For the first time in nearly 15 years we are not formally at war. We have departed from Iraq and Afghanistan, although in both we left a military presence to train, to influence, perhaps to even spy. Exactly how many “security”, or even “military” personnel we have left behind is an imprecise matter. As the parliamentary vote on military involvement Syria illustrated, it is unlikely that there will be a wholehearted democratic mandate for the UK to go to similar conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan again. We possibly have entered an age in which Britain only goes to war to defend herself, and just possibly Europe’s and even NATO’s interests.
It is difficult to argue that Britain’s disastrous engagements in Basra and Helmand achieved much more than alienating the people who lived there. In both of the wars we escaped from, we were in a very solid alliance with the United States. In the aftermath of the traumatic events of September 11 attacks- which were seen as an attack on the whole western world, it was fairly inevitable that western governments would stand together to identify and even neutralise the threat.
It is hard to find many instances in which the United States has gone into conflict since the Korean War and emerged with the world concluding that the America had either won, or alternatively had at least waged a so-called “just war”. Vietnam was a disastrous endeavour, whilst history it seems, may already be starting to judge Afghanistan and Iraq as nothing short of a calamity too.
Britain will now have to review its strategic relationship with America, but there are some political features that render the United States a rather different entity to Britain’s European allies. Perhaps as politicians decipher about defence costs and needs for the United Kingdom, perhaps the moment has come, this New Year, to take hold of what Britain’s true defensive needs really are? When the man at the Oval Office in Washington says “come and join us”, should we always say “oh yes please?”. The ‘Western alliance’ left much to be desired. We should forge closer ties to our European neighbours and really begin to look towards our next door neighbours, instead of across the pond.
By Stuart Chapman, Junior Writer at Daily Political View.