The Good Professor is annoyed with Peter Preston. I don't need many excuses to take the arse with Preston myself on occasion, so he has some sympathy from me there.
Nonetheless, as you can probably guess, we're back on the subject of Our Great Perpetual War On Reality Itself, for which Professor Norm is a strong advocate. Preston reckons we should slash our spending on "defence", since we haven't fought anything resembling a war of defence since about 1982, at least. The Prof disagrees on three counts...
1. Do not do anything like invading Afghanistan again... So, were Britain ever to be on the receiving end of a 9/11-type of attack, prepared from a country hosting an organization dedicated to carrying out such attacks against it, and resulting in the deaths of thousands of people in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh or some other British city, the government of the day should just 'pass' on the idea of a military response.Not to be too much of a dick about this, but the UK didn't actually invade Afghanistan with nuclear submarines, heavy armour, massed mobile infantry and so on. Admittedly, the Americans used aircraft carriers - something we didn't have at the time - but the actual anti-Al Qaeda operations were achieved with relative ease by small special forces teams, high-altitude bombing and co-operation with Afghan allies - precisely the kind of combined arms operations the present defence proposals are aimed at. I suggest that we probably don't need a bajillion-dollar military to achieve this kind of victory in future.
Actually, I'm not that naive. I know that the Professor is including our God-Knows-Why, What-Nutter's-Idea-Was-This? ten-year busman's holiday in Afghanistan here, but since that endeavour has actually nullified the initial successes of Operation Enduring Freedom by creating a massive Taliban cross-border statelet within Pakistan and Afghanistan, I don't think that's a very good advert for the UK maintaining a planet-crushing military behemoth.
2. Do not ever think of using our planes or troops to try to rescue civilians under threat of mass atrocity... This is a nice reversal of the 'If Libya, why not Burma?' question. We may now say, 'If not Syria, then why not not anywhere?' Screw the Responsibility to Protect. More Rwandas? Bring 'em on - we don't have to intervene to prevent that sort of thing, and (on the same basis) neither does anybody else.See, I know where Norm is coming from here. It seems hard-hearted to say, No More Interventions! The sad fact though is that our current intervention in Libya is basically a watch-through-your-fingers catastrofuck, that may yet either end miraculously well or devolve into carnage. Further, there actually was an intervention in Rwanda - Operation Turquoise. Guess what? It was also a watch-through-your-fingers catastrofuck, as have been most of our well-meaning interventions. Somalia? Check. Iraq? Check. Kosovo? Hmm, wobbly palms, could've been better, could've been a whole lot worse.
You might say Well, One Good Result Now And Then Is Better Than None, and it's an argument worth making, given the stakes. All I'll say to that is that maybe we can help people, on occasion, but our proven habit of making things a whole lot worse doesn't inspire confidence. I'm just glad that it's not my country that a bunch of eager, trigger-happy humanitarian beavers are aiming to assist.
Frankly, I'm now at the point where I wouldn't favour any kind of new military actions without a thousand-point battleplan and an encyclopaedic, heavily-footnoted paper on stabilisation. Neither will be forthcoming for any future bombing enterprises.
3. If you can't think of a threat to this country that is immediate or proximate, you don't need to worry about anything... In Peter Preston's version: 'Who, looking round there [Europe] with due solemnity, is going to start attacking the UK any time soon?... Give me one believable scenario that makes sense.' Don't say Eurocentrism, say: oh, what a jolly benign world.Well. I'm nobody's pacifist - I actively like war, in the abstract. You should see my bookcase and DVD collection, and the PS3 games? Evidence of an ill-spent youth and young adulthood, I'd say.
Even so, invoking the possibility of vague, non-specific future threats is a neat way of dodging the question, isn't it? After all, Preston's right - there is no serious military threat to the UK at the moment. It may not always be that way - hey, it could be nuclear combat, toe to toe with the Russkies by teatime tomorrow! - but "Like, the world is not benign, man" is a damned funny attempt at refuting the point.
Like the Professor, I too would pick a better advocate for reduced military expenditure than Preston, if it was up to me. That said, I'd pick a better critic too.