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April 02nd 2014 print

Peter Smith

Ukraine’s Song Of The Supine

You could argue that Russia's seizure of the Crimea was a popularly endorsed manifestation of robust democracy. Be that as it may, the notion that the invaded's unarmed renditions of their national anthem represents an effective response is clearly lacking

ukraine songbird“How many divisions does he have?” Brought up to date in regard to Ukraine maybe Uncle Joe would have wondered how many divisions are prepared to shoot.

There are things to be said in mitigation of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. It was Russian before Khrushchev gave it away in 1954. Clearly, he would not have given it to a country outside the Soviet Union; and beyond belief to a country with ambitions to join the EU and NATO. A majority of people in Crimea apparently wanted to be Russian. No one seems to doubt that, even if the plebiscite was rigged. So, in a sense, it could be argued that the annexation was rough and ready democracy in action. None of this is my point.

My point is that I am ambivalent about a country losing land that it is not prepared to defend. Conceivably more land is at stake. Maybe Putin has not sated his Eastern European territorial ambitions, even though he is making placating noises.

It was only a little time ago that NATO’s military commander in Europe issued a warning about a build-up of Russian forces on Ukraine’s Eastern border. Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t hear about Ukraine massing its forces in opposition. At the same time, Obama ruled out sending troops to Ukraine. This was in character. However, he was right, whatever his reasons. Why in the world should any NATO power provide military support, even of a token nature, to a country which seems unwilling to shed one drop of blood to defend its own territory.

Pictured on TV we saw unarmed Ukrainian solders in Crimea turning their backs and singing their national anthem in defiance. Putin must have been shaking in his Russian boots. Exactly what is the point of paying a voluntary standing army to lay down its weapons on sight of the enemy? Is that not a pertinent question?

The same principle of being prepared to fight for your territory or potentially lose it surely applies to any country. This business of saying Russia’s annexation of Crimea is illegal is laughable. It is illegal to rob banks, but robbed they would be if hold-up men were not met with force and retribution. The ruthless and the bad don’t give a fig about legality. That’s why we need Americans to defend us. And is why we have no right to expect their help unless we match their commitment in blood and money with ours. (On this point, see Keith Windschuttle’s essay in the April 2014 edition of Quadrant, now on sale

OK, so far as the money part is concerned, what is the position? The US (and Russia, by the way) spends more than 4% of its GDP on defence. Australia’s spends well less than the 2%. Defence expenditure has been gutted and the money dissipated on increasing welfare dependency.

Mind you, are the big defence spenders on the wrong side of history? This new strategy on the part of Ukrainian troops might be just in a testing phase. Once refined, it could possibly catch on. Take the Tiwi Islands (I admit to having consulted a map) in the Torres Strait? Suppose they were threatened by a northern neighbour for the purpose of using them as a dumping ground for their refugees, to be shipped across in orange lifeboats. Should we get ADF units based in the Northern Territory to practice stowing their weapons and singing Advance Australia Fair? Or, being less reverential, Waltzing Matilda might be more effective in striking terror into the enemy. A haka would surely work for New Zealand.

Who needs guns when the national anthem or some other rousing choral piece will do the job? That is the question we need to debate at national level. Perhaps in future it will no longer be guns or butter. Just think of the possibility of having more and more butter and still being safe.

Maybe we need to get on board with John Kerry. There are no bad guys who can’t be talked around by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning President or, in extremis, sung around. All that is needed is to get Putin, Xi Jinping, Khamenei, Assad, and innumerable others, including all of the Taliban and Islamic extremists, to read the script.

At last we might be on the verge of an age when power no longer comes out of the barrel of a gun but out of a national anthem. If only Mao had lived to see it.

 

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics