January 15, 2001
Calling an End to Empire
The vestiges of Empire should be let go.
1982 British forces took
back the Falklands Islands from the Argentine armed forces.
In many ways this was the one event that defined the Thatcher
era. The view that became current was of a Boedicca who defended
British interests tenaciously. This was not an entirely true picture.
Before the invasion the Thatcher government had been negotiating
with the Argentine government with a view to giving the islands
over to Argentina on a "leaseback" scheme. There were
other similar, and more successful attempts during Thatcherís premiership,
and (arguably) the Anglo-Irish
agreement were all elements in the global roll back that had
slowly been going on since the Second World War.
was it right to fight this war, as it went against Thatcherís long
term policy? Undoubtedly the invasion was wrong. The Falkland Islanders
were British citizens on British territory which was being invaded
against their will. This was as clear a case as any of a just war.
British territory had been invaded, the Argentine forces had not
withdrawn and so therefore force was needed to eject them. But the
idea that this was in the short term a just war tends to make people
think that in the long run the Falklands should be kept. This is
CASE FOR LOSING THE FALKLANDS
Falklands are a stunning tactical weak point. 8000 miles away from
Britain the 2000 people necessitate a large army and navy presence.
Furthermore the long range naval capability that is required to
support this presence is a large diversion from what should be the
primary purpose of any British navy, to protect the sea lanes around
the British Isles. The cost of £77 million may seem small, but it
would be enough to save jury trials in England. There is no strategic
case for a European power to keep the Falklands, there wasnít even
a case for a global power to keep it after the Panama Canal was
arguments come in play here. The first is that of sacrifice. Did
the hundreds of British soldiers die in vain? Well, no, they died
to protect British subjects on British territory Ė this is not in
itself an argument for keeping the territory British once the immediate
threat has been lifted. The second argument is that the people of
the Falklands want to be British and should therefor should be British.
Here we have the argument of double consent, do the British want
to have the people of the Falklands as well? As I have argued above
I donít believe that they should.
FOR THE TAX HAVENS
case against the Falklands could equally be applied in the case
of the Caribbean. Are tax havens like the Cayman Islands, Bermuda
and the British Virgin Islands really vital British interests? Together
with small islands like Monserrat, the Caribbean is the largest
collection of remaining British overseas territory. Now, I have
nothing against tax havens, Iím all for them in fact, but I just
donít believe that Britain should be financing them or guaranteeing
their defence. As American tax authorities are muttering dark things
about these islands, wouldnít it be a good idea to just hand over
all these islands (and the non tax havens and defensive guarantees
in nominally independent countries like Belize) to America? If they
really are such a big problem, and really are incapable of independent
government, why not hand them over?
course there is a vast swathe of unpopulated land that the British
hold, a large slice of the Antarctic. This is no tax haven, and
despite its fabled natural wealth little of value has been extracted.
This is another area that we can be rid of with no bother.
1878 Disraeli negotiated for Cyprus to come into the British Empire.
It was vital, he reasoned, with the new Suez Canal dictating traffic
with India and Australia, to have a presence nearby. With both India
and Australia having gained their independence, the British are
still there. Instead of occupying the whole of Cyprus the British
are now in two large bases which have been put under perpetual sovereignty.
But why? Suez may still be vital to world trade, but is it really
any of our business? Is the prospect of being on the frontline of
any flare up in the Greek-Turkish war on Cyprus really a good idea?
Or should we just hand over the bases, either to the Cypriots or
then there is Ascension and St. Helena in the middle of the Atlantic.
And what, precisely are the strategic values of these two islands?
Well we have bases for an air corridor for protecting the Falklands
and the Antarctic. We also have a handy place for keeping uppity
French emperors under control. Apart from that these are another
drain on our resources and should be dispatched with as painlessly
there is Gibraltar. The strategic case for keeping this is much
stronger than for all the other dependencies. It boils down to three
main components; (a) it provides a naval base with a wide sweep
over the North Atlantic; (b) it can block access in to and out of
the Mediterranean and; (c) it really, really annoys the Spanish.
If we, reluctantly, discard the third component we have a case for
keeping Gibraltar that although strong, is not compelling. Do we
really face a naval threat from the Mediterranean? Is Gibraltar
vital for protecting the Western Approaches to the British Isles?
As there is no question of us being unwelcome occupiers (the Gibraltese
overwhelmingly back the British, even if they are uneasy about nuclear
submarines being repaired there) the case for keeping Gibraltar
is in the balance, but by no means compelling. I am agnostic on
IN OUR HORNS
Empire was in our past, there is really no need to keep up the remnant
of it. It is flattering when people prefer to be ruled by us rather
than by their neighbours, but that is all it is, flattering, it
is not a strategic imperative. The majority of people under British
rule live in the British Isles (indeed live in England) and any
continued presence overseas should be on the sole prerequisite of
"how does this help Englandís security. If our presence does
not make us more security then it should be terminated, it really
is as simple as that. If these territories are invaded, or if a
minority tries to use terror to coerce the majority, then Britain
should act Ė it is not only a moral duty to protect our citizens
it is also a terrible precedent to override a democratic decision
through force. But our duty goes no further than that. It is time
that people who regard themselves as patriotic start to think in
terms of the strategic survival of their country, rather than to
clutch at the antique rags of empire.
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