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The London Libertarian

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Commentary and debate on politics, economics and culture from a libertarian perspective. To Libertarian Alliance Website >

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An Ethical Foreign Policy

Defence Posted on Sun, February 22, 2015 19:07:13

Someone once wrote, “At the high level, the UK’s first national interest must be to promote the prosperity, peace and happiness of UK citizens.” I agree. So let’s take a scientific attitude and look at those countries whose foreign policy has been most successful in doing this for their citizens. After all, if we wanted to decide on an economic policy, we should look to emulate those countries which had been the most economically successful.

I would contend that the two most successful European countries in promoting the peace and prosperity of their citizens were Sweden and Switzerland. Over the last 100 years, when literally millions of Europeans have been slaughtered in various conflicts, I doubt if more than a handful of Swiss or Swedish citizens have lost their lives in conflict. Both these countries also enjoy a high standard of living with Switzerland probably the wealthiest country in the world.

So what is the foreign policy which performs this trick? Quite simply put, the Swiss and Swedes mind their own business as far as is humanly possible. They even managed to stay out of the two world wars. If the UK were to do this for the next 100 years, it’s a strong possibility that it and not Switzerland would be the wealthiest country in the world.

In any case, I raise a glass to 2015 as the first year for a very long time that British troops were not engaged in a conflict somewhere in the world.

Ukrainian Resolution

Current Affairs Posted on Sat, February 21, 2015 10:51:49

NATO has received a well-deserved trouncing in the Ukraine and the coup d’état organised to overthrow the democratically elected government of President Yanukovich has spectacularly backfired. This result is in line with other recent examples of Western foreign policy in the Middle East, so we can detect a certain continuity here. The wish to bring Ukraine into NATO must now be put on hold.

When the residents of the Donbass region rose in revolt because their Ukrainian government had been overthrown by force, the leaders of the Kiev putsch decided to continue the use force and brutally crush them. Thus we saw a stand-off between Kiev backed by the West and the Donbass rebels back by Russia. Why has this turned out to be such a fiasco for the West? Two main reasons can be detected.

First, NATO’s tried and tested method of gentle persuasion, the bombing campaign, could scarcely be employed in the Ukraine. What had been used with such alacrity in Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria could scarcely be ventured against Russia. True, Russia can be bombed, but it was also possible for Russia to bomb back. Russia is not a militarily ineffectual Third World country and in Putin, NATO must have known they were dealing with a man who could not be trifled with. Hence the hysterical fist waving in the Western media whenever Putin’s name is mentioned.

But the second reason is, in my opinion, the more important and interesting. There are a number of countries in the EU who want and benefit from good relations with Russia and do not share the present US obsession with weakening Russia at every opportunity. The most prominent of these is Germany which is Russia’s most significant trading partner. I doubt whether Merkel was consulted on the policy to destabilise the Ukrainian government. Certainly, she must be hopping mad as to how the Ukrainian stand-off has so badly damaged Russo-German relations. It’s clear she wanted the Ukrainian problem fixed and German differences with the US on this matter are not just ‘tactical’ as Obama recently fondly maintained. US and EU interests do not always coincide and the Ukraine crisis acts as a big red flag to both parties.

Ukraine: Game, Set and Match to Russia

Current Affairs Posted on Wed, April 02, 2014 17:50:59

Nico Metten in his blog A Libertarian look at what is going on in Crimea wonders why Libertarians should bother about the conflict in the Ukraine at all. I can think of two excellent reasons.

As rational, thinking individuals we are bound take note of significant events in the outside world. Particularly interesting are those events where a large section of official opinion seems to hold views which bear no relation to what is actually going on anywhere. By ‘official opinion’ here, I mean not just the utterances of politicians, always to be taken with a warehouse full of salt. I also include the media outlets and the academies which in the West have always trumpeted their independence from government.

A government in the Ukraine is overthrown by force of arms and its president has to flee for his life. In the present world, such a happening is hardly a unique occurrence. What is remarkable is that the Western media should present this as a ‘victory for democratic forces’. The recent overthrow by the military in Egypt of the elected President Morsi was presented as what it was – a coup d’etat which favoured Western interests, but a coup d’etat nevertheless. Why can’t the guys who took power in Kiev receive the same treatment, especially when they have amongst their number, some with distinctly unsavoury and violent political leanings? Why couldn’t the Western media outlets ask the ‘democratic forces’ in the Ukraine to wait one more year for the actual democratic election which was then due?

One reason could be that the Western media are congenitally incapable of seeing any revolution which overthrows an imperfect government as other than a marvellous happening and a brave new dawn. When, a couple of years ago, the media were enjoying wet ecstasies about the ‘Arab Spring’ (henceforth to go down in the history books as the ‘Arab Winter’) it was not difficult to see trouble looming. A passing acquaintance with the history of previous revolutions should have cooled journalistic ardour. Most people can see that war is damaging to a society. It kills people, destroys capital and disrupts the productive forces on which civilised existence depends. But what does a revolution do? It kills people, destroys capital and disrupts the productive forces on which civilised existence depends! And it often leads on to a civil war. England, France and Russia have all had revolutions which became civil wars and the Ukraine will count itself lucky if it avoids a similar fate. The violent seizure of power is the same, whether it is conducted by the military in Cairo or Western-backed idealists in the centre of Kiev.

One of the first acts of the new government in Kiev was to propose the abolition of Russian as an official language in the Ukraine. Given that there are many Russian speakers in the east of that country, this was not the most auspicious start from the revolutionaries. Alexander Solzhenitsyn accepted that, after the Soviet experience, many Western Ukrainians had been permanently alienated from Russia. However, he thought that if the Western Ukrainians wanted a state sharply differentiated from Russia, they too must recognise the rights of the Ukrainian Russian speakers east of the Dnieper.

Is it any wonder that Russians in the Crimea, puzzled by a democratic putsch in Kiev, frightened by the prospect of anti-Russian measures, decided to put Solzhenitsyn’s musings into action? Why would they not choose union with Russia in preference to a government of dubious leanings which actively disliked them? For the media to present the result of the referendum in Crimea as an undesirable annexation, when the mass of Crimeans clearly regarded it as a liberation, is one more perplexing episode in this sorry saga. For the UK government, which has elevated national self-determination to a religious principle in the Falklands and Scotland, to take this line must strike many as strange.

But to insult people’s intelligence is not the most important achievement of the Western politicians and their media flunkies when dealing with the Ukraine crisis. Before 1989, NATO fulfilled an honourable role when it prevented the spread of a backward and barbarous political system into Western Europe. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO powers have become one of the most destabilising factors in the present international system.

It could have all been done differently. In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet system, a case could have been made for the disbandment of NATO along with the Warsaw Pact. More likely, NATO could have remained a Western European alliance with the old Eastern Bloc countries assuming a political status similar to Finland and Austria; neutral, but leaning in their political and economic systems to the West. A third option has been chosen. NATO has expanded to include all the former countries of the Warsaw Pact and short-range missiles have been installed along the Russian border. This was precisely the kind of act which prompted Kennedy to risk nuclear war with the Soviet Union in 1962.

Now, it was one thing for NATO powers over the last 15 years to bomb Third World countries such as Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. It was another thing to desire to bomb Syria but have that cup so cruelly dashed from their lips. But it is a something else to play ducks and drakes with Russia. After the failed invasion of South Ossetia in 2008, orchestrated by the Georgian President and Western satrap Mikheil Saakashvili, it should have been clear that Russia would not permit acts of gross impertinence on its borders. Ukraine is yet another reminder that when the NATO powers push, the Russians were prepared to push back. Like Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya the Russians were prepared to take it. Unlike those powers, the Russians would also be able to hand it out.

And this explains the almost hysterical mouthings of the Western politicians to the entirely predictable Russian reaction. But merely repeating one hundred times that Mr Putin is a nasty man will not get them what they want. Neither will endless finger wagging. Still less will the list of footling sanctions trumpeted by the West prevent one Russian oligarch from purchasing the flat of his dreams in Belgravia.

NATO politicians know that to get what they want, they would have to bomb Russia and that this is fraught with danger. At that point public opinion in the West would have to wake up and ask why their representatives were messing around in Russia’s backyard. It was one thing to send the light brigade to their doom 160 years ago:

Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.

But why would the rest of us want to ride into the ‘valley of Death’ for the Crimea in 2014?

So NATO have wisely decided to bluster and fold on the Ukraine. How they must be laughing in the Kremlin and how I laughed with them.

Nelson Mandela

Current Affairs Posted on Sat, December 07, 2013 20:32:36

I had barely recovered from the programmes commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Kennedy. Did the events in Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963 deny us a great man in the making or was Kennedy, as I had hitherto naively thought, merely a middling president? Just as I was trying to get my head around this conundrum, Nelson Mandela died and the world went mad.

That the greatest statesman of the 20th century has just died seems to be the view of most of the media. Really? What about Deng Xiaoping who around 1980 began the reforms which would turn China into an economic giant and 30 years later bring a British Prime Minister to Shanghai to kowtow for trade favours? What about Konrad Adenauer and Ludwig Erhard who inherited a smoking ruin of a country and turned West Germany into the second most powerful economy in the world by 1965?

Mandela’s moral authority amongst black South Africans was unparalleled. His great achievement was to bring about reconciliation and national unity in South Africa and in this he was more successful than many thought possible. But don’t forget that this was the sensible thing to do and the avoidance of vendetta was something which had been practised successfully in most of Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

As chief executive of South Africa, Mandela was rather less successful. According to David Blair in an article for the Daily Telegraph, Mandela’s cabinets were stuffed with time servers. His first foreign minister, Alfred Nzo, had great difficulty in the simplest tasks and soon lapsed into almost total inactivity. Mandela appointed his wife, Winnie, to a junior ministerial post in 1994. Soon, she was accused of a remarkable array of offences and he was forced to sack her after only one year. “There was a notable lack of decisiveness about Mandela’s administration,” wrote Martin Meredith in his otherwise friendly biography. “[There was] a lack of urgency in determining priorities and tackling them, a tendency to let government business drift.”

Some of Mandela’s judgements could be quite quirky. He praised Muammar Gaddafi for his “commitment to the fight for peace and human rights in the world.” Of Fidel Castro’s Cuba, he said, “There’s one thing where that country stands out head and shoulders above the rest. That is in its love for human rights and liberty.” Not everyone would agree.

The story of Mandela is the story of the national liberation struggle as it has been waged so many times over the last 60 or so years. But this time there was something different. Like Mandela, Jomo Kenyatta was imprisoned before he became President of Kenya. Like Mandela, Kenyatta consistently asked white settlers not to leave Kenya and supported reconciliation. He did all the things that Mandela did, but he did them too soon. Kenyatta died in 1978 and the world did not go mad. Political Correctness had yet to become a major political force in the West, and white racism was not yet held by many to be the greatest evil of the time. Now it is and a great PC icon has died. The old Roman saying, De mortuis nihil nisi bonum (“Of the dead, nothing unless good.”) can never have been in greater demand than at this moment.