Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Beware the alliance which is exclusive

This may look like nothing more than conservative efficiency in action but it carries with it the great dangers which led to the 1914 - 1918 Great War.
... a Defence Ministry source told Reuters that Britain might cancel one or both of its planned new aircraft carriers to cut costs, though there were no plans to scale back the country's nuclear deterrent.

The proposal involving France would make it easier for Britain to scrap or downgrade one of the two replacement carriers under construction, the Times said.

The newspaper said the proposal would ensure that one of three ships -- one French and two British -- would always patrol the seas.

"Using each other's carriers would require decisions to be made at the strategic level so that national aims on any given operation would be the same," the naval source was quoted as saying.

That may sound eminently logical but it puts a great many things at risk. For one thing, it means that the foreign policy of both countries has to be identical. Aircraft carriers have only had one good war - the 2nd World War, and then we can divide that to two different roles. In the Pacific they were both the projection of tactical power and the defence of the fleet logistics train which ranged across the World's largest ocean. In the Atlantic they were, with exceptions, employed in an expanding defensive role.

Since then, they have been expensive and difficult to defend targets. They do well in an escalating diplomatic environment, but the survivability of such a large warship requiring so many layers of defence has been the subject of many debates. Even in the Falklands conflict the post-mortem of that action has raised a question which I have never heard answered properly: "Would it have been easier and more effective to take and defend an island airfield?"

But this really isn't about aircraft carriers. This is about forming one of those back door alliances which eventually result in a euchre.

We already know how a major collective alliance responds to an unexpected call to arms. When the United States was attacked, not by a nation state, but by a group of ideological whackjobs the US invoked a chapter 5 response from NATO. Every member of NATO nodded in the affirmative. Most then sat back and watched. An alliance structured to deal with a single threat, the Soviet Union, was not prepared to shift the focus to another and perhaps more ominous threat. If it wasn't T-72 tanks crossing the German plains then it made no sense - and it wasn't their problem.

Time wore on that alliance. It became clear that the machinations of the George W. Bush administration were not consistent with the intended purpose of the NATO alliance. Bush's insistence on the requirement to invade Iraq put NATO in a spot. Afghanistan - maybe; Iraq - not part of the program.

I think I can safely say that if any country other than the United States, especially when it was led by Cheney and Bush, had been similarly attacked, that country would have considered the attack an issue they would have had to deal with independently.

Britain never invoked the NATO response when dealing with the IRA.

The problem with strategic alliances, such as the British and French are considering is the deal. They make one, based on today's known threats and then it gets pulled into action for some reason altogether different from the original intention. Unless the British and French intend to pursue an identical foreign policy, they will have different strategic objectives. That's fine, but to commit each others' force projection platforms is little more than hiring expensive mercenaries.

Where's the morality?

There isn't any. It has the potential, based on historical proof, to draw a country into a war it did not want.

It was little back door alliances like the one apparently bubbling up between Britain and France which helped accelerate the rush into the Great War. It all started with saving money and moved to government led calls to patriotic nationalism. It was a militarism promoted by governments which could not afford it.

And there's no saying what will happen to second-rate powers like Canada in this. With a war junkie like Harper in charge it puts us in a position of thoughtless commitment of forces to an already lost effort. Keep in mind, Harper was more than a little adamant that Canada should have committed troops and resources to the Bush invasion of Iraq. He never once questioned Bush directly on why he was doing it. He simply sucked up the falsified information and went op-ed. It doesn't matter that he has subsequently suggested that his mindless intransigence would have been a mistake. We already know that, and if he'd been the prime minister of the day, we would have just now been withdrawing our surviving troops from the bloody occupation of a country which had attacked nobody and had threatened nobody with anything but empty words.

The results of war are unpredictable at best. Both sides are out to win - at all costs. Committing one's forces as a strategic resource to another nation's strategic objectives is dangerous - and as mindlessly stupid as the Triple Entente.

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