30 Jun 15. Ahead of a week-long visit to the USA from this coming Sunday this will probably be the final ‘Commentary’ ahead of a short reappearance on July 13th and then my heading off to conference and RIAT events during the rest of that week. It is the time of the year but normality resumes after that. So, enjoy the brief respite and whilst I am on the subject, can I also offer my sincere thanks to all of those of you who occasionally respond and turn some of the subjects that I write on into far more interesting and wider debates.
I will touch on two if not three issues today. Firstly, comments made by the Secretary of State for Defence, the Rt. Hon Michael Fallon, yesterday in respect of pushing forward a view that Parliament should be asked to reconsider whether Britain should be bombing IS targets in Syria along with those in Iraq which it has been doing since last September.
I completely agree that it makes very little sense that Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 aircraft should be restricted to bombing ISIL targets in Iraq when we already know to our cost that this ‘war’ has spread right across the Middle East region and beyond. Yes, we do have to remember that due to the severity of defence cuts, the lack of available air power capability and maybe also of weapons availability that we are very limited in what we can do to assist our allies. It is certainly true that to do what we might have been able to do five years ago is restricted now but that does not mean that we should not be supporting our allies wherever we and they perceive the greatest threat and challenges against us to be.
Syria is clearly an ISIL stronghold and it is right that the House of Commons should be asked to reconsider an issue that it had previously voted against. In the two years since the House turned down the request of the Prime Minster for the UK to take part in strikes against ISIL targets in Syria much has changed and today the situation may be regarded as being far more serious than it even was back then.
Clearly, with the backing of the Prime Minister, MOD and I assume, those in the Cabinet Office as well, Mr. Fallon has been asked to test the water about the prospects for a second vote on the Syria assistance subject. He chose initially to do this on the BBC Radio 4 ‘World at One’ programme yesterday and that was probably a very good idea. I may be wrong but I sense there being far less hostility to the idea in the press overnight than we might have imagined there might be. Parliament had of course sanctioned the bombing of IS targets in Iraq and I suspect that two years on and so many new first time Members of Parliament a second vote could give the Prime Minister the backing required if, as I suspect that it will, a second vote occurs before parliament breaks up for the summer recess in just over three weeks’ time.
The Royal Air Force has once again done a superb if little publicised job of work in Iraq and given intelligence that they will clearly receive, it is to my mind ridiculous that they should be restricted from crossing the border and moving to hit IS targets in Syria, or indeed, wherever else that support may be requested. IS does not differentiate between countries and neither should we. This morning I not that the military authorities in Egypt are also now engaged in a battle against IS and I continue to worry about Jordan. Libya remains in a mess and the two wars that are tearing Yemen apart continue.
This past week we have seen a very serious destabilisation attempt in Tunisia that cost many British and German lives. As the Prime Minister has tightly said, ISIL poses an existential threat to all of the West. To that I would add, just as it does across the whole Middle East and Gulf region. We must provide whatever assistance we can and to that end, we must also question US and our own current policy not to put ‘boots on the ground’ other than for providing training support.
There can in my view be little doubt that the geo-political scene is worsening and that this comes at a time when our political masters here in the UK just don’t seem to be prepared to listen to voices of defence reasoning that are calling on us to raise rather than further cut defence capability. Bad enough that rationale arguments and warnings about UK defence cuts being far too stringent and even downright dangerous from various senior US military personnel, the Secretary for Defense and even from the President of the United States himself have fallen on deaf ears but it seems that apart from a handful of MP’s, former senior military personnel plus the likes of people like me and a handful of others who continue to bang the drum our political masters remain in no mood to listen.
Our failure to comprehend what is going on around us and particularly in the Middle East will extract a price from us. We are ill prepared for the future in terms of holding sufficient defence capability including personnel numbers. We are limited in what we can do whilst our enemies and would-be enemies continue to expand their own capability strength. We should be very concerned about that. The people are loyal to defence and while they may be less willing for us to engage internationally they do understand the necessity provided this is well explained. It is good leadership that gets that message over best. It is, I hope good leadership that will win the argument and debate on the day and I hope that will reverse the Syria assistance vote when it comes up again in the House of Commons as I believe it surely will.
And finally onto Greece where, apart from more pain and suffering for those that cannot even draw their own money from banks, it seems nothing more is about to occur before the referendum vote result is known on Monday. For the Greek people it is simply a matter of voting ‘yes’ to accept more harsh austerity measures demanded by the IMF, EU and others or ‘no’ to accepting a deal (to receive more bail-out funding) on the terms proposed and that would in itself surely mean that Greece would no longer be allowed to be a member of the Eurozone area.
I am afraid that much as it hurts me to say this I believe that the IMF, European Union and Eurozone authorities are absolutely right to have forced the issue and that has led to the claims and counterclaims from certain members of the Greek government that as far as I am concerned has failed its people. A ‘no’ vote on Sunday will cast Greece into an era of political uncertainty and danger. Whether a no vote would see Greece leave the EU as well I have no idea but I hope not. One of the main reasons that I remain pro-Europe is that it is a too little recognised fact that NATO is not the only reason that Europe has remained at peace with itself for seventy years it is the European Union as well. Many would argue this of course but that is my view. For Greece to leave the Eurozone area will seriously add to the nations instability. For Greece to leave the EU could break it apart politically bringing instability and the possibility of everything that we have fought to avoid ever happening again.
I have no idea how the Greek people will vote and it is not my job to advise them. Either way the future will be far worse than the past. Will it impact on us? Yes it will and we could well see confidence evaporate for a time. Greece won’t bring down the system as a whole nor the Eurozone come to that. We cannot afford to dismiss Greece as being someone else’s problem and we should take heed of concerns expressed by the Bank of England yesterday. Greece does have the ability to destabilise others and I fear that its people might be persuaded to take what they see is the easy way out (the no vote) but what in reality would produce them with a permanency of pain that could stretch forward for decades.
CHW (London – 2nd July 2015)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS