Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Trump, Korea and the Royal Marines

It's been a fair old time since I've had the chance to sit down and properly type some stuff. Today I just want to touch on some recent events that I feel are worth addressing.

Firstly, the whole US strikes on Syria business. After the first incident involving alleged chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime against civilians I was in favour of some kind of action being taken, so it's no surprise to learn that I supported this firm action against Assad and co. From my perspective I felt that a response was warranted last time around, on a limited scale and directed at specific regime targets such as suspected chemical weapons production, storage or deployment sites. That is in effect what we got, with a barrage against an airbase suspected of being the launch site for aircraft that deployed chemical weapons.

My reasoning for this had little to do with any interest in regime change and much more to do with sending a clear message that chemical weapons use was unacceptable. That message, I hoped, would ring around the world and not just inside the halls of power in Syria. My main concern was that to do nothing the first time around risked "normalising" the use of chemical weapons, which could set a potentially dangerous precedent for the future. Nothing happened at the time and lo and behold, Assad went back to the chemical well again, which is precisely what I was worried would happen. 

Now many people have raised the issue of whether chemical weapons are really such a big deal. What for example is the practical difference between killing someone with an artillery shell vs a dose of mustard gas, aside from the obvious difference in the manner of the death? For me the distinction comes from both the nature of chemical weapons themselves and their potential for mass casualties when manufactured by a competent, well funded organisation such as a state entity, which is pretty much the reason they were banned in the first place.

Whereas it can feasibly be argued that an artillery shell or a bomb can be directed with a degree of accuracy against a specific target and with a specific military intention in mind, chemical weapons are quite clearly designed to target personnel and are indiscriminate in the extreme. You cannot realistically argue when deploying a chemical weapon that you have any real control over it. Once it's been released it is at the mercy of mother nature to a significant degree. A conventional high explosive bomb at least has a mathematically predictable (sort of) radius which can be factored into a targetting decision. A bomb containing poisoned gases is much, much more random.

Further, such weapons often leave their mark long after the initial use. Just ask the residents of Halabja in Iraq about the long term effects of chemical weapon use. The residual problems to a population and an eco-system caused by exposure to chemical weapons can be long lasting and particularly unpleasant. It should also not be underestimated how many casualties chemical weapons have the potential to cause for relatively little output. 

In the 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway system by the terrorist group known as "Aleph", 12 people were killed and over a 1,000 people suffered some form of lasting injuries as a result of exposure to what was basically a few litres of home made Sarin that was allowed to leak out of bags onto the floor. It was hardly a sophisticated operation with military grade materials and delivery systems, yet produced quite a pronounced result.

All in all then I'm glad President Trump decided to act. I think it was the correct move and will hopefully send a strong message to anyone who thought chemical weapons use might be back in fashion. I think it also sent a strong message about US foreign policy under Trump and the willingness of the US to act again when it perceives the need to do so.

Apparently though North Korea didn't get the memo. 

I do have to admit, I got a considerable amount of chuckling out of left wingers (stop calling them liberals, they're no more liberal than Trump) proclaiming armageddon was on the way when in reality the US was (and still is) just trying to milk every last possible advantage it could out of the strikes against Syria. It is public relations 101 to try and squeeze every last possible drop you can out of any positive outcome. As such the US tried to capitalise on its demonstration of resolve towards Assad and Russia. 

Unfortunately North Korea is a basket case and Kim Jong-Un is a crazy person so the implied threat was never going to go very far. It's basically run its course now and it's likely that things will begin to settle a little over the coming weeks, at least until Dear Leader decides what his next move is. 

It has all been interesting for another reason though and that is the comparison in policy and approach between Trump and Putin. Putin is - at least in this bloggers opinion - probably the single most over rated strategist in modern history, something which I hope to elaborate on at some point in the future. Trump is hardly Napoleon himself and I think it's charitable to say that I think he's a bit of a git, but it's undeniable that so far he has run rings around a lot of politicians in recent memory and is setting out his stall as a confident leader who's not afraid to take action that might ruffle a few feathers, as well as someone who is not easily intimidated, which I do like.

And lastly, speaking of running rings around people there was a bit of a hoohah not long ago about possible cut backs to the Royal Marines. Much outrage was had, some decent discussion was had, but from what I can tell the most interesting part of the story went under the radar.

A bit of digging returned the suggestion that the reason for potential cuts stems from the Navy lacking room in its personnel budget and needing some space to work with to fully crew other commitments in the fleet, with the Royal Marines essentially being seen as somewhat expendable (at least if push came to shove and it meant choosing between manning ships or maintaining a three battalion amphibious brigade).

This seems a far cry from a joke made by Admiral West a while ago at some conference (only saw the video of it) about how one of the benefits of funding the new carriers was that they would secure the funding for the escorts to protect them. One wonders (for one is in posh mode) whether he knew at the time that the MoD was moving towards separate budget lines for each of the frontline commands and that if he did, whether he thought the MoD would simply cave in and give Naval Command more money for special pleading?

There's a touch of irony about a senior military officer being out manoeuvred by the civil service and I can't help but break out in a grin knowing that his rather smug and self-satisfied comments could be coming back to bite him. But that grin is tempered by the sadness of knowing that while he has moved on to pastures new it is his service that will pay the price for past decisions and that this is ultimately about a lack of funding for defence in general.

It is worth noting however that this policy of budget devolution to the services was welcomed at its inception as a step forward in allowing the services to better manage their funding and to give them the freedom to focus their resources where they saw fit. It was supposed to be the chance for the services to step up and show the politicians what magic they could weave without the treasury and Whitehall breathing down their necks constantly. I guess the moral of the story is simple; be careful what you wish for...

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