Cabinet ministers are mostly generalists – it’s rare for a doctor to be in charge of the health ministry, for instance, or a lawyer to be justice minister – so, Britain’s defence secretary is something of an exception. He was, in a previous avatar, at least a foot soldier if not the general in the department he now leads. Before he joined politics, Ben Wallace was a captain in the British Army.
That probably explains his rather vague (generalist) attempt to contextualise the Ukraine issue. Military history may not be Mr Wallace’s strong suit. Having echoed American secretary of state Anthony Blinken’s oft-repeated statement that Russia could invade Ukraine any day now, Mr Wallace added that there was a “whiff of Munich in the air from some in the West.”
The allusion was to the diplomatic manoeuvres of September 1938. That agreement concluded in Munich by Germany, the UK, France and Italy, essentially gave Czechoslovakia to the Germans in exchange for a promise not to go to war. Hitler took what he was given but that still failed to prevent World War II.
Fast forward to 2022. The Munich bit that Mr Wallace discerns would mean the following:
** For Czechoslovakia in 1938, read Ukraine today
** For Hitler’s Germany, read Putin’s Russia
** For the three non-German signatories in 1938 Munich (UK, France and Italy), read Germany (and to some extent, France)
In the mould of the British bulldog, Mr Wallace appeared to be suggesting that some western countries were, once again, prepared to be too soft; too willing to appease a bully.
Is that accurate or even astute?
Not really, says Mary Kaldor, director of the Conflict and Civil Society Research Unit in the London School of Economics Department of International Development. First and foremost, she points out, Ukraine isn’t being gifted away to Russia and it is but natural to engage in diplomacy to prevent conflict.
So what’s that whiff of Munich then? A form of bunting, or scent-rubbing by cats and other such beings?
Tomorrow: Rather than whiffs of Munich, a European security plan that smells good?