COMMENTARY SPECIAL

BRITAIN'S RUDDERLESS FOREIGN POLICY

BY ODIN

Hard on the heels of Odin’s cri de coeur in the last edition, over the world’s navies’ softly, softly response to piracy in the Indian
Ocean - and its potentially serious consequences - comes news that two British-flagged ships have been captured. One was the chemical tanker St James Park, with 26 crew, seized in the Gulf of Aden and now anchored off the Somali coast, and the other the 45,000 tons car carrier Asian Glory, with 25 crew, attacked more than 600 miles off the coast of Somalia in an area apparently
outside the reach of the international naval mission set up to disrupt piracy in the region. Commander John Harbour, speaking
for the European Union Naval Force, said that Asian Glory was hijacked “well outside the EU NavFor area of operation.”  The
Asian Glory’s crew is composed of 10 Ukrainians, eight Bulgarians, five Indians and two Romanians.  Asian Glory is the third
vessel to be seized in the same week, undermining the hope that the presence of a European Union naval force would scare
off the pirates. Indeed there have been statements that the problem is under control, with the help of firmer action by authorities ashore.  These latest acts of piracy, together with the snatching of a British couple from their yacht as the Royal Navy looked on,
its hand stayed by ineffective ROE and instructions from Whitehall, rather prove the pirates are as far-ranging and daring as ever.
A third ship has even been pirated in recent weeks, the Singaporean-flagged Pramoni, also a chemical tanker and seized in one
of the world’s busiest waterways, the supposedly heavily policed Gulf of Aden. Somalia has become a safe haven for pirates
who are even ruining the economy of the Seychelles and disrupting life in Kenya. Senior naval commanders are right that the
only long-term solution is a political settlement that will end the anarchy and the fighting between warlords in Somalia itself.
However, the situation in Somalia has not improved in more than two decades, with even the US Marines and US Army chased
away in the early 1990s, after President Clinton’s half-hearted, clumsy armed intervention. Here we are in 2010 and there is a
lot of hand-wringing going on, with one naval commander even saying he could not rescue people held by pirates because it is
too risky. There was a time when pirates feared navies, particularly the supremely aggressive US Navy, which under men like
Stephen Decatur showed the Barbary Corsairs of North Africa cold steel and hot fire. Some Somalis who took hostage an
American merchant vessel captain last year got a taste of that when Special Forces killed them with the judicious use of sniper
fire from the flight-deck of a destroyer. The Royal Navy’s famed White Ensign used to be a guarantee of law and order on the
high seas wherever it flew and until recently pirates got what they deserved, but in the 21st Century while the RN plays a leading
role in the counter-piracy campaign, and its remaining ships do their bit, the aggression and decisive action of old is hardly ever shown. That’s not the Royal Navy’s fault, but rather the lack of a foreign policy that filters down to an understanding that an assault
on the British flag is an attack on the UK, even if a ship’s crew is mainly non-British. And the last time Odin looked Kenya and the Seychelles were members of the Commonwealth, surely deserving of some leadership and decisive assistance from the UK. Lack
of will - in a matter where once the Royal Navy had expertise and great success - is all part of the lack of prominence given to
defence by the current British government, which uses commitment to Afghanistan as a beard for failing to defend the UK properly elsewhere. Defence is the fifth largest budget in the league table of government spending. Other departments receive two, three
and four times what is spent on Defence. Even more worrying is that 20th  on the list of the British government’s priorities for
spending, and still shrinking fast, is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Britain spends twice as much on its Department
for International Development (DFID) and three times as much on Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) than it does on the FCO, which says it all. DFID’s largest country project is India, where since 2002 more than £1 billion has been spent on health and education
and in the years from 2008 to 2011, DFID will spend another £825 million. We have made passing reference to this astounding,
and misguided use of British taxpayers money before, and do not apologise for doing so again, as it is a neat way of summing up
the lunacy of Britain’s rudderless foreign policy. DFID’s generosity comes at a time when India has agreed to buy the ex-Russian
Navy aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov for reportedly US $2.2 billion (approximately £1.4 billion) and has started the construction
of a 40,000 tons indigenous aircraft carrier costing, at first estimate, US $762 million (approximately £476 million) and due to be in service in 2014. In effect Britain is subsidising India’s defence budget and we have previously drawn attention to the ambitious
nuclear submarine programme that is also underway there. All rather bitterly ironic at a time when in Britain defence spending is
cut back, so threatening Britain’s own aircraft carrier programme and ensuring not enough nuclear-powered submarines are
being built for the Royal Navy, due to er…cost. British defence policy is awry and desperately in need of a coordinated and comprehensive review, as Odin has often highlighted, but so too is Foreign Policy. In his excellent book, published at the end of
last year, British Ambassador to the USA (1997 - 2003) Christopher Meyer laments the decline of the Foreign Office, and rise of
DFID as well as the decoupling of military action from a cohesive foreign policy in pursuit of national interests. Meyer warns: ‘
…despite the profound changes in international affairs over the last 500 years - geopolitical, demographic, economic,
environmental, technological - a nation that loses sight of its interests, and neglects its diplomacy, is a nation lost. Britain risks
such a fate.’ A key component of British diplomacy has always been the use of the Royal Navy to threaten action to back up
diplomacy, with the result that quite often the bad guys think better of aggression. The White Ensign was an absolute guarantee
of rule of law on the high seas, and that was a gold standard diplomats relied on to enforce the free flow of British trade, safeguard
UK citizens and strategic interests. DFID believes in the power of dipping into the coffers of a country that is virtually bankrupt
(the UK). Is it any wonder that the decline of the FCO has mirrored that of the Royal Navy?

Pictured:
The Royal Navy’s White Ensign: A solid gold standard of British diplomacy and force for good in the world that the UK
government needs to start believing in again. Photo: Nigel Andrews.

Hard on the heels of Odin’s cri de coeur in the last edition,  over the world’s navies’ softly, softly response to piracy in the Indian Ocean - and its potentially serious consequences - comes news that two British-flagged ships have been captured. One was the chemical tanker St James Park, with 26 crew, seized in the Gulf of Aden and now anchored off the Somali coast, and the other the 45,000 tons car carrier Asian Glory, with 25 crew, attacked more than 600 miles off the coast of Somalia in an area apparently outside the reach of the international naval mission set up to disrupt piracy in the region. Commander John Harbour, speaking for the European Union Naval Force, said that Asian Glory was hijacked “well outside the EU NavFor area of operation.”  The Asian Glory’s crew is composed of 10 Ukrainians, eight Bulgarians, five Indians and two Romanians.  Asian Glory is the third vessel to be seized in the same week, undermining the hope that the presence of a European Union naval force would scare off the pirates. Indeed there have been statements that the problem is under control, with the help of firmer action by authorities ashore.  These latest acts of piracy, together with the snatching of a British couple from their yacht as the Royal Navy looked on, its hand stayed by ineffective ROE and instructions from Whitehall, rather prove the pirates are as far-ranging and daring as ever. A third ship has even been pirated in recent weeks, the Singaporean-flagged Pramoni, also a chemical tanker and seized in one of the world’s busiest waterways, the supposedly heavily policed Gulf of Aden. Somalia has become a safe haven for pirates who are even ruining the economy of the Seychelles and disrupting life in Kenya. Senior naval commanders are right that the only long-term solution is a political settlement that will end the anarchy and the fighting between warlords in Somalia itself. However, the situation in Somalia has not improved in more than two decades, with even the US Marines and US Army chased away in the early 1990s, after President Clinton’s half-hearted, clumsy armed intervention. Here we are in 2010 and there is a lot of hand-wringing going on, with one naval commander even saying he could not rescue people held by pirates because it is too risky. There was a time when pirates feared navies, particularly the supremely aggressive US Navy, which under men like Stephen Decatur showed the Barbary Corsairs of North Africa cold steel and hot fire. Some Somalis who took hostage an American merchant vessel captain last year got a taste of that when Special Forces killed them with the judicious use of sniper fire from the flight-deck of a destroyer. The Royal Navy’s famed White Ensign used to be a guarantee of law and order on the high seas wherever it flew and until recently pirates got what they deserved, but in the 21st Century while the RN plays a leading role in the counter-piracy campaign, and its remaining ships do their bit, the aggression and decisive action of old is hardly ever shown. That’s not the Royal Navy’s fault, but rather the lack of a foreign policy that filters down to an understanding that an assault on the British flag is an attack on the UK, even if a ship’s crew is mainly non-British. And the last time Odin looked Kenya and the Seychelles were members of the Commonwealth, surely deserving of some leadership and decisive assistance from the UK. Lack of will - in a matter where once the Royal Navy had expertise and great success - is all part of the lack of prominence given to defence by the current British government, which uses commitment to Afghanistan as a beard for failing to defend the UK properly elsewhere. Defence is the fifth largest budget in the league table of government spending. Other departments receive two, three and four times what is spent on Defence. Even more worrying is that 20th  on the list of the British government’s priorities for spending, and still shrinking fast, is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Britain spends twice as much on its Department for International Development (DFID) and three times as much on Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) than it does on the FCO, which says it all. DFID’s largest country project is India, where since 2002 more than £1 billion has been spent on health and education and in the years from 2008 to 2011, DFID will spend another £825 million. We have made passing reference to this astounding, and misguided use of British taxpayers money before, and do not apologise for doing so again, as it is a neat way of summing up the lunacy of Britain’s rudderless foreign policy. DFID’s generosity comes at a time when India has agreed to buy the ex-Russian Navy aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov for reportedly US $2.2 billion (approximately £1.4 billion) and has started the construction of a 40,000 tons indigenous aircraft carrier costing, at first estimate, US $762 million (approximately £476 million) and due to be in service in 2014. In effect Britain is subsidising India’s defence budget and we have previously drawn attention to the ambitious nuclear submarine programme that is also underway there. All rather bitterly ironic at a time when in Britain defence spending is cut back, so threatening Britain’s own aircraft carrier programme and ensuring not enough nuclear-powered submarines are being built for the Royal Navy, due to er…cost. British defence policy is awry and desperately in need of a coordinated and comprehensive review, as Odin has often highlighted, but so too is Foreign Policy. In his excellent book, published at the end of last year, British Ambassador to the USA (1997 - 2003) Christopher Meyer laments the decline of the Foreign Office, and rise of DFID as well as the decoupling of military action from a cohesive foreign policy in pursuit of national interests. Meyer warns: ‘…despite the profound changes in international affairs over the last 500 years - geopolitical, demographic, economic, environmental, technological - a nation that loses sight of its interests, and neglects its diplomacy, is a nation lost. Britain risks such a fate.’ A key component of British diplomacy has always been the use of the Royal Navy to threaten action to back up diplomacy, with the result that quite often the bad guys think better of aggression. The White Ensign was an absolute guarantee of rule of law on the high seas, and that was a gold standard diplomats relied on to enforce the free flow of British trade, safeguard UK citizens and strategic interests. DFID believes in the power of dipping into the coffers of a country that is virtually bankrupt (the UK). Is it any wonder that the decline of the FCO has mirrored that of the Royal Navy?  Pictured: The Royal Navy’s White Ensign: A solid gold standard of British diplomacy and force for good in the world that the UK government needs to start believing in again. Photo: Nigel Andrews.

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