As the facts surrounding the use of a nerve agent to poison ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia become clearer by the day, the childish and naive nature of political rhetoric from figures in the British, United States and Russian Governments must be brought to an end before international peace and stability is put at risk.
The fact is that this attack was the first use of chemical weapons on European soil since the Second World War, and despite the ultimate severity of this situation, senior diplomats and officials across the board are guilty of undermining the issue through irresponsibly worded, infantile and provocative rhetoric.
Historically, a lack of dialogue during international crises has led to a disturbing escalation in tensions, and outbreaks of serious conflict. While this kind of rhetoric and lack of diplomatic responsibility is largely typical of the Trump Administration, it is an unprecedented and potentially damaging step by both British and Russian officials to stoop to this level of verbal confrontation.
While the British decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats is certainly the correct one, it is almost unbelievable that the England Football Manager, Gareth Southgate has spoken about the situation in more diplomatic and less provocative language than the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, who has repeatedly told Russia to “shut up and go away”.
Following the Defence Secretary’s remarks, the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has since likened Russia’s hosting of this year’s World Cup to Hitler’s hosting of the 1936 Olympics. While such a comparison is unfounded, it is also extremely provocative to liken a country such as Russia, who lost millions of lives throughout the Second World War, to the country that took many of those combatant and civilian lives.
The British Government’s diplomatic incompetence at the highest level has been met with Russian sarcasm and ludicrous accusations, such as those put to Andrew Marr by the Russian Ambassador to the EU who suggested the nerve agent came from the Porton Down UK military facility, which is only 8 miles from Salisbury, where the attack took place.
Russian accusations lacking any substantial evidence coupled with a Russian Embassy in London that thinks it is appropriate to tweet pictures of Poirot, openly mocking an extremely serious breach of international law, makes it clear to see why tensions have escalated with fears of a Second Cold War emerging.
The Russian episode fits in well to a series of international diplomatic blunders, spearheaded by the Trump administration. While the beginnings of a trade war with China start to appear as President Trump places tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminium, the appointment of John Bolton as the President’s new National Security Advisor sends out some extremely dangerous messages to adversaries such as North Korea, as Bolton is well known to have supported a first strike, ‘bloody nose’ policy for Kim Jong Un’s regime.
After the United States and most European countries had overwhelmingly backed the UK by expelling their own handfuls of Russian diplomats, for the President of the Eurasia Group, the day that Bolton was assigned the National Security Advisor role equated to “the worst or biggest single day for geopolitical risk since…1998”.
Petty rhetoric, coupled with a lack of direct and meaningful dialogue, sets a dangerous precedent for armed conflict and, although the latter is unlikely given the strength of modern nuclear forces, it would not be outlandish to predict the outbreak, continuation, and escalation of proxy wars between Western and Eastern forces in the Middle East, parts of Africa and Ukraine alongside a long-term economic war between the United States and China.