly coalition or NATO aircraft into that no-fly zone, then we have to take out all the weapons that can fire into our no-fly zone and cause harm to our aircraft. So that means bombing enemy radars and missile systems on the other side of the border. And you know what that means, right? That is tantamount to war. So if we’re going to declare a no-fly zone, we have to take down the enemy’s capability to fire into and affect our no-fly zone. And few understand that. And that’s why, if you talk about a no-fly zone, it is a very sober decision because many in the world would interpret it as an act of war.”
Although Breedlove says he believes a no-fly zone would not happen, he too is a proponent of it. His description of what a no-fly zone means ought to be understood by any British politician who is reckless enough to propose it or any other step that would take us closer to the point of a war between the US, Britain and Nato on the one side and Russia on the other.
So far the British government has rejected actions that would put British fighter aircraft or other military into conflict with Russian forces. Dominic Raab repeated that position this morning. It would be extreme complacency to assume that this will remain. As Barrons’ intervention demonstrates, arguments for direct military measures will continue. Each time a figure such as Barrons, Davis or Ellwood raises it, it will feed the argument.
And Tory Prime Ministers have repeatedly shown they are quite capable of proving highly susceptible to pressure from their own backbenches.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said yesterday that the conflict could take years – if true, in such circumstances there would undoubtedly be numerous crises in which pressure for dangerous military adventures would emerge.
Nor are the Conservatives to be trusted in this crisis any more than at any other time. They have not suddenly discovered competence or judgement. In twenty-four hours this weekend the government chaotically went from Liz Truss suggesting that British citizens should be able to travel to fight in Ukraine, to Number 10 then advising people not to travel there.
Putin has already announced his decision to “transfer the deterrence forces of the Russian army to a special mode of combat duty.”
It is both incredible but also a real danger that war between and Russia and Nato countries could very quickly slide into nuclear conflict.
Between them the US and Russia have near to 12,000 nuclear weapons. The world still commemorates those killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki because the death was so indiscriminate and terrible. That was two bombs.
As militarist momentum builds it has to be mobilised against.
Polling shows a small lead amongst the public for military involvement, with very large numbers of those who say they don’t know. In order to ensure the world does not become embroiled in a cataclysm it’s necessary to win the argument to explain what military involvement really means.
Without countervailing pressure, the other of side of the argument will advance. Any opponent of a build-up to war with Russia will be denounced by some as some sort of adherent of appeasement, or soft on Putin. Unfortunately, that has always been a hazard faced by anyone who disagrees with the most bellicose forces in society. Putin’s invasion is to be opposed. Russian troops should be withdrawn. The war in Ukraine is a disaster for the people of Ukraine. Holding these views does not mean then having to accept the arguments of militarists simply because they bandy around accusations of appeasement.
The bellicose proponents of confrontation between the USA, Britain and Nato with Russia are a threat to us all. We need the biggest possible effort to oppose a drift towards their agenda. The labour movement, as a huge movement for progress in society, should be building to ensure that there is no escalation that spirals out of all control.
Hawks in Britain must be resolutely faced down – there ought to be very strong pressure to prevent any moves towards military adventurism from no-fly zones to ‘boots on the ground’.
- This article was originally published on March 1st, 2022 by Modern Left here.
- You can subscribe to Simon Fletcher’s Modern Left for more analysis, opinions and commentary here.