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What comes next after two?

Iran claims to have seized British oil tanker in strait of Hormuz

Second ‘British’ tanker ‘Mesdar’ seized near Iran after veering off course

59 comments to What comes next after two?

  • Mr Ed

    As her last gift, Mrs May turns into Jimmy Carter for her last few days in office.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    I wondered if her imminent departure might have the opposite effect on her.

  • bobby b

    Crewman: Captain, Iran has already tried, multiple times, to seize ships in its area in retaliation for having its own ship seized. It has sent out remote-controlled bomb-boats aimed at foreign ships. It has sent its drones out threatening both shipping, and military ships. It has sworn to use every means to get its tanker back. And you want to take this large, slow, defenseless ship right past them, without naval escort, now?

    Captain: We’ll be fine. All ahead full.

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobby b, yes that was my reaction too. Where the hell was the Royal Navy? I mean is this a big surprise?
    Perhaps your 200 million pound frigate’s defenses were overwhelmed by a couple of speedboats and a helicopter?
    To me this is just simply incompetence. Whose incompetence? I’m not sure.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “And you want to take this large, slow, defenseless ship right past them, without naval escort, now?”

    How many Naval escorts does Britain have, compared to how many oil tankers and cargo ships? Or are you suggesting we should let the Iranians shut the Straits to British traffic, and have all our ships go round the long way?

    The Iranian regime are in political trouble at home, and are trying to unite their people in patriotic support behind themselves by starting a fight with an outside ‘enemy’. They don’t want a full-scale conflict – even against Britain they’d come off worse. But anything short of that that leaves the regime intact plays into their hands.

    By taking their tanker to enforce the Syrian blockade (on top of their ongoing fight with Trump over nuclear development), they’ve ‘lost face’. They need to get it back, and the easiest way to restore peace and tranquility is to let them in a limited way that doesn’t get any of our people hurt. The more you stop them and make them look weak and incompetent, the more desperate they get to restore their image, and the more they’re going to escalate. Eventually, somebody will get hurt.

    If you’re going to start a fight, then you need to to go all the way and finish it fast. You don’t make someone lose face whose survival depends on it, and then leave them in a position to hurt you. But if you’re not going to go all the way and finish it (which for domestic political reasons is highly unlikely), then you need to end the fight another way, and that requires restoring their face, even at the cost of some of your own. Our leaders are not as politically vulnerable at home, we can afford to ‘lose’ a round if it restores peace and the safety of international marine traffic cheaply.

    On the other hand, there is that ongoing dispute with the USA, and various other moves afoot to put pressure on them, and the calculation might equally be that escalating things a bit might be another route to the same end – if uniting their population against an external enemy stabilises the regime’s hold on power, that might actually be a good idea, as it gives them more leeway to negotiate with us on the treaty dispute. Start off aggressive, demanding a high price, push them, and then compromise and let them haggle you back down to what you really wanted. Don’t let up the pressure for the sake of maritime safety, hold out for the higher price of a better nuclear deal. In effect, offer them a unifying enemy followed by a domestic political victory when we eventually back down over the matter of the shipping dispute in covert exchange for an end to their nuclear programme.

    “”War is the continuation of politics by other means.” The governments on both sides are probably less worried about the other than they are about the effect on their standing with their own populations. You have to understand what it is the other side really wants in order to make a deal.

  • Fred Z

    Bomb them into oblivion, or even give them a taste of the Big Nuke.

    And yes, that will kill ‘innocent civilians’, every bit as innocent as the Germans who got the crap bombed out of them in WW II. That group includes 7 of my 7 aunts and uncles who got the crap bombed out of themselves in Paderborn Germany in April 1945 and who were unanimous in telling me: “we deserved it”.

    Iranians have exactly the government they deserve, just as did the Germans then.

  • bobby b

    “How many Naval escorts does Britain have, compared to how many oil tankers and cargo ships? Or are you suggesting we should let the Iranians shut the Straits to British traffic, and have all our ships go round the long way?”

    If you allow Iran to board and seize oil tankers at its whim, haven’t you already effectively shut the Straits down to unescorted traffic? Britain has its own escorts, and it also has many allies with escorts of their own who might see a place in this effort. We have people out at Hampton Roads who are just straining at the bit right now.

    “They don’t want a full-scale conflict . . .”

    Then they’re walking a very fine line, if their means of pursuing their desires is to waylay foreign-flag tankers in international waters. If they’re trying to cement in support from a wavering citizenry by pirating the Strait, aren’t they telling us that the best way to pull that citizenry away from them would be to put a stop to it?

    No one wants to start a war with . . . anyone. But it becomes much more palatable and defensible if we’re just jumping in to prevent harm from a rogue nation which seems to be attempting to start a war on their own. Iran’s current leaders strike me as a particularly dim lot if they don’t see that they’re pulling the war effort in on themselves.

  • Ken Mitchell

    Q-ships. Tankers with heavily-armed SAS or SBS commandos who will capture the Iranian terrorists and try them for piracy – in London.

  • Eric

    NiV lays out the context. This is a tit for tat action in response to the British seizure of an Iranian tanker bound for Syria.

    Nobody wants a war. Not the UK or the US or Iran. But nobody wants to be the first to back down, either.

  • I sneeze in threes

    NIV, what long way.? That’s the only way out of the Gulf.

  • As her last gift, Mrs May turns into Jimmy Carter for her last few days in office. (Mr Ed, July 19, 2019 at 9:03 pm)

    Carter’s last days in office saw Iran return the hostages. A senior Iranian was later quoted (perhaps off the record – I do not recall) as saying they “feared Reagan might resort to cowboy methods” – one of many occasions where the left’s domestic smears help the candidate abroad. Perhaps the PC here did not insult Boris in the right way, or perhaps the uncertainty of our system means they Iranians did not sufficiently fear the cowboy would get it or have authority if he did (Reagan was inevitable and was a president not a PM), or perhaps it is just folly to think the Iranians would be subtle in their assessments of infidel politics.

    I wondered if her imminent departure might have the opposite effect on her. (Natalie Solent (Essex), July 19, 2019 at 9:13 pm)

    I knew how I would bet before consulting this morning’s beeb summary, which reports no statement of May. “The UK government” is anonymous in its expressions of concern, except for Jeremy Hunt who says it is “serious”. At least he did not say it was “unacceptable” – I think even the mullahs might know what that means in modern UK politics.

    How many Naval escorts does Britain have, compared to how many oil tankers and cargo ships? (Nullius in Verba, July 19, 2019 at 10:51 pm)

    We have enough to patrol the straits even now. (In 2020 we will finally have two of the new aircraft carriers. ‘What comes after two’ is indeed the question.) And of course we would be working with the US. We could end the Iranian ability casually to seize our tankers, then seize a comparable number of theirs, then say, “Your move”. I do not say this is exactly what we should do, merely answer the fundamental of your question quoted above.

    Of course, if after Brexit we must task the navy with cutting out expeditions to seize cargoes of toilet paper because project fear proves right and we run short, then of course we’d not have enough for the gulf. 🙂 But there are many tasks our navy can do – provided very few of them are concurrent, not consecutive.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “If you allow Iran to board and seize oil tankers at its whim, haven’t you already effectively shut the Straits down to unescorted traffic?”

    That depends on whether they keep on doing it. If them doing a couple lets them make the point and recover face, and then no need for more, that’s not a problem. If they decide to start doing it as a regular thing then yes we’d have to escalate. We can’t guard every ship individually the full length of the Gulf, unless we want to have them hang around to form convoys. But we can surely find many other ways of making life inconvenient for Iran. However, we don’t necessarily want to escalate if that’s going to help them with their domestic problems, and of course we have to present an image to the rest of the world of being Mr Reasonable. We’re supposed to be the adults here.

    “Britain has its own escorts”

    Yes, we recently doubled our Gulf protection force to TWO ships! HMS Montrose is there and HMS Duncan is due to arrive next week. But Montrose is due for maintenance so it’s only going to be temporary. And we have about 15 UK-flagged tankers going through a day. It’s like asking: “If we have policemen, why do we still have crime?” They help, but they can’t be everywhere at once.

    “If they’re trying to cement in support from a wavering citizenry by pirating the Strait, aren’t they telling us that the best way to pull that citizenry away from them would be to put a stop to it?”

    They’re presenting the story as *us* pirating *their* ships in the Mediterranean, and them standing up to our bullying. The best way to pull their citizenry away is to demonstrate that their story is not true, which means doing what they don’t expect. Assuming, of course, that we do want to pull their citizenry away.

    “But it becomes much more palatable and defensible if we’re just jumping in to prevent harm from a rogue nation which seems to be attempting to start a war on their own.”

    Quite so. And that’s precisely what the Iranians are trying to say about a rogue USA and its allies. We’re trying to sell the story that they’re the rogue state, while they try to sell the story that we’re trying to escalate the pressure on their economy illegally to force them to submit. Bearing in mind this is the Gulf region we’re talking about, where the public are much less inclined to take the side of the “Great Satan” against a Muslim nation, (even if they are Shia), that’s not a done deal. We have to keep the other Gulf nations on side, or we’d have a lot more trouble operating in the Gulf than from just the Iranians.

    So yes, we can jump in to prevent harm from a rogue nation, but we have to ensure it’s very clear that they’re acting illegally first, and that we’re using the minimum force necessary.

    My personal preference would be to go over there and ‘kick butt’ overthrow the regime, and install someone more reasonable and Western-aligned who isn’t going to cause us all this trouble. But it would be Iraq all over again, and the Western governments still feel burned after all the trouble they got into because of that one. (Boris has already said he wouldn’t currently support the US in a war against Iran.) There are all sorts of political reasons why that’s currently impossible – both domestically and internationally. And while I don’t entirely agree with the international community over the merits of regime change in the cause of freedom, I do agree that it usually makes things worse to do a half-assed job. Destabilising the Iranian regime without being sure of what they’re going to be replaced with is highly dangerous.

    Of course, if we do want to head in that direction, then the way to mobilise international opinion against the Iranian regime would be to provoke an escalation on their part while still portraying our own behaviour as reasonable and justified. And the international community is very much attached to the traffic of oil through the Gulf. So telling everyone that we can’t protect their shipping, at least not without doing something a bit more active about the Iranians, might be just the lever we need. The UK/US public are starting to demand action from the military. Trump’s trying to get other nations to abandon the treaty and impose sanctions on Iran, maybe if Iran are seen to be threatening to close the Gulf and capable of doing so, they’ll be more inclined to help?

    I don’t know. Governments don’t discuss their grand strategy in public. But I expect they’ve been war-gaming scenarios around a conflict with Iran for years now, so whatever they’re up to is probably part of a bigger plan.

  • bobby b

    “The UK/US public are starting to demand action from the military.”

    I honestly don’t see that here in the USA. There’s very little support, or even empathy, for the mullahs of Iran, but after a bunch of small wars in that area that left us vilified throughout the world – including Europe, and the UK – I just don’t see much taste left for doing it all over again.

    I think it much more likely that we sit back and watch, and maybe join in if our “allies” specifically and nicely ask, such that there’s no option at the end for Europe to once again join in in the “Great Satan” chant. (Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. We’ll help, probably, but we damned sure aren’t going to lead.)

    I can see Trump doing things that goad the mullahs, and the PM’s and the Presidents and the Ministers, into heightened conflict – he seems to love the role of provoking intramural tension – but I see no hunger in him for war. Thanks to domestic production, we can do without the region’s oil. No one is taking our tankers or people. Iranian terror sponsorship is unpleasant, but ultimately we can live with it. There’s simply no pressure on the USA to solve the Iran problem like there is on nations on that side of the ocean.

    The only hook that might draw us in is the defense of Israel. If Iran is producing nuclear weapons, the very existence of Israel becomes questionable. So, if Israel asks, I think Iran’s very existence becomes questionable, and we can accomplish that from a distance.

  • Jacob

    “Where the hell was the Royal Navy?”
    How many ships does the Royal Navy have? How many of them are operational? How many can she deploy and support in the Persian Gulf?

    When you’re done answering these questions you will stop invoking the “Glorious Royal Navy” – which are just empty words inherited from a glorious past that has ceased to exist many decades ago (at least).

  • Snorri Godhi

    Niall:

    Carter’s last days in office saw Iran return the hostages. A senior Iranian was later quoted (…) as saying they “feared Reagan might resort to cowboy methods” – one of many occasions where the left’s domestic smears help the candidate abroad.

    In this connection, let me note that the Mongols strongly encouraged the production of paper, with the specific purpose of spreading (hyperbolic) stories about their bloodthirsty ways.

    And didn’t Nixon direct Kissinger, and other people in foreign policy, that they were to inform the Soviets that he was so crazy, he might go for the nuclear option at any time?

  • bob sykes

    This is plainly petty harassment in pay back for the Grace I seizure. If Britain is concerned, then form up convoys. Only British owned and related ships are at risk, so small convoys of five to 10 vessels would suffice. And they only need to form up when actually transiting the Strait. Before and after they can disperse. Two or three frigates are adequate to the task.

    This is really a very minor problem. Much more serious is Britain’s (and France’s and Germany’s) refusal to adhere to JCPOA. If that doesn’t change, Iran will revert to making highly enriched uranium and restarting their heavy water reactor. And we back on path to an Iranian bomb.

  • Mr Ed

    Niall K

    Carter’s last days in office saw Iran return the hostages.

    Yes, and in the preceding Presidential Election, a ‘dark joke’ emerged:

    What’s black, flat and glows in the dark?’

    ‘Iran, after Reagan becomes President.’.

  • Bob Sykes is correct, three frigates would be more than enough to sustain convoys in the Gulf given the relatively short distances involved, and RN has more than enough operational ships to keep that going for quite a long time. The fact this happened does not indicate RN does not have the ships, it indicates it has too many Admirals in need of urgent retirement & a new government with a Minister of Defence up to the task.

  • JohnK

    The Iranians are using speed boats with a 12.7mm machine gun mounted on them. It would hardly be difficult to put a small detachment of marines on British ships transiting the Gulf, armed with .338 rifles. The Iranians would get the message pretty quickly.

    However, since armed defence is now an unthinkable concept in Britain, it would take a long time to get this one past the various bedwetters in the absurdly named “Cobra” committee.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Jacob
    How many ships does the Royal Navy have? How many of them are operational? How many can she deploy and support in the Persian Gulf?

    How many do you think it needs? We aren’t talking about fighting the Russian Navy or, as Sir Humphrey would say, the bloody French Navy. We are talking about a bunch of guys in speed boats and a helicopter, who can barely afford to buy bullets. The Royal Navy has about twenty state of the art frigates. You might say ” yeah, but they aren’t in the gulf”, to which I’d reply “exactly!!”.

    Moreover it doesn’t even need ships. a platoon on Marines on each ship, helicoptered back to recycle once they exit the Persian Gulf would be sustainable indefinitely.

    I’m not a military planner by an means. But the point is that this was an obvious and expected move that the incompetent leadership seem to have done nothing to prepare for.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Bob Sykes is correct, three frigates would be more than enough to sustain convoys in the Gulf given the relatively short distances involved, and RN has more than enough operational ships to keep that going for quite a long time.”

    Except that because of the maintenance and sustainment cycle of the aging Type 23 frigates, they can only be on deployment for about a third of the time. Which means that of the 13 frigates we have on paper, we’ve effectively only got 4. And there’s the rest of the world to keep an eye on – the south Atlantic (a bit of history, there), Gibraltar, the Black Sea (keeping an eye on the Russians), the Syrian mess, the far east…

    Putting Montrose on permanent station in the Gulf saves a bit of transit time, but it’s effectively a quarter of our global frigate fleet devoted to that one stretch of sea – when Kent goes out there in September, it will be half.

    Three frigates to do the job would be just lovely! The fundamental problem is a limited defence budget, and the relative unpopularity of defence spending compared to stuff like education, the national health service, and welfare. We can’t afford the amount we’re spending, so what are we going to cut?

    “However, since armed defence is now an unthinkable concept in Britain, it would take a long time to get this one past the various bedwetters in the absurdly named “Cobra” committee.”

    You mean “Cabinet Office Briefing Room A”? What’s absurd about that? 🙂

  • Which means that of the 13 frigates we have on paper, we’ve effectively only got 4

    Actually it doesn’t mean that at all (& in any case four is entirely sufficient for the Gulf). All it means is resources must be spent and effort must be made to get more ship out to sea, and all that takes is the will to spend the money and issue the orders. This can be done with great alacrity if there are any grown-ups in No.10 and the MOD.

    And there’s the rest of the world to keep an eye on

    Not really, at least not right now.

    – the south Atlantic (a bit of history, there)

    Argentina has perhaps 1/10th of the ability to attack the Falklands that it did when it last tried. Plus, the primary deterrent is air assets in Stanley and a nuclear submarine that might or might not be in the South Atlantic at any given time.

    Gibraltar, the Black Sea (keeping an eye on the Russians), the Syrian mess, the far east…

    And in none of those places have British flagged ships been seized, so at this juncture, who cares? I am quite sure there are more than sufficient USN assets to prevent an unexpected descent into the Med via the Bosporus by the rusty Russian navy.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “And questions are being asked.”

    “West accused the British navy had ‘too few ships’ and would find it ‘extremely difficult’ to provide escorts to merchant vessels.”

    Yup.

  • Leapfroging marines sounds like the best move if you toss in some small “smart” anti tank type missiles that can take on the Iranian boats. You probably don’t want a .50 cal gunfight on full auto using a relatively thin=skinned tanker for cover.

  • However, since armed defence is now an unthinkable concept in Britain (JohnK, July 20, 2019 at 4:48 pm

    Not to the beeb when they themselves are needing protection. I was informed by an ex-para who worked in ship protection that the BBC’s ships were the very first British-flagged to have armed defence when the modern pirate situation first developed. The BBC were very on-board with having guns on board when they themselves had to pass near muslim pirate haunts.

  • Nullius in Verba

    Here’s a blast from the past! This was in 2008.

    Cuts to the size of the fleet over the last 10-years – the Royal Navy has just 22 frigates and destroyers compared to 65 in 1982 – has left the service with too few ships to meet its responsibilities.

    The Telegraph also understands that the Royal Navy is likely to face more cuts in the near future while major projects such as the £3.9bn new carrier programme could be delayed. Ageing vessels such as Type 23 frigates, which were commissioned in the late 1980s, will have their service life extended by up to 20-years.

    […]

    The Royal Navy has some 22 frigates and destroyers in the fleet, however only a third are available for operations at any one time and the seven currently available for operational service are already taking part in deployments.

    One senior naval source said that successive cuts by the government had left the Royal Navy vulnerable and unable to properly defend its interests overseas.

    He said: “The Royal Navy has been pared to the bone. The fleet is now so small that the Royal Navy can’t even send a proper warship to guard the Falklands. By the time the Royal Navy has met all of its operational obligations there is nothing left and that is why a civilian-crewed Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship has been sent to the Falklands.

    “In any shooting war with a serious enemy the Royal Navy would cease to exist within a few weeks. Rock bottom is an appropriate description of where the Royal Navy now is.”

    […]

    Admiral Sir Alan West, a former Chief of the Naval Staff, and who is a security minister in the Lords, has previously warned that the reduction in the fighting capability of the Royal navy could cost lives and gave warning that Britain would end up with a “tinpot” Navy if more money were not spent on defence.”

    And here he is again in 2014…

    The Government’s cuts to the Royal Navy’s fleet have gone too far and are a ‘national disgrace’, a former head of the service has warned. Lord West of Spithead, a former first sea lord, said the coalition had not just cut to the bone but ‘into the bone’.

    The Labour peer insisted the UK had been left with too few ships to escort naval convoys and warned the possibility of Scottish independence poses the greatest security and defence threat to the UK.

    Lord West said: ‘A great maritime nation like us, where we still run global shipping from London and we’re totally reliant on that, those sinews that keep the global village together, to have 19 escorts I think is a national disgrace actually. We really do need to think very, very hard about that.’

    So, not a surprise really, is it?

    The Americans are starting from a higher base, but are making the same complaints. Of about 300 ships (Figure 2 on p6), only about 100 can be deployed at any given time (I think about a third of them in home waters) and as total numbers drop, the ones left are coming under greater pressure.

    We have known this has been coming for a long time.

  • bobby b

    Life goes on. Even if governments don’t respond, the market does.

    One month ago – after the initial round of shipping difficulties – insurance coverage for a Gulf transit increased in cost from == $30,000 to == $500,000.

    “Underwriters are now aiming to charge anywhere from $150,000 to $325,000 to cover a cargo valued at $130 million, the people familiar with that market said.

    Until this week, the same cover cost $1,000 or less. Insuring the tanker itself now costs in excess of $200,000, based on a $75 million vessel. That’s up from less than $30,000 at the start of 2019.”

    After this new round – three ships so far? – Gulf shipping may well have become uninsurable. That alone will put the blockade in place.

    Only government can ignore a problem. In the real world, we have to deal with it.

  • We have known this has been coming for a long time.

    All true. Also, all largely irrelevant. This is one of those extremely rare occasions I find myself agreeing with Bob Sykes. Is the RN overstretched? Manifestly so, and it has indeed been known for a long time, but three frigates appropriately deployed is quite sufficient to the task, and is absolutely within current capabilities even before bringing the under-strength fleet up to a higher level of readiness.

    The moment that Iranian tanker was seized, unless the Admiralty is utterly bereft of wits, RN warships should have been withdrawn from other assignments and ordered to make best speed for the Gulf to face the only current clear and present active threat the navy is facing today. Also, there is no shortage of friendly ports and airfields in the Gulf, so the bulk of 42 Commando should have been sent ‘east of Suez’ with all dispatch, along with sufficient helicopters to put a squad of Royal Marines on every British flagged ship going through the Straits of Hormuz. We get on rather well with Oman, after all.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    There are many different ways to respond to a provocation — not all of them need to be direct. The countries outside the Persian Gulf which need to keep the oil flowing are China, Europe, Japan.

    Perhaps the smart thing for the UK and its European allies would be to discover that they are shocked! shocked!! that Iran has been cheating on the deals which justified ending international sanctions. European nations have been rather non-supportive of the US in regards to putting sanction pressure on Iran. Maybe this is the time for the UK and its European allies to become strong outspoken supporters of sanctions on Iran until Iran’s behavior changes. Cheaper than sending military forces, for sure.

  • Mr Ed

    Strikes me that the cost of insuring an oil cargo from the Gulf bound for, say, China might not be so volatile, as the Iranians are unlikely to try anything on with the Chinese as end-custimers. What we may be seeing is a selective attack on British-flagged shipping (crewed by anything but British crews and owned by anyone but British persons). AIUI, the Liberian tanker also sezed was quicky released. Since there are relatively few British-flagged vessels (our Merchant Navy being 10th in size I believe) and the rest of the World seems to think that it can carry on as before.

    If the UK government had shown some indication of resolve, anywhere, e.g. by capturing or firing on intruding Spanish vessels in Gibraltar over the years, even if it meant a few deaths of aggressors, it might well have got a message across.

    The maritime defence of Gibratar is generally entrusted, visiting assets apart, to two poxy 24 tonne launches with the firepower of 2 general purpose machine guns. As far as I can tell, the entire North Sea coast has 4 slightly larger vessels with similar firepower (actually 3 GPMGs) on hand at Naval Reserve training bases.

    The Italian tax police have far more maritime firepower knocking around Venice alone than we have in the North Sea. The state of the Navy is pure Parkinson’s Law. Sack 75% of the MoD civil servants, have only 8 Admirals and trim the rest. Rinse and repeat.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “What we may be seeing is a selective attack on British-flagged shipping”

    Obviously.

    “Since there are relatively few British-flagged vessels (our Merchant Navy being 10th in size I believe) and the rest of the World seems to think that it can carry on as before.”

    I expect we can carry on as before, too. The Iranians are playing diplomatic games. We took one of their tankers, so they took one of ours. Point made. Now we each negotiate to get them back. The rest of the shipping is probably safe, and they’re not going to hurt the crews. It’s all about public image and economics. It’s for show – it’s not worth shooting anyone over.

    “If the UK government had shown some indication of resolve, anywhere, e.g. by capturing or firing on intruding Spanish vessels in Gibraltar over the years, even if it meant a few deaths of aggressors, it might well have got a message across.”

    What, we should declare war on Spain?!

    It’s not worth killing living people when there are diplomatic alternatives.

    “The state of the Navy is pure Parkinson’s Law. Sack 75% of the MoD civil servants, have only 8 Admirals and trim the rest. Rinse and repeat.”

    How would that help? Granted, a lot of them are a waste of space, but it’s not the reason.

    This is the European perspective. We don’t fight wars any more. We ensure peace by tying all the nations into an interdependent trading network, participation in which depends on abiding by various interlocking sets of international law, and disputes are settled in the courts, or through diplomatic channels, or if things get really bad, by trade sanctions and embargoes. We don’t fight wars with guns and bombs. We’ve grown up and got civilised.

    And thus, the reasoning goes, if we’re never going to fight a war again – at least, not without several decades notice – we don’t need a military navy. They’re damned expensive, we hardly ever use them, and when we do it always causes us more trouble than it’s worth, and we’ve got lots of other better things to spend the money on. So we’ve got rid of them. Most European countries have gone even further than the UK. We hang on partly because of nationalistic nostalgia for our glory day, partly to buy us as seat at the diplomatic top table. But we’ve got absolutely zero intention of using it ourselves – at best, we might come along and help the Americans. It’s not an military for invading countries, it’s a glorified police force.

    And it’s not the result of incompetence or waste in the MoD (although there’s plenty of that) – it’s a deliberate policy by multiple governments over several decades. The politicians are enacting the will of the people: the people always kick and scream if we ever use the military (Iraq, etc.), so message received! We got rid of it.

    And now we’ve barely got enough to cover our commitments in peacetime, and when something like this kicks off, we’ve got less than enough. I don’t think the Navy would agree with your assessment that the Iranians are the only active threat our national interests face globally, and I don’t think they agree they can just drop all those commitments to go play tag with the Iranians for the next year. (And in any case, it’s not their decision, it’s the government’s.) At least, not before anything had actually happened.

    And I expect that’s what the shipping thought. If it was so obvious the Iranians were going to do something, it must have been obvious to the ship crews, too. And they know where HMS Montrose is, so if they’re being cautious they can easily wait until she’s close enough to do some good. I suspect what happened was that HMS Montrose was running up and down escorting anyone who wanted to be escorted, but some ships were not willing to wait several days bobbing in the water for her to turn up, dismissed the threat, and went ahead on their own. And maybe now they’ll stop doing that. But the Iranians have got what they wanted, so there’s probably no need now.

    The Iranians have got what they wanted. They’ve got a bargaining chip for their own ship. They’ve knocked the Royal Navy’s reputation and enhanced their own. They’ve driven UK-flagged shipping out of the Gulf with sky-high insurance rates. They’ve hurt us economically, diplomatically, and in public prestige. And all this will make us think twice before we help the Great Satan enforce their embargoes against Iranian trade again. Job done.

    And while I agree that’s very annoying, I think you’re aiming your ire at the wrong target with the Navy or the Admirals, who have been shouting about this very issue to anyone who will listen for the past decade and longer. The problem is the European attitude to the military. It’s why Europe doesn’t contribute enough to NATO. It’s why Europe isn’t backing Trump on trade sanctions against the Iranians. It’s why Europe opposed America and Britain on Iraq, and every other intervention. We simply don’t have enough military resources any more to enforce it.

    The Navy (and in the person of Lord West, publicly too) are saying “We told you so!”
    But still nobody is listening, and nobody believes it could be true. We all still insist on believing the songs.

    The nations, not so blest as thee,
    Must, in their turns, to tyrants fall;
    While thou shalt flourish great and free,
    The dread and envy of them all.
    “Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
    “Britons never will be slaves.”

    Oh, how times change.

  • JohnK

    You mean “Cabinet Office Briefing Room A”? What’s absurd about that?

    NiV:

    It would be more appropriate if they were Cabinet Office Committee K.

  • Jacob

    “We ensure peace by tying all the nations into an interdependent trading network, participation in which depends on abiding by various interlocking sets of international law, and disputes are settled in the courts, or through diplomatic channels”

    OK.
    So, how do you tie the Iranians into the network? Did they get the message that they are tied in?
    Why did Britain size the Iranian tanker at Gibraltar? Did nobody suspect that the Iranians might retaliate?

    And the Iranians are not the Somali private pirates. They have frigates and destroyers and missiles (anti-air and anti-ship) and submarines and an air force too.

    Perry is wrong in asserting that it is only a matter of making the correct decisions. It is a matter of Britain lacking capability.

    Of course, Britain and all of Europe rely on “NATO” i.e. on the US.
    (By the way – where is the mighty Europe that Britain is still part of?)

    And the US also lacks the capability of taking on Iran at this moment. They could build up the capability in a year or two if they wanted, but there is no indication that they want.

    NIV is correct. Peace will be restored. The Iranians will get their way, and will do as they please.

  • Jacob

    Suppose the Iranians fire some anti-ship missiles into the HMS Montrose and sink her. They are perfectly capable of doing it.

    What then? What does Great Britain do?
    Runs to Washington and…. ?
    The bet is that the mad mullahs are not THAT mad. Can you be sure of it?

  • Jacob

    IRAN MEDIA: OUR MISSILES KEEP U.S. CARRIER OUT OF PERSIAN GULF”

    Here’s why the US aircraft carrier sent to confront Iran isn’t sailing up to its doorstep”

    But… But the HMS Montrose is RN!!

  • Nullius in Verba

    “So, how do you tie the Iranians into the network? Did they get the message that they are tied in?”

    That’s what the nuclear treaty arguments are about. Yes, they’re tied in. And they did a deal with Obama and the Europeans that if they slowed nuclear development they’d be allowed to trade. But then Trump decided it was a bad deal (it was), and that he could get a better one by re-imposing sanctions and asking for more (we’ll have to see). The Europeans don’t agree (they think Iran are not yet tied in enough for them to abandon their major source of regional influence, and they have no intention of using military force, so we’re utterly reliant on Iran complying voluntarily), and Britain are stuck between not wanting to start a fight with the Europeans when we’re in the middle of Brexit and not wanting to start a fight with the US on who we are totally reliant for defence.

    “Why did Britain size the Iranian tanker at Gibraltar? Did nobody suspect that the Iranians might retaliate?”

    Officially, it’s because the tanker went round Africa into the Mediterranean instead of going through Suez, we suspect (and probably have intelligence to support) that they’re trying to sell oil to Syria as a way round the US embargo, and while we’ve not signed up to embargo Iran, we are legally signed up to embargo Syria. So we stopped the tanker, legally.

    The Iranians dispute that, saying that we’re actually helping the Americans implement Trump’s sanctions while not ticking off the Europeans who don’t want them applied. Unhelpfully, the Spanish made the same accusation. The Iranians argue that the confiscation was on spurious legal grounds, and so in a tit-for-tat exchange have seized one of ours on similarly spurious legal grounds. Except that we say our action was *really* legal, and theirs transparently isn’t.

    I suspect a lot of people thought that their threats to seize a tanker were rhetoric, and they’d not do something so blatantly illegal and provocative, when that’s exactly the sort of thing to push Europe into the American camp. They know perfectly well they were illegally trying to breach the Syrian embargo, and that everybody knows it, and that everyone knows their seizure of the British-flagged tanker is similarly illegal. The Iranians are banking on the legal ambiguity allowing the Europeans to not support Britain, and for Britain to remain caught in the middle and not driven into the American camp in order to get their support in the Gulf. (Which has been offered – called Operation Sentinel.) Doing so would likely require our support on Trump’s sanctions, which would put us deeper at odds with Europe.

    It’s a risky strategy for the Iranians, which is why people suspected they *might* do it, but were far from certain. And that, I suspect, is why some of the British-flagged traffic in the Gulf – especially ships neither owned nor crewed by British – were not inclined to wait around for days for the single over-burdened frigate to come and escort them through, but headed through on their own. We can’t order them around, and time is money.

    When HMS Duncan gets there next week, the waiting time will be halved, and with 20:20 hindsight of recent events, other commercial ship captains may be more inclined to be patient rather than take the risk. But the damage is done, the Iranians have got what they wanted, and it’s entirely possible (but again far from certain) that the Iranians will no longer bother. They might even offer to release it in exchange for public assurances that we’re not supporting Trump. Or then again, they might continue harassing our shipping to keep the negotiating pressure up, and demand more.

    It’s a matter of finely judging the costs and diplomatic pressures – they want to push us hard enough that we’ll give in and stop covertly supporting the US, but not so hard that they’ll shift the diplomatic US-Europe split in favour of the US (which firing a missile at HMS Montrose would very definitely do!) They don’t want to push us into openly supporting the Americans, and they definitely don’t want to push the Europeans to do so, so they’re going to make a show of being ‘reasonable’, but on their terms.

    And we might well let them. As I said in my first comment – there are issues of grand strategy here. If we’re not going to overthrow the Iranian regime by force, we don’t really want to destabilise them. At the same time, we don’t want them to become a nuclear power. It’s the same dilemma we had with Saddam Hussein, except without the convenient UN resolution declaring them a threat to international peace and security, and imposing sanctions. They use the threat they pose to gain regional influence and to protect themselves from being overthrown, since it forces us into protecting them, giving them a pass on their misbehaviour, for the sake of regional stability. The more dangerous they get, the more power they have over us.

    It is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation
    To call upon a neighbour and to say: —
    “We invaded you last night–we are quite prepared to fight,
    Unless you pay us cash to go away.”

    And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
    And the people who ask it explain
    That you’ve only to pay ’em the Dane-geld
    And then you’ll get rid of the Dane!

    It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
    To puff and look important and to say: —
    “Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
    We will therefore pay you cash to go away.”

    And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
    But we’ve proved it again and again,
    That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
    You never get rid of the Dane.

    It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
    For fear they should succumb and go astray;
    So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
    You will find it better policy to say: —

    “We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
    No matter how trifling the cost;
    For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
    And the nation that pays it is lost!”

  • William Newman

    “illegally trying to breach the Syrian embargo, and that everybody knows it, and that everyone knows their seizure of the British-flagged tanker is similarly illegal”

    Illegal… Could someone tell me what’s the legal basis for the Syrian embargo? I wondered a bit about the current legalities of shipping seizures on the high seas when I heard about some North Korean shipping seizures a while ago, and found myself wondering quite a bit more when I heard of the British seizure of the Iranian tanker, and of course now it’s even higher profile with the Iranian seizure of the British tanker. But as I have increasingly paid attention, I still haven’t heard anyone mention the legal basis. Is it just common knowledge for everyone know but me?

    The most likely candidate I can think of is a UN Security Council decree. Whoever it is, I’m surprised I hadn’t heard more about the legal authority cutting off fuel supplies to a country even before the first tanker seizure. After all, over the last few years there’s been a considerable amount of chin-stroking about fundamental freedom of navigation esp. around the China Sea. At some point I’d have expected to run across a treatment which was grounded enough to mention how how of course freedom of navigation is illegal for nations which aren’t in the charmed circle, and saying a bit about who is currently excluded and who makes the call.

  • Mr Ed

    William N.

    There an EU Regulation in force (perhaps more than one) in respect of sanctions against Syria, and against oil and gas generation.

    I am not sure where the tanker was when seized, but AIUI, it was in Gibraltarian waters when seized, rather than passing through the Strait of Gibraltar, which would have taken it through Spanish internal waters (subject to the right of innocent passage, or perhaps transit passage) first before it got to Gibraltar’s waters (if at all, they can be by-passed) (Gibraltar has a 3 mile limit). From what I have seen, it was not boarded whilst underway, but information is limited. Spain ought to have nabbed it first as it came through the Strait, but perhaps they were unable to do so since it was exercising innocent passage.

    So in terms of the legal authority, if it was in Gibraltarian waters, that was not ‘innocent passage’ unless, I believe, part of a transit through the Strait in one go. If it paused in Gibraltar it became a visiting ship and so liable to arrest due to the EU sanctions, which apply in Spanish and Gibraltarian waters (if Gibraltar has any, that’s another issue). The ship itself is Panamanian, so really it is a matter for them, not Iran, they just provided the cargo. The concern is that it was headed for a Syrian refinery (or to offload its cargo to smaller ships once in Syrian waters).

    I do not know how sanctions impact on the right of innocent passage through the Strait, it might not be relevant.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Nullius in Verba
    It’s not worth killing living people when there are diplomatic alternatives.

    But there is always a diplomatic solution. In any circumstances, total capitulation is a diplomatic solution that the aggressor will accept. Do you propose that, should the Iranians escalate that we engage in such a strategy? Perhaps, as an alternative strategy we could use the Obama administration’s strategy of “Send them one hundred billion dollars”. Would you be in favor of that? Dangeld has been a strategy employed for thousands of years.

    “Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
    “Britons never will be slaves.”

    I think the second line is the whole point of the song, right?

  • William Newman

    Thank you, Mr. Ed, I am less puzzled now. I had somehow not realized that the seizure was in an area where the straits can create special circumstances.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “But there is always a diplomatic solution. In any circumstances, total capitulation is a diplomatic solution that the aggressor will accept.”

    I meant if there are diplomatic alternatives to get a solution near-equally acceptable to you.

    To take an extreme example – you’re playing chess and your opponent makes a move that gives him an obvious mate in three. Do you a) resign or b) kill him? There are circumstances where killing is appropriate, and others where it’s not. I think if you can sort out the matter by an appeal to a court or writing a stern note to the ambassador, it’s morally inappropriate to blow trespassing boats away with high-calibre artillery.

    However, I’m aware this may be a cultural issue, and not everyone operates by that ‘thou-shalt-not-kill’ morality. I’ve heard rumours about being stopped by the police in America…
    😉

    “Do you propose that, should the Iranians escalate that we engage in such a strategy?”

    In this case, I was proposing something very much like that – although obviously it depends on what is meant by “escalate”. If defeating them and humiliating them is potentially going to result in a far more costly war or revolution, it might be better to ‘let them win’ the round to prevent that, keep things peaceful, and achieve our aims at a later date. It’s part of what I described as the European approach. You get what you want by means of incentives rather than coercion. (It’s not the same thing at all as simply surrendering, where you don’t ever get what you want.) However, I agree that the European approach does have a Danegeld problem – the main issue I have with it. It effectively rewards threatening/dangerous behaviour.

    As I said, my personal preference would be to intervene now, while the problem is reasonably manageable, and replace the regime with a more liberal one less inclined to cause us trouble. I am, in fact, in favour of sending in an expeditionary force to go in and rip out all their nuclear enrichment infrastructure and most of their military weapons, and on the way out shooting all the mullahs and nutters and putting some more sensible people in charge. However, I’m aware my rather colonialist mindset is currently out of fashion, and not remotely feasible in the current political or military situation, and so I’m instead just following the logical implications of the more ‘European’ alternative, which is that if you want to avoid a conflict then sometimes you have to ‘lose’ a round so as not to smash the game board and end the game. If the diplomatic ‘incentives’ approach works, without invoking all the horrors of war, then I consider it morally superior to mine. And while I’m dubious about its certainty of success in time to avoid a nuclear standoff, I think there is at least a slim chance that it will work.

    I think that the long-run situation is a very complex problem, with no easy answers. As for the short-term problem right now, national pride is bruised and people are angry, (on both sides,) and that doesn’t lend itself to clear tactical thinking. It’s a diplomatic problem now, not a military one.

    “I think the second line is the whole point of the song, right?”

    I think the point of the song is that you achieve the second line by doing the first line. Rule the waves.

  • Bell Curve

    It’s not worth killing living people when there are diplomatic alternatives.

    “Diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments”

    – Frederick the Great

  • bobby b

    “I’ve heard rumours about being stopped by the police in America . . . “

    Really? You’re going to cite to CGR about the “American police state”?

    😛

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Really? You’re going to cite to CGR about the “American police state”?”

    Not seriously. But I have seen video of car chases where the cops seek to stop fleeing motorists by shooting into their car, and I’m rather against the imposition of the death penalty without trial or conviction for failing to stop. I’m just observing that the USA seems to have a slightly more casual attitude to shooting people dead for what we would consider minor offences like trespassing… and I considered that the idea that we should have resolved our territorial dispute with Spain by “firing on intruding Spanish vessels in Gibraltar over the years, even if it meant a few deaths of aggressors” possibly comes under that heading of cultural differences. 😉

    But I’m well-aware that police shootings are a politically contended topic with much misleading material published on it, which is why I specifically described it as “rumours”. My apologies for any cultural offence caused by my casual racism.

  • bobby b

    “My apologies for any cultural offence caused by my casual racism.”

    No offense. I’d agree we have a police problem.

    I just have a long-standing antipathy for the CGR. Ever since their article about how vaccines were an American plot to depopulate Africa – who knows the death toll of that particular piece of writing? – I shudder a bit when I see their name.

  • Fraser Orr

    Nullius in Verba
    As I said, my personal preference would be to intervene now, while the problem is reasonably manageable, and replace the regime with a more liberal one less inclined to cause us trouble.

    So you object to interfering with patrol boats taking over tankers but are ok with intervening to the point of causing a coup d’etat? I have completely the opposite view. I think, generally speaking, diplomacy with lunatics is a waste of time. (I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it, but I have very low expectations.) I think we should let them do their own thing in their own territory (with the exception of developing seriously dangerous weapons), and protect ourselves in the high seas. That seems a vastly more non interventionist policy to me. Nation building and all that kind of stuff has gotten us into all sorts of a stew with very little benefit. I don’t see why we should keep doing the same stupid things over and over again.

    BTW an interesting comparison is with North Korea. My view on this was that the right course of action was to develop an anti ballistic missile defense system (something that we should still DEFINITELY be doing) to neuter the threat along with sanctions. However, that is a limited solution since with our porous border it would be fairly easy so deliver a nuclear weapon by sneakernet.

    However, I think Trump’s strategy is been really remarkably successful, and I think if he keeps at it it will be a big win. There is a lot to say about it, but I think part of the difference is that Kim is not, in fact, a lunatic. Only religion can bring about the necessary lunacy (why? because only religion can accept an option where your death can be compensated by other benefits). Because he is not a lunatic there is some leverage that can be applied. Trump’s approach of play nice but wield a really big stick, and pull really hard on the choker collar, while ignoring the flotsum and jetsum of press releases, has produced some really great benefits. It’ll be interesting to see if he can push it over the finish line.

    I think the point of the song is that you achieve the second line by doing the first line. Rule the waves.

    Yup, but you can’t do that is you don’t defend yourself on the waves.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    There is an element of this that may represent a peek into the near future.

    The UK does not have enough stroke with its European “allies” to get their public backing. It might have an impact on Iran if they were to receive a couple of dozen strongly worded diplomatic notes in French, and even more impact if Germany threatened to stop selling them nuclear-related machine tools — but that is not going to happen.

    The UK does not have much stroke with the US, given its past reluctance to support the US on Iran. And let’s not even mention the former UK ambassador. We can take it as given that President Trump has zero interest in getting the US involved in a modern day British War of Jenkins’ Ear.

    The UK does not have much stroke with China, given the unforgotten history of the Opium Wars and the current problems in Hong Kong.

    Basically, the UK stands alone.

    Perhaps the UK government would find itself having to do a Pontius Pilate, and declare that the fate of a Panamanian vessel with an international crew owned by what may turn out to be a front company in the UK is not a matter of interest to Her Majesty’s Government. The private interests of some wealthy person are not worth the bones of a single Royal Marine. British vessels would cease to trade in the Persian Gulf … and the world would carry on.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “So you object to interfering with patrol boats taking over tankers but are ok with intervening to the point of causing a coup d’etat?”

    Gosh, no! I’ve no objection at all to interfering with patrol boats illegally taking over tankers. I was just pointing out that the reason it happened was a combination of defence cuts meaning we don’t have enough warships and (I strongly suspect) tanker captains unwilling to wait for the one warship on duty to show up. And I didn’t think shooting the Spanish was a good idea.

    “The UK does not have enough stroke with its European “allies” to get their public backing.”

    The UK has already had public statements of support from France, Germany, and the US. The problem is not so much finding support, but deciding which side of the Atlantic to find it on.

    So far they’ve been pretty vague and unspecific, but it’s early days yet.

  • Runcie Balspune

    As a slight detour from this analysis, the wider picture is where these “UK” tankers are getting oil from and where is it going to?

    The UK gets most of it’s oil from Norway, Africa, the US and Russia (source). The only significant Middle Eastern supplier is Saudi Arabia and they have ports on the Red Sea.

    So why the heck are we getting involved in this in the first place?

  • I am, in fact, in favour of sending in an expeditionary force to go in and rip out all their nuclear enrichment infrastructure and most of their military weapons, and on the way out shooting all the mullahs and nutters and putting some more sensible people in charge. However, I’m aware my rather colonialist mindset is currently out of fashion, and not remotely feasible …

    … As for the short-term problem right now, national pride is bruised and people are angry, (on both sides,) and that doesn’t lend itself to clear tactical thinking. (Nullius in Verba, July 21, 2019 at 8:54 pm)

    Your second point is in principle the answer to your first. While “putting some more sensible people in charge” faces issues in their culture, never mind ours, a time when people are angry is exactly the time when clear tactical thinking from a leader can get an essential violent deed done – sabotaging their enrichment facilities for example – under the rubric of ‘justified retaliation’.

    Like you, I see and regret modern western cultural issues that have let the Iranians get so far.

  • No offense. I’d agree we have a police problem. (bobby b, July 21, 2019 at 10:33 pm)

    As a reader of samizdata, you are doubtless aware we too have a police problem, albeit of a different nature from the one you and Nullius were discussing. You can imagine, I’m sure ( 🙂 ), how purely it is but my desire to avoid causing any possible cultural offence that leads me to admit the abstract possibility of ours being on balance the worse problem to have of the two.

    Over three decades ago, I overheard a “Your police are wonderful” conversation from a US visitor to the UK. The speaker had been given a ticket for crossing some line but had been struck by how courteously the British policeman handled it. Ten years ago, I had exactly the same experience in the US: an officer had to caution me for jaywalking (it would not have been jaywalking in Britain) but what chiefly struck me was the politeness with which he handled it.

    Times change.

  • Julie near Chicago

    It’s partly the times and partly the particular PD or officer who stops you. My own interactions have only been traffic stops, and in all but 1 1/2 cases the cops were not just polite but downright nice. (In the 1/2-case the gent was simply businesslike — I did contest the ticket in Chicago’s traffic court, where I learned that “innocent until proven guilty” gets you nowhere if it’s your and your passenger’s word against the cop’s; in the other case, in a close suburb the guy was a snotty young turk who went out of his way to give me lip, grrrr, but in fact he didn’t ticket me either time.) And when I have gotten a ticket, the officer was still perfectly polite.

    But the civil asset forfeiture business is something else again. There are many, many stories of people who’ve been stopped and their cars or their cash impounded, and sometimes never returned even when any charges were dropped.

    These don’t all come for cop-hating sites, by the way. One retired cop on a “cops for the 2nd amendment” attested a few years back that the problem, which had been rather bad in the ’70s or early ’80s, had diminished considerably through the ’90s, but that by the mid-’00s had ramped up again and was, at the time he wrote this, continuing to get worse.

    Where it stands now I don’t know, but between that and the Feds’ continuing to harass people who make those regular near-to-$ 10,000 deposits, such as small-business owners like small restaurants and dry-cleaners, and also people who happen to dig up a once-in-a-hundred-year rain puddle in order to build a rabbit hutch or something (I exaggerate somewhat but for instance, look up the case of the Sacketts in Idaho), there is a lot of police and law-enforcement overreach, or you might have a more trenchant term for it.

    I should perhaps state that I myself stand up for the cops in general. They have a dangerous and often nasty job, and provided they mind their manners so to speak, I think that we should be grateful to them as a group, the world being as it is.

    (The board I mentioned above, by the way, is the Yahoo group ‘ 2ampd ‘, for “cops and friendly others who are in favor of the Second Amendment.)

  • Nullius in Verba

    Interesting diplomatic move by Mr Hunt.

    “Mr Hunt said the UK would develop a maritime protection mission with other European nations to allow ships to pass through the area safely.

    The foreign secretary secured support for the initiative from both French and German foreign ministers on the phone on Sunday evening, the BBC has been told.”

    So, setting up a rival European coalition to the Americans has the dual achievements of both keeping the UK on side with the Europeans and getting the Europeans involved in an operation nominally ‘against’ Iran (which will probably please Trump), without the Euros having to give up their official separation from the United States. We get help escorting our ships, get international support to confirm Iran as the outlaws here, and restrict Iran’s ability to cause further general mischief in the Gulf. And now there’s a build up of Western forces in the area, right off the Iranian coast, in case things do escalate. There might even be a chance that the Iranians might be stupid enough to do something to upset the Europeans – I can’t see them being pleased by this move, and they’re almost forced to denounce European participation.

    Neat! I’m impressed!

  • bobby b

    “But the civil asset forfeiture business is something else again.”

    I was driving to an auction a few weeks ago, with about $24,000.00 in cash in the vehicle with me. All legal and above-board, and I could prove it.

    It occurred to me that, ten years ago, when doing the same thing, I would keep my eyes out for police, because I didn’t want to be robbed and they made me feel secure.

    But on that day a few weeks ago, I was again watching out for the police, because I didn’t want to be robbed – but they were my main threat.

    Cops are their own worst enemies.

  • Paul Marks

    The comments, starting with Mr Ed, say much of what needs to be said.

    I am ashamed, deeply ashamed, of the cowardice of the government of my country. I even fear that “Social Justice” “equality and diversity” thinking has gone into the armed forces themselves – the very things that the armed forces should regard with total contempt.

    A ship of the Royal Navy should not respond with radio messages bleating on about “international law” when a British merchant ship is attacked. The Islamic Republic of Iran military craft should have been destroyed.

    Will a new Prime Minister mean an end to “international community” P.C. nonsense? Well we shall see.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “A ship of the Royal Navy should not respond with radio messages bleating on about “international law” when a British merchant ship is attacked. The Islamic Republic of Iran military craft should have been destroyed.”

    a) How? The Iranian boats are 30+ miles away from your ship.

    b) Does this rule apply to us too? That when arresting people aboard an Iranian-hired ship (as we did with Grace I in Gibraltar) the Iranians could legitimately shoot the arresting forces we sent? Consider the precedent set!

    Like I said earlier, anger and bruised national pride don’t lend themselves to clear tactical thinking.

  • Does this rule apply to us too? (Nullius in Verba, July 23, 2019 at 7:26 pm)

    It rather obviously already does. You surely recall the incident of the Iranians briefly seizing some UK seamen a while back. Quite obviously their willingness to act against naval vessels is a function of whether they think it safe and/or advantageous, or the reverse.

    I’m all for calm tactical thinking but let’s distinguish it from moral reasoning. You can recommend calm tactical thinking or high-minded return-good-for-evil restraint but the two arguments sort ill together. And as I’ve already observed, “anger and bruised national pride” are the moments a good leader asks whether action (now politically possible, perhaps briefly) would be the right thing to do.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I’m all for calm tactical thinking but let’s distinguish it from moral reasoning. You can recommend calm tactical thinking or high-minded return-good-for-evil restraint but the two arguments sort ill together.”

    A lot of moral reasoning is built on ideas around reciprocity and game theory, which is all about tactics. I’m talking about Kant’s Categorical Imperative from his ‘Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals’: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.”

    And then there is that other moral foundation stone: Thou shat not kill.

    Personally, I consider killing people to only be justified when it’s the only way to prevent an even greater harm – which can include things like the denial of people’s liberties. (So if you’re proposing something like liberating the Iranian people from tyranny, which cannot be done democratically, then sure.) But when there are other safer ways to achieve the same end, then the same principles apply whether it’s Iranians arresting the crew of a ship for (they claim) bumping into a fishing boat, or coppers in Kettering high street arresting a motorist for (they claim) recklessly bumping into another car. Arguing it out in court is preferable (both morally and tactically) to pulling out a gun and shooting the cops. The only situation where it might not be is if it is known that the courts are unjust and undemocratic and thus tactically ineffective.

    But for some reason, the normal rules of morality we apply between ourselves get suspended when it comes to foreigners. It’s a bit like their attitude when it comes to unbelievers, and I don’t think that sort of thinking should be encouraged.

    But of course morality is to some degree a personal thing, and your mileage may vary.

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