Why I’ve spent £68,500 on a tank

Buying a tank is not as easy as you might think. When we started looking for one, people delighted in telling us: ‘Oh, you should have bought one in the 1990s. There were hundreds available for practically nothing!’ Well, not anymore. Especially not if you are picky about what sort of tank you want. I’m collecting artefacts for a new museum of totalitarianism and wanted a T-54 or T-55, two models which are pretty much the same as each other with just a few alterations and which are the most-produced tanks in history. They were used by the Soviet army to crush the Hungarian Revolution of 1956; they were deployed

Africa’s lessons for Ukraine

Kenya During Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 I got a close look at Moscow’s troops and their kit. These contractniki were a ragged bunch with rotting teeth, bad boots and homemade tattoos, using weapons and vehicles that seemed like hand-me-downs from a failed state in Africa. I had expected them to be much smarter. Recently my spooky friends told me that Putin’s military invading Ukraine was now a modernised, well-trained force. Instead it appears that Moscow’s generals have stolen the diesel, supplied the mechanised brigades with ageing knock-off Chinese tyres and sacked all the dentists. I haven’t visited Luhansk and Donetsk, but I bet they are a version of

The Russian army is failing – but not enough to lose the war

There have been three major surprises for military analysts since the Russian military invaded Ukraine. The first has been the extent of the difficulties faced by the Russian army in terms of logistics, coordination of forces, morale and mobility. The second has been the failure of the Russian air force to achieve air superiority over Ukrainian air defences, and to operate against Ukrainian ground forces at scale. The third has been the extraordinary unity and effectiveness of the Ukrainian resistance, which has significantly slowed the Russian advance in the north of Ukraine and inflicted major personnel and vehicle losses on Russian forces on all fronts. Unfortunately, none of these factors

It’s getting harder to laugh off the idea of UFOs

When the late-night talk-show host James Corden asked Barack Obama about UFOs last month, there was as usual an air of nervous joviality surrounding the subject. Bandleader Reggie Watts pressed him as well and Obama, as if relenting, admitted two things. Firstly, that he could not divulge all that he knew on air; and secondly, that the slew of footage released by the Pentagon in the past two years showing UAP — ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’ — is in fact real. As if overnight, the fringe conspiracy air that has hung over the topic of UFOs for 70 years has seemed to vanish, and this month the Director of National Intelligence

Why French soldiers are moving against Macron

Emmanuel Macron was in Strasbourg on Sunday where he addressed the Conference on the Future of Europe. This is where the President of France is happiest, describing the utopia that he still believes can be achieved by the EU. He feels important and powerful and he is among like-minded people, such as David Sassoli, president of the European parliament, who declared: ‘This conference is for ordinary citizens. Europe is not just for the elites, nor does it belong to them.’ There’s a touch of the Tony Blair in Macron’s canine devotion to the EU, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the President accomplishes what eluded the former British prime

France’s military wages war on Macron’s values

On 21 April 1961 France’s most senior generals staged a putsch in French Algiers, still an integral part of France. The military coup was in reaction to the policies of the president of the Republic, General de Gaulle, and his belated decision to abandon Algeria to independence. The generals felt this betrayed their honour and that of their fallen comrades after seven years of a bloody war against Algerian ‘terrorists’ to keep Algeria French. Fast forward sixty years to 21 April 2021. Twenty retired generals (some four-star), a hundred mostly retired senior officers and a thousand military personnel signed a chilling letter in the right-wing French weekly Valeurs actuelles addressed

Britain’s military problem needs an economic solution

Britain’s decline is relative, and is influenced by the fact that within living memory the UK was the world’s hyperpower. Decline though did not relegate the UK to the ranks of some ex-colonial powers like Turkey, but into the league of France, Germany and Japan (hardly disrespectable company). For almost all the post-war period – a few bumpy years notwithstanding – the UK never dipped below number five in the world economy rankings (where it is today). Moreover, it remains (alongside China, France, Russia and the US) one of five permanent UN Security Council members and recognised states with nuclear weapons. Unlike France, the UK has the scaffolding to rebuild

Britain is right to pursue closer military ties to Israel

There’s a group called Palestine Action whose raison d’être is to throw red paint over the British offices of Elbit, an Israeli high-tech arms company, in an orchestrated attempt to hound it out of the country. Five members of the ‘direct-action network’, which has links to Extinction Rebellion, armed themselves with paint pots and climbed onto the roof of the Elbit offices in Staffordshire in September. Activists also targeted sites in London, where they not only hurled paint over buildings, but also over several Jewish people, who had gathered to stage a peaceful counter-demonstration. Quite why the protesters choose to target an Israeli arms manufacturer rather than, say, a British

France would be foolish to veto a Brexit deal

Britain and France are heading for an almighty bust-up over Brexit. This morning the French junior minister for European affairs, Clément Beaune, specifically confirmed that if France was unhappy with the final Brexit deal — notably on fishing — it would use its veto. France would carry out ‘her own evaluation’ of the deal and act accordingly, he told radio Europe 1. Whether there is a deal or not, a blame game is about to be unleashed. Given this late stage, if there is a deal then the French cannot possibly get all they want on fishing. The French Prime Minister said so yesterday to French fishermen at France’s largest

A military guide to surviving lockdown

“Wire your booze cabinet up to the mains so you can’t get into it!” says Jason Fox, the former Royal Marine Commando and Special Forces Sergeant who’s best known for barking orders on Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins. With wine o’clock starting earlier each day for many of us, as we crawl the walls in isolation, I’ve asked Jason for his take on lockdown drinking. “It’s not the answer really. It’s great fun and I enjoy having a drink, but I won’t allow myself to drink all day. It doesn’t make you feel better about yourself.” Having spent sizeable chunks of his 20-year career sardined in submarines with other

Bad day at the office? Try these life hacks from the military

“Do not waste a single vertebra,” says Major General Paul Nanson CBE, in Stand Up Straight, his book of life lessons from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where he serves as Commandant. With a career in the British Army spanning more than 30 years, Nanson is no patchouli-scented shaman. His Sandhurst hacks have seen him through The Troubles, the Gulf War, the Bosnian War, the Iraq War, and the war in Afghanistan. So I reckon he’s reasonably well qualified to dish out advice. “I’m a great believer in healthy body, healthy mind. If you’re physically fit, you’ll be more mentally fit,” says Nanson, who takes his morning run as an

Neither ‘Mad Dog’ nor ‘Warrior Monk’, General Jim Mattis is a thoughtful strategist

General Jim Mattis ended his remarkable career as a four-star US marine general, and finally as US secretary of defense. His book Call Sign Chaos is co-authored with Bing West, also an ex-marine and one-time assistant secretary of defense. It is partly an autobiography and partly a treatise on leadership. The autobiography relates his career from second lieutenant to general by way of three wars: the liberation of Kuwait in 1991 after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of that neighbouring country; the removal of the Taleban from Afghanistan in 2001 following 9/11; and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Finally come his days — a total of 712 — as defense secretary,

Defence of the realm

The Defence Select Committee called for the defence budget to be raised by £17 billion a year, from just over 2 per cent of GDP to 3 per cent. Some £35.3 billion was spent on defence in 2016/17. How much was allocated to particular operations? Wider Gulf £51m Afghanistan £70m Deployed Military Activity Pool (for unforeseen military activity) £23m Counter Daesh £432m Conflict stability and security fund (various peace-keeping activities) £87m EU counter migrant-smuggling ops £3m

Voices of exile

During the military dictatorships of the 1970s, exile for many Latin American writers was not so much a state of being as a vocation. Some were given early warning of what might befall them if they stayed. The polemicist Eduardo Galeano remembered receiving an evening telephone call from the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance: ‘We’re going to kill you, you bastards.’ ‘The schedule for calling in threats, sir, is from six to eight,’ I answer. I hang up and congratulate myself… But I want to stand up and I can’t: my legs are limp rags. Other writers were not so lucky. Antonio di Benedetto was rounded up in the first wave of

Tongue twister

Arrival is a big budget sci-fi film with a smaller, more pensive, cleverer film trying to get out, which has to be an improvement on a dumb film with an even dumber film trying to get out, as in the manner of Interstellar, say. So we have that to be thankful for, at least. The film stars Amy Adams, who appears to be everywhere these days. (Check your sock drawer and under the bed; you never know.) She plays Dr Louise Banks, a university linguist who lives in a beautiful, modernist lakeside house, as any academic in any American film always does. (Do such houses come with tenure?) As we

How the British bobby turned into Robocop

To the casual glance it looks like a normal police car — same markings, same lights, same faces at the wheel. Only the two small yellow circles, one at each of the top corners of the windscreen, tell you that this is a mobile armoury. It will often be a BMW X5: a SUV’s suspension copes better with the weight of the weapons, the gun safe, the ballistic shields. Inside, the occupants will be wearing Glock 17 pistols and have access to weapons which could include, in ascending order of bullet size and ‘penetrative power’, the Benelli Super 90 shotgun, Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun, the G36 carbine, the

Portrait of the week | 21 July 2016

Home Theresa May made a speech in the open air in Downing Street after kissing hands with the Queen as the new Prime Minister. ‘As we leave the European Union,’ she said, ‘we will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us.’ In her new cabinet Boris Johnson, the failed contender for the leadership of the party, was made Foreign Secretary, replacing Philip Hammond, who became Chancellor of the Exchequer in place of George Osborne, who was sacked. Amber Rudd became Home Secretary, replacing Mrs May, and Liz Truss became Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, replacing Michael Gove, who was sacked.

Turkey’s continental drift

In Turkish the word ‘yurt’ has two definitions. It means ‘place’, ‘land’, ‘territory’, ‘homeland’. It could also indicate a round, portable tent, the likes of which have been used by nomadic tribes for centuries. In my imagination I have always liked to combine the two definitions, wondering if motherlands could be just as peripatetic as their people. I know, for one, that no matter how itinerant I might have been all my life, it follows me like a shadow, this sad motherland of mine. Turkey’s many problems occupy my mind, crush my chest, weigh down my soul, invade my dreams. Not only me, of course. There are so many who

The shame of Iraq

‘If it falls apart, everything falls apart in the region’ — Note from Tony Blair to George W. Bush, 2 June 2003.   Instead of asking why we fought the war, we should ask why we lost The extraordinary length of time that we have had to wait for Sir John Chilcot’s report into the 2003 invasion of Iraq has not made the end result any more satisfying. For some, nothing less than the indictment of Tony Blair on war crime charges would have sufficed. As for Blair himself, and many of those who surrounded him when the decision was made to remove Saddam Hussein from power, they will go

Duty calls

From ‘The Volunteer Training Corps’, The Spectator, 8 April 1916: If we were the Government, we would state plainly that in the opinion of His Majesty’s advisers no man over military age of good physique will be doing his duty to the nation who does not join a Volunteer battalion… it should be clearly understood that he was not performing his proper duties as a citizen, and that even if the state did not think it worth while to compel him to perform them, he would be a proper object of public censure and contempt.