Just in

Practising the art of the possible

Lavinia Thompson notes a certain irony

It’s one of life’s truisms, but ultimately all human inter-relations at country-level and above are governed in their extent and effectiveness by the art of diplomacy.

Diplomacy, of course, is an esoteric pastime reserved – in Britain at least – for mandarins in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who have been educated at one of Eton, Winchester, Harrow or Radley public schools and then at either Oxford (if they are thick and sporty) or Cambridge University (if they are homosexual).

Generally-speaking, the first principle of diplomacy is the crucial importance, in dealing with any overseas situation small or great, of being heard to say something that sounds impressive and persuasive whilst simultaneously doing nothing, by which I mean nothing that will stray beyond the realms of what is feasible in the circumstances. In other words, nothing that will upset the apple-cart.

For example, it is a fact that few people in the world know or care where Sierra Leone is, which is why it was perfectly safe in 2000 for Britain and others to take a high-handed attitude and invade under UN sanction in order to ‘secure the safety of foreign nationals’.

Ditto with Libya in 2011 – in terms of bombings, but no actual troops on the ground – in the wake of the supposed ‘Arab Spring’ which the West was so keen to encourage.

Ditto with Syria, also from 2011, when the popular ‘Arab Spring’ uprising against the President Assad regime was encouraged by all the usual suspects – but interestingly not Russia, who had its own fish to fry, in the form of the warm water port that it had access to courtesy of President Assad.

Ordinarily Russia might just have rowed in behind the West on this one, but for the second principle of diplomacy, viz. that, whilst you always want to be seen on the side of the bulk of world opinion, this never need apply when you have a national interest that demands otherwise.

In Britain’s case, this principle, coupled with the knowledge that we could do so without any serious comeback to ourselves, explains why we led the way in getting involved in the 1990s crisis in Bosnia and Serbia – i.e. to ‘save’ those minorities being persecuted or massacred from tyrants maltreating them – whereas we never took any action against President Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

In Mugabe’s case, the fear was, we might have been pilloried (as the former colonial power) across Africa and the world for being arrogant and probably racist … and, of course, we couldn’t possibly have that happen.

This morning I arose to trawl the newspaper websites and came across a report upon the global reaction to President Obama’s announcement that the US would bomb ISIL (the Caliphate state) in either or both Iraq and Syria and ultimate destroy the organisation because it was an out-of-control terrorist grouping of significant danger to world order – see here for an article by Ian Black and Dan Roberts in – THE GUARDIAN.

The key irony here is in the position of our friend Mr Putin of Russia.

We are told that Russia will not support any military action without a UN resolution authorising it.

A Russian spokesman said “The US president has spoken directly about the possibility of strikes by the US armed forces against ISIL positions in Syria without the consent of the legitimate government. This step, in the absence of a UN security council decision, would be an act of aggression, a gross violation of international law.”

Stirring words indeed.

However, I wonder how Mr Putin and his friends in the Kremlin would square them with Russia’s recent actions in annexing Crimea under the noses of the Ukrainian government and then attempting to de-stablise eastern Ukraine, allegedly on the basis of protecting the interests of the Russian-speaking minority, by sending in ‘incognito’ Russian mercenaries and/or troops and generally telling the West, the UN and the rest of the world to sod off when they raised their various protests about this.




Avatar photo
About Lavinia Thompson

A university lecturer for many years, both at home and abroad, Lavinia Thompson retired in 2008 and has since taken up freelance journalism. She is currently studying for a distant learning degree in geo-political science and lives in Norwich with her partner. More Posts