• The Dogs of War

    In 1954, Sir Winston Churchill famously advised an American audience that “to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war”.

    Churchill was of course someone who knew about “war-war”.  His political career had encompassed both world wars and he had been a great leader of Britain in the Second World War; no one knew better than he did the price that is paid when countries go to war.

    He also knew how major conflicts could start unexpectedly.  He would have remembered that it was the 1914 assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that precipitated Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia – and that in turn caused the Central Powers (including Germany and Austria-Hungary) and Serbia’s allies to declare war on each other, thereby launching World War One.

    If he had been alive today, Churchill would no doubt have been alarmed at the similarities between that episode and the stand-off that recently occurred between Russia and the West over Syria.  In this latter case, there was the same build-up of tension between great powers, and a precipitating event – this time, the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s regime against civilians in Douma – prompting a warlike response from the US, the UK and France; all the ingredients were there to set in train yet another major conflict.

    There was of course no shortage of hotheads who were keen to see military force used by the Western allies and who were quick to dismiss any thought that diplomacy might have had a role to play.  It is understandable that the West felt that they could not allow such a criminal act by Assad against his own people to go unchallenged; but it is still regrettable that their first recourse was to arms, rather than an attempt to persuade the United Nations to authorise a sanction that was appropriately condemnatory but less risky.

    Sadly, of course, the United Nations had revealed itself to be impotent in such a circumstance, by virtue of Russia’s willingness to use its veto in the Security Council to preclude any sanction that would harm the interests of its Syrian ally.  It might nevertheless have been useful to force Russia to own up to its willingness to support an ally that had made itself an international outcast through its use of chemical weapons against a civilian population.

    In all of this, our own Prime Minister – new as she is to the international scene and to issues of war and peace – showed amazing maturity and good judgment in recognising both the need to take a stand against chemical warfare but also the desirability of turning first to diplomacy as a solution.  “Shoot first, talk later” is a good policy for small boys in the playground, but it is a dangerous course in the real (and nuclear) world.

    It is also the favoured option of those simple-minded commentators who see themselves as hard-headed realists, “telling it like it is” and debunking the illusions of the “idealists” (those, that is, who would prefer not to go to war).   Warmongers like these should be asked about Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and whether those wars validate the view that military force always guarantees the best outcomes.

    War invariably creates more problems than it solves, and that is to say nothing of the suffering and loss endured by those who actually have to wage it on the ground.  Churchill himself, the architect of the ill-fated Gallipoli adventure, would be the first to acknowledge that it is easy to launch military attacks from the behind a desk, when the main brunt is borne by others, and the outcomes are far from certain.


    The gravest risk facing mankind is that there is never any shortage of those ready to “let slip the dogs of war.”   Diplomacy and working through international agencies may be less thrilling to armchair warriors but that is where we should be putting our efforts.

    The United Nations was created by the victors in the Second World War as a means of reducing the chances of a further world war.  It is far from perfect, but we have avoided the worst for nearly three-quarters of a century.  We would do better to address its frailties rather than give up on it.

    Bryan Gould

    22 April 2018


  1. mikesh says: April 22, 2018 at 4:01 amReply

    It is highly unlikely that Assad’s forces would have used chemical weapons in Douma. If CWs were used at all – and this is by no means certain – it is more likely to have been a ‘false flag’ by the rebels.

    The Russian veto in the Security Council applied to a USA motion for an investigation by the Joint Investigation Mechanism, which the Russians had good reason to suspect would lead to a ‘kangaroo court’ decision to find Assad guilty whether he was guilty or not. The Russians preferred an investigation by the OPCW alone since the latter have no mandate to assign blame. I think a Russian sponsored motion along these lines was eventually passed.

    I think we need to be suspicious of the fact that the attack took place
    before an investigation had commenced. We should also note that nobody was actually hurt since Trump warned the Russians of the attack in advance. Putin had said that the Russians would retaliate if Russian lives were put at risk. Assad lost a science laboratory, and the only winners were the armaments manufacturers, one of which apparently included Theresa May’s husband who was a shareholder in one.

  2. Tom Hunsdale says: April 23, 2018 at 10:30 amReply

    If you can’t or won’t follow the links above then please just follow this one. I am hoping you have just been too busy to look deeper at the insane anti Russia nonsense of the last couple of years and the fabrications re what is happening in Syria. There are glaring holes and inconsistencies you could drive a truck through.


  3. Tom Hunsdale says: April 23, 2018 at 10:36 amReply

    “UN Security Team Still Won’t Let Inspectors Visit Douma”


  4. Wilfrid Whattam says: April 24, 2018 at 4:32 amReply

    You should have referred to ‘alleged’, not actual, use ofchemical weapons by Assad’s (admitedly disgusting) government (not ‘regime’) forces. Read Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn (two highly respected correspondents, who actual!y deign to be in the thick of the action, unlike office chair commenters typical of the Guardian) in the Independent on this nonsence. The people who benefit most from using chemical weapons, or of implicating Assad are the jihadi rebels, Israel, the US, and by association Britain and France. Get real Bryan for heavens sake. Of course, you might also take notice of Craig Murray.

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