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For some Tory MPs, the stakes aren’t high enough

David Davis supports enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine

February 28, 2022 - 7:30am

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has been a rude awakening for everyone in the West. But rather than facing up to brutal reality, too many of our politicians seem determined to grip the fantasy tight.

This instinct is, at least, better than the reluctance to impose meaningful sanctions on Russia in evidence in some parts. But the consequences, if the hawks had their way, could be at least as disastrous.

David Davis, who at one point was the front-runner for the Conservative leadership and might have been prime minister, has suggested enforcing a ‘no-fly zone’ over Ukraine.

Such language is familiar to Western audiences, used to waging one-sided campaigns in theatres like Syria. But the logic in this case is completely different.

Attempting to set up an NFZ would mean having RAF fighters run the gauntlet of the Russian army’s formidable air defence systems, which are apparently among the most advanced in the world.

The implications of that move are staggering. It never happened in all the decades of the Cold War. If we started to lose pilots, this would lead either to a humiliating retreat or further escalation. After decades of cuts and muddled strategic thinking, Britain would not win.

But he’s not the only Conservative MP apparently spoiling for a fight. Tobias Ellwood is demanding that NATO put troops on the ground. Simon Hoare, incredibly, suggests that “we can’t pick and choose” when we go to war — as if there are no significant differences between today’s Russia and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

For context, NATO’s four forward battlegroups in Eastern Europe are battalion-sized, meaning about a thousand troops each. Putin has 200,000 troops deployed in and around Ukraine. The Ukrainians have reportedly already shot down more aircraft than Germany has in total.

NATO countries in Europe have finally summoned the will to organise weapons shipments and kick Russia out of the SWIFT international payments system. That doesn’t mean they’re ready for boots on the ground.

Only slightly less surreal are suggestions from Alicia Kearns, another Tory MP and member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, to launch missiles at Russian forces from Poland and Romania.

What happens if the Russians shoot back? NATO’s obligation — which to be honest we have no reason to believe every member would honour — applies to self-defence.

How many countries would wriggle out of it on the pretext that we were the aggressor? What would it do for Trump-style scepticism of the alliance in the US if small countries, which had neglected their own defence for decades, started trying to drag America into a war it doesn’t want?

The hard truth is that neither our Armed Forces nor our industrial infrastructure, nor even our imaginations are ready for a conventional war with a major power. That desperately needs fixing, but it will be a long, expensive job.

Henry Hill is Deputy Editor of ConservativeHome.


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Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
2 years ago

The hard truth is that Russia has 1,500 nukes targeted at the west and ready to fire. The US has a similar number but many are pointed at China and North Korea.

They also have nuclear armed subs for a second strike. And apparently a better anti missile defense. Putin is a madman and may fancy those odds if he is cornered.

The scary thing these days is to listen to the gung ho internet warriors (often she/her types) demand the kind of action that would have caused a nuclear conflagration in the Cold War.

They compare the GDP of Russia to Italy, but that hardly matters. Liberia would be a threat with those nukes. Contrast all this to the crushing of Hungary in 1956 – an invasion of a supposedly sovereign nation deeper in core Europe. The west held back though at the time the Soviets didn’t have ICBMs.

Obviously there will be a time when Putin‘s aggression will have to be met with total war, which is the end of all of us. If he does attack an actual NATO country for instance. This isn’t that.

But what a stupid political class we have, they all should be given a copy of threads to watch.

Last edited 2 years ago by Franz Von Peppercorn
Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
2 years ago

Good post. And don’t forget Henry Kissinger’s old jibe about the Soviet Union – “Upper Volta with rockets”.

R Wright
R Wright
2 years ago

The sheer idiocy that this conflict has uncovered makes clear the decadent west and its leadership have no idea how to mentally process a conventional war on European soil.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago

I’m amazed to hear such opinions, if they are being reported correctly. I’m sorry to hear Ukraine appealing for such help, but it would be too dangerous to put our armed forces into that space. It would also allow Putin to support his argument (although you could say we might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb). We are where we are.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t have a robust attitude based on military strength, but we don’t have that strength, thanks to years of make-believe about the world in which we live, and ignoring what Putin has been doing, which wasn’t and couldn’t be hidden.
No; we have to help how we can, but change defence policy. Even increasing it by 50% would still leave it much below what it has been in living memory. It wouldn’t all be adverse because of side benefits.
But it’s also important to avoid too much theory about what the next war will be, because no one knows (unless perhaps they plan to start it). Flexibility is vital. A country like Israel, facing existential problems every day, and in many ways, is one to watch.
We should get value for money without being too over-optimistic about new developments, which always meet with teething problems, thus providing civil servants and politicians with excuses to cancel, guaranteeing the waste of money they say they’re saving.
And some of the value for money should be acquired by ensuring a sensible ratio between armed and available power on the one hand, and the admirals, generals, air chief marshals and NOD civil servants on the other.