Adrian Lee: Nord Stream 2. How Russia could turn off half Germany’s gas supply – and so threaten our collective security.

21 Jun

Adrian Lee is a Solicitor-Advocate in London, specialising in criminal defence, and was twice a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate.

Some political issues – such as Climate Change, female circumcision and African debt relief – become truly internationalised over the passage of time. Gatherings of world leaders see these subjects set high on the agenda for discussion and the press released closing statements at such events are dominated by worthy platitudes calling for greater global action.

By contrast, other matters with the potential to change the world order draw far less attention. One issue that has largely failed to focus the comment of the media pack is the imminent opening of the Nord Steam 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

On the Friday 11th June – ironically, the very day that the G7 leaders arrived in Cornwall – commissioning works to fill the pipeline with gas began. Whilst many have vaguely heard of the controversy, few realise the possible impact of Nord Stream 2 upon the defence of the United Kingdom.

Nord Steam 2 starts at Vyborg in Russia, threads its way through the Baltic Sea, passing Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, and terminates in Griefswald, Germany.

Few would dispute that the project represents a triumph of modern engineering. Like its already operational predecessor, Nord Stream 1, this underwater marvel has the capacity to pump approximately 55 billion cubic metres of natural gas per year from Russia directly into Germany.

Even before the fuel starts pumping down the new line, Germany has already attained the status of the world’s largest user of natural gas, 94 per cent of which has to be imported, and 40 per cent of that total is supplied by Putin’s Russia.

Dependency upon this particular source is likely to increase significantly in the near future, as the so-called “Energiewende” policy announced in 2010 has already terminated most of Germany’s nuclear power, with the remaining six reactors scheduled to be phased out by 2022. When this plan was first trumpeted, the German government was confident that “renewables” would make up for the loss of nuclear power, but alas this has yet to transpire and consequently the wheels of German industry are more dependent on natural gas than ever before. No wonder then that Germany has some of the highest energy prices in the world and that the average German consumer has to pay double the cost of the equally average American.

Nord Stream 2 AG is owned by Gazprom, a Russian state-owned company, and its CEO is one Matthias Warnig, a former intelligence officer in the East German Stasi. The main source of the natural gas for the pipeline can be found in the Yuzhno-Russhoye field, located in Krasnoselkupsky, Tyumen Oblast. When one realises that oil and gas are responsible for more than 60 per cent of Russia’s exports and provide over 30% of the country’s GDP, you can understand why the Kremlin is so enthusiastic about this project. Russia certainly intends to make a lot of money out of wealthy Germany and is therefore not planning to suspend supplies, but should she feel the need to do so in the future, she faces no legal obstacle, as Russia is not a signatory to the 1991 Energy Charter Treaty, that provided safeguards to supply.

Why should Britain be concerned about this Russo-German oil deal? Well, mainly because of the military dimension. Sweden and Poland have voiced grave concerns about the Russian Navy using Nord Stream 2’s presence as a pretence for increased military intelligence gathering and intensified patrolling in the Baltic Sea. However, there is a much greater reason for worry.

NATO has been the cornerstone of the West’s defence for seven decades and, until the end of 1991, the main strategic opponent of NATO was the USSR. Following the collapse of Soviet Communism, the organisation changed its emphasis to the broad founding principle of collective security. In other words, an attack on one member is an attack on all – hence the participation of European NATO members in the Afghanistan theatre after 9/11.

The Russian war with Georgia in 2008, the protracted conflict over the Ukraine since 2014 and the Russian intervention in the Syrian civil war refocused NATO’s attention on the increasing threat from the east. The 2016 NATO Summit, held in Warsaw, set the conditions for the establishment of an enhanced “Forward Presence” in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to strengthen the line against Russian forces.

There are currently 900 British military personnel in these states, along with allies from France and Denmark. There can be no doubt that Putin’s Russia is today the main threat to NATO on the European continent.

Since the inception of NATO, the involvement of Germany (originally West Germany) has been pivotal. Prior to 1989, Germany formed the frontline and prospective battlefield in any conflict, contributed an effective military force and provided a permanent base for US and British forces.

During recent decades ,it is arguable that Germany’s attention has turned towards the costly projects of re-building the old GDR territories and pushing for a federal Europe but, geographically, the country provides a vital link with the eastern NATO members in terms of supply. An effective NATO without wholehearted German participation remains unthinkable.

Unfortunately, Germany’s armed forces are currently in a pretty parlous state. Despite the pressure from the Trump Administration, Germany is yet to come close to contributing the two per cent of GDP agreed by all NATO countries in 2006. She only spent 1.2 per cent of GDP in 2019.

No surprise, then, that Germany’s arsenal is so decrepit. The main battle tank, the Leopard 2, entered service in 1979 and, of the 183 that the German state possesses, only 101 are estimated to be operational.

In 2014, it was reported that a significant number of German military aircraft were “unserviceable”. In terms of assault aircraft, Germany possesses 60 aging Tornados and 141 Eurofighters. However, it has been claimed that only half of these are airworthy, and one estimate states that just 12 of the Tornados are currently operational. Recently, Germany has ordered another 38 Eurofighters, but they are hardly likely to make the Russians quake in their flying boots.

By contrast, since 2012, Russian ground forces have received more than 15,500 pieces of weapons systems and equipment, twelve missile regiments have been rearmed with Yars ICBM’s and 10 missile brigades with Iskander tactical ballistic missile systems.

Overall, Russian has a million active-duty personnel in its armed forces, 2,300 modern battle tanks, 1,200 new helicopters and assault planes, 50 state of the art surface ships, 28 submarines and a 100 shiny new satellites for communication, command and control. Vladimir Putin spends 4.3 per cent of GDP on the Russian armed forces – in part thanks to the healthy financial contribution made by his trading partner Germany.

Under the circumstances, we are surely entitled to ask whether Germany’s commitment to NATO is likely to remain as wholehearted in the era of Nord Stream 2. Is Germany really going to go out on a limb for, say, the Baltic States and Poland when, at the turn of a tap Russia could cut off over half of her energy supply? Or is Germany gradually going to slide down the road to a slightly more neutralist position in the years ahead – to paraphrase William Hague “In NATO, but not run by NATO.”

One thing is for certain: in the absence of an effective backup plan for energy supply to Germany in the event of conflict with Russia, Angela Merkel’s government has handed Putin the ability to paralyse her country, and potentially the whole of western defence.

Garvan Walshe: Lukashenko’s air piracy. By way of western response, sanctions are only a start. Here’s what we need to do next.

27 May

Garvan Walshe is a former national and international security policy adviser to the Conservative Party

Alexander Lukashenko has stopped pretending he’s anything better than a gangster. Roman Protasevich was paraded on TV after his kidnapping with visible bruises. The message is clear: we grabbed him, we tortured him – and we don’t care what you think. He might as well have taken out that AK–47 he’s fond of carrying ,and screamed: “what are you going to do about it, punk?”

But what, indeed, are we going to do about it? International opinion is coalescing around a set of economic sanctions, and the US, EU, UK and other diplomats are working out the details. It could usefully be accompanied by a coordinated expulsion of Belarussian diplomats by all NATO members, just as Russian diplomats were expelled following the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal. This is the minimum that can be expected, and will provide a modest deterrent against other small regimes contemplating something similar.

It is nowhere near enough.

While twentieth century dictatorships consolidated power by cutting themselves off from the democratic world, in the twenty first they exploit globalisation to corrupt democracies. They think we’re too greedy, fond of a quiet life, or exhausted after 20 years fighting Islamist terrorism to impose costs on dictators.

Mention of the latter pre-9/11 suggests a parallel today. Just as in the case of Al-Qaeda, which had bombed a US barracks in Saudi Arabia, attacked the USS Cole destroyer, and whose precursor made the first attempt to level the World Trade Center in 1996, we have ignored warnings about a significantly greater threat to peace and security, because facing the truth was inconvenient.

We made the mistake of hoping that tit-for-tat reprisals against Islamist attacks would be sufficient, when we needed to work out how to marginalise and sideline the full spectrum of Islamist activity. After 20 years of trial, and (considerable) error, we’ve settled on a combination of measures, from military strikes through humanitarian aid, counter-extremism prevention, and education progammes at the soft end. We came to understand that we had to neutralise the Islamists’ strategic aim to build theocratic dictatorships, and not merely blunt their tactics.

Lukashenko, Putin and Xi Jinping want to destabilise and weaken the West by undermining the system of international norms we’ve built up since 1945. They take advantage of our naivety. We made the mistake of letting countries without democratic politics and rule of law into the system by pretending to ourselves that the economic integration would be to make them liberal. This exposed our societies to infiltration by emboldened autocracies instead.

They have put a former German Chancellor and a Scottish First Minister on their payroll, have gained access to critical nuclear and telecommunications infrastructure, and broadcast their propaganda and disinformation on our airwaves. They use the openness of our free market system against us, by operating through front organisations (The gory details of the Russian element to this can be found in Catherine Belton’s excellent Putin’s People). The well-known abuse of social media platforms with fake accounts are just an extension of this technique. Lukashenko’s abuse of counter-terrorism protocols to dupe the Ryanair flight into landing, and then seizing Protasevich, is from the same playbook.

Our mistake was to extend the deeper elements Western of international cooperation, which relied on a sense of shared interest in keeping the system together, to countries that want not merely to free-ride on that system, but actually pull it apart.

This now needs to be reconfigured to deal separately with trusted and untrusted states. Trusted states can be kept within the system, but untrusted states need to be let in only on more sceptical terms. The automatic snap-back sanctions in the JCPOA Iran Deal are an example of mechanisms that could be used. The China Research Group proposed taking a similar stance in its Defending Democracy in a new world report (in which I was involved). Flows of foreign investment, support for think tanks, universities, and other forms of influence need to be brought under heavier scrutiny. Real “beneficial owners” need to be identified, and intelligence capability be built so this goes beyond a box-ticking compliance exercise. Media backed, directly or indirectly, by regimes that restrict media freedom should be denied broadcast licenses.

We need to consider whether we have adequate intelligence capability to keep tabs on influence by twenty-first century autocracies, and to protect our citizens and residents from their extraterritorial operations. One wonders whether Greek security services, for example, had any idea of the Belarussian KGB’s plot to kidnap Protasevich. Protecting democratic opponents of these regimes ought now become a priority for Western security agencies.

Belarus’s air piracy should be a wake-up call for the Western alliance. Just like twenty-first century terrorism, twenty-first century authoritarianism doesn’t stay within its own borders. Keeping it out of ours and those of our allies has become a matter of highest importance.

James Frayne: The Government has the chance to sell an optimistic, ambitious narrative for Britain

25 May

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

The mass of the public don’t debate philosophical questions like “what sort of a country are we going to be post-Brexit?” They consume the comment pages of the media and the dinner tables of the political class, but that’s about it.

This doesn’t mean such questions aren’t politically or electorally important; the answers to these questions are ultimately heard by ordinary people across the country as they come to shape the overall climate in which all political issues are discussed.

Immediately after the referendum, the prevailing mood in politics and the media was that the vote to leave the EU was an act of massive economic, social, and cultural self-harm. The leave vote was presented as a populist, backward-looking, narrow-minded backlash led by those that had been “left behind”.

Even committed eurosceptics were losing their nerve a couple of years after the vote; this view would would likely have become an orthodox political view had Theresa May not been replaced by Boris Johnson, who immediately set about correcting this false impression. We have come a long way in a short space of time.

So, what is the answer to the question: what sort of country we’re going to be?

These narratives are built ultimately on a small number of significant events – which are ultimately stitched together into a coherent story which makes sense retrospectively and which helps chart a course for the years ahead. We won’t and can’t know which will dominate for a while and there are many positive and negative options that might form. It’s certainly possible that further relative decline will follow.

However, we should consider this: there is an emerging case that Britain – or, more accurately, an English-led union – could become an internationalist, confident, fast-moving and innovative medium-sized power. Let’s look a series of significant events.

  • Firstly, there was the vote to leave the EU. No, this emphatically wasn’t a self-conscious pivot by leave voters towards a Global Britain; it was more narrowly focused on border control and public service protection; but it was nonetheless arguably the act of a confident public, not one that was apathetic or frightened.
  • Secondly, in some ways more remarkably, there was the vote, via the 2019 election, to see the job through and get Brexit done. As I note above, given the prevailing climate in the media and politics, it was staggering the polls didn’t move further against Brexit in this timeframe.
  • Thirdly, there was the decision to go our own way on a national vaccination strategy amid vast external criticism. Again, this took courage and the results have been stunning.
  • Fourthly, there was the decision to offer Hong Kong residents a pathway to live and work in the UK – with the tacit support of the public. This has unsurprisingly been underplayed by most of the media and the activist class on social media but it’s of huge significance.
  • Fifthly, it appears the Government is going to set aside the opposition of the NFU and offer Australia a superb trade deal. The Government might put free trade ahead of sectoral concern. (We’ll see where this ends).

Yes, I’ve ignored a lot; the above is cherry-picked deliberately and I don’t make great claims for national renewal here. My point is narrower: there are a number of different directions the country might go in – and many competing narratives that describe our trajectory and help the country go in a particular direction. But one of these potential narratives is towards this confident, risk-taking, international country.

If the Government wasn’t bogged down in Covid recovery, we might have seen various politicians (the PM included) make such a case. There have been flashes of it visible here and there in the last year or so.

But this all takes us to Scotland.

It is becoming increasingly clear the future of the union between England and Scotland is at least at serious risk. It’s not just the polling numbers; election after election has entrenched the SNP in power. While it’s possible Scottish voters draw a distinction between who they want to govern Scotland and the broader issue of whether they want to be in the UK, let’s be honest: it doesn’t look good. It’s hard to be a single, unified country when nearly a half of one part of it seems desperate to leave.

But what does this risk-taking, confident English-led union tell itself about the future of the union? That we’ll be finished if Scotland votes to leave? That it’ll be a historic catastrophe? That Johnson or whoever the unlucky Prime Minister happens to be at the break-up is the modern equivalent of Lord North?

The English don’t want to hear – and will be annoyed by – the idea that it’ll be the end of the world if we don’t have a union with Scotland. And we surely can’t tell the rest of the world that our entire future depends on what Scotland chooses.

The Government faces a conundrum. On the one hand, it needs to speak on behalf of Britain and make the case we will be stronger/better together. On the other hand, given the possibility the union will break, and given English ambivalence, it needs to ensure that, the day after a Scottish leave vote, the clear trajectory is “up”. We cannot have a repeat of Johnson and Michael Gove’s post-Brexit press conference, which felt like the start of a (dry) wake.

It’s too early to say what this means but the fundamental point is this: the Conservative Party and the country would benefit from the development of an optimistic, modern, inclusive narrative that acted as a catalyst for a national strategy.

Given the precarious nature of the union, this narrative has to be able to withstand a Scottish exit, given its possibility – but it should not in and of itself encourage that exit. Perhaps this will emerge from the provincial arm of the Party.

Ben Roback: Peace in the Middle East. Biden is caught between his party’s historic position and its new left.

19 May

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

Joe Biden is discovering what most US presidents find out at some point in their tenure: Middle East politics is hard. It is deep-rooted in decades of war, entrenched in centuries of difficult coexistence.

After years of getting better, it is getting worse again. Palestinian children born during the second intifada, which took place between 2000-2005, are now old enough to avenge for the death of a parent. Gilad Shalit, the former Hamas hostage, and his unit may be years past their military conscription, but as Israel calls up 9,000 reservists, they may need to dust off their uniform and hope one of their number is not kidnapped and held hostage by terrorists for five years again.

When it comes to Israel-Palestine, there simply is no simple solution.

So often in politics, the option set is binary. Remain or Leave. Trump or Biden. Free speech or cancel culture. The Middle East fails to fit the mould.  But it suits a world in which the happy median and polite disagreement are fading into extinction.

Both sides are capable of being right. In this case, one will tell you that Israel senselessly bombed a building that housed press outlets, including the Associated Press. The other will tell you if Israel laid down its weapons, the country would cease to exist: Hamas’ charter commits to the destruction of the State of Israel, for the avoidance of all doubt. Neither is wrong. ‘What about-ism’ too often plagues conversations about life in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

Biden, Anthony Blinken, the Secretary of State, and Hady Amr, the State Department’s envoy, have their work cut out. Before them, Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor to Donald Trump, made Middle East peace his top priority. But the events of the last fortnight prove that he made minimal progress.

The White House reportedly blocked three recent United Nations attempts at the Security Council to call for a ceasefire in order to protect its relationship with Israel for as long as possible – a critical ally and let us remember, the only democracy in the Middle East.

As the death toll grew, the White House could resist no longer. Biden has now “expressed support for a ceasefire” – short of calling for one outright – between Israel and Hamas in a call with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Biden and Netanyahu are awkward allies, at best. Netanyahu pitted himself firmly against the Obama-Biden administration in virulently opposing (unsuccessfully) the Iran nuclear deal that was eventually signed in 2015. They are unnatural bedfellows. But the US-Israel relationship dictates that they must see eye to eye.

As the situation in the Middle East worsens, Democrats are split between the establishment and progressives

Congress is beginning to flex its muscles. Let us start with the GOP.

Republicans are unfailingly behind Israel, another legacy of Donald Trump. The 45th President was almost embarrassingly pro-Israel in office, typified by his deeply personal relationship with Netanyahu, and the decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The legacy effect was that pro-Israel politics went from being a truly bipartisan issue on Capitol Hill to, essentially, a GOP foreign policy talking point. The running joke for decades on the Hill was that the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby could get a napkin circulated with 70 Senators’ signatures on it. After Trump, Democrats are proving harder to come by.

Biden has the current support of his party. It will not last long.

The Democratic establishment and leadership back Israel: the House of Representatives’ Speaker. Nancy Pelosi, did exactly that late last week during in a news conference. Chuck Schumer, the Senate Majority Leader, has an historically fierce pro-Israel voting record. (Pro-Israel politics has an outsized importance in his New York Senate seat.)

Left-wing Democrat Congress representatives, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, so often described as the ‘future of the party’, deviate from the leadership. And as a whole, the left of the party is not holding back.

Jon Osoff led a statement with 29 Democratic senators calling for such a ceasefire. Chris Murphy and Todd Young, the top Democrat and Republican on the Middle East subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Panel, led a bipartisan statement also calling for a ceasefire.

The centre of the party is wavering, too. Robert Menendez, the Democrat Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a fierce supporter of Israel on Capitol Hill, issued a statement over the weekend saying he was “deeply troubled by reports of Israeli military actions that resulted in the death of innocent civilians in Gaza as well as Israeli targeting of buildings housing international media outlets.”

And Gregory Meeks, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Democrats that he would ask the Biden administration to delay a $735 million tranche of weapons to Israel that had been previously approved. (The administration has approved the sale regardless.)

Fading unity is not just prevalent in the Democratic Party. The red, white, green and black in the Palestinian flag are the same colours that run through flags across the Arab world. The plight of the Palestinians is shared amongst its allies. But what has changed in the Middle East’s political nexus since the last major round of tensions between Israel and Gaza is Israel’s diplomatic engagement with the Arab world.

Israel has signed trade and peace agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – which, to his credit, Trump was happy to facilitate. Israelis now freely travel to Dubai for beach holidays, an unimaginable prospect ten years ago. Israel is now less of a blanket enemy in the region than it once was.

The underlying tragedy of the events of the last fortnight is the human suffering. Neither side is blameless, and once again civilian deaths are the sad outcome of failed diplomacy. Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress, said during an interview on MSNBC: “talk to the mothers who put their children next to them because if they’re going to die, they want to die together.” What is most upsetting is that her statement applies no less to mothers in Gaza than it does to mothers in Israel.

Robert Halfon: There is no moral equivalance between the Hamas terror group and the democratic state of Israel

19 May

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

A cursory glance at mainstream social media platforms in recent days shows the prevalence of an alarming tendency by online campaigners to whitewash the actions of Hamas – an internationally proscribed terror group.

No amount of glossy, emotive viral memes about ‘freedom fighters’ should mislead the general public from the incontrovertible reality that Hamas is a genocidal extreme Islamist terror group with advanced military capabilities.

Israel finds itself in an unenviable position – locked in a sad cycle of inevitable, periodic violence with a  terror group embedded within a civilian population which actively seeks civilian deaths to harm Israel’s international standing. Burdened with these challenging circumstances, Israel has a right to self-defence, as reasserted by its Western allies, including the UK.

After all, Hamas rockets target Israelis of all ethnicities. Last weekend, one landed  in the Arab Israeli town of Tayibe, while another exploded in a Palestinian village in the West Bank. And yet, anytime violence escalates in the region the Jewish state is faced with a level of contempt unseen anywhere else in the world.

Just as no moral equivalence can be drawn between the Hamas terror group and the democratic state of Israel, nor must any equivalence be drawn between events in Israel and Gaza and the UK’s Jewish community.

As a British Jewish MP, it was very painful to have to secure an Urgent Question this week about a series of deplorable anti-semitic incidents last weekend which culminated in that vile car convoy which paraded through Jewish areas of London threatening sexual violence, and reportedly even telling Jewish residents to “Go back to Poland”.

The involvement of Iran – the world’s most prolific state sponsor or terrier – in the tragic scenes unfolding in Israel and Gaza cannot be overstated. Simply, they have provided the critical financial and material support necessary for Hamas to fight round after round of these bloody and devastating conflicts.

One need look no further than Hamas’s own leaders to substantiate the close links between Hamas and its Iranian paymasters. Hamas’ leader, Yahya Sinwar, boasted in 2019 that “If it wasn’t for Iran’s support we would not have had these capabilities”.

The former leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp’s Quds Force ,Qasem Soleimani ,was a lynchpin of this support. In one particularly colourful incident, a senior Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Zahar, vividly recalled being given nine suitcases filled with $22 million in 2006 during a trip to Tehran following a meeting with Soleimani. It is little surprise that ordinary Iranians have increasingly taken the brave decision to speak out against their morally and increasingly financially bankrupt fundamentalist regime.

With negotiations ongoing in Vienna over last-gasp efforts to resuscitate the failed JCPOA nuclear agreement, one might expect Iran would be minded to keep its head – and that of its terror proxies – down.

Under the nose of the international community, the armoury open to Hamas has advanced significantly in the intervening period. Collectively, Gaza-based terror groups are believed to be in possession of 30,000 rockets. What started as crude directionless mortar and homemade rockets – still deadly but with limited explosive potential and limited range – has morphed into advanced rockets with large warheads capable of travelling 100+ miles with a worrying degree of accuracy. None of this would have been possible without the extensive input of Iran.

For years, Hamas’s ever improving inventory (from rockets to armed drones and Russian made guided anti-tank missiles) would arrive in Gaza via a weapons smuggling route that led directly from Iran through to Yemen and then across the Red Sea to Sudan where they would then begin their journey northwards via Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula with the aid of Bedouin smugglers.

Once at the Gaza border, they would be spirited into Gaza by one of the thousands of smuggling tunnels that used to be so prolific before Egypt’s military launched a major clampdown in recent years. The destabilising consequences of these weapons are, of course, one of the many reasons why Egypt retains its own blockade of Gaza to this day.

To boost its chances of safely receiving its deadly payload, Iran also helps Hamas to operate an additional smuggling route via the water. The IRGC are known to send weapons via the Suez Canal and then into the Mediterranean Sea where Hamas naval ‘frogmen’ will transport the weapons into Gaza off the Egyptian coast under the cover of darkness. Several major interceptions have been made by Israel over the years, uncovering tonnes of weaponry destined for the Strip, but it is clear that a whole lot more is going undetected.

As a result of growing disruption to these smuggling routes as well as punishing U.S. sanctions on Iran over its nuclear activities, Israel’s security officials believe that Tehran has adapted its strategy. An emphasis is now placed upon domestic production of rockets based upon Iranian missile designs. Hamas commanders are even understood to have visited Iran for fact finding missions alongside their IRGC overseers.

An Al Jazeera documentary about Hamas broadcast last year even showed its terrorists digging up old water pipes from Israeli settlements abandoned in 2005 for repurposing as rockets, and claiming to have sufficient material for another ten years of rocket production.

Hamas has shown itself capable in recent days of firing considerably greater numbers of rockets at any one time than it ever has before, and over a much greater distance. Its barrages have been intense, with 470 rockets fired in the first 24 hours, compared to a peak of 192 rockets fired in a single day in the last conflict in 2014. The tactic of firing 100 plus rockets from multiple directions in a single barrage in an attempt to overwhelm Israel’s vaunted Iron Dome missile defence system has proven surprisingly effective.

I have had the grim experience of holding the remains of some of these rockets in a visit to Israel’s southern town of Sderot: a town where the norm is to have as little as 10 seconds to find shelter in the event of a rocket or mortar attack. Little wonder that the town – which has a rocketproof train station and schools – is known as the bomb shelter capital of the world.

Ultimately, unless the international community belatedly wakes up to Iran and its involvement in Gaza then it will sadly doom yet more generations of Palestinians to ongoing conflict.

Israel wants peace. It has made past treaties with Jordan, Egypt and most recently, the United Arab Emirates. It’s worth remembering the Jewish state withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in August 2005. No peace will ever be achieved if the Iranian financed Hamas and Hezbollah continue with their all out war to try and throw Israel into the sea.

Leon Mangasarian: Merkeldämmerung. It is past time that the German Chancellor stepped down.

14 May

Dr Leon Mangasarian was an editor and reporter for Bloomberg News, Deutsche-Presse Agentur and United Press International in East Berlin, Bonn, Berlin and Brussels. He received a PhD from the London School of Economics in 1993. He is co-author (with Jan Techau) of a book on German security policy, Führungsmacht Deutschland, and is now a freelance writer living in Potsdam, Germany, and on a farm in southeast Brandenburg state.

All political lives end in failure unless cut off midstream. Angela Merkel proves Enoch Powell’s theorem as her chancellorship staggers to its end after 16 years amid a botched Covid-19 vaccination campaign.

If Merkel had learned one lesson from her mentor, Helmut Kohl, it would have been to get out while the getting was good. He was also tossed out of office after 16 years.

Merkel is departing with no signature achievement. True, she’s dealt with major crises, but her policy responses have at best been fair to middling. Far too often they’ve been flawed, or she simply avoids tough issues.

Germany is failing to get  jabs into people’s arms. Just nine percent of Germans are fully vaccinated, compared with 56 percent in Israel, 35 percent in the US and 27 percent in the UK. Merkel insisted on handing vaccine procurement to the EU and thus to Ursula von der Leyen, a competency-challenged ex-German defense minister co-responsible for wrecking Germany’s Bundeswehr.

Insufficient vaccines is worsened by Germany’s obsession with making sure nobody jumps the queue. Instead of using the nation’s excellent network of general practitioners, the wheel was reinvented by setting up huge vaccination centers. Rationing vaccine by age groups means binning thousands of doses at the end of the day.

This debacle again shows Merkel as the tactician and not a grand strategist. She’s reactive, rather than calculating means to big-picture ends. So notorious is she for dithering that her name has become a new German verb: to “Merkeln” means either to do nothing and avoid making a decision or, when you do, to hide it in gauze and fog.

Merkel’s bad ideas aren’t limited to public health. Here are some of her greatest hits.

Drifting left

Merkel’s fundamental misstep was shoving her once centrist-conservative Christian Democratic Union to the left. The CDU became social democratic, making its conservatives homeless, prompting some to join the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Her 2015 open border migration policy led to the AfD’s resurrection. The Christian Democratic bloc is cratering, with polls putting it at 23 percent, behind the opposition Greens. Under Kohl the Christian Democrats regularly won over 40 percent. In a further act of self-harm, the CDU chose the Merkelist premier of North-Rhine Westphalia, Armin Laschet, as its chancellor candidate for September’s election.

Merkel is a high-tax leader. Among her first acts was raising value-added tax to 19 percent from 16 percent, and income and other tax burdens have shot up under her chancellorship. German tax revenue was 452 billion euros in her first year in office. In 2019 it was 800 billion euros. Germany now has one of the highest overall tax rates in the OECD club of rich nations.

Overregulation

Meanwhile, the Chancellor failed to revamp Germany’s economy. The last major reform was almost 20 years ago under Gerhard Schröder, a Social Democrat. It was political suicide on his part, but laid the foundation for prosperity.

Today, German business staggers under suffocating bureaucracy. There’s a stunning example near Berlin, where Tesla is building a “Gigafactory” that will create an estimated 40,000 jobs. Construction is almost finished, but German bureaucrats still refuse to issue a building permit. Elon Musk has been warned he’s investing at his own risk and that if the permit is denied he’ll have to tear down the factory. Merkel thinks more bureaucrats as the answer: since 2016 there’s been a 22 percent increase in the number of employees in her chancellery and ministries.*

Importing power

Germany now has Europe’s highest electricity costs. Households and most businesses pay 43 percent above the EU average. Merkel’s botched renewables shift slams consumers with huge bills subsidising wind and solar. Merkel’s other energy move was to panic after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster and move forward the closure of all nuclear plants to 2022. At the same time, she’s speeding up closures of coal-fired power plants.

The result? Germany’s Bundesrechnungshof, which audits government management, warns that Merkelian energy policies risk triggering electricity blackouts. After closing nuclear and coal-fired plants, Germany, on winter days with no sun or wind, will import electricity from France and Poland that’s produced by – you guessed it – nuclear or coal-fired plants.

Russia

Merkel’s other energy/geopolitical debacle is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, running under the Baltic Sea, to bring natural gas from Russia to Germany. The pipeline has pissed off Germany’s NATO and EU allies. (Everyone but Merkel knows the Kremlin uses energy as a political weapon.)

The Poles and the Baltics are furious; Ukraine, the current route of Russian pipelines to Europe, is fearful; and both the Trump and now the Biden administrations pledged sanctions on companies building the pipeline.

Merkel insists Nord Stream 2 is just another business deal.

China

China is Merkel’s favorite among global dictatorships. It’s only a slight exaggeration to describe her chancellorship one long kowtow. She regularly visits China to support German exports and investment. Merkel crowned Germany’s EU presidency by ramming through an EU-China investment accord, despite pleas from the incoming Biden administration to wait.

Merkel is wobbly on minority rights, Beijing’s military operations in the South China Sea, the crushing of democracy in Hong Kong, and threats to Taiwan.

A key part of Germany’s body politic is memory of the Holocaust and Nazi crimes. There are two parts: never forget history, no matter how awful; and “never again,” as in never tolerate even a hint of genocide. Joschka Fischer, then Foreign Minister, evoked this in backing the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo by saying “never again Auschwitz, never again genocide.”

More than anyone in Germany, the Chancellor must personify these tenets. Yet Merkel has stumbled. “Never again” is brushed off over China’s persecution of the Uighurs. Merkel refuses to follow NATO allies the US, Canada, and the Netherlands, which accuse Beijing of genocide.

Turkey

As for history, Merkel made clear her displeasure over a 2016 German parliament resolution describing the killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire (Germany’s World War I ally) as genocide. Merkel skipped the vote and then, to make sure that Ankara got the message, her spokesman declared the resolution wasn’t legally binding.

Overlooking a century-old genocide is easier than angering the Turkish government she needed to block migrants from Europe. Merkel and the EU paid Turkey billions so Ankara would do the dirty work of closing EU borders.

Digital

Merkel’s failings are striking in her endless harping about “digitalization.” For all Merkel’s talk, inaction is the result. Forget Estonian-style e-Government. Germans rely on fax machines, signatures and humorless officials wielding stamps and well-inked stamp pads. Anyway, e-Government couldn’t work in Germany because it requires a decent mobile phone system. Merkel has failed to plug the massive holes Germany’s network. I’ve had better mobile service in the remotest parts of Scotland or Namibia.

Politicians everywhere reach their “sell-by” date after eight to ten years. Merkel, despite human decency and incorruptibility, has long since reached hers. Every day she remains in office is a lost day for Germany. This year is wasted for lawmaking with elections in September, followed by coalition negotiations that could run into 2022.

Germany desperately needs a member of parliament, like Leopold Amery in the House of Commons in 1940, to stand up and speak the truth:

“You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing … In the name of God, go!” 

*Simon Haas, Jonas Hermann and Charlotte Eckstein, “Wuchernder Staat: Deutschlands Regierungsapparat wird grösser und grösser,“ Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 10 April 2021.

Alan Duncan: The Conservative Party has a moral blind spot about the rights of Palestinians

13 May

Sir Alan Duncan is a former Minister of State at both the Foreign Office and the International Development department.

The beginning and end of any argument about Israel and Palestine is that it is all to do with land. The Israelis want to take territory which does not belong to them – and all of the claims and counterclaims about the rights and wrongs on either side stem from this single fundamental fact.

Israel has been recognised as a state since 1948 following a vicious conflict between June and September that year, during which 600,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes. Today, contrary to the expressed guarantee contained in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the rights of the non-Jews (the Palestinians) have not been protected.

Palestinians are stateless, their land is occupied by the Israelis, and Palestine itself is perhaps the only populous territory in the world which rests unattached to any named state and is not permitted to call itself one.

International law is absolutely clear that the West Bank, including East Jerusalem (between the River Jordan and the sea) and also Gaza, do not belong to Israel. Indeed, they comprise the components of a viable state of Palestine. If Israel can be a state, then why can’t Palestine?

For many decades, the imbalance of power – i.e. U.S support – has emboldened successive Israeli governments to pursue a deliberate policy of expansion of illegal settlements with impunity. This is brazenly contrary to international law, and has contributed to the further subjugation of Palestinians.

The main manifestation of this creeping annexation is settlements. The word sounds benign, as if it is no more than experimental camping, but the truth is far worse. Settlements may start out as little more than the planting of a caravan but, over the decades, the process has become the full-scale annexation of their neighbours’ land. Over half a million Israelis now live in modern-looking towns which are built on stolen land dotted all over the West Bank, thus making a would-be Palestinian state increasingly impractical.

The phenomenon is far worse than the mere construction of houses in the wrong place. Settlers are often armed and violent. They displace Palestinians from their own homes, cut down the olive trees on which their livelihood depends, take their scarce water, and frequently subject them to abusive attacks.

In turn, the Israeli Defence Forces defend the illegal settlers instead of the indigenous Palestinians they attack. The settlements are served by bespoke roads and utilities, which are either denied to the Palestinians or do not serve their communities.

Hand in hand with the settlement movement is the regular forced evictions and demolitions, which see so many Palestinians violently removed from their homes in their own country, all enforced and overseen by the apparatus of the Israeli state. In East Jerusalem, according to the UN, one third of all Palestinian homes are liable for demolition. This is why the forced evictions of Sheikh Jarrah is not a real estate issue, but part of a programme of getting rid of Palestinians from large areas of East Jerusalem.

The claim that Israel is a respectable democracy rings hollow when they behave in such an undemocratic way. Israel prevented Palestinians from campaigning and voting in Palestinian elections, even arresting those involved.

Whereas international law is clear that the West Bank is not theirs, Israelis justify their actions by claiming that the territory is ‘disputed’, as if to say that, because they want it, their opinion is equal to that of the people whose land they wish to take. It is not. Palestinians point out that the whole area of historic Palestine is disputed but, in past negotiations, they accepted the compromise of a Palestinian state on just 22 per cent of what was their country.

It is this same attitude that has created the serious unrest that has recently erupted. East Jerusalem does not belong to Israel. Because of the density of the city, and the incendiary overlap of its religious sites serving three main faiths, it has been widely regarded as an international city outside politics, with Israeli West Jerusalem and Palestinian East Jerusalem existing in a delicate yet workable balance.

It is that balance that has just been destroyed by Israeli extremists. The proposed enforced eviction of over 70 Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah has ignited the flames of disorder. This has been simmering for weeks, during which extreme right-wing Israelis have been effectively supported by their police and soldiers in scenes which should bring the utmost shame to any Israeli. Blocking access to, and throwing stun grenades into the Al Aqsa Mosque is one thing; beating people up and arresting children is quite another. Last autumn’s scenes of a soldier’s knee on a Palestinian’s neck should make everyone realise that Palestinian lives matter too.

It is only the crass stupidity of Hamas in Gaza deciding to fire rockets at civilians in Israel and Jerusalem that has diverted attention away from the unimpeachable moral cause of the Palestinians. But neither Hamas in Gaza nor the nasty Israeli extremists in East Jerusalem are representative of their own people.

The narrative that all Palestinians are terrorists is a vile distortion, and such accusations fail to resonate when set against the chanting and graffiti which state that all Palestinians should be gassed, and that there is no such place as Palestine.

I feel an affinity with Israeli politicians such as the late Shimon Peres, and with Palestinians who strive for peace such as the late Sa’eb Erekat. Their decency is not confined to a few. Israel is not just Likud and Netanyahu.  Here is a link to a lecture I delivered a few years ago which develops these themes in detail.

More and more Israelis are appalled at their country’s occupation of Palestine. The campaign groups, NGOs and websites are beginning to multiply in support of human rights, justice, and a fair future for Palestinians. The UK risks being seriously out of tune with the Israeli people.

The last few weeks have starkly illustrated that the UK Government has been living a lie for years. Its policy, such as it is, exists in a moral vacuum. While stating that the annexation of Palestinian land is in breach of international law and goes against countless UN resolutions, it only ever utters the language of de-escalation and intones its belief in the importance of striving for a two-state solution, supposedly a viable Palestine living alongside Israel. They no longer look as though they really believe it. Where is this second state?

While the scenes in Jerusalem have been clear for all to see there hasn’t been a single word of serious condemnation from the Conservative Friends of Israel, the Labour Friends of Israel, the Board of Deputies or the government. All have found a way of not doing so. It seems the rules-based order only counts outside Israel. The Government has a hole in its policy: if it fails to stand for justice, the Conservative Party will forever have a hole in its heart.

John Baron: When our troops depart Afghanistan, they leave the dream of ‘liberal intervention’ behind

4 May

John Baron is MP for Basildon and Billericay.

After 20 years, Joe Biden is drawing the United States’ longest war to a close. All remaining US troops will leave the country by 11th September 2021, along with the 7,000 troops of other nations, including Britain, whose presence in Afghanistan without their American allies is unsustainable.

This brings to a close another misguided intervention. The lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria need to be heeded as we come to realise that, while always maintaining our guard against terrorism, the greater danger to our security was always potentially hostile nation states.

Biden is the fourth US President to oversee the war in Afghanistan, and as Vice-President was noted for his attempts to dissuade Barack Obama from his troop surge at the beginning of his first term. It appears he has not deviated from his views that an ongoing military presence is unlikely to achieve a winning position any time soon.

My parliamentary career has been punctuated by my resistance to overseas military deployments, largely driven by my concerns that we, in Britain and in the West more generally, have a tendency to rush into situations without fully understanding the situation on the ground, what we wish to achieve or how we intend to do it – and therefore do not resource operations correctly and have no clear exit strategy. These interventions also served as a distraction from greater dangers elsewhere.

Afghanistan is unfortunately a strong example of this. I did not oppose the initial intervention after the terrorist outrages on 11th September 2001 – it made good sense to rid the country of the relatively small number of international terrorists who had made the country their base. The initial light deployment of special forces, backed by friendly Afghans and 21st-century technology, was successful. Those in al-Qaeda who stood and fought were quickly destroyed, and many of the survivors quickly crossed the borders.

However, once this had been achieved, rather than winding up the mission the British Government and its allies greatly expanded the scope of the deployment to include wholesale reform of Afghanistan and Afghan society in pursuit of goals such as human rights, western-style democracy, and the rule of law.

This drift into nation-building, which I strongly opposed, required the defeat of the Taliban who, though brutal in their dealings with the Afghan people, had never been our enemy – it was al-Qaeda, not the Taliban, who attacked on 11th September.

The international troop deployment was never sufficient to hold the whole country, nor seal its porous borders – an essential part of fighting any insurgency.

Meanwhile, the international community, led by the United States, undermined any diplomatic negotiations with the Taliban with unrealistic and impossible preconditions. Insisting on the Taliban laying down their arms and accepting the new Afghan constitution before even agreeing to any talks, as the US did for many years, meant that no substantive progress was possible. It was Donald Trump who finally began the process of negotiations that have led us to this point.

In now announcing that the US will pull out of Afghanistan by September, come what may, Biden has provided little incentive for the Taliban to keep to any agreement with the Americans – some strategic patience on their behalf perhaps confirming the glib assertion that ‘the West may have the clocks, but we have the time’.

Though the President and other international allies have pledged to support the Afghan Government, it remains to be seen how well they will be able to resist the predations of the Taliban without the presence of foreign troops. Indeed, the present deployment of some 10,000 NATO troops, including 2,500 American and about 750 British soldiers, largely on training duties in support of Afghan Government forces, is seemingly holding the line with very small international casualties in recent years, even as their Afghan allies are losing a significant number of men.

It is clear that British commanders are unnerved by the announcement of the American withdrawal, which suggests a concerning lack of communication between allies, amid concerns that a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan might mirror the hasty US troop withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, which left the Iraqi Government exposed when Daesh attacked a few years later.

Nevertheless, I am pleased that the military deployment in Afghanistan is coming to a close and that the laudable but misguided ideology of ‘liberal interventionism’ has largely faded into obscurity. This has taken some time – as Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron once correctly observed that it is impossible to drop a fully-formed democracy out of an aeroplane at 40,000 feet, but this did not prevent him as Prime Minister from attempting military interventions in Libya, Syria and Iraq, largely without success.

However, Theresa May’s 2017 assertion in Philadelphia that ‘the days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our image are over’ suggests this experience has finally been definitively heeded, a fact underlined by her careful and limited involvement in the international air strikes against the Assad Government later that year.

There will always be a role for British forces to play a role on the international stage, but the idea of wholesale ‘regime change’ for altruistic reasons, as we attempted in Afghanistan for too long, has had its day. Time now to focus on greater dangers.

Ben Roback: While Biden focuses on Earth Day, Putin moves troops and tanks on the border

21 Apr

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

Joe Biden rightly understands that climate change is a political and practical necessity. As one of the world’s biggest polluters, the United States must show global leadership in tackling the emissions and supply chain issues that threaten the future of the planet.

Progressives in his party have channelled this into the Green New Deal agenda, which packages together carbon emission reductions and green infrastructure jobs.

It reflects the growing importance of climate change on the political agenda in contemporary politics. Where all things green were once a fringe issues for protestors, they have now become a pivotal plank of transatlantic foreign policy.

It is no coincidence that the White House is putting huge stock into this week’s climate summit, just as Downing Street channels vast amounts of energy and resource into making a success of COP26 in Glasgow.

In the back of both minds will be the need to present a simple message to the world after concerns of international regression (Brexit and Trump respectively) from the world stage: we are back.

But by getting caught up in promises to achieve net zero carbon emissions and putting electric vehicle chargers on every lamppost in the country, do the Unites States and United Kingdom risk taking their eyes off immediate foreign policy imperatives staring right at them?

With the intersection between climate change policy and foreign policy growing by the day, the White House has sought to remain on top of international affairs. Simultaneously, the question of who speaks for the United States abroad typifies the lack of clarity around what the President wants to prioritise. Anthony Blinken, the Secretary of State, is, by definition, the voice of the US on foreign soil. But while Blinken talks troops and tanks, John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, flies to world capitals to chat carbon capture and coal.

American obfuscation opens a new frontier for ambitious rivals – notably China and Russia. When gaps appear in international affairs, both are quick to fill them. It explains the Belt & Road Initiative, vast Chinese infrastructure investment across the African continent, and Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Writing about the White House’s unilateral decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021, William Hague wrote: ‘Slowly, inexorably, and tragically, we can expect that flank [Afghanistan] to be exposed once again.’ Exposed flanks tend to be seized upon.

Putin flexes his muscles again

Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea put it at the centre of international affairs on the world stage. Biden and Blinken have a new Russia-shaped headache approaching.

With the further US retreat from the Middle East, Vladimir Putin senses a chance to pivot away from being the object of western sanctions towards being the subject of international security and diplomacy.

Biden has promised him a future summit, giving him the stature on the world stage he craves. Putin, so often a despotic master-tactician on the world stage, senses a weakness in US foreign policy. It is hard to believe that Biden failed to consider the weight of his words when he recently agreed that Putin is a “killer”. It followed a decision to sanction seven senior Russian officials over the poisoning and jailing of opposition leader Alexey Navalny.

The Ukraine border is once again a critical frontier. Leaked documents have revealed that Russia has been holding last-minute military exercises near commercial shipping lanes in the Black Sea. Much as the blocking of the Suez Canal strangled global trade, more locally those Black Sea shipping lanes are a vital artery for Ukraine’s economy. The leaked document assesses that the total area of Russian military exercises takes up 27 per cent of the Black Sea.

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top diplomat, has said “the highest military deployment of the Russian army on the Ukrainian borders ever” would take only “a spark” to set off a confrontation. Despite this, the US intelligence community discounts the likelihood of conflict. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s 2021 annual threat assessment said that “Russia does not want a direct conflict with US forces”.

Turkish diplomatic sources reported that the US called off deploying two war ships to the Black Sea – for now – in what would have been a serious escalation of tensions. Instead, an upcoming Biden-Putin summit will provide the setting for talks. International diplomacy might be how Joe Biden secures political victories, by being diplomatic and getting to know his opposite number, but Putin’s cutthroat approach means he will continue to assassinate, break laws and tread ever harder on his neighbours’ toes.

Biden’s administration’s grasp of the green agenda deserves high praise, especially given the damage his predecessor did to the United States’ reputation as a global leader in climate science and protecting the planet for future generations. A defence and security review in the UK revealed a pivot towards more innovative and agile foreign and defence policy.

But Putin’s latest actions prove that often international affairs are still conducted in the language of troops and tanks. For as long as he continues to provoke, the United States and its allies around the world will need to come up with a plan to counter his ambitions. Focussing on ‘building back better’ and a green economic recovery after the pandemic could quickly be replaced by more pressing issues.

Philip Mitchell and Chris Goddard: We need game-changing strategies to meet the challenge of China

15 Apr

By Chris Goddard and Philip Mitchell are both members of the Lewes Conservative Political Forum.

The West has been full of righteous indignation about supposed excesses in the Peoples’ Republic of China, from the treatment of the Uighurs and the ending of democracy in Hong Kong, to the threat to Taiwan and the spat between China and Australia.

The Biden Administration has had its eyes and ears opened wide recently by the Chinese tirade at the Alaskan conference with the US National Security Adviser. But these are faraway actions so far as the UK is concerned, prompting no more than the usual ritual warnings from Dominic Raab about “unacceptable behaviour”.

The game has changed. Not only has the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued its fatwa against certain Westminster MPs for speaking out about alleged human rights abuses, but the country’s chief cyber regulator has now announced that it will sanction any online criticism of the Communist regime and encourage internet users worldwide to snitch on others who “deny the excellence of advanced socialist culture”.

That is perfectly capable of extending to words uttered in the UK. So there we have it: Big Brother, in the form of a dragon, has finally arrived.

Much ink has been spilt on the question of what the West’s, and indeed the UK’s, response to China should be: a boycott of goods;  a refusal to import communications or nuclear technology; a blocking of outward intellectual property transfers; the offer of refuge to displaced citizens of Hong Kong?

All these are knee jerk reactions and all miss the essential truth: that the Peoples’ Republic has become the second world power and intends to pursue its agenda of international domination by whatever means are available. Our sitting like King Canute on the edge of the waves, commanding that the tide rise no further, has a distinctly outmoded ring to it.

Since with two exceptions the rest of the world are minnows swimming in these dangerous waters, how can the West and in particular, Britain, respond in any meaningful way? Joe Biden has just proposed one of them, and we can be a champion for the other: out-compete and form alliances.

The US’s idea, a far cry from Trump’s tariffs and protectionism, is that financial muscle in the West can out-perform Chinese technology and manufacture and make enhanced strategic investment in countries where China currently “colonises” by means of loans and infrastructure projects. The second strand, international alliances, must necessarily draw in developing countries sympathetic to democratic values whose chief assets are their burgeoning industry, scarce raw materials, and populations. The greatest of these is India, whose population even now matches China and by 2050 will exceed it by a predicted 237 million, according to Worldometer.

Of a telephone conversation to Boris Johnson on 27th March , President Biden recounted: “we talked about China and the competition they’re engaging in in the Belt and Road initiative. And I suggested we should have, essentially, a similar initiative coming from the democratic states, helping those communities around the world.”

By “those communities” it is assumed he meant those African and South American states where soft power intervention is achieved by aid programmes rather than military presence. American policy in a number of key areas presently rests on vague pronouncements to spend trillions of extra dollars in pursuance of democratic ideals of the “public good”. Whether these will materialise remains to be seen, but America alone has the reach and resources to stretch out in this way.

Other countries, including the UK, debt-ridden by Covid-19 for the foreseeable future, cannot compete in this league. What, then, can Britain do?

Many have argued that the reduction in spending on overseas aid is a hammer-blow to soft power overseas. It need not be so. The mass of trade deals skilfully negotiated by Liz Truss will enable many poorer countries to offer their natural products to Britain. on favourable terms. We can also afford to be generous with the roll out of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which Europe now despises, bearing in mind that the Chinese vaccine has been officially announced to be of “low efficacy” at around 50 per cent (although one wonders whether the hapless official who made that announcement will ever be seen in public again).

China is donating millions of jabs to its client states and there is no reason why the UK should not do the same. We can also import more goods from Japan, Taiwan and South Korea and less from China. Although our £30 billion worth of yearly exports to the Peoples’ Republic must not be thrown away, our most precious export is our democratic way of life, the rule of law, and the cry of freedom.

Yet it is the area of diplomacy that Britain could take a leading role in equalising relations between states and moderating China’s world dominance, and preferably putting it on a less aggressive footing. This centres round the idea that you do not want to fight on too many fronts. While China may feel able to bully its smaller neighbours, particularly Australia, over commodity supplies and purchase of territory, a counter-alliance which includes the US, Japan, Brazil, Nigeria, and above all India, all highly populous countries in the Western sphere, orchestrated from London, would be a force to contend with.

Container ships, not cutlasses, would be the weapon of choice. There could be a standing council comprised of senior representatives of participating states, taking joint action against belligerence wherever it occurs.

The aim must surely be to recognise China for the superpower it is, with its long history of culture and achievement, but to seek to persuade its leadership that the path to greatness lies in co-operation in key areas in which all humankind has a profound interest: better standards of living, addressing climate change, the conservation of scarce resources, medical advances for everybody, and the empowerment of women to slow population growth. These are not contentious goals, and they do not need to be fought over.

There is one area where Britain alone is in a position to prevent disaster: the displaced people of Hong Kong, who are seeing their democratic future under the 1997 Two Systems treaty dismantled before their eyes. Last year the Foreign Secretary rightly made an open-ended commitment to dual passport holders to allow residence over here, a decision is self-evidently justified on moral and economic grounds. There are, however no discernible practical steps to assimilate the numbers who are estimated to want to come: half a million at the least, three million at the most.

Where are these people to go in our crowded island and shouldn’t we be taking steps now to facilitate their welcome arrival? What a beautiful solution to a raging problem – let the Chinese become British.