Russian Posturing Threatens to Engulf us All

Eurofighter Typhoons of the Royal Air Force (RAF) have intercepted two Russian bombers heading for UK airspace, a 12-mile extension from the British coastline that the Russians have threatened to violate six times in the past year.

A Typhoon intercepts a Russian Tu-160 'Blackjack' bomber in September 2015
A Typhoon intercepts a Russian Tu-160 ‘Blackjack’ bomber in September 2015

The incident, and others like it, have been interpreted as a sign of Russia ‘flexing its muscles’ and ‘using these tactics to poke us in the chest’, rather than anything more provocative. However, such incursions have become increasingly common across Europe and further afield in recent months as President Putin’s minions seek to send a strong message that Russia will not be cowed by the supposed international coalition taking umbrage at its assertive foreign policy.

The shooting down of a Russian military jet that violated Turkish air space in November last year has created a seemingly unsolvable diplomatic spat between the two states, both of which will play a crucial role in any resolution of the Syrian crisis.

Indeed, the adventurousness – some would say rashness – of Russia’s recent aerial incursions are more reminiscent of Cold War-era posturing than many analysts would like to admit. This is particularly so given that Russia acts with fury any time another state is deemed as having undermined its own sovereignty.

Turks have protested Russia's involvement in the Syrian Civil War
Turks have protested Russia’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War

Such needless risk-taking and antagonistic attitudes amongst the Kremlin hierarchy opens up the potential for accidents. Nobody will forget the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014 which, whilst highly unlikely to have been sanctioned by Moscow, was a direct consequence of Russia’s support for pro-separatist rebels in Eastern Ukraine.

Likewise, nobody has forgotten the day that a Russian missile took out Korean Air Lines Flight 007 in September 1983, after the pilot had accidentally entered Russian air space.

The Russians have a history of paranoia and belligerency, a toxic mix in any global situation. They do not tolerate breaches of their territorial integrity, so why should they expect other states to be more tolerant when it comes to their own violations?

The incident with Turkey will be repeated and the worry is that it may involve more than a two-seat fighter jet. Reports of near-misses between Russian and American planes in Syria abound and the increasing anxiety amongst some of NATO’s eastern states – particularly those in the Baltic region – regarding Russian aggression could lead to a fatal miscalculation.

Scaremongering is, of course, to be avoided at all costs because this will only increase anxiety and mistrust between states over Russia’s potential future actions. However, analysts must accept that we are moving into an era with more in common with the Cold War than they may like to admit; crises of sovereignty, proxy wars, diplomatic breakdown and foolhardy rhetoric. This has come to define today.

The downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 heightened already-alarming Cold War tensions
The downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 heightened already-alarming Cold War tensions

Global leaders need to take Russian threats seriously, however seemingly innocuous. Otherwise the next international disaster will be just around the corner and what it may spark…God only knows.

The Fall of Singapore: Britain’s ‘Worst Disaster’ and a Cowardly Australian

This week marks the 74th anniversary of the Battle of Singapore, when a rampant Imperial Japanese Army routed an overwhelmed British Commonwealth force to create what Winston Churchill called ‘the worst disaster’ in British military history.

Japanese troops celebrate during the Battle of Singapore
Japanese troops celebrate during the Battle of Singapore

If further proof was needed at the time that Britain’s halcyon days of colonial predominance were at an end, then General Yamashita’s swift advance through the Straits Settlements offered just that.

Much attention in the years after the ‘Fall’ of Singapore has been given to the inept leadership of Lieutenant General Arthur Percival, whose humiliating surrender was famously captured by photographers astonished to find the British Empire at its lowest ebb.

Flag in hand, Percival leads to pathetic surrender march
Flag in hand, Percival leads the pathetic surrender procession

No doubt Percival’s leadership was appalling and his troops clearly did not have the stomach for a fight to the death against the Japanese. Perhaps if they had known the contempt with which the Japanese viewed white-flag wavers they may have thought twice, though few could have imagined the atrocities of the PoW camps.

Put simply, the British forces in Malaya and Singapore lacked the same degree of self-sacrifice that the Japanese troops possessed, probably because of the draconian state in which they lived and the potentially fatal repercussions of defeat encompassed by such a system.

Yet could Churchill really have expected the British troops to fight to the bitter end when he refused to show reciprocal endeavour? By this point, the Battle of Britain had long been won and the Luftwaffe were barely troubling British skies (the exception being that year’s ‘Baedeker Blitz’). Hundreds of fighter aircraft sat idly on British runways yet Churchill refused to relocate them in a bid to save his Far Eastern colonies.

What is more, the performance of the Australian contingent in the Singapore debacle leaves a lot to be desired. It is crucial to note that the majority of the Australian soldiers had received almost no training whatsoever; indeed, many of them had arrived in Singapore never having wielded a rifle in anger.

The grunts are not to blame but their superiors are a different prospect altogether. None of the senior officers ventured up to the front line during the battle and the Australian commander, Major General Gordon Bennett, committed one of the grossest dereliction of duties ever encountered on the battlefield.

Bennett (r) with Chinese General Shang Chen at a rubber plantation in Malaya. Chen was impressed by the Empire's preparations for defending Southeast Asia
Bennett (r) with Chinese General Shang Chen at a rubber plantation in Malaya. Chen was impressed by the Empire’s preparations for defending Southeast Asia

With the Japanese troops advancing, and his inexperienced men being cut to shreds, Bennett inexplicably abandoned ship and fled to Australia. At least Percival stuck it out to see the surrender.

Bennett would never hold high command again but, amazingly, he was never tried for his desertion in Singapore when by all rights he should have faced the firing squad. Despite this notoriously dastardly deed, few in Britain have heard of Bennett and he is not decried in the same way that Percival and Governor Shenton Thomas are for their performances in Singapore.

So this anniversary is not generally one to remember fondly for the British, even if in hindsight it served as a prophetic warning as to what would soon become of the Empire.

Perhaps then it is worth remembering that not every regiment is worthy of condemnation. The Royal Malay Regiment and the Loyals bravely defended the Pasir Panjang Ridge, an area of high ground overlooking the sea, against formidable odds.

NCOs of the Royal Malay Regiment c. 1941
NCOs of the Royal Malay Regiment c. 1941

Had their bravery been replicated across the Commonwealth, then this week would undoubtedly be one to recall each year with a fondness usually reserved for the military successes of the past.