State of Play

PM Rishi Sunak

by Ralph Berry

The interminable Russo-Ukrainian war has reached the stage that Kipling called ‘the old, stale front that we cannot shake.’  The relationships within the main players are however in the process of decisive change.  I now call the scores of the main four.

US: Biden has made a gross error in admitting cluster bombs as allowed to Ukraine, on the pretext that they need it to make up for shell shortage.  The Ukrainians have apparently been firing off more explosive rounds than their suppliers can keep up with.  But cluster bombs have been banned by 123 countries including Britain, signitories to the Budapest Memorandum of 1994.  It is not even clear that the cluster bombs would add greatly to the Ukraine battle effort, but they are certain to take a toll of civilians. The cluster bomb decision does not look like a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.

Today I have witnessed on TV Rishi Sunak giving Biden a gentle reprimand on the sunlit lawns of Downing Street.  This is new, as an event and in its implications.

UKRAINE: Their position is significantly weakening.  The talked-up offensive is officially ‘disappointing’, which means that it is failing against the well-ordered Russian defences.  Zelensky’s only answer is to demand more and better military aid, a never-ending series.  He has been told that the US favours his entry into NATO–after the war is ended.  So it’s No, then.  Nor will Polish pilots be given access to the high-grade planes that America owns.

NATO countries are evidently tiring of their support for a country that delivers no successes save for the court in the most corrupt country in Europe, save only one–Russia.

RUSSIA:  Russia never got big through being lovable.  If they can weather the WAGNER storm, as seems likely, they will continue the business of grinding down Ukraine and forcing them to give up their ridiculous demand for total victory.  They have the resources and the will.

BRITAIN: Under Boris Johnson, Britain went va banque on Ukraine, and it has remained the nation’s top priority issue.  It is tied to a person and a policy over which they have little or no control.  That system looks increasingly fragile as the problems crowd in on Rishi Sunak.  When Sunak feels that he has to detach himself from US policy it is not a happy sign, and the US veto over the appointment of a British head of NATO stings.  The favoured candidate is Ursula Von der Leyen who would test the limits of satire.  As Churchill said, ‘everything is on the move at the same time.’


3 Responses

  1. In the Ukraine/West/Russia murderous fiasco, U/W is on the wrong side of history and justice. Shame on the West. Descendants of the 200,000+ dead Ukrainians will not forgive us for deliberately betraying them.
    Now we will suffer our karmauppance.

  2. Well, it’s only been a year and a half. That’s a longish one compared with the Balkan Wars of a century ago or some of the Russo-Turkish wars, though not by much, but well short of the Spanish Civil War, the recent Syrian wars, the 90s Balkan wars taken in aggregate at least, and many others. I’m not sure I’d call in interminable in the usual, colloquial sense of the term. Perhaps in the less common, literal sense that it will prove impossible to terminate it, but it has not been confirmed that this will be so, though it’s a possibility.

  3. I think the provision of the cluster bombs was a moral and political mistake, more or less as described, but-

    1. Was there anything in the Budapest memoranda about them? I hadn’t thought so. So Britain being a party to that is a separate issue. Their use need not violate those documents unless they are covered.

    2. The problem for the UK is that it IS a party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, 2008. In which case its support for Ukraine MIGHT be a problem for item c below:
    a) Use cluster munitions;
    b) Develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer to anyone, directly or indirectly, cluster munitions;
    c) Assist, encourage or induce anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention.

    IF providing other military support not including cluster munitions to a country that IS using them constitutes assisting them to use said munitions. I could see both sides of that. I would not restrict my own nation’s military and foreign policy so tightly that I could not provide other military aid to a country that happened to be using these munitions, any more than I would resist providing nonlethal aid to a friendly country because it was receiving lethal aid from others. They’d need to be doing more, including violating treaty commitments of their own. Say, if the US or Ukraine were parties to that convention and now violating it.

    Naturally neither the US nor Ukraine is party to that convention. It’s not unlike the landmines convention- to which Ukraine did accede but the US never did and the Ukraine did consider pulling out when now at war. These treaties are the kind adhered to with energy by countries that:

    a) don’t expect to fight
    b) expect to fight only in limited contexts
    c) expect to have overwhelming technological superiority [yes, the US expects to have that, but they’re practical about keeping options open and expect to be fighting more than Europeans do]
    d) don’t expect to fight under conditions in which such weapons would help them more than hinder them if used by an enemy
    e) don’t expect to be fighting a full scale war for their national existence or territory on their own soil, ever again.
    f) are happy to ban the weapon because they don’t ever expect to have use of them or many of them, and want to deny them to possible enemies
    g) fight wars of comparable cruelty but with mostly lower tech methods

    Consider that South Korea is party to neither the Land mines convention nor the cluster convention. They still expect they might have to one day, on spectacularly short notice, kill a lot of North Koreans really fast practically at the gates of their capital, in a war in which their national existence will be at stake from the first to the last day. Or hour. They aren’t giving up any weapons.

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