There's ongoing talk of a no-fly zone and even launching missiles at Russia
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.