Gale's View (August 20th 2008)
Sitting in France and listening, on a BBC longwave service crackling through the thunderstorms, to reports of the Russian invasion of Georgia I am taken back more than half a century to a kitchen in our home in Poole where my Mother and Father and I first heard, on another crackling wireless, of the Russian invasion of Hungary.
The tanks rolled in, the Hungarian leader, Imre Nagy, was disappeared on a plane to Moscow and never seen again, Budapest was over-run with soviet troops imported from Mongolia, a desperate voice screamed for help from Hungarian Free Radio and a courageous Western world, having incited the revolution, watched and did nothing.
My first recognisable political action was to launch an appeal at school and to help raise funds and blankets and clothing for the refugees streaming over the border at Andau. Later I read James Michener's reports, in "The Bridge at Andau" of the harrowing tales of those who had escaped from soviet oppression.
A dozen years later similar Russian tanks reacted swiftly to the Prague spring. The glimmer of democracy kindled by Alexander Dubcek and his supporters was stamped out, Dubcek exiled to spend most of the rest of his life as a postman, and once again the Western world watched and waited and did nothing. On the Sunday following that invasion a crowd of 50,000 people packed Bayswater in support pf a free Czechoslovakia. The "revolutionary" Tariq Ali spoke in support of the soviet "liberators". I, terrified, followed him to speak in support of freedom. Bravely, I then ran from that gathering and swore that while I had breath in my body no child of mine would grow up under communism. That is why I am in the House of Commons today.
With the fall of the Berlin wall - a piece of which hangs in our home as a constant reminder - we had allowed ourselves to think that while the world faced new, different and very real threats and dangers the soviet moment had passed.
Well, old style communism may have had its day but the invasion of Georgia is a stark reminder that there is still a bear in the woods.
Do not misunderstand me: the circumstances in Georgia, and that country's own administration, are very different from those that faced Dubcek in Czechoslovakia and Nagy in Hungary but what is clear is that the Russians are still able and willing to invade and that the West is still impotent in military terms.
There is a strong whiff of hypocrisy surrounding Presidents and Prime Ministers who have supported "intervention" in Iraq and Afghanistan (though not in Zimbabwe) and yet find it appropriate to remind the Russians that they must not interfere in the affairs of another sovereign State. What is, perhaps, more alarming is the apparent rush to sign up Georgia and others as Members of NATO - a move that, I understand, UK political parties support.
The fundamental principle behind NATO is that we will back, with military force, any Member State facing a third-party threat. That, in extremis, means that if at some future date Russia decides again to offer "military protection" to its citizens resident in a former Soviet country - and there are several to choose from - then America and the rest of us will go to war with Russia. On past form, do we really believe that? And if we do not then is not this just a charade?
That, I think, sets the whole question of the maintenance of our nuclear deterrent, which I support, in a very different context.