Britain's lost consciousness

In the midst of world-changing events in Asia, Putin's serial aggressions in Europe suggest the collapse of Western principles, specifically the defense of national interest.  Foreign secretary Boris Johnson in the United Kingdom said it is "overwhelmingly likely" that Putin personally ordered the nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury.  Hours before these revelations, Scotland Yard said it was treating the death of Nikolai Glushov, another Russian expatriate and an associate of Putin's critic, as murder.

British intelligence sources maintain there is little doubt about the origin of the atrocities, despite Russian denials.  The nerve agent known as Novichok is a chemical weapon developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s.  Its signature is unequivocal.

The question that remains unanswered is, why now?  Putin has cleverly inserted himself in Europe by supporting candidates whom he envisions as potential allies.  However, the real reason for his boldness, as I see it, is the pusillanimous response of Western leaders.  The softness in approach, the virtually pre-emptive surrender, indicates a Europe suffering from a moral collapse.  A godless continent has forgotten its roots.  Standing astride the postmodern world of Jean-Paul Sartre and the Frankfurt School and the intimidation of a growling Russian bear, Europe has turned inward, fearful and uncertain about the future.  Yes, Russian diplomats have been asked to leave England.  And steps will be taken for condemnation at the U.N. Security Council.

But these are mere droplets falling off Putin's back, a mere echo of the 2006 assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, another former agent fatally poisoned in London with a radioactive isotope.  At the time, the British press described this murder as an "invasion."  Despite the anger and saber-rattling, almost nothing substantive occurred.  Putin has a very good memory.

Mobilizing the energy and resolve to defend Western traditions when defense budgets are declining is a Sisyphean task.  Moreover, the threat of radical Islam assists with the Putin agenda.  Like a traffic cop, Putin stands between the totalitarian temptation that grows each day in British mosques and the soft underbelly of national will declining each day.  Many in the United Kingdom see Putin as a strong national leader capable of offsetting Islamic ambitions, a kind of King John Sobieski of the twenty-first century.

In an environment in which every crevice of British opinion has been penetrated by relativism, right and wrong are merely situational.  The opposition to Russian imperialism that awakened Churchill to the Iron Curtain is gone like so many threads on the canvas of world affairs.  The notion of truth itself is a figment of the imagination unattainable in a country bereft of moral standards.  Postmodern scholars are cheering, but those cheers are easily converted to tears with the possible capitulation to radical Islam and the life preserver Putin is prepared to employ.

History does not have easily defined guidelines.  But it does suggest that when basic principles that undergird a nation are challenged without an adequate defense, collapse is the result.  What one sees in Prime Minister Theresa May's nation are a proud British people who vaguely recall their past and love the freedom they won in World War II, now regressing to a point where they have forgotten how to defend that freedom.  Just ask Vladimir Putin.

Herbert London is the president of the London Center for Policy Research.