Digest 20: Is PM Rishi being red teamed on Ukraine? 11 questions to ask...
Highlights from the past two weeks…
Is Rishi being red teamed on Ukraine? 11 questions to ask
I fear the line our Prime Minister is taking on Ukraine:
This, along with similar rumblings from Stoltenberg in April:
In the aftermath of Covid, there has been no end of praising the virtues of having ‘red teams’ challenge consensus thinking.
We in the UK have the Ukrainian flag flying high over the Cabinet Office and other central government buildings. This is surely a symbol of consensus thinking if ever there was one.
Who is the senior Nigel Lawson-like figure in British government today making a robust argument that this is a precarious path to take?
I can see incentives that made Boris as PM a steadfast advocate for Ukraine joining Nato. He (rightly) was celebrated on the world stage for being the first to deliver military aid. Cynical but true: at the time, it was a welcome diversion from party-gate. It perhaps allowed some living reenactment of the role of Churchill. And it was during his time as Foreign Secretary (March 2018) that the Salisbury poisonings happened, so I consider Boris has an especially villainous view of Putin.
But I don’t get why this is the line Rishi as PM has taken.
A number of red team questions I consider could calmly be put forward…
1) Does Rishi and his senior team realise how provocative they are being to Russia?
2) This conflict (and not having Ukraine become part of Nato) is existential to Russia. Do you agree? If not, why not?
3) William Burns, now director of the CIA, warned in 2008 making Ukraine part of Nato would be the ‘reddest of red lines’ for Russia. Do you fear resulting escalation from the path you’re advocating?
4) How well briefed have key decision makers been on the history of agreements with Russia dating back to 1991? How comprehensively can key decision makers recount these agreements in two minutes?
5) Here is a two-minute summation from Robert Kennedy Jr. This is largely corroborated by a former Foreign Secretary of India (as well as former Indian Ambassador to Russia). If they’re wrong, how are they wrong?
6) In a very crude sense: what is polling data like on your support for Ukraine? How much is this a factor in the line you’re taking?
7) Even though you might consider it ‘the right thing to do’, do you have any concern that advocating for Ukraine to join Nato is ‘strategically naive’, and will ultimately leave Ukraine (and the West) in a much worse position?
8) What is the ‘casualty exchange ratio’ (how many are being killed each side, Ukraine/Russia) as you see it from your intelligence? (Media reports vary spectacularly.)
9) What have discussions been like with Macron? Has he encouraged you to take a different tack (and partner with France in trying to broker peace)?
10) Does the UK have concerns about biolabs in Ukraine, which the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, has confirmed the existence of?
11) Has Biden spoken to Putin since the invasion in February 2022? If not, do you have any leverage in encouraging this?
I can understand Secretary Blinken (U.S. Secretary of State)’s view:
‘Now, over the coming weeks and months, some countries will call for a ceasefire. And on the surface, that sounds sensible – attractive, even. After all, who doesn’t want warring parties to lay down their arms? Who doesn’t want the killing to stop? But a ceasefire that simply freezes current lines in place and enables Putin to consolidate control over the territory he’s seized, and then rest, re-arm, and re-attack – that is not a just and lasting peace. It’s a Potemkin peace. It would legitimize Russia’s land grab. It would reward the aggressor and punish the victim.’
But are there not more creative means of trying to ensure lasting peace (e.g. involving China in mediation, and getting leverage all-around)?
And how does escalating conflict and trying to admit Ukraine to Nato seem a surer path to lasting peace (without major heightened risk of escalation)?
I consider No. 10 needs more opposing voices arguing about the dangers of its approach. Russia does not want a hostile power on its border.
As the Republican primary picks up (and RFK Jr gets some momentum on the Democrat side), the consensus view of Ukraine in the U.S. will likely shift. How will that affect popular opinion in the UK – in time for 2024’s general election?
We should realise the UK government is not supporting ‘U.S. foreign policy’ at large, but rather supporting Joe Biden’s foreign policy – which an increasing number of Americans are erring from.
The Trump administration was clear: this is a line they would not have crossed – while still arming Ukraine.
A commenter on one of Rishi’s behind the scenes G7 videos on YouTube put it better than any commentator I have read:
Western allies should not be promising Ukraine Nato membership.
I am a great admirer of the PM and his senior No.10 team, but consider the PM needs to have consensus thinking here challenged – as one of his heroes, Nigel Lawson, would surely have encouraged – to ensure we are on the best path forward to achieve lasting peace.
Is the semiconductor embargo really an economic war (and not about weapons systems)?
David Goldman and Steve Hsu for 4 minutes:
I too was ignorant of this, and tweeted Steve asking about this a few months ago. Grateful to have an answer.
(Click image below to enlarge)
Ape derived brains piloting the spaceship
Also from Steve Hsu, I found this last 50 seconds a very interesting thought…
If we take a long enough timeline, would many more people agree with this? (Are we just ‘specist’ when thinking about our lifetime, and perhaps the horizon of our kids/grandkids?)
Biolabs in Ukraine
A standout moment from Robert Kennedy Jr’s Twitter Space…
1-min video posted on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/EdwardMDruce/status/1667855794518253568
(I can no longer embed Twitter videos on Substack – and this video would be struck off YouTube immediately.)
The 1-min clip with Victoria Nuland also here.
Moderate Dominic Cummings
From Dominic’s recent Substack writing…
Insiders describe me as ‘so reckless/aggressive’ etc but it seems to me they’re the ones gambling on the euro working (contrary to historical experiments with multi-national currency unions), they’re the ones happy to gamble on obviously duff institutions preparing for crises like pandemics, they’re the ones escalating recklessly over Ukraine — while I’ve been trying to hedge against the euro’s risks, screaming ‘fix crisis management before a pandemic hits’, and urging caution over nuclear weapons rather than gung ho ‘it’s all bluff!’
Seems to me they’re the ‘reckless’ ones and I’m actually much more cautious and conservative than widely believed…
After working closely with Dominic in No. 10 for a year, I drafted a diary intended for The Spectator (‘Diary of a No. 10 misfit’) that (with all the turbulence of 2021) I decided ultimately not to publish. A paragraph from it:
The greatest character trait I have learned from a year with Dom is humility. This might come as a surprise to those who know him only from media caricature, but it’s true. He is fearless in taking on lines of questioning that routinely expose absurdities – in areas he readily concedes to be looking at for the first time. ‘I’m going to lay out my argument, and you tell me why I’m wrong’ is a wonderful line I’ve commandeered. It allows one to be forthright in meetings with minimal repercussions, and to wilt in an argument (robustly put) when wrong. Do not be shy about aggressively asking elementary questions.
I might share the full unpublished diary here in weeks to come…
Over-suppression of fires causes catastrophic mega fires
Fire season taking off in North America, I found this clip with Caitlin Chinn, an on-the-ground hotshot/smoke jumper, fascinating. (3 minutes)
It’s largely an over-suppression of fire that has led to catastrophic mega fires.
Good to hear services have come around to a better way of management.
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