Diplomacy-boosters France and Britain get out their gunboats
In a post-Brexit world, everything old is new again.
So we have the oldest fault line in all Europe, the rivalry between Britain and France, flaring up with a naval standoff. The pair of them had been fighting wars since 1109, with 32 separate wars identified in three broad blocs, plus six near-war conflicts, according to Wikipedia. Sometimes one, and sometimes the other was the bad guy. And both nations have the oldest continuous boundaries in all Europe. France is easy to pin as the bad guy, but at times, Britain was the bad guy, which is not something we think of when we think of Britain. How 'bout those Burgundians and their British backers in the terrible history of St. Joan of Arc and what they tried to do to France? Read Mark Twain's historically rigorous biography of her, and the bad guy was obvious.
Sometimes there were two bad guys. Look closely at the origins of the Napoleonic wars, and tell us Napoleon was the only bad guy in that one. The charmers who burned New Orleans were also bad guys. Bottom line: These aren't exactly conflicts of morality; they are conflicts of national interest, the struggle of which country gets to be the alpha cat. It was only after two world wars and the high progress and prosperity of the Industrial Revolution that this kind of stuff stopped, broadly assumed to be gone forever.
Well, no. Britain and France are back at it. According to the New York Times:
LONDON — An ugly spat over post-Brexit fishing rights has erupted into a stranger-than-fiction maritime standoff between Britain and France, as naval ships from both countries converged on Thursday in the waters off the island of Jersey, where dozens of French fishing boats were threatening to blockade a port.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson dispatched two British Navy vessels, the H.M.S. Tamar and the H.M.S. Severn, on Wednesday evening as a "precautionary measure," according to his office.
On Thursday, France deployed two naval patrol boats near Jersey, about 14 miles off the coast of France to "ensure the safety of navigation" as well as the "safety of human life at sea" in case the situation deteriorated, according to a spokeswoman for the French maritime authorities in charge of the English Channel.
The naval deployments escalated a dispute that has simmered for weeks, after French fishing crews accused the local authorities in Jersey of imposing burdensome new requirements to allow them to continue to fish in Jersey's coastal waters, following Britain's split with the European Union in January.
Reuters has a Twitter news flash reporting that in the last few minutes, Britain has pulled back. It's likely France will, too, making the pair of them look like Ruritanian tin soldiers, all trussed up in their military finery, fighting over which side of the jar to be opened, doing their soccer wars, or whatever it is that goes on in the world of dictators. True predators, such as the Russians and Chinese, are heard through muffled guffaws.
Now, it's not as unimportant an issue as the media report. The New York Times, in its backgrounder, dismisses fishing rights, which is what this military standoff is about, as a small thing.
The British fishing industry has little economic significance but carries substantial emotional, symbolic and, therefore, political weight and was a major sticking point in Brexit talks. Many in the industry, which backed Brexit, thinking they would gain the rights to more fish, felt betrayed when they were forced to share too much of the fish caught in British waters with others.
Isn't that what nationhood is about — the emotional, symbolic and political weight rather than the fungible global cash? Brexit was about nationhood, not big dollars. And there's evidence of the emotional importance in Britain of fishing in the upstream culture, which, as Andrew Breitbart noted, always flows down to politics. I recall a song by the Scottish band Capercaillie in the 1990s mournfully about how the "best small boatmen in the world are on the dole, too stupid and lazy, according to the government" — about fishermen denied the right to fish in their own waters based on E.U. regulations, centrally planned. During Chile's "Chicago Boy" privatizations in the 1980s, finance minister Hernan Buchi wrote in his memoirs that free-market purity was a good thing, but in the case of fisheries, they learned the hard way that it was best to hand out fishing licenses to the people who are already fishermen in the trade to start with, not to just to any comers.
Both Britain and France would like to prevail in this, which is what the Ruritanian standoff was all about.
It underlines the hard realpolitik reality that nations do have interests, and they act on them. The one thing we can get out of this is that it sure puts to rest the pontificating that has been coming from France and its signature organization, the European Union, about the importance and value of diplomacy, often in far more serious conflicts in less developed regions of the world.
That's why the glib insistence on diplomacy in every conflict, which has been the prescription of the European Union for decades, France and Germany running the show, is just a little tattered now. France calls the shots in the E.U., which has for years told nations such as Israel, Colombia, and Venezuela to permit any last outrage against the nation to go on without consequences, because diplomacy will solve all. That's why we see smug assertions of the E.U. ambassador to Colombia about peace and negotiations as equals with an odious communist drug-dealing terrorist operation known as FARC, or the crap the Palestinians pull against Israel, all to be solved by power-sharing, not real victory, which is what is needed in such cases.
These guys can't even get through a fishing dispute without pulling out their own gunboats, which all that pontificating and obfuscating somehow didn't work on. It makes them look like hypocrites. National interest is all fine for them, but for others, with far more significant conflicts, against true predators, not so much.
Now that it's over, it's just another cockade of hypocrisy to hang on their Napoleonic hats.
Image: Pixabay, Pixabay License.
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