To Cluster or not to cluster ….

At the best of times I find Rishi Sunak, patronising and smug. 

an old picture of a nanny with a child in a pram

Perhaps that is a function of being super rich, they  can feel superior to the rest of us . It is  a kind of “ nanny knows best “ approach which politically is translated  at the, moment, into “Tories  know best.” To my mind at least , that is an unfounded assumption . 

Scotland and Wales are  ahead of the rest of the UK  in showing that the notion of Conservatives being the natural Party of Government is a falsehood.  

But perhaps we  shouldn’t be surprised about this approach because nannies seem to be critical to the upbringing  of so many Conservative politicians. 

This smugness was up front and centre in Sunak’s comments about the USA’s decision to give Ukraine cluster bombs. He was working to try to show sound principles. But principled about what ? 

Cluster bombs are an obnoxious set of munitions  that are banned by 100 countries. But is it unreasonable to suggest that what has happened in Ukraine is just as obnoxious, particularly when Russia has already used cluster bombs, particularly  when its latest atrocity , today, is to target a humanitarian aid giving centre with missiles  fired at distance   ? 

This ordnance is designed to be used with troops dug into defensive positions with significant mine fields . They are not 100% efficient , some stay in the ground and maim people, particularly children who see them as toys,   years after the war is over, just as the hundreds of thousands of mines the Russians are using will also surely  do . They are not nice weapons . Apparently Western cluster bombs are more reliable, humm. 

But what defines a “nice” weapon, and do “more acceptable” weapons  kill any less? Should we expect a nation facing national obliteration to say in defeat , “ we lost, but we killed nicely.” 

For Ukraine this is a war of survival, for Russia it is a war of attrition . For Ukraine a breakthrough now is essential because they cannot rely on Western political will to support them in the long term, where as Russia shows  no signs  of ousting Putin . Unless of course Wagner in some way returns to the Russian streets .  Ukraine asked for  Western weapons , Western fighter jets , and have only  just received assurances . In the latter case of jets these will be  more to defend the country after the war than impact now , because of the training needed . We vacillate about NATO membership. 

Ukraine could be forgiven if it sounds like we are saying , “ yes we know it is a bare knuckle fight but please put these boxing gloves on because our electorates are squeamish at the sight of blood.” They are already bleeding while Russia has bruised knuckles . 

In these circumstances killing people nicely with approved weapons is not an option. Killing  people nicely or not is a moral position open only to those who are not fighting . However we try to moderate it, war is not a moral state . 
Unless we are sent to war by people like Tony Blair,  the vast majority of us will never have to fight that way . Rishi has access to a little red button ( I assume it is red , but other colours leading  to mushroom clouds of  indiscriminate mass destruction are also available .) It is acceptable to be moralistic about lesser evils when you have access the greatest one. 

Ukraine on the other hand is fighting for its very existence against an enemy that has no hesitation in using indiscriminate weapons that kill civilians randomly and really  without any pretence to do anything different. If Ukraine  use cluster bombs it will be on their own, invaded,  territory where, should they win,  and unexploded ordnance is left behind, it will be their own citizens at risk. Why would they do this if other options were available to them? ( Or if the West had provided them sooner ?) In those circumstances the moral argument against these weapons , it seems to me , is harder to justify . 
Where could  it end you might say ? If Russia uses tactical  nuclear weapons, and they are allegedly moving them into Belorussia, would we provide them more widely  ? Well actually the West already have because the USA  bases  nuclear weapons in some Nato  countries . On that, Putin actually has a point . Even if the UK wanted to provide Tactical nuclear weapons it can’t. Only the USA, China, Russia,  France and one has to assume possibly; Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and India are likely to have them. Instead we rely upon a “ first strike “ weapon, based upon the theory of mutual mass destruction and where is the morality in that ? 

This doesn’t mean I like cluster bombs . It means I don’t like war .

War is not nice which is why we should  avoid it. There are universal conventions on how war should be fought which are being broken day in day out by Russia . Particularly the use of missiles against civilian targets . That is not an argument to ignore those conventions, but the ban on cluster bombs is not universal and is not recognised in practice  by Ukraine’s enemy. In those circumstances our squeamishness is misplaced .

Grapple 1 thermonuclear test with the mushroom cloud formation

These are not easy words to say , I have seen the effect of  cluster bombs in my travels over seas , but it is only our circumstances as a country that has not been invaded for centuries that allows us to be sanctimonious about that . Even then how do we justify the blanket bombing of  Germany or the ways in which we subjugated nations in  the name of colonialism? No one has clean hands . 

I do not know if the use of cluster bombs will be decisive in this war .  It if they are, I can see why Ukraine would use them . 

Coming back to nannies …I remember a while back when an American friend, fascinated by British politics was surprised by my prediction that Theresa May would be our  next PM. I pointed out to him that the Conservative  selectorate was very narrow, very old fashioned , very male  and she was  my choice because they would’ve be reminded of their nannies.

What they were reminded of with Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, I’d rather not speculate upon, I’m just about to have lunch  .  


Sorry to have been away for a while folks . We have had a death in the close family in late March and the urge to write just evaporated . Perhaps those who disagree with my comments above might prefer that it hadn’t returned ! 

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6 replies »

  1. Excellent article Steve. I agree with you and share the ambivalence that goes with territory like this. Russia exploits any unwillingness to deal with them, seeing it as weakness. We cannot do that if this is to end as it must, with a Ukrainian victory and the removal of a tyrant.

    • Thank you Eamonn, I think you are right and art worries me that local electoral politics might cause us to do the wrong thing .

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