Syria – Where is the National Interest?

In March 2011 I wrote a post asking where the national interest was in intervening in the Libya uprising.

Have we really learned nothing from the vanity and hubris of Blair, putting service personnel in harms way, the same personnel the government is making redundant, so politicians can puff out their chests and bask in a bit of uniform love?

As trouble continues in Libya and no doubt some of the weapons that were so freely supplied to the Libyan rebels will find there way into the hands of those wishing us harm I am still struggling to see where the UK’s national interest in Libya was, the kind of long term strategic interests that the National Security Council is supposed to have a grasp of.

In a spot of synchronised commenting this weekend, David Cameron and General David Richards have both talked up the prospects of limited intervention in Syria and arming the rebels.

Seems rather ironic that the British Government cannot afford to equip its own armed forces can do so for someone else.



Taking sides in a brutal civil war, a civil war whose fault lines run very deep, does not seem to be in the UK’s national interest to me.

Even though I asked the question about Libya I could still see the issue of uncontrolled economic migration and petrochemicals as something to consider but with Syria, am just having difficulty seeing the upside of intervention.

This lack of national interest has been wisely noted and not a great deal done but why the change in mood music now?

There is noting wrong with compassion for the innocent but as strong as this should rightly be, it should not cloud our judgement. As usual, the average person involved is nothing at all to do with the Jihadist lunatic fringe but there are so many deep seated tribal alliances, ancient hatreds and permutations and combinations of local politics, religion and ethnicity that stepping in on one side or the other seems doomed to create a set of unintended consequences that might run counter to our interests.

Jordan, Turkey and Israel are more than capable of containing the situation and any acts of overspill or deliberate provocation. Widening the conflict, however much the rebel forces would like to, is not in their interests so despite the odd containment action they are also adopting a watching brief and keeping a low profile.

As the country collapses and moves towards some sort of ethnic partitions, a set of ever more gruesome atrocities inter ‘everything’ infighting would a wiser move be to offer limited military support to our allies in the region (not that they need it), maintain some political distance from the tainted participants and concentrate on providing humanitarian aid to the innocent displaced.

In all the talk from David Cameron I have still to see him talking about how we would benefit from intervention beyond the naive and indulgent ‘its for the children’ defence.

We seem to be sinking into the defensive ‘threats to our interests’ mentality in the Middle East rather than thinking long term about what we want from the region. This might be a wholly selfish attitude and not entirely compatible with decent humanitarian values but we need to be harder nosed in our Foreign Policy because to be blunt, we don’t have the cash to waste.

Come on Dave, what’s in it for the UK




Sven has a go at answering the question

About The Author

Think Defence hopes to start sensible conversations about UK defence issues, no agenda or no campaign but there might be one or two posts on containers, bridges and mexeflotes!

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Gloomy Northern Boy
November 13, 2012 1:27 am

I agree that intervening in Syria has little merit at the moment, but less confident than you that Israel and Jordan can contain the disorder, or that Turkey would necessarily choose to do so in ways that sustain our interests; as the arc of instability on our Mediterranean and Balkan borders grows, we need to be both watchful and engaged…this is the war we need to prepare for if we are to keep the peace.

Jeremy M H
November 13, 2012 5:04 am

I would be really curious to see what sort of shape an all or primarily European intervention would take. It would not be an easy operation by any means unless Turkey was heavily involved.

November 13, 2012 7:54 am

I turned my reply into a blog post.

The answer is remarkably simple in my opinion.

November 13, 2012 9:14 am

@Jeremy MH: that would be the rub. Turkey. What sort of Syria do they want, because they are going to be the guys who decide, not us.

Reasons for a Syrian intervention that actually make sense:-

– NATO obligations to Turkey

– Assad’s repeated support of terrorists that have attacked British citizens and interests

– To neutralise Hezbollah

All Politicians are The same
November 13, 2012 10:10 am


The whole Turkey issue has settled down a bit post the F4 shoot down and initial shelling incidents.
Turkey has told NATO that it will reply unilaterally against positions used to strike Turkish territory and has indeed been doing so.

Turkey is also taking advantage of the confusion to take care of some of its “Kurdish” issues along the border.

Limited intervention by arming the rebels is a possibility but beyond that the situation is so confused that actually planning any form of military intervention would be extremely difficult.

However given Syria’s position adjacent to Turkey and its alliance with Iran. It has no less national interest or strategic reasoning than “regime change” in Iraq which had the added benefit of taking away the buffer on Iran’s border. Or the meat grinder in Afghanistan.

November 13, 2012 10:10 am

@TD: “NATO obligations to Turkey only apply if they have been attacked”. Well, yes. I listed it here for completeness’s sake

“There are others that support terrorism”. Not to the same degree. And if he wins, you can bet he’ll get worse.

“Hezbollah, come on, Iran is being bled dry supporting them “. Bled dry might be a bit of an exaggeration. Hezbollah sit on the Med and have a proven track record in worldwide terrorism. Seizing the opportunity to get rid of them at low cost by removing their patron and supply line is the sensible thing to do, with long term benefits.

I’m not in favour of sending anything other than money and perhaps SF: we don’t have anything else as the US won’t get involved. But the more we stick to sitting on the sidelines, the more the tune will be called by those who don’t necessarily want the type of Syria we would like to see, or even accept as “good enough”

November 13, 2012 10:23 am

‘I wonder why Dave has changed his tune over the weekend’

I don’t think it’s anything more than political timing to start the ball rolling.

All Politicians are The same
November 13, 2012 10:36 am

WE must remember that the PM is briefed at levels we do not see. He is acting on the full picture and we must also factor in Iran.
He could have intel that will change our position and is laying the Political groundwork.

November 13, 2012 10:53 am

We do know the PM is briefed on things we don’t know about. It doesn’t mean the man in the street can’t question. It doesn’t mean the man in the street is wrong about an issue. Every conflict in an increasingly small world has knock on effects. We can’t do everything. If the world is that dangerous we need to intervene in every situation I would suggest we need to start expanding our forces rather rapidly. If Turkey’s with 400,000 soldiers isn’t too worried I can’t see what difference a few thousand British squaddies, a dozen FJ, and a frigate will make.

All Politicians are The same
November 13, 2012 11:08 am


Chill out, I was only offering a possible answer to why the party line seems to have changed.

Brian Black
November 13, 2012 11:30 am

It’s good that Cameron talks tough on Syria. We want to hear words from the PM that chime with the UAE and Saudi positions; the Middle East is still buying arms and we have stuff to sell, let’s keep our markets happy.

I can’t really see the British military having an active and overt role though, beyond possibly providing UN observers or in assisting the delivery of aid to the region.

November 13, 2012 11:50 am

Was there not a incident of Israel / Syrian engagement in the golan region over the weekend. This would not be a gd development if your trying to get Arab collective engagement to solve the syrian issue. So the harder line maybe for Israels benefit look we are taking this serious. I would agree with apas that this is linked to Iran as well. But while we need to ensure what’s happening in Syria stay in Syria the is no uk interest I can see of going into Syria.

November 13, 2012 12:01 pm

I have to agree with TD on this one. It’s difficult to see any UK centric angle for intervening. There is little oil in Syria so no direct economic impact as we saw with Egypt and Libya.

The region is a s**t hole with little strategic implication’s. No matter who emerges as the victor they are likely to be un-friendly to us. Also factor in the Russian angle and there are more than enough danger signs for us not to get involved.

Given that we make up less than 1% of the world’s population maybe it’s time to let the other 99% do something instead of pleading for our help then criticising us when the first bomb drop’s.

I would imagine any change in call me Dave’s thinking is far more to do with the US election last week than any magic piece of intel (remember that magic intel from 2003) so maybe the US is getting prepared to do something.

I would however say that if the current regime looks to use WMD’s or it looks like loosing control of it’s WMD’s then we should act possibly using SF and air strikes but it should be an in out operation not some form of nation building.

Mike W
November 13, 2012 12:07 pm


Am completely with you on this one.

As you say, “There is nothing wrong with compassion for the innocent” and there is a place for humanitarian intervention in certain circumstances. That tradition goes right back to the 19th century, the days of Disraeli and Gladstone. I was very much behind Western intervention in the Balkans, for instance, to stop terrible suffering and genocide and that has been, to a certain extent anyway, successful.

However, we have a much smaller Army now and as x says, “We can’t do everything. If the world is that dangerous we need to intervene in every situation, I would suggest we need to start expanding our forces rather rapidly.”

I also suspect, as you do, TD, ulterior political motives here. Your statement: “Seems rather ironic that the British Government cannot afford to equip its own armed forces can do so for someone else.”

Seems to me interesting that the USA seems to be very much standing back from this one.

November 13, 2012 12:16 pm


Sorry. I was completely chilled. I wasn’t talking to you more a general rant about bandwagon jumping, poor government, the PM’s generally piss poor performance, etc. etc.

November 13, 2012 12:21 pm

I can see one possible reason.

To counterbalance the degree of influence the Jihadists are having on the people of Syria when they fight alongside them.

The whole situation there is a big mess, and it’s more of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of thing.

Damned if you do:

While media have been focusing on the plight of the “common man” and the “barbarity of the government”, let us not forget that at the bottom line it is a rebellion against a government, and supporting them is aiding in the overthrow of a recognised (though non-democratic) government with a seat in the UN. That opens a really big can of worms in the question, “where do you draw the line?” In fact, when the whole mess started, many governments even officially supported Syria, at least until the “disproportionate response” problem cropped up. And in that case, what would constitute grounds for intervention in the future? Tear gas on riots? Rubber bullets? Death penalty? In essence, foreign intervention is taking away the country’s “right” to police it’s own people for yourself.

This isn’t even including the free for all furball mentioned above that the troops are going to find themselves in, with the possibility that BOTH factions might react badly to “Western Invasion” and turn the whole mess into a 2 v 1 against intervention forces.

Damned if you don’t:

Jihadist groups are already reported to be involved in the fighting on the rebel’s side. Unless the rebels lose and are wiped out (which I actually don’t see happening), they will remember the people who helped them in their “time of need”, which will give great influence on any future rebel government. Maybe not to the extent of open terrorist camps, but more of a willful blindness and disinclination to actively supress them. Supplying them arms helps diffuse this problem a bit, but there is a massive difference between giving someone a gun and fighting alongside him.

The crystal ball:

My read on the whole situation is that fighting will go on and on and on until both sides get worn out and a peace settlement is reached with a general amnesty. Possibility 2 is that the government runs out of money to pay mercenaries and suddenly collapse one fine payday.

November 13, 2012 12:31 pm

Intervention in Syria doesn’t present any obvious benefit to us at the moment, except for making ourselves feel good about ‘helping’ the rebels which is often questionable in these complex situations.

Any military involvement beyond simple aid would have to be NATO led anyway, what in all honesty could the UK hope to achieve on it’s own?

I think for the present we should remain vigilant of what’s happening on our Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flanks but not get involved in a deep rooted civil war which ultimately isn’t any threat to our wider interests and we would probably only complicate further.

November 13, 2012 12:40 pm

There is no value in intervention. It isn’t worth the material costs. And it most certainly isn’t worth the lives of British service personnel.

November 13, 2012 12:50 pm

I find it quite funny people think we could intervene in any way beyond shipping containers filled with guns, ammo and cash…

Our independent deployment capability couldn’t defend its own perimeter and no one else is interested in deploying logistical cover for our larger force, which is tied up in ghanners for two more years anyway.

But sadly, the fco is ran by emotional children.
Expect to see a humiliating climb down when Cameron is summoned by the Israeli and Turkish ambassadors, who in no uncertain terms inform him they can and will stop us if we interfere, violently if required.

Either could seize Cyprus in an afternoon

November 13, 2012 1:06 pm

“Expect to see a humiliating climb down when Cameron is summoned by the Israeli and Turkish ambassadors, who in no uncertain terms inform him they can and will stop us if we interfere, violently if required.”

If they were kind. If they are not, they’ll let you get sucked into the bog and snicker behind your back.

All Politicians are The same
November 13, 2012 1:18 pm

There seems to be an assumption that the UK is the only nation that has contingency plans in place.

I guarantee you that the US has plans to intervene in place at all levels from arming rebels, through targeted strikes, no fly zones to a ground invasion. It is the job of military planners to have these in place for when they may be required. Not to say “egh well we will just go and work something out”.

Each plan will have a variety of conditions to that must be in place for them to be viable. Some will be military and some Political.

The Political ones will include support of neighbouring countries. Contingency planning and discussions will be occurring at NAC (North Atlantic Council) meetings in which Turkey is fully involved and Israel will be kept in the loop Diplomatically.


Ambassadors do not summon leaders of states (well not twice anyway).

November 13, 2012 1:30 pm


True on plans. And I hope they STAY contingency plans. What can justify getting tangled in that snakepit must be very monsterous. Or stupid.

There is a possible way to stop the bloodletting, but unfotunately, it’s a situation that will please nobody.

Diplomatic asylem for Assad.

All Politicians are The same
November 13, 2012 1:34 pm


Indeed here is hoping that they stay contingent.
I believe we and others have muted Assad going into exile.

November 13, 2012 1:36 pm

What are the French doing seeing it is their former parish?

(x goes of to read Le Monde…….)

November 13, 2012 1:38 pm

Could this be part of a broader move by Cameron as part of increased tie’s with gulf nations.

It seems a little too much strategic thinking for the current government however the Saudi’s and other gulf nations seem to be involved quite heavily. Helping to support their efforts could make sense if it helps us leverage more out of them especially in Typhoon sale’s etc.

However even if it is I think our contribution should stop at training, cash and light weapon’s.

Also should we be concerned about the role of Saudi Intelligence Service’s in this. If we look at Pakistan their intelligence service seems to be very heavily Islamicized helping to spread much of the discourse in South Asia. If we were ever to see the current Saudi regime toppled then having an active intelligence service with experience of toppling neighbouring governments could be a real problem.

November 13, 2012 1:56 pm

Increased ties with the Gulf nations? Before we retreated back from East of Suez the Gulf/Arabia was one of Britain’s primary security concerns. The Americans only moved in en masse to fill the vacuum left by us. Commercially we never really left. I can’t see how Dave could increase ties any more.

November 13, 2012 2:03 pm

I had a talk not so long ago at my university and there seems to be a rumour that the CIA are more on the side of Assad over the rebels due to the extremist involvement and influence on the rebel side, large culture divide that is hard to control and not knowing what a future ‘free’ Syrian government would do with their WMDs.

Very interesting but overall getting involved could cause more problems as Iran would no doubt support foreign fighters in the region and it would look like ‘another’ crusade on the Arab world… But the interest lies in making a stable governing power to stop any instability from spilling over the region. This should be done with the local regional powers such as Turkey and Jordan and excluding Israel (similar to the reasons of the Gulf War). But that is just my opinion and what do I know? Probably nothing…

November 13, 2012 2:07 pm

In all, I think we managed about three years of “not being East of Suez”. The presence in the Gulf went in 1971, the final pull-out from Malta and Singapore was 1977, the Armilla patrol deployed in 1980. You can sort-of argue that Armilla was only temporary and not that big a commitment, but of course the Falklands went off in 1982 and the cat was out of the bag about being “out of area”. And the RN has never been not east of Suez ever since the beginning of Armilla.

November 13, 2012 2:22 pm

@ Alex

There is a big difference between a frigate paddling around the Gulf and the amount of forces we had traditionally in the area. The US weren’t best pleased when we gave up the Gulf policing role.

Gloomy Northern Boy
November 13, 2012 3:08 pm

@Martin is quite right to point out that we only represent 1% of the worlds population, but we are amongst the astonishingly rich part of that population that constitute the G20, who enjoy a standard of living that the other 95% of countries can only dream of. In our case that great wealth and the very comfortable carry on that it provides us with is only sustained by a world wide network of financial and trading activities that secure the resources that guarantee our comfort. If we want to maintain our current standard of living we must engage with issues like Syria, and also maintain the means to intervene alongside others if required. Furthermore, all the evidence is that the underlying strategy of the USA is to achieve energy security at home in order to progressively withdraw from Europe, the Mediterranean and the Gulf and concentrate their efforts on contesting the Pacific with China. Romney might have delayed that process – Obama will almost certainly accelerate it.

That means that we will need to do much more heavy lifting than we have done for seventy years (long before we took the “peace dividend” at the end of the Cold War – back when we had conscription and an RN with independent global reach!); we will need to build serious military alliances with our big European neighbours, as well as actually rebuilding our own forces; and we need to look to our own energy security – nuclear, fracking, and FI oil as well as renewables.

The alternative will be to live within the very limited resources of our own small and densely populated islands…and we really don’t want that; worldwide free trade has secured us a much better situation than our home territories would allow, and we really need to think seriously about how we will defend it when the Yanks do go home; that is, by about 2025 at the latest.

All Politicians are The same
November 13, 2012 3:28 pm


The USN is assigning 4 extra Areligh Burkes to 6th Fleet over the next 3 years. Yes the US are changing priorities and the Pacific will be the focus of their Ops and especially big ticket assets but that has as much to do with their being no requirement for CBG and heavy Armour in Europe/Med anymore.

November 13, 2012 3:33 pm

@ Gloomy Northern Boy

I think you mean the G7 not the G20 which actually contains money of the world’s poorest people i.e India, China.
The UK is actually one of the most self sufficient G7 nations. 100% food sufficiency is possible for the UK if we go back to dense agriculture and we produce more of our own oil and gas than any other G7 member except Canada.
“If we want to maintain our current standard of living we must engage with issues like Syria,”
I might agree if we were talking about Libya but Syria does not have anything worth the blood shed and going back to my previous point issue’s like Syria are issue’s for the broader international community. We make up less than 1% of the world’s population but some in power in the UK seem to have appointed us the world’s police man every ready to charge off and fight other people’s war’s. I just don’t see the point or the benefit for the UK.
I seriously doubt we will see a retreat of the USA and if this did happen then I do believe we would have to increase our military capability. However as we only make up 1% of the world’s population I am not sure how much difference we can make. America seems to have taken then view that it is prepared to bankrupt itself to provide the likes of Japan and Germany with security but I don’t think it’s the right option for the UK.

All Politicians are The same
November 13, 2012 3:46 pm


Not sure why we concentrate on % of population. It is far more to do with GDP, we have never been short of manpower in Uk for military needs since the 1940s and when a couple of FAE armed bombers can render a 3rd world division combat incapable in ten minutes it is not about population size.

It is about reliance upon good order throughout the world and free flow of trade etc that allows us as a country of 60 million to be one of the richest in the world.

This does not mean i am in favour of intervening in Syria but cutting you nose off to spite our face in other situations is not a very clever plan.

November 13, 2012 4:04 pm


Agreed that GDP is a better indication of strength. My point on the population is,why do all the worlds problems have to be our problems? Its only because our leader’s make them our problems.

Its this dangerous mindset that see’s us stretched to breaking point across the world with an ever increasing foreign aid budget.

I agree that we benefit from a well ordered world especially freedom of the sea. however constant interventions on land post 1991 have seen us butcher our naval capability giving us less ability to maintain that freedom of the sea that we require so much.

One could also argue that its in all nations interest’s to maintain order and freedom of the sea which brings me back to my previous point why does it always have to be us?

No one will thank us if we topel the current Syrian regime. So why get involved?

If we turned of the TV would we even know something was happening in somewhere like Syria?

Gloomy Northern Boy
November 13, 2012 4:37 pm

@ Martin – I do mean the G20; our position there is pretty much secure, whereas our position in the G7 is not; and I am talking about the “top” 5% of the 200+ Countries in the UN, not about population size – not least because both India and China have a rich urban population which is to all intents and purpose a part of the developed world, but which is sitting on top of a poor rural population which is not; furthermore, the rich urban element represents no more than 1 in 5 or 6 of the whole – making absolute population size much less relevant.

Possibly we could feed ourselves on peas, beans and lentils in the long term, but our fuel security is strictly short term unless we do a great deal more to secure it – and peas, beans and lentils disagree with me!

I can see no reason to believe that the USA will not withdraw to their own “near abroad” and the Pacific – they have clearly said they intend to – and in Obama they have re-elected the first of many Pacific-facing non-WASP Presidents with no Atlanticist pre-disposition at all; hopefully those who follow him will not dislike us as much as he does, but they will certainly not feel the same instinctive connexion that all his predecessors since FDR did; the current reinforcement of the 6th Fleet is tactical, not strategic.

With that caveat where I disagree with him, I otherwise refer to m’learned friend @All Politicians are the Same; we need to stay in the game lest our grandchildren face a pretty crappy existence in a miserable and impoverished offshore island with lousy weather, and the trick is to keep up our GDP by maintaining good order alongside others – after, if necessary, doing a little more than they do in the first instance in order to get the ball rolling…

Mike W
November 13, 2012 5:36 pm


Agree absolutely with the comments about being “stretched to breaking point across the world with an ever increasing foreign aid budget” and how we have “butcher(ed) our naval capability, giving us less ability to maintain that freedom of the sea that we require so much”

Also agree with your point about how “no one will thank us if we topple the current Syrian regime. So why get involved?”

However, your last point “If we turned off the TV would we even know something was happening in somewhere like Syria?” smacks somewhat of sand and heads being firmly stuck in it. We encountered just a few minor problems in the late Thirties when many British were calmly munching their toast and marmalade and reading their Sunday newspapers, blithely ignorant of events in Austria, the Sudetenland, the Rhineland and Czechoslovakia. It wasn’t until Poland came along that we belatedly became fully aware of the awful truth and moved away from a policy of appeasement. Surely it is our job to know (i.e. not switch the TV off).

John Hartley
November 13, 2012 7:06 pm

Syria is billed as a fight between a wicked dictator & freedom loving democrats. This ignores Assads referendum to improve limited democracy in Syria. Why did the West denounce it, rather than applaud it as a first step to reform?
Is Syrias real crime, its support for Shia Iran? The US, Israel & the West are reluctant to attack Iran directly, so perhaps want to weaken Iran by destableizing its ally?
Does Cameron realise he will be unemployed in 2015 & is now trying to curry favour with rich Sunni Gulf states? Doing a Blair perhaps?
How does handing Syria to Al-Qaeda help the West?

November 13, 2012 7:20 pm

“David Cameron and General David Richards have both talked up the prospects of limited intervention in Syria and arming the rebels.” – Perhaps it will come out of our ring-fenced foreign aid budget? If the “rebels” get into power, and prove every bit as repressive as the current regime, so that in five years or so another set of “rebels” rises up to challenge the new regime, do we then arm the new rebels, and so on?

“He could have intel that will change our position” – Oh hell, not another dossier!

Re intervening in Syria. Let’s not.

John Hartley
November 13, 2012 8:38 pm

France is now to recognize the rebels in Syria. Do they know who or what they are supporting?

November 13, 2012 8:46 pm

People living in another, proud historic culture, (Another third world toilet). Decide they have had enough of their, Brave, independent,strong man,(Murdering torturing bastard) and revolt. natural everyone is agreed as to who they are against, but not on what they are for. So democrats Jihadists and tribal types all end up in one ‘resistance’. Big time shooting, big time massacring torturing etc becomes a game everyone can play.

Why do we want to go and stick our noses in? whats in it for us? And just WTF could we do about it anyway…? At this rate we could have deployed our mighty deployable brigade in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, etc etc.

I really get tired with the ‘We ignored hitler and look what happened’ argument. It is deployed as an argument for every intervention against 2 bit hardarse and his cronies.

November 13, 2012 10:06 pm

@John: Recognizing isn’t about sympathy or allying. It’s (supposed to be) about respecting sovereignty of the people. You are supposed to recognize as government whom you consider representative of the people.

Even the French government does not necessarily follow a proxy strategy here.
Instead, Paris appears to be very sensible to the need to be on good footing with the Arab populations rather than with the governments. They had a rude wake-up call in Tunisia and are implementing the lesson.

November 13, 2012 10:46 pm

I think the national interest is easy to see, we benefit from peace and stability in the region (and everywhere else really).

To me the question is how much are we willing to put into the kitty on the matter.

My instinct is, not much. Some diplomatic noise, probably a lot of noise, and perhaps a token blue beanie force of observers if it stops.

If trouble spills over into Turkey on any scale then its a different ball game. Some might argue that intervention should be made to pre-empt that but I’d rather play that one by ear. Even if it does happen Turkey is more than capable of defending itself and I therefore see only a token contribution of enablers like AAR in an almost non-combatant role and only to displace Syrian trouble makers.

We’ll make a lot of noise but little more than that. If it starts to spread we’ll have drama’s but it won’t just be us having them.

So to summarise: containment, diplomatic thunder, perhaps a token blue beanie or enabling force for VERY limited combat operations in support of Turkey if Article 5 somehow needs to be invoked.

To all those demanding action to stop the slaughter our Government should provide the Afghan Black bag issue and an assault rifle and a plane ticket to Syria. To those that go over unarmed anyway because they have the courage of their convictions more power to them, better folk than me.

Not a Boffin
November 13, 2012 11:00 pm

“Syria is billed as a fight between a wicked dictator & freedom loving democrats. This ignores Assads referendum to improve limited democracy in Syria. Why did the West denounce it, rather than applaud it as a first step to reform?
Is Syrias real crime, its support for Shia Iran?”

Syria’s “crime” is using lethal military force (including heavy weapons) on it’s own citizens , during a period when the western broadcast media has convinced itself that the “Arab Spring” is a good and apparently unquestionable thing. Once Assad started using lethal force on the scale he did, there was only going to be one outcome in the western media prism, given 24 hour news.

That the Alawite sect is supported by Iran is as irrelevant as the “freedom fighters” being supported by those fine upstanding Sunni gentlemen from Saudi and UAE.

Can you seriously imagine a western polly standing up and saying “we don’t like Assad, but frankly some of the nutcases on eth otehr side make him preferable”? No, me neither. Realpolitik was never really palatable, but it did have some basis in reality. “Emo-politik” (copyright NaB 2012) is just f8cking daft.

John Hartley
November 13, 2012 11:14 pm

If Assad is a monster for lethal military force, why no Western denouncement of the same in Bahrain? Or the ongoing shelling of a town in Libya, killing many innocent civilians, beacause the “good guy” new government thinks a few Gaddafi crones might have hid themselves there.

Not a Boffin
November 14, 2012 7:48 am

Because the 24hr news cycle has moved on from Bahrain (which has the 5th fleet base – realpolitik again)and Libya, so there is no need for the pollys to take a position.

I’m not suggesting one is good t’other bad. They’re all a bunch of @rseholes that have current global importance for the simple reason that for this brief couple of hundred years, tops, the world economy runs on “cheap” oil. Otherwise, we could give them all a stiff ignoring and let them argue over which camel to sh@g till the cows come home…..

John Hartley
November 14, 2012 8:56 am

What if Putin thinks his naval base in Syria is under threat? What will he do? Another good reason for the UK to stay out of Syria.
The UK should slightly beef up our forces on our crown bases in Cyprus, in case of overspill, but otherwise do nothing.
If we want to help Syria, then invite Syrian teenage boys to a scout jamboree on the crown bases in Cyprus, to keep them safe & out of the fighting, until the civil war is over. A good use for DfID money for once. Those lads would have clean hands when they went home & could thus be national leaders/great & good in 20-30 years time.

November 14, 2012 9:38 am

or just switch of the TV and spend that DFID money on something useful at home like energy research so we can stop dealing with corrupt middle eastern regimes. :-)

Mike W
November 14, 2012 10:26 am


Well, yes, you do have a telling point there. Some of the DFID money could be spent on other things.

Gloomy Northern Boy
November 14, 2012 10:47 am

Like building up functioning democracies with strong economies in small countries like Sierra Leone and Somaliland (need to recognise them first) that might then be happy to provide us with secure bases should we ever need them? Or modernising the usable infrastructure and thoroughly exploring the territorial waters of the BOTs? Or subsidising overseas patrol work and multi-purpose vessels for the RN? Or supporting a secure air and sea logistics network based in friendly territory that we can use for either civil or military contingencies?

Just a few thoughts that might be easier to sell as being about DfID objectives, but also useful for other activities of one sort or another.

November 14, 2012 11:09 am

Gloomy, “democracy” is an upper level government type that requires a strong, well educated middle class free from bias, not simply toss the damn system in and everything automatically works. The US tried that in Haiti with a pathatic lack of results. Or try the Phillipines, where “democracy” is the politician that spends the most money in bribes.

The West has been trying to sell “democracy” as a form of cure all for half a century. It isn’t. Like medicine, used wrongly, it can do more harm than good.

Gloomy Northern Boy
November 14, 2012 12:30 pm

A fair point, but both the places I identify are small in population with a large diaspora living in the UK who are already active citizens of a developed western democracy – but who maintain strong links with their original homelands, and often have both families and investments there; furthermore, I am advocating a carefully planned twenty or thirty year programme not parachuting in, in the aftermath of a war in which we were protagonists (our involvement in SL seems to have been genuinely welcomed). I think the cases are different (if handled effectively) and could prove useful to us in securing natural resources (that the Chinese will otherwise monopolise) and to the places involved who could over time build up Singapore-style trading states in key areas which would be well disposed towards us. Especially if we take the opportunity to facilitate private as well as public investment, and built up gradually from basic infrastructure in Year 1 to a World Class Research University by Year 30.

I might add that I shamelessly stole the idea from a previous TD article, but can’t remember the Author!

November 14, 2012 12:57 pm

@ Gloomy Northern Boy

I wrote a post advocating many of the same thing earlier

Skip forward to African Partnership. I advocated Kenya and Sirea Leone but no reason why Somaliland would not work.

November 14, 2012 1:06 pm

You’ve set yourself a very big, very expensive task Gloomy. :)

Basic requirements for a middle class:

Secured food supply
Secured water supply
Secured internal/external security
Universal educational coverage
Secured shelter
Secured jobs for Educated Class (wot, you want a roadsweeper with a degree? :P )

I’ll be honest, Singapore was a triple whammy of smarts, sweat and luck, especially luck. It may not be replicatable. After all, how often do you get a country slap bang in the middle of the only practical route between East and West? At a chokepoint no less. Or when it started developing, there was exactly a financial center gap between London and Tokyo which it then moved to fortify for it’s own to the point that even developing Malaysia or Indonesia have difficulty budging the chokehold it has on global finances in Asia?

And remember, it didn’t get where it was by democracy. It got there because its’ founder was a mean minded son of a bitch dictator who ironically got things done, and if not for his results, would have been classed with Gadaffi or Assad. Not that the media havn’t already done so often. :)

Nothing against him, mind you, it’s just calling a spade a spade.

Former CEO of Singapore Airlines: “He told me: “If you guys don’t show a profit within 2 years, I’ll close you down.””.

No surprise that he got along very well with Thatcher. :)

He may be a bastard, but at least he’s our bastard.

November 14, 2012 1:10 pm

Or, it could just be about undermining Iranian influence in the region, squeezing the pipeline of weapons and funds to groups in Lebanon, undermining Russian influence in the region and generally putting the money where the mouth is regarding humanist interventions, which sets up a precedent for a later clash somewhere that you really are keen to intervene in?

Just a few thoughts.

November 14, 2012 1:23 pm

@ Observer

If you look at South Korea the only other nation I am aware of to go from third to first world it’s also hardly a bastian of liberal democracy. Most European nations only adopted democracy after they were developed. Even the UK barely had democracy pre 1919.

One has to ask what would have happened to a number of nation’s had the stayed under colonial rule. It worked out pretty well for the likes of Hong Kong. Would nation like India be better of today? Quite possibly. I very sure that nations such as Sierra Leone would have been far better of. I know its very un pc to say but it does not mean that its un-true. I often have conversations with taxi driver’s in Malaysia who say the country would be much better of if the British came back.

November 14, 2012 1:31 pm


Yup, and that is another sticking point. Is the UK going to use undemocratic methods to bring about democracy? Can it? If they really do intervene, there is going to be the moral question of “Do the ends justify the means?”

Gloomy Northern Boy
November 14, 2012 1:32 pm

@Martin – Glad you identified yourself, and sorry if I seemed to plagiarise; no intention to do so, but the ideas feels to me like one whose time has come – all credit to the original Author; on the detail, I favour Somaliland because they are smaller and need and might welcome more help – especially some kind of tangible recognition; much less sure about Kenya, although once established on the Horn of Africa working with them would be a given.

@Observer – I know, but then this Country is good at big tasks and works better when taking one on; also the DfID Budget has a lot of money in it, and I for one am far from sure that we are getting much value from it; I think a C/B analysis might favour big expenditure in fewer places where we can make a real difference – providing “beacons of hope” if you like; also, if it works perhaps the Cousins and our near neighbours might look again about how they run their own aid budgets with equally beneficial results.

@Chris.B – Sort of, although it is more that I think we need a focussed forward strategy to keep us living in comparative luxury at home; I am not necessarily keen to intervene anywhere but I think we might need to if we are to remain in the G20 (with all the benefits that brings) in the longer term; for global traders keeping as much peace as possible in as many places as possible is not really discretionary…and without the scale to fix things after they go wrong trying to stop that outcome arising makes more sense.

November 14, 2012 2:02 pm

I mean, I’m not sure as there is a huge strategic case for Syria. But having a civil war going on there benefits nobody. Ending the war could open up deals, like it might in Libya as the economy recovers. It helps to isolate Iran a little more, which may make further negotiations with Iran easier on a subject that genuinely does matter to us. And it’s a punch in the gut of sorts to the Russians. Perhaps more of a sly poke in the side.

November 14, 2012 2:06 pm

“And it’s a punch in the gut of sorts to the Russians.”

…er? Think he already got knocked out in the late 1990s, quit poking the poor fella will you? :)

Gloomy Northern Boy
November 14, 2012 2:11 pm

@Martin – I think the Empire had run its course, certainly for big players; although I do sometimes wonder about the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Northern Island, The West Indies, Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus, Singapore, Sierra Leone…et al; including all the Islands and actual or potential Trading City-States in a genuinely global, multi-cultural and potent developed world Parliamentary Democracy/ Constitutional Monarchy; furthermore, if we had offered that option in 1952 straight after the Coronation I bet fair few would have voted for it. (I am taking more water with it!)

@Observer – we do the heavy lifting on infrastructure and investment and support the locals (and diaspora) in making their own decisions on good governance – as I said, these are small places with strong links and big populations here well able to sort out something that works for them and looks ok to us – and they are trying to do it; we are just helping out, albeit in a big, focussed way.

Gloomy Northern Boy
November 14, 2012 2:16 pm

@Chris.B – spot on.

@Observer – tell Putin that – I personally wouldn’t, although I was a Town Hall Wallah as opposed to an Underwater Knife Fighter!

November 14, 2012 3:20 pm

@ GNB – I know the BE ran its course. Principally because there was in sufficent economic benefit for the people that had to pay for it i.e. the British tax payer. I just wonder what the world might have been like if nations like India, Pakistan, Somalia etc had proper governance for the past 50 years. Would they have developed rapidly and been high income nations today?

If you look at British Overseas Territories today they have higher per capita GDP than even the UK. Hong Kong is the only example I can think of of a substantial sized territory that stayed in the BE to the end of the 20th century and look what was achieved there.

I think a continued BE or rather expanded UK with states in it like Penang, Singapore, Malta and maybe even New Zealand, Australia and Canada would have been a great thing. However the UK establishment i.e. the ones who though the British Empire came from the playing fields of Eton rather than the shipyards of Glasgow where just too short sighted, bigoted and racists to ever consider a new world vision going right back to 1776.

November 14, 2012 3:59 pm

Remember the opposite end too. After the British failure in WWII to defend the Territories, which a lot of people that time saw as them abandoning the outer colonies to fight in Europe, a lot of people that had to live under Japanese rule don’t really trust the UK not to pull a repeat performance if it was threatened again, which meant self determination in defence at minimum.

November 14, 2012 4:16 pm

@ Observer – That’s certainly true in Malaysia and Singapore. However how much of the BE was actually invaded in WWII? Only a very small fraction. In many ways Malaya and Singapore were the outer defences of India and they essentially did their job. Take away India and the reason to have them fades.

Talking to Singaporeans I was quite surprised at the lack of understanding they had for the strategic position the British were in in 1941. The talk of being abandoned by the British (maybe true in Penang) However the British never abandoned Singapore rather the largest British Army ever captured stayed in the city to the bitter end.

The entire situation was grim but the British were faced with some stark choices hold the middle east against the very real threat of Italy and Germany or garrison the far east against the possible threat from Japan. In the end even with hindsight they made the right choice.

I think the choices than came after WWII were far more critical. The formation of Malaya and Singapore was probably flawed from the start. It would likely have been better to maintain eight or nine separate independant territories and offered Penang and Singapore self Governing status with a view to either full independence or union with the UK at some point. It certainly would have made the Malaya dilema and the race issue much easier to deal with. However all turned out ok in the end I suppose.

November 14, 2012 5:39 pm

There was for most of Empire’s life a surprising disconnect between the British people (that is those outside the elites) and the idea of empire.Empire was very much the exotic place name on the tin of produce or the dark skinned soldier on a cigarette card. Distance and simpler lives of British meant that horizons were both literally and intellectually distant. The grasp on empire was so slight in was nearly a confidence trick.

As for Pakistan and India. Well the former was more a product of a political elite taking an hypothetical idea without the merest inkling of any real world legitimacy and generating a crisis out of it that probably ranks amongst the worst in humanity’s history. Indeed Pakistan’s problem in a nut shell is that it is not India. One wonders if Mr Salmond has ever read any books on Jinnah?

Gloomy Northern Boy
November 14, 2012 8:45 pm

All good reasons not to wholly regret the passing of Empire – although I do, at least a little; hence my belief that as the USA withdraw we might benefit from getting out there and engaging a little more – albeit on rather different terms; similarly, much merit in doing more with Australia, New Zealand and Canada; as I have said before, the Yanks are going home…and we can’t afford to; we need to be out there much more than they do. Which is, of course, why we went out there in the first place…

November 14, 2012 8:54 pm

I think you will find it is the UK who turned its back on the White Commonwealth so that it could join the EEC/EC/EU.

As I am fond of saying we turned our back on those who share our culture, who had resources, and provided us with markets, for those who resent us, have no resources and wanted ours, and had competing industries (whose quotas have cost more British jobs than competition with countries outside the EEC/EC/EU.)

November 14, 2012 9:00 pm


I do sympathise with the British situation in the war, but it was exactly the fact that it was the strategic thinking of Britain 1st that led to the drawdown of material to fight the war in the Far East. Which means to avoid a repeat, the locals can only rely on themselves for defence as any Imperial force by their nature can be removed to anywhere else around the world.

I suspect a large part of their paranoia came from the Clean Sweep policy that the Japanese occupation forces implemented. After all, the execution of all males from the ages of 18-35 tends to disincline anyone for another repeat of the same lesson.

RE: the Malayan Federation needed to be united or it would have fallen piecemeal to either the communists or that nut Sukarno.

November 14, 2012 9:07 pm

“I think you will find it is the UK who turned its back on the White Commonwealth so that it could join the EEC/EC/EU.” – Quite possibly the stupidest decision we’ve made since we decided to break ranks and charge down that hill at Hastings.

November 14, 2012 9:33 pm

Imperial Protection! No Home Rule!

November 14, 2012 9:35 pm

@ Observer re Imperial Forces

Also perhaps venturing a little bit further into the jungle to discover that thanks to the canopy the ground isn’t covered in dense foliage.

@ Wise Ape

Yep. Plus mishandling the North American colonies. Fighting WW1, do you know what the German for Brussels is? Not giving Ireland dominion status before WW1. And the same for India; well not quite dominion status but I know what I mean. And Channel 4 and the re-imagining of Dr Who.

November 14, 2012 9:40 pm

The British Empire as it was in 1945 was doomed to collapse after the war. A bankrupt, windswept little island in the N. Atlantic that had failed to defend vast swathes of it’s territory in S.E Asia was never going to be able to pretend it was still number one.

However I do share peoples frustration with the UK for not trying to reshape what it could hold onto and see the potential for a Commonwealth which was more than just a social club. Little glimpses of what could have been appear here and there such as the Commonwealth division in Korea and ANZUK forces in Malaysia/Singapore as well as the tried and failed West Indies federation, East African union and full sovereign integration for Malta.

I guess Britain at that time just didn’t have the appetite for real forward thinking ambition, oh well!

No idea what all of this has to do with Syria, but it’s very interesting none the less!

November 14, 2012 9:53 pm

Challenger said “No idea what all of this has to do with Syria, but it’s very interesting none the less!”

Surely it obvious? Syria was a French colony, while the UK is an EU, sorry French, EU colony…

I bet Dave’s change of direction on this issue is because our friends across the ENGLISH Channel are cooking something up. A sort of Libya 2.0..

November 14, 2012 10:06 pm

@WiseApe: who is this “we” kemo sabe? Most of my lot were with the Frogs :-)

November 14, 2012 10:10 pm

It didn’t have the appetite and it was flat out and completely broke. It was flat out broke in 1941 in fact. It’s very ambiguous if the “Empire” even bought any actual benefits to the UK over what we could have had anyway trading with places.

The Empire was definitely a case of the dog who caught a bus. And support for it was far, far from unified.

Gloomy Northern Boy
November 14, 2012 10:15 pm

@Challenger – started with a discussion about how much events in Syria mattered to us; no real consensus on that, but there does seem to be a level of agreement that we need to be out there and engaged with the world if we are to maintain our current rather comfortable standard of living. Ambition may have returned, at least to Think Defence!

November 15, 2012 12:06 am

@Gloomy Northern Boy

Engaging the world with diplomacy and trade, yes absolutely!

Meddling in every quarrel, conflict and flashpoint the world can dream up….not so sure.

Gloomy Northern Boy
November 15, 2012 1:18 am

@Challenger – Of course – but then somebody a lot smarter than me did describe war as an extension of Diplomacy by other means…

November 15, 2012 2:17 am

And sometimes diplomacy is being called “Good dog!!” just before being wacked with a big stick. :)

No to civil war interventions.

November 15, 2012 4:00 am

@ Observer

I certainly agree that the mind set of leaders in the region was shaped by the occupation specifically Lee Kuan Yew who was shot at which I think goes some way to explaining Singapore’s preoccupation with defence spending and its 8% of GDP budget. However I don’t think a feeling of insecurity was necessarily a reason to look to get rid of the British. Indeed Singapore joined Malaya specifically to try and enhance its security and prevent the island falling to communism.

Regarding the Malayan Federation. If the British had stayed as with Brunei I don’t think a loose grouping of Malayan states (like the UAE) would have fallen to communism or Indonesia. I am sure the race riots of 1963 and 1969 could have been avoided and the Bumi Putra system would never have come in which would likely make the area far more competitive today. I don’t see why Penang and Singapore could not have eventually become British nations like England or Scotland or be self governing territories such as Jersey with a looser grouping of Malayan kingdoms possible like the UAE as neighbours.

Don’t get me wrong Singapore has done an amazing job but its the exception to the rule. Malaysia is a great country but it only works because of one of the worlds most racists economic systems and the tolerance of the Chinese and Indian minorities desperate to avoid a repeat of 1969. Logic dictates that the current set up can’t last for ever and change maybe be difficult or impossible.

November 15, 2012 6:56 am

If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed about Empires, it’s that eventually they’ll collapse.

It’s fine to start off with, because you’re making a lot of money. But eventually the people that live in the colonies are going to realise that with the power to trade their goods with who they please, there’s a lot more money to be made. And best of all, they get to keep the money and spend it on themselves.

And without abundant natural resources (including population) anymore, we’re always going to struggle to approach anything near the levels of GDP that some nations above us possess. No amount of trading blocs and deals are going to change that.

That’s not to say we can’t improve our position from the current one, but trying to bring back the British Empire is not going to work. Trying to make Britain “Great Again” is just as likely to bankrupt the country as it is to have any kind of meaningful effect.

If only people, politicians etc could settle for “Pretty Bloody Good”, then we might actually put together a more realistic plan that has a chance of working.

November 15, 2012 9:50 am

@ Chris B

With out doubt and I would not look to bring anything back. I was merely lamenting on what could have been given a bit of foresight from post 1945 Government’s.

The only empires that last are empires like the USA where an empire is turned into a nation. unfortunately due to short sightedness the opportunity that the UK had to do this in America, Canada, Australia and NZ was wasted because the powers that be had no vision. The BE was very much a case of the dog the caught the bus then went of and deluded its self that is was due to some form of divine right rather than a fluck of history and geography now were are only left with the cold pishy island in the north atlantic that everyone was trying to get a way from in the first place :-)

November 15, 2012 10:27 am

To be really honest martin, I can’t see how the UK could have hoped to have held on to her territories considering that she did not have the funding for it, and that the people living there wanted her out too.

Gloomy Northern Boy
November 15, 2012 10:45 am

@ Chris B. and Martin – agreed – all I have argued is that if we engage intelligently with the world using the resources we already spend – in a more focussed way, and with some re-allocations – we can make the “cold pishy island” “pretty bloody good”; and a part of that calculation is defence in it’s widest meaning, including energy security/infrastructure, a forward policy using the DfID budget to build serious friendships in a few of small places in potentially strategic locations, more scientific exploration of resources in the BOT/Maritime Areas, better Diplomacy and Intelligence and some more direct defence spending.

The overall UK Budget without the £45Bn we spend on Defence is £645Bn; if we top sliced that by 10% and coupled it with other Budgets like DfID, the FO, Intelligence we would be looking at £110Bn+ intended to get people out there in the world and doing, not sitting at home feeling miserable and depressed. Anybody out there who thinks the other budgets couldn’t take the cuts – or indeed that the Education, Employment Prospects and Health of a rising generation of jobless youngsters in the Midlands and North wouldn’t be enhanced by an expansion of high tech manufacturing, overseas development or scientific jobs, or direct service in the Armed Forces?

These are choices, and after thirty years as a manager in urban regeneration in a struggling northern city my experience is that we are paying offices full of deeply unhappy bureaucrats rather badly to look after vastly more ill, unoccupied and profoundly depressed clients even worse. The current revenue-account led approach to public expenditure on these issues isn’t working, and few people involved with it would tell you it was; a shift to the capital investment model is long overdue…

I might add, we should also be requiring people with a substantial amount of money who choose to live here because we are already “pretty bloody good” in many ways to invest some of that cash in 50-year interest bearing “Rebuilding Britain Bonds” to help pay for some of it; if Central London has become a rich man’s club, we are perfectly entitled to increase the membership fees…

November 15, 2012 11:41 am

Seriously, your idea about the budget would be a macroeconomic disaster in the long term.

An additional 64.5 bn spending on the military would probably gain benefits worth a few hundred millions. You simply don’t capture Iraq’s oilfields for your exploitation with such a budget; most of it would have no measurable benefits instead.
So effectively all those billions would be government consumption and have only consumption effects. The budgets cut would lose substantial public investment resources, so overall national or public investment would fall. This in turn would lower the natural GDP path.

Keep in mind you’re talking throwing about a thousand pounds per capita and year out of the window. I suppose almost all Brits would prefer a thousand pounds every year coupled with the feeling that their nation is no superpower over what you propose. Especially as your proposal would reduce their other income by several hundred pounds annually in the long term.

Gloomy Northern Boy
November 15, 2012 1:29 pm

@SO – I’m not advocating additional expenditure of £64.5Bn, I am suggesting we shift that amount from the revenue to the capital budget because the first keeps people in poorly paid misery and the second should create high tech manufacturing jobs; I’m not suggesting we put it all into defence – energy security, infrastructure, focussed overseas development and exploration/science all came before defence on my list – and even on defence I would put diplomacy and intelligence before “boots on the ground”.

I am making that suggestion because thirty years of close observation of the welfare state in places where it really matters suggest to me that although we may have made progress on Want and Disease, the jury is still out on Ignorance and we have actually made Idleness and Squalor worse, and at great cost in human misery.

Shifting expenditure to the capital account allows the possibility of training and employing greater numbers of well paid future taxpayers, and might, ultimately have macroeconomic benefits as opposed to dis-benefits. I was not advocating more public spending but the same directed differently, and in the belief that taking the course I advocate is actually a better way to achieve the social goods identified by Beveridge than the current arrangements – which have immiserated many, and excluded them from the comfort and security that most of us enjoy.

November 15, 2012 4:09 pm

@ GNB – Pretty big Macroeconomic move. Shifting a large junk of GDP from consumption to investment can have major ramifications just look at China.

UK pension’s are hardly generous by any standards. Could you cut 10% of them? Same goes for health, UK spending is pretty mediocore by western standards. You might cut it but then people would be forced to pay for it privatley so its effectivly a tax increase. If you don’t cut pensions and health then there ain’t much point in cutting anything else.

The DFID budget is the easy one to cut as no voters have to suffer and the net macro effect is positive. £ 12 billion get’s you a hell of a lot in terms of Science or Infrastructure spending. i.e. HS2 and HS3 every 5 years or so.

Don’t see much point in the 50 year rebuild Britain bonds. To be honest the majority of our bonds are 30 years anyway and we pay bugger all interest. The BOE has effectivly made £300 billion in new money with out denting the currency or raising inflation so if the country needs the cash for infrastructure just print it. central London is only a rich man’s club because of tax breaks. Tax them and they will move else where.

I am not actually aware of any other developed nation excluding Japan that seems to be building as much infrastructure as the UK is, HS2, Cross rail,new Forth Road Bridge, West coast mainline, London Olympics mass railway electrification, two new railways lines in Scotland in the last three years alone and offshore wind turbine building at a rate thought impossible just 15 years ago. To be honest other than the fact that the rest of the world is f**ked I don’t think the UK actually has any real issue’s economically. When everyone else sorts their s**t out the UK will go back to normal.

Gloomy Northern Boy
November 15, 2012 4:47 pm

@Martin – much to agree with in what you say, but I still return to three key points:
1. More than 60 years on important parts of the welfare state are not delivering on key aspects of Beveridge, and may well in some cases be making things worse; we need to look again at how we are approaching the problem.
2. Paying people to do good and interesting stuff out there in the world is not inherently more expensive than paying them to be miserable at home, and has to be worth a try.
3. Morally it is important to make sure that people who choose to live here because it is “PBG” stand their corner – not least because if they don’t it has consequences on how we feel about ourselves and them, and these are not likely to be good ones; my plan might not be a very clever one, but there must be other options.
Ultimately, I guess we just agree to differ.

November 15, 2012 6:13 pm

It bugs me that the DfID is constantly rolled out as a place to make cuts to fund fantasy United Kingdom Marine Corps.

There’s some toss in that budget like every budget, but spending money to develop markets and stability – both key national interests, through peace and not war is not a fundamentally flawed strategy.

Now the methods of allocating that money are open to challenge, but that does not mean that the concept is a poor one.

November 15, 2012 6:14 pm

“More than 60 years on important parts of the welfare state are not delivering on key aspects of Beveridge, and may well in some cases be making things worse; we need to look again at how we are approaching the problem.”

Dont get me started.

November 15, 2012 6:28 pm

@wf – “who is this “we” kemo sabe? Most of my lot were with the Frogs” – We are magnanimous and we forgive you.

Re the American colonies, they didn’t turn out too badly did they? Granted baseball instead of cricket; rugby in helmets (go Patriots) and guns in supermarkets, but on the plus side pizza delivered to your door.

And were it not for Independence, who would we thrash at golf every two years? Hang on, if we leave the EU does that mean we can’t play in the Ryder Cup?

November 15, 2012 6:35 pm

Ahh! To be young with ideals. Reminds me of the 70s when Africa was going to rise from under the white man’s oppressive heal.

Gloomy Northern Boy
November 15, 2012 7:18 pm

@Phil – just to be clear I have never advocated reducing DfID, just using it differently and improving the way it interacts with overseas scientific endeavour, diplomacy, intelligence, and defence.

On the Beveridge business, I think we should take that to another website!

November 16, 2012 12:22 am

“…rugby in helmets (go Patriots)”

Die. Scum.

Swimming Trunks
November 16, 2012 12:29 am
November 16, 2012 9:12 am

To be involved in a conventional military way would be a mistake. I am not convinced we have the capability, skills nor need to do so. Too many lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan have not been learn’t.

But getting a toehold in a non conventional, asymmetric way is fine given the Iran factor and its strategic placement in Iranian global-sphere.

November 16, 2012 9:41 am


“Paying people to do good and interesting stuff out there in the world is not inherently more expensive than paying them to be miserable at home, and has to be worth a try.”

The problems is that the people capable of doing the interesting stuff are already doing it. The ones sitting at home on benefits probably are not capable. By spending the money as you advocate we end up crowding out the part of the economy generating revenue for the country in favour of something the tax payer has to pay for.

I don’t have a solution to the issue. However its unlikely there is a solution for a country the size of the UK.

November 16, 2012 10:26 am

A good number of professionals I know (architects, solicitors, even doctors) have interesting jobs that they don’t find too interesting. Many professionals go through the motions and aren’t always the creative and committed souls we believe them to be.

As for “The ones sitting at home on benefits probably are not capable.” probably true a decade back but not now. I know lots of capable and hard workers who can’t get work. And I know lots of incapable and work shy who have jobs.

Gloomy Northern Boy
November 16, 2012 10:58 am

@Martin – as @X agrees, not necessarily true; and as well as the Clients there is a whole massive bureaucracy sitting on top of them – many of them able but fed-up (like @X’s demoralised professionals); all of them might welcome a state which spends the same money in ways promoting a more adventurous and enterprising life; and of course create more vacancies for the more pedestrian and less able as others move on to something that engages them more.

That leaves aside all the opportunities in high-tech manufacturing a shift towards a capital and overseas investment (not aid!) state might bring. Our emergence into the world started in the 1550’s with the first Merchant Venturers Companies, most of which had some state backing…

November 16, 2012 11:27 am

Um. I wouldn’t say they were all demoralised, just not truly interested. Being a “professional” to a good number is as much as means to an end as working in a supermarket for others. And some shift gear through training. A young doctor friend of mine dearly wanted to be a cardiologist but after being exposed to the sharp end decided life as GP was better, less stress, and required a lot less intellectual rigor. Spends his weeks bored out of his mind prescribing pills, potions, and lotions; but is doing so on a small fortune. That is contrast to a barrister I know who loves his job. Not really interested in the philosophical points of law and justice and ethics etc, but dearly loves getting one over on others, and then ramming it home before grinding them into the dirt. I know an architect who can size up a job in the first hour and is then on automatic pilot; not all architects get to be Wren or Le Corbusier.

I am troubled by the fact that some decide to become dentists. Even though my dentist (and his predecessor) are good sorts.

Gloomy Northern Boy
November 16, 2012 2:55 pm

@x – Oddly, so is my Nephew – a good sort and becoming a Dentist; I think this is another conversation to take elsewhere, rather like the one about Beveridge…

November 16, 2012 3:43 pm


The problem with altering a very very very large machine like the British economy is that you create massive problems. The 5% of GDP you suggest does not sound like a lot but it’s pretty large. You may fix some problems but you screw up a lot of other thing’s in the process.

What sort of economic size was Mow’s great lead forward as a % of the overall economy. Look what happened there.

The UK government is trying to cut around 0.7% of GDP off of government spending at present ( and failing to do so) and look at the devastating impact that is having. Trying to do 5% over night even with out a net loss would be very dangerous and I just can’t see the benefit.

I agree the UK needs a new direction and has done for a long time but I don’t think £ 70 billion a year is necessary or achievable for this purpose.

November 16, 2012 4:53 pm

Mow’s? Did Larry and Curley know anything about it? :)

Think you meant Mao’s Great Leap Forward (or backward, depending on how cynical you are)

Gloomy Northern Boy
November 16, 2012 6:22 pm

@Martin – as you rightly suggest, we do need a change of direction and however we set about it carries a level of risk – many known unknowns, and probably even more unknown unknowns; but if we do what we always do, we will get what we always get; which will not, in my view, keep us in the G20 in an increasingly challenging and turbulent century; and is not, in my view, serving us as well as we might be served even now.

Eventually, we will need to take another direction and deal with the risks involved; better in my view to choose one – before the actions of others direct us on a course that we have not chosen and may not care for…

November 16, 2012 8:28 pm

@ Gloomy

Good for your nephew. As I said they all seem to be nice chaps, I just don’t why nice chaps would pick what is a bit of an odd, but essential, job. FWIW most undertakers I know are very pleasant too.

John Hartley
November 16, 2012 10:49 pm

Between 1989 & 2011 , China built 50,000 miles of motorway/expressway. How many miles of motorway did Britain build in that period?
If you think £375 billion of QE has not dented the pound, look at the Australian dollar. I got 2.7 Aus dollars to the pound in 2000, now around 1.5. Pound looks good against other currencies in trouble (Euro,US dollar) , but not against currencies with sensible interest rates, low government debt & no QE.

November 17, 2012 3:33 pm

John; the UK did shed much of its manufacturing sector (or at least of the sector’s share of the GDP) and the result have been negative trade balanced since the late 90’s. It was inevitable that this leads to a weakening of the GDP. Australia had a period of strong export surplus a few years ago (probably in part due to raw material export prices).

Domestic inflation is the correct measure if you want to look at the effect of monetary policy alone; for exchange rates you also need to look at the effects of trade balances.

John Hartley
November 17, 2012 10:05 pm

Its not just Australia.
Norway & other non banker bugg*r*d currencies also look good against the pound,euro,greenback.

November 18, 2012 12:54 pm

I think the UK interest is getting the civil war over…quickly. To be brutally realistic we are not that fussy about who controls Syria, as long as someone does and they dont mess about outside their borders. A long brutal civil war will create decades of conflict and increase the likelihood of Saudi funded jihadists causing regional problems.

It appears to be the Syrian air power that is dragging out the conflict, and causing the most TV unfriendly casualties.
What options are there for destroying Syrian airpower?
Giving the disparate rabble of rebels anti aircraft systems is not a good idea.
A no-fly zone would need a first day destruction of the anti-aircraft defences that would require US assistance and the Russians looking the other way (could it be done out of Turkey in a way that avoided the Syrian AA umbrella – presumably there isnt much AA in the rebel areas?)
How about “rebels obtaining MANPADS” that is actually UAE special forces (ie mainly contractors who may or may not have recently “left” the UK and US special forces) taking in weapons but keeping control of them and their use?

Is it possible for the Syrians to live together peacefully without a strongman in charge? If we are eventually going to see a balkanisation and ethnic cleansing is it better to get it over with soon and with a modicum of control before it gets really vicious? Let the Kurds have their corner, let the sunnis join the Iraqi sunnis, and give the Alawites a Russian guaranteed safe haven around the Russian naval base (so the Russians get a win). It isnt very liberal touchy feely, but the alternatives are pretty ugly.

November 19, 2012 8:49 pm

@Chris B – Re “Die.Scum.” – missed this at the time.

“Just a few thoughts.” – a noble ambition.

John Hartley
November 19, 2012 10:53 pm

Well if Iran tries to distract from Syria by getting Gaza to fire rockets at Israel, then Israel may invade Gaza. The islamic gov in Egypt may not sit it out. This is my way of saying , do not put a token & vulnerable British force into Syria just as a full blown Mid East war might break out.
After all, Osborne has no plans to buy an Iron Dome system under UOR.

November 19, 2012 11:11 pm

@John Hartley: actually, I suspect the govt in Egypt will sit it out. Firstly, they have no money or food, and the only places they can get either from are the West: the Brotherhood are hated by the Saudi’s. Secondly, they are perfectly aware the Israeli’s would kick their arses into the middle of next week, which would ruin the Brotherhood’s “project” in Egypt. Hamas are overplaying their hand, IMHO….

John Hartley
November 20, 2012 12:22 pm

Egypt has more than one option.
Yes they could send in their army & airforce, but I agree that is unlikely. Chances are they will smuggle in Man SAMs, luggable anti tank missiles & mines, heavy anti air machineguns + volunteers who know how to use them.

John Hartley
November 20, 2012 8:56 pm

AL SAQR, the Egyptian version of the SA-7. I wonder when they will turn up in Gaza?

November 20, 2012 9:11 pm

Except that the Egyptians have a recent history of being complicit in Israeli efforts to prevent weapons getting into Gaza, as Egypt doesn’t want a fight on its border anymore than Israel does.

@ WiseApe,
““Just a few thoughts.” – a noble ambition”
— Don’t make me put highlights of last years Superbowl on my blog. Nobody wants to see that.

November 20, 2012 10:12 pm

@Chris.B. – they were clearly offside.

Who do we mean by “Egypt?” More factions than The Peoples’ Front of Judea.

December 6, 2012 12:40 pm

Skimmed over the thread and Chris B’s Nov 14th “taking inventory” of the underlying drivers for the “West” and for Israel seemed very valid to me.

How are things going to be impacted (accelerated?) by the recent
“The rebel successes in Deir el-Zour have effectively cut the regime’s ground lines of communication and supply to Iraq. They have also starved the regime of the vast majority of its oil revenue and affected its ability to fuel its war machine. At the same time, the rebels are reportedly already seeking to capitalize on their seizure of the eastern oil fields”?

[The quote from] Read more: Al Assad’s Last Stand | Stratfor

Although a big play is made of oil revenues (in the above, modelled on the actual situation that prevailed in Libya), isn’t it really most important that there will be no more supply line (through the porous Iraq) from Iran, other than to the Alawite Med coast that is more closely monitored?
– and that goes for Hezbollah, too, not just for Assad’s regime

December 6, 2012 12:46 pm

ACC, are you by any chance working for a fine upstanding chap by the name of Victor Frankenstein?

December 6, 2012 3:08 pm

Hi Observer, the question is rather: which side of conflict in Syria was a creation by Victor F?
– if you ask the ordinary Syrians, they would say “both”
– and the fact is that they can’t decide which side to be more afraid of

December 6, 2012 3:30 pm

I was refering to your tendency of digging up dead topics. :P

December 6, 2012 3:57 pm

Don’t worry, if you can grin & bear forthcoming (if any) comments on the A400 programme, then I will have caught up with the three months’ worth that I missed in between

December 6, 2012 7:41 pm

Assad is in trouble. If he has any brains he’ll be on a flight to somewhere remote where he’s safe from extradition.

John Hartley
December 7, 2012 6:34 pm

Its not just Assad. When the jihadis win they will massacre the Alawites & Christians.