Saturday 13 January 2024

Is it ever right for the UK to fight against a Muslim country?


The explanation for the British armed forces involvement in attacking the Houthis in Yemen is more straightforward and essentially the same as our involvement in every other war since 1990. We have an alliance with the United States and our main foreign policy goal is to maintain that alliance even if it is one sided. If the Americans had not attacked the Houthis, neither would we have done anything, but that goes for Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and all the other wars.  

There is nothing for parliament to discuss as the decision was not ours.


It's a remarkable state of affairs given the history of the UK and USA from 1775 to 1875. We fought against the Americans from 1775 to 1783 and then again from 1812 to 1815 and came quite close to war in 1861 because of the Trent Affair. But all of this history has been pretty much forgotten or is treated as a sort of family joke. Ha ha ha, you threw our tea in the harbour.

Compare and contrast the situation in Scotland where the SNP has a lump of the Stone of Scone in a cupboard because some Scots still resent that it was stolen by the wicked English in 1296. Compare also Ireland that still blames the UK for everything that has happened in the past thousand years including their ability to speak English.

So, let’s be clear the UK did not go to war with Saddam Hussein either in the First Gulf War because Iraq invaded Kuwait, or in the Second Gulf War because of his alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction, which he no doubt didn’t have or at least didn’t have by then. The American decide that it was in their strategic interest to go to war and manufactured a reason for doing so. We decided that it was in our strategic interest to ally with the Americans and manufactured a reason also. It is na├»ve not to realise that this is how it works.

There is a case for looking at Britain’s primary foreign policy goal of allying with the USA which has existed since at least the extraordinary alliance that succeeded in winning World War Two. It has long been one way traffic. Biden is hostile to the UK and our interests, but still expects an alliance in return, but even a US president more friendly towards Britain would treat our interests as at best subordinate and at worst a matter of indifference. The French get a better deal because their support is not automatic.

They may be cheese eating surrender monkeys, but they get more respect than we do from the cousins.

But worse on reflection it is hard to think of a single war since 1789 in which Britain’s involvement has benefited Britain.

We could have made a deal with Napoleon, you let us trade freely and you can capture whoever you want on the continent. It makes no difference to us.

We could have said it is a matter of indifference to us who rules Crimea or who can sail in or out of the Black Sea and indeed we couldn’t care less if the Ottoman Empire continues or collapses.

There is no question that neither Britain nor its empire was directly threatened by Germany in 1914. If we had decided not to defend Belgium and France, it is likely that both would have been defeated in 1914 or 1915. But this would have damaged Britain no more than Prussia’s triumph over France in 1871. Russia in that case may have avoided defeat and the Bolshevik Revolution, Germany may never have moved onto Nazism.

The UK gained nothing from the First World War, but instead lost vast numbers of young men, much of its wealth and power and faced its own revolution in 1916 which may otherwise not have happened at all.

So too the UK was not directly threatened in 1939. If Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland could keep out of the Second World War we certainly could have also. With the Royal Navy protecting us, Germany would have been happy to leave Britain alone. Hitler’s interest was eastwards not westwards.

The result of the Second World War for Britain was austerity, impoverishment and the loss of empire. We fought for Burma, Singapore, India and Malaya but lost them anyway. We helped liberate Western Europe but gained no lasting thanks or indeed friendship because of it. Look at how the EU treated us after 2016.

So too with every large-scale war since 1945. We gained nothing from our involvement in Korea or Malaya or Kenya. In more recent years we would have been better off or at least no worse off if we had gone nowhere near Afghanistan Iraq and Yugoslavia.

That’s the argument for Not in My Name. It largely applies to the Americans also.

The United States did not need to become involved in the First World War. It gained more power and influence because of its involvement, but there was no prospect of Germany invading the United States. But America entering the First World War was arguably decisive for the outcome.

So too the United States could have decided to defeat Japan alone in 1941. It was not threatened by Germany. The Second World War certainly increased American wealth, power and influence, but in terms of self-interest it could have let Germany and the Soviet Union fight it out without doing anything.

The United States likewise could have done nothing in response to the threat of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It could have focussed on defending itself without concern for Europe, Japan or anywhere else. The result would likely be at worst that the Soviet Union defeated the democracies in Europe at best that the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact still existed.

This is the problem with arguing for intervention or non-intervention. I may not be able to think of a single war which involved Britain which was in our narrow national self-interest, but I strongly suspect that the world would be much worse if for the past two hundred years we had listened to Not in My Name and done nothing.

We have no idea what would have happened if we had not been involved in previous wars, because we were involved. I may argue that the likely result of the UK not getting involved in World War Two in 1939 was either the complete triumph of Hitler or Stalin, but this is unknowable.

Counterfactual arguments are only even hypotheses. Perhaps the result of the UK not fighting in 1914 would have been better for us and the world, but it equally might have been unimaginably worse. We will never know. Counterfactual historical arguments are bunk.

No one can predict the future. With hindsight I might argue that the UK’s involvement in some recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan achieved nothing and made things worse. But the people who decided to go to war didn’t know that. Their goals were to remove tyranny, lessen strategic threats to our interests and to improve the situation of the people in these countries. They failed, but perhaps next time they will succeed.

Failure in the past is not an argument for doing nothing in the future. If it were, we would never try anything again.

Britain doesn’t need to go to war, but the argument you need to make for non-intervention has nothing whatsoever to do international law, weapons of mass destruction or all of the other issues that never did concern the decision to fight. If you want the UK not to have a close alliance with the USA, then say so but accept that this will make the biggest difference to our international relations since 1945.

The threat to the UK’s security is different from what it was in 1914 and 1939. If we want Europe to remain free from tyranny, we have to contribute just as we did previously because Russia still remains a threat. China is a bigger threat militarily because it has a first-rate economy that we depend on while we bought nothing from the Soviet Union. But it may be possible to contain China because the Chinese remain rational in a way that Putin isn’t. Make the consequences of attacking Taiwan unpleasant enough and we can hope that the Chinese will back off.

The biggest difference between now 1914 and 1939 can be seen in the fact that the two politicians who have objected to UK military action against the Houthis each have family connections in Gaza and that it is for the sake of Gaza that the Houthis are attacking ships in the Red Sea.

The problem with the radical Islam of the kind that the Houthis represent is that it is not a threat in some far away place of which we know nothing. We have so to speak imported Czechoslovakia here in a way that was unimaginable in 1938. There is no longer the option of doing nothing because the potential threat is right here and right now. 

The problem is that many think that it is never right for the UK to fight Muslims and some will fight us if we do. We have never been in this situation before.


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