Britain is dispatching some 1,000 marines to join NATO war exercises off Norway in “a show of strength to Russia”. The move is but one of several military muscles being flexed by Britain in a bid to boost its international standing. Russia is designated as the convenient villain to justify Britain’s renewed militarism.
To lend the madness some popular appeal, British media reported that “Prince Harry will join one of Britain’s biggest war exercises against Russia in 20 years, as a warning to Vladimir Putin over his continued aggression.”
Harry (34), the youngest son of heir to the British crown, Prince Charles, is said to be privy to secret battle plans taking place in Norway over the next 12 weeks “as the marines practice drills in a show of strength against potential military strikes by Moscow.”
Russia’s embassy in Britain dismissed the exercise involving the young royal as a PR gimmick to fire up public enthusiasm for what is otherwise a hackneyed ploy of provoking tensions with Moscow. “Apparently, the authority of politicians and generals is no longer enough to ensure public support for this policy,” it said.
Indeed, a PR stunt is surely what it is going on. And the British media are showing themselves once again to be the disgraceful pro-war stenographers that they are by churning out official assertions of “Russian aggression” and “potential military strikes”.
But what’s also going on here is a wider and more disturbing pattern of Britain increasing its militarism towards Russia. Not that Russia is quaking in its boots over Britain’s threatening conduct, but the reckless snarling attitude of the British bulldog nevertheless adds to increasing international tensions between NATO powers and Moscow. That implies an increasing risk of a military confrontation.
A significant factor here is Britain’s intensifying Brexit chaos as it splits from the European Union. The deadline for the EU divorce comes on March 29 when Britain is set to leave the bloc after more than four decades of membership. If Britain crashes out of the EU without a trade deal, which looks increasingly likely due to internal British political squabbling, then economic and social chaos is expected.
Given the high stakes, it seems that the British establishment is seeking to distract from the Brexit debacle through ramping up tensions with Russia.
As a recent Washington Post article put it: “Britain clings to imperial nostalgia as Brexit looms”.
Britain’s Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson has been a key figure in fingering Russia as a “threat to Europe” and positioning Britain as a “defender of Europe against Russian aggression”.
There are, it seems, a few calculations in the works. One of those is that Britain has been continually trying to make itself relevant to Europe in a post-Brexit era owing to supposed British security and military assets. Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly talked up how Britain will always remain an important security partner to European allies even after it quits the bloc.
When her defense minister Gavin Williamson first announced the new deployment of British forces to the Arctic back in September, he said it was to “protect Europe’s northern flank” from “increased Russian aggression”. Thus, by ingratiating itself as a “protector” of Europe, the British state is endeavoring to use that purported role as a bargaining chip in order to extract more concessions from the EU on the terms of a future trade arrangement.
Premier May this week is pleading with EU leaders to relent on improving divorce terms. It is therefore important for the British to amplify their “security role” for Europe in order to try to wheedle better divorce terms. The corollary of that cynical calculation is for the British to demonize Russia further as a threat to Europe, thereby giving the British a seemingly valuable purpose of “defender”.
No doubt the recently exposed British government-funded media network, the Orwellian-sounding Integrity Initiative, has been working overtime in propagating the anti-Russia narratives as part of the Brexit strategy.
Another calculation is that as Britain leaves the European Union, it is prone to take on a greater role in the US-led NATO military alliance. Post-Brexit Britain will inevitably have much less influence on European capitals. As America’s historical cipher in European affairs, Washington and London will need to boost the role of NATO as a way to exert more influence over European policy. This would explain why Britain has over the past two years since the Brexit referendum in June 2016 taken on a more aggressive attitude towards Russia. Realizing that the bulldog will be outside the European gate, Britain seems to have upped its NATO role, by barking more at Russia.
More generally, the Brexit process has unleashed British notions of former imperial glory being revived.
Williamson told the rightwing Sunday Telegraph recently: “This is our biggest moment as a nation since the end of the Second World War, when we can recast ourselves in a different way. We can actually play the role on the world stage that the world expects us to play.”
Increased militarism is a crucial part of this British role-play on the world stage. Britain has greatly boosted its sales pitch for weapons exports since the Brexit referendum, wooing the Saudi and other Gulf Arab regimes in particular. It is planning to build, or has recently built, new military bases in former colonial territories in the Persian Gulf, Caribbean and Southeast Asia.
Britain’s launching of two new “super aircraft carriers” is specifically aimed at working with US naval counterparts and the American F-35 fighter plane. As the BBC reported, the new “gunboat diplomacy on steroids” is for the British rulers a “statement of intent and global ambition as well as a very visible projection of military power.”
In the economically challenging times for post-Brexit Britain, the British state is resorting to militarism as in the days of its Victorian empire. That militarism is seen as essential by the British state as a way to give itself badly needed relevance and influence over international relations. Especially because post-imperial, post-Brexit Britain is a shadow of its former self.
However, from Russia’s perspective, this desperate British nostalgia is potentially baleful. Britain is evidently using Russia as a pretext to justify its new militarism and to burnish a supposed role of “defender”. As the Brexit repercussions become ever-more severe for Britain, the danger is that the British bulldog snarling at Russia may become rabid. It needs to be muzzled before someone gets hurt. Or better still, put down.
Finian Cunningham has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. He is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. He is also a musician and songwriter. For nearly 20 years, he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organisations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent.
This article was originally published by “ SCF” – strategic culture foundation.