Author Archives: Zachary Barker

The Ukrainian Offensive Hasn’t Failed.  We have Failed the Ukrainians.

Without a doubt, the Ukrainian Military’s recent counteroffensive has proved more challenging than the last one.  Ukraine’s ability to put together such counteroffensives and defend the wider country remains at the mercy of the generosity of military aid donors.  “Give us the tools and we will finish the job” Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky pleaded.

However, the arrival of military aid has often been delayed for political reasons as much as logistical ones.  This counteroffensive for instance has seen the Ukrainian Military forced to determinedly advance without air cover.  This is despite the Ukrainian Government requesting Fighter Jets, such as F-16s, to be sent for their defence since the start of the 2022 invasion.  The delay in the arrival of equipment for the current counteroffensive gave ample time for the invading Russian enforces to entrench and defend the land they have stolen.  Some reports say it has even given them ample breathing space to counter some Western weapons such as HIMARS.  Western leaders have justified the incremental approach to giving such aid to encourage de-escalation.  Despite this, Russian President Vladimir Putin reading Western reticence as weakness, as he has always done, has proceeded on his same imperialist course. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin is betting that the short-term concerns of Western democracies, such as the US Presidential election next year, will mean that the alliance that supports Ukraine will ultimately fall apart.  This is why those democracies, especially European ones need to convene a long term plan to support Ukraine.  Bilateral and piecemeal military aid announcements were never sufficient to achieve victory.  If NATO membership is barred to Ukraine, then alternative security assurances need to be given to Ukraine.  A Memorandum of Understanding enshrining a commitment to support Ukraine could either be agreed between that country and it’s allies collectively or on a bilateral basis.  What is imperative is that European countries in particular plan for a future where the considerable US aid to Ukraine is potentially no longer available.  Brexit aside, the UK needs to be involved in any European discussions about supporting Ukraine in the long term to coordinate efforts.

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The defence of Ukraine: the fight for liberal values

On 24th February 2022 an old friend sent me a Facebook direct message.  He apologized to me if he had ever spoken the threat of President Vladimir Putin’s Russia down.  This was after years of debating and getting to know each other on the University Model United Nations (MUN) Conference circuit.  I had won awards for representing Russia on the MUN Security Council passionately and accurately.  The invasion of Ukraine hadn’t begun.  It had begun 8 years before.

What followed on 24th February 2022 was not necessarily inevitable, but our country and the West need to face up to the truth that our actions and inactions made it more likely.  Simply put, our inadequate responses to Putin’s escalating behaviour over the years led us to this point.  For years we postponed the question of standing up to Putin.  In return he smelled our fear.  The tragic irony is that if we acted then the potential costs would be minimal compared to now.  By acting late there are no guaranteed safe ways out of this situation.  Thus are the costs of appeasing bullying on an international scale.

Putin’s Russia is conducting a war against liberal values and any semblance of a liberal rules based international order.  The United Nations Charter enshrines the right of all countries to determine their own foreign policy.  It also recognizes the right of countries to resist invasion from another sovereign state and for allied nations to provide all necessary aid to maintain that resistance.

What should our stance be as a party?  In my opinion a Liberal Foreign Policy should not be a pacifist foreign policy when Europe’s liberty is under threat.  Our party should be urging our government to convene with Europe to help create a continent wide action plan for every willing European nation to do their best to match, and hopefully exceed Russia’s arms production.  Ways to finance such efforts will need to be found.  Significant windfall taxes on large and thriving energy companies could help in this.  Ukraine should certainly not be begging for anything from us at this stage.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 17 Comments

Holocaust Memorial Day: Review of “Jews don’t count” by David Baddiel

There are few books that I have read which have made me stop, think and completely re-evaluate my world view. “Jews don’t count” by David Baddiel was one of them and without a doubt the most important book I read last year.

The author’s argument is simple. There is a gap in the UK and much of the West for recognising Anti-Semitism and standing up against it. He directs his argument not against would be racists but quite deliberately at those who see themselves as progressives. The author frankly states that his personal belief as a British Jew that progressives treat Anti-Semitism as a lower-class concern compared to other forms of racism. The author believes this is the case for two main reasons, because Jews are seen by progressives as being privileged and not a true ethnic minority and therefore white. One is a shameful and misleading stereotype and the other is factually incorrect.

Much of the book consists of Twitter exchanges between the author and other commenters. These are chosen to illustrate the various ways that such people have sought to trivialise David Baddiel raising the spectre of Anti-Semitism. Many of these examples are really quite worrying. Baddiel seems to have quite a good grip on the characteristics and drawbacks for how such debates are held on social media. One thing has to trump another. It is about “owning” not discussing. In between nuance is lost. This has meant that when David Baddiel has called for Anti-Semitism to be given the same level of recognition as Black Lives Matter, sadly some supporters of the latter have seen this as a competition.

Sometimes it takes a good author to articulate what you have been thinking for a while. I thought that when he talked about those who seek to trivialise or downgrade the tragedy of the Holocaust (labelled as a genocide of “whites”), to allow for recognition of more “black” genocide’s such as King Leopold’s reign of the Belgian Congo. This is something that I have personally witnessed on internet debates and have found quite shocking. Is this world so full of suffering that we have to degrade ourselves further by having some kind of genocide Olympics to see which was the worst? Why can’t we just be united in acknowledging that all such chapters are shameful and should never have been allowed to happen? These are difficult things to talk about and confront, yet it is important that we do.

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We must be the great arsenal of democracy

“We must be the great arsenal of democracy.
For us this is an emergency as serious as war itself.”

US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) 29th December 1940

When FDR broadcast those words to his countrymen, the UK was experiencing the height of the Blitz. The Luftwaffe had changed its strategy and was starting to target industrial cities around the UK. My home city of Bristol was yet to experience its worst bout of bombing in less than a week from when FDR gave his speech. In the days and months to come many UK cities experienced scenes that have now become all too familiar in Ukraine.

In an end of year interview with the Economist, General Valery Zaluzhny, head of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, was forthright. As it stands now Ukraine can stand its ground. However, he warned that without an especially large infusion of munitions Ukraine will not be able to repeat the extraordinary success of their August Southern Counter Offensive. He admitted that he feared that this munitions supply is beyond the current capacity of Western allies to supply.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 9 Comments

Introducing Liberal Democrats for Peace in the Middle East

Peace cannot be kept by force: It can only be kept by understanding.
(Albert Einstein)

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is presented as a key example of an intractable conflict, where there is continual, tragic loss of life and political solutions prove illusive.  Understandably, many Liberal Democrats have strong feelings about the continuous loss of life and injustices that stem from this conflict.  The longer this conflict continues, the greater the risk becomes that we feel tempted to take positions that mirror the parties to the conflict.

Readers will note the existence of other groups within the Lib Dems concerned with the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.  It would be reasonable to ask, how are Liberal Democrats for Peace in the Middle East unique compared to them?  Our position can be summed up as looking for solutions and not taking sides.

We believe it is completely reasonable to care about the security and wellbeing of both Israelis and Palestinians equally.  We believe strongly in taking an approach to this debate that leaves out partisan bias.  Constructive, clear minded and reasonable debate about this conflict and possible remedies for it are urgently needed.  It is our position that discussions based on accusations and declaring the moral high ground for one side over another, have been to the detriment of finding workable solutions and promoting meaningful debate.  After all a sustainable solution will require the consent of people on both sides of the conflict.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 18 Comments

COVID-19 vs liberal values

Where do liberal values stand in a time of national crisis? During a time of crisis or upheaval, the natural instinct of many is to look towards their government and the forces of the state it commands. People look for reassurance and firm direction from the paternalistic state to protect them.

As CODVID-19 has made it’s determined advance across the world, much firmer state direction, than in the UK, has been broadcast to concerned Britons. Chinese propaganda has lauded a massive mobilisation effort where the state has effectively been weaponised to track, quarantine and treat the virus. South Korea’s Government has mobilised an impressive effort against COVID, using round the clock mass testing and an Artificial Intelligence system to drive contact tracing. Both the Chinese and South Korean Governments have authorised the tracing of citizens phones to augment contract tracing to effectively isolate not only those who are confirmed as infected but those at risk from coming in contact with them. The UK Government has hinted that the next phase of its strategy in tackling the virus may include some contact tracing system.

Posted in News and Op-eds | Tagged | 21 Comments

The Incompatibility of Liberalism and Monarchy

We as a party pride ourselves on standing up for the values of liberal democracy. The mission statement on our membership cards declare us in favour of a “fair, free and open society” in which stands for “equality” and against a society in which we are enslaved by “ignorance or conformity”. However there is a glaring blind spot in these idealistic dedications, this is in our support for the continuance of the British Monarchy.

The hard truth, whether we choose to face it head on or not, is that the British Monarchy stands in complete defiance of values of …

Posted in Op-eds | 69 Comments

Getting serious about defence


Since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader much of the Liberal Democrat’s rhetoric has been aimed at portraying him as an extremist.  Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron claimed that Labour had “left the field” in a party conference speech.  The implication of this claim is that Labour have left the centre ground to embark on a far leftist fellow-traveller path, seemingly ignoring the electoral success it gained from the dominating the centre ground in the New Labour years.  In this way the Liberal Democrat comeback seemingly relies on a message that it is the new party of the centre ground.  However doing this mean more than just gesture politics, it means not being afraid to tackle issues which are not commonly associated with liberalism, most notably defence.

Liberal Democrat manifestos in recent years have treated defence matters like an afterthought, an embarrassment almost, especially when it comes to questions of hard power.  When it comes to asking questions about our hard power capability our manifesto prefers to move toward the murky soft power where it seems we are more ideologically comfortable.  The 2016 manifesto talked about emphasising “a Single Security Budget, including not just conventional defence spending but the work of our security agencies, cyber defences and soft power interventions”.  This policy in itself provides opportunities and dangers.  While it is important to emphasise that multiple security threats require multiple solutions to tackle them, there can be no substitute for hard power.  Put simply; while it is arguable that the main security threat we face is from terrorism we can’t leave ourselves unprepared for future inter-state conflict.

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What comes after the Chilcot Report?

The long wait for the publishing of the Chilcot Report has many similarities to the long awaited release of Guns N’ Roses “Chinese Democracy” album. Much like the album the report is long awaited and much delayed. Also like this album the report will almost certainly deliver below expectations and disappoint many.

Our party made much of our opposition to the Iraq War, and well we should have. The war was not remotely mandated by a UN Security Council resolution, nor was a solid case for acting against Saddam’s Iraq established. It seems painfully obvious years later that Tony Blair basically loaned our forces to the USA while he was influenced by the height of emotions that struck him (and much of the West) in the turbulent aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Unlike many other western leaders though Tony Blair took his pledge of support as a total and unquestioning bond, almost akin to a blood oath.

While it is important to learn these truths it is even more important to consider carefully how or if we should militarily intervene in the future. I firmly believe that our party needs to provide a more honest and rigorous analysis of such questions than the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.

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