It’s not impossible. Vladimir Putin, facing stalemate or possibly even defeat by a better motivated and well-resourced Ukrainian army, might decide to play the “madman” card.
A small, low-yield tactical nuclear weapon, detonated in a low population rural part of Ukraine. Not a military act, but a political one, to cause panic in the nuclear-phobic West and particularly in western Europe.
The message would be clear: I am willing to go further than you, so give me what I want. Stop helping Ukraine and let me defeat them.
It’s a high-risk strategy, but also a viable one. The panic it will cause in NATO will be very real, and the response not automatic or even obvious. The idea that NATO will automatically respond with a like-for-like nuclear retaliation should not be assumed at all.
And it is as much about where Europe is not heading as where it is.
If you ever want to increase your general euroscepticism, spend a few days hanging around EU institutions. The sheer complexity of getting anything done, in a union of 27 countries with competing political systems, national prejudices and hangups is nothing as compared to a certain type of EU official you meet for whom the answer to ever problem is…go on, guess.
Let me be very clear: I’m a European federalist. I believe in a United States of Europe. But that does not mean that I think that every solution involves Brussels. Indeed, I could even be convinced that maybe some existing powers should be returned to the member states.
The British prime minister brushed her sweeping blonde hair back from her eyes, giving herself a moment to consider what the new king had just asked her. It had to be said: Charles had taken on the mantle of sovereign before her eyes, with surprising ease.
Yes, he had spent his whole life waiting for this moment, as had the country, but the transformation from gangly awkward youth to a more well-filled figure had made him look, quite simply, more like a king.
But for Deputy Martin Faraday, it could all have been so different. The Irish government, pressurised by a politically active Pro Life Campaign (PLC), would still have held a referendum in 1983 to insert an anti-abortion clause into Ireland’s constitution. The 8th amendment to the constitution would still have overwhelmingly passed, declaring that the state would vindicate and defend the right to life of the unborn. Then Ireland would have continued on its “Do as I say, not as I do” way, turning a blind eye to its women leaving the jurisdiction to seek abortions in the UK. The PLC would celebrate their surreal victory as the one pro-life organisation in the world which celebrates not what happens to a foetus, but where it happens. An Irish solution, as it were, to an Irish problem.
The problem, however, was that Martin Faraday was that rare beast in Irish politics, a politician who actually believed what he said. A devout Catholic, the young deputy from Kilkenny was tall, handsome, charismatic, and had led his native county to victory in the GAA hurling championship in 1979. Although socially conservative, Faraday nevertheless had respect on the liberal left for his consistency, speaking out just as strongly on issues of poverty and on opposition to the death penalty. Many spoke of him as a future cabinet minister, perhaps even party leader.
I was watching an episode of “NCIS” recently. You know “NCIS”, right? Actually, chances are you flicked through an episode if you were watching TV because it seems to be perpetually on one of the murder channels, yet have never watched it.
A regular staple of American pensioners, “NCIS” can be watched as an intriguing insight into how mainstream middle America sees itself.
Every week is a collection of pre-baked tropes: a body is found, with some tenuous connection to the US Navy (NCIS is the Navy’s detective division). The victim used to be a marine or is wearing Old Spice or something.
Special agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs and his team investigate.
Previously published in The Times Ireland Edition (2017).
I was speaking this week to the managing director of a small Irish software company who was just back from the states. He was telling me that he had been attending a technology conference where one speaker had announced that the Third World War was currently being waged. What had struck him, the Irish businessman told me, was that there was a murmur of agreement about the statement. That this was not a shocker to the delegates. It wasn’t even news.
Every day, across the world there are battles going on, between hackers, private companies, state players, criminals and terrorists, with the battlefield being the online systems that run modern life.
You say this to people of a certain vintage and there’s eye-rolling and some remark about watching too much James Bond. But consider that only last month NATO’s Cyber Defence Centre held a gathering in Talinn, Estonia, of nearly 600 experts in the field to discuss the securing of vital infrastructure from cyberattack. If NATO, the world’s preeminent defence organisation is taking the issue seriously, then it needs to be taken seriously by us too.
Let’s cut to the proverbial chase: what will Marine Le Pen do if she reaches the Elysee? The truth is that we don’t know, and neither, probably, does she. As we witnessed with Brexiteers and Trump: often the populists don’t have a plan beyond winning.
She’s given clues, of course. She’s said she will withdraw France once again (as de Gaulle did) from NATO’s military command (but not seemingly NATO itself) and it’s not unreasonable to think that she will stop French support for Ukraine. She has suggested that she does not feel France is bound by NATO’s article 5 guarantee to defend any NATO member that is attacked. If true, that is huge, because France is physically vital to NATO’s defence of Europe. A Europe without French access will struggle to be supplied by the US. It would, in short, be an act of treason against Europe.
Whatever happens in the French presidential election, there is a reality that will need to be confronted. It’s a phenomenon we have seen in the last two US presidential elections, in the Brexit referendum, and will no doubt be a feature in future elections. It is the huge danger caused by reckless voters. Now, let me be clear: this is not your standard Metropolitan Globalist Liberal (of which I am all three) complaining about how disappointed I am about people who don’t share my views, or their level of intelligence or prejudice. I accept that there are many decent people who voted for Trump, Brexit and yes, even Marine Le Pen. People who in many cases did not share the more extreme views of those candidates. I even accept that there are people, particularly non-urban, low-income and low-educational achievers who vote for candidates I would regard as extremist because they simply feel they are being ignored by the mainstream parties. I get that too., and it may surprise you that I don’t blame them. Continue reading →