A Review of the Panel Dicussion on that subject on Wednesday, 27 April 2022 at Musiksalon der Diplomatischen Akademie Favoritenstrasse 15A 1040 Wien.
By Colin Munro
(Photos courtesy Ekaterina Yaneva)
This was the first ABS event in two years, free of COVID restrictions, at the Diplomatic Academy. Members and guests were invited to a “most riveting discussion on the burning question”: where does the UK stand in this World, changed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine? The original plan for a Brexit meeting focused on Scotland and Northern Ireland seemed too narrow in scope. So, we could enjoy their excellent canapés, cake and wine. But COVID still cast a long shadow. Our Vice-President and panellist, Dr Alexander Christiani, tested positive two days before the meeting. Get well soon, Alexander!
Ambassador (retd.) Colin Munro argued that members of the EU and NATO displayed remarkable unity in helping Ukraine stand up to Russian aggression. Finland and Sweden were likely to join NATO, which is opposite to what Putin intended. The UK had been training and advising the Ukrainian military since Russian aggression began in 2014. It was providing effective and much appreciated military hardware now.
Nonetheless, Brexit remained a millstone around the UK’s neck, damaging its economy and reputation. Alone in Europe, the UK insisted on Ukrainian refugees obtaining visas! The UK was still standing but as a diminished power. Although the steam seemed to have gone out of the drive for Scottish independence, for now, trouble was looming in Northern Ireland, where the nationalist party, Sinn Fein, was expected to come first in the regional elections on 5 May. Boris Johnson had lied about the Protocol to the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, which provides a customs border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. He was now planning to ditch it in breach of international law. (Lord Ricketts, a former Ambassador to France and NATO and Head of the Diplomatic Service, has just written to the Times, warning that Macron has no time for Johnson. If Johnson scraps the Protocol, he will wreck the UK’s relations with the EU.) Colin agreed with Lord Hennessey that Johnson’s misbehaviour amounted to a serious constitutional crisis.
Professor Melanie Sully agreed (also at question time) with Colin about the futility of attempting to reform the seemingly powerless United Nations and about Putin’s 19th-century imperialist approach to Ukraine. We had failed to take his threats seriously. We had not paid sufficient attention to his security concept based on territory, natural resources, military power, and political influence. But she put Colin’s argument about the UK’s diminished standing in the World in perspective. The UK’s decline had been evident at least since the Suez fiasco (1956). Inflation had been much worse in the 1970s – 24% in 1975, the year of the first referendum on membership of the European Economic Community. But it was still a nuclear power, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council. It should remain one as a United Kingdom. Scottish independence would be a disaster. The UK was playing a leading role in climate change. Its work on COVID vaccines had been most impressive. The UK did have problems with Londongrad and “golden visas”, which had been a great mistake. The monarchy, parliament, the media, and the Church of England were all being questioned as never before. But other countries had problems with out of touch elites. There was no Freedom of Information law in Austria. Colin argued for changing the UK’s election system to allow for coalitions representing a majority. Melanie pointed out that the Liberal Democrats, in coalition with the Conservatives from 2010-to 2015, had reneged on their promise not to increase university tuition fees. Changing the election system would create new problems. Melanie disagreed that Johnson’s present behaviour constituted a constitutional crisis. His attempt to prorogue parliament and the Queen’s initial response to Diana’s death had been more severe threats to the UK’s constitutional framework. (The UK does not have a written constitution.) Melanie concluded with a question. Perhaps it was not the World that had changed but Europe. Were we too Eurocentric?
President and discussion moderator, Kurt Tiroch’s request for questions, not statements, was respected. Neither Colin nor Melanie had an excellent answer to the outstanding question of how to restore trust in political elites. Other questions led to:
- Discussion of cyber warfare. Could a Russian cyber attack require a NATO response by all members of the Alliance, and if so, what?
- Confirmation that the intelligence agencies were, for the first time, making public their detailed and accurate assessments of Russian plans and operations.
- Agreement between Colin and Melanie that NATO (and other organisations) had made every effort to integrate Russia. (For further information, download the NATO/Russia declaration at the Rome summit in 2002 signed by President Putin.)
- Discussion of the UN’s role in the Korean War (1950-53) and the first Gulf War (1990). In 1950 the Soviet Union boycotted the UNSC, which continued to accept the Nationalists representing China. In 1990 the Soviet Union had not vetoed the US-led coalition.
- Discussion of Ukraine’s relationship with NATO. Why had it not been given a membership roadmap? Before 2014, most Ukrainians had been opposed to NATO membership but in favour of EU membership. Russia, the UK, and the US had guaranteed the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine in return for the latter’s renunciation of nuclear weapons. The 1994 Declaration provided security at the OSCE Summit in Budapest.
Our guests included Dr Alfred Praus, President of the Ukrainian Austrian Association and Rotary Club Kyiv International business. The Board is planning a meeting with him at the Diplomatic Academy on 1 June.