Indigo Jo compares the case of Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher imprisoned for calling a teddy bear Mohammed, with that of Don Pacifico in the 19th century:
In the further discussion of the Gillian Gibbons case on the radio this morning, the question of whether the teacher should be militarily rescued was discussed. Vanessa Feltz said she thought, and claimed that she discovered, from reading his column in the Telegraph today, that Boris Johnson had thought as well, of the Don Pacifico incident. Don Pacifico was a Portuguese Jew who served as the Portuguese consul in Athens, and his home was attacked and vandalised by a mob which included the sons of a government minister, while the police looked on and did nothing. As he was born in Gibraltar, he was a British citizen and appealed to the British government for assistance in 1848, whereupon Lord Palmerston initiated a naval blockade of the Greek port of Piraeus and seized Greek ships and assets to the value of Pacifico’s claim. He spoke in the Commons of a time when a Roman citizen could say “I am a Roman citizen” and know that he could count on Roman assistance, and suggested that the same should be true for British citizens.
So, should Britain send in the SAS in cases like this? Indigo Jo sees two reasons why not: firstly it would cause diplomatic repercussions in the country we attacked, its allies, and any countries we had to go through to make the attack. And secondly, we could only do it against weak countries:
Should we send the SAS into Ohio to rescue Kenny Richey, who is believed by everyone except the Ohio prosecution service to be innocent? Perhaps we should have sent them into India to rescue that deaf man who was locked up for supposed drug smuggling? Of course, nobody would suggest something so stupid.
There’s a third reason why not: the operation could well be botched. The SAS, while no doubt competent, are not superhuman, and make mistakes like everyone else.
So SAS-style rescue missions are not, except in the most exceptional of circumstances, practical. But there is something majestic and desirable about the idea that you could say “I am a British citizen”, and foreign governments would then be less likely to maltreat you. So, how could we get from here to there?
The first thing to do is realise that it’s easier to intimidate foreigners the more powerful you are compared to them. So Britain shouldn’t try to go it alone; instead, we should build up the cohesion of the European Union. If this is done right, the EU should have the power to overawe anyone. (Yes, including the USA: the EU’s economy is bigger than the USA’s these days, particularly when measured at current exchange rates, and the difference is only going to get bigger as the dollar slides, more countries join the EU, and eastern Europe catches up with western Europe). This would require more money to be spent on Europe’s military, but not enormously so.
The second thing is to realise that in many cases economic threats are as good a way to persuade people as military threats. The EU does a lot of trade, and for most countries the EU is their biggest trading partner. Furthermore, economic threats do less to worsen the EU’s relationship with the foreign country, because nothing gets people’s backs up like a military attack on them.
If, in extremis, military action is deemed to be necessary, one option might be to use cruise missiles to knock out the enemy’s power stations — modern developed countries typically have about 1 large power station per million people, and disabling them would shut down that country’s economy.
Of course, some people — such as Richard North — won’t like this prescription. But then, since North wants Britain to be dependent on and subservient to the USA, and is therefore a traitor, all decent people will ignore him and his ilk.
That’s the general case. Now, regarding the present situation with Sudan, what should the EU do? If Gillian Gibbons is released promptly, then the EU should call on all EU citizens to leave Sudan, as it is too dangerous to stay there. The EU should also tell the Sudanese government to pay compensation to her for imprisoning her; if they do not, the money should simply be extracted by putting an import tariff on Sudanese exports to the EU.
If Sudan decides to kill or harm EU citizens, then Europe would be in a powerful position, since there are or have been rebellions and civil wars in the south, east and west of Sudan, and Sudan has in recent years had unfriendly relations with most of its neighbours. This means that it would probably be easy for the EU to base military aircraft in Sudan’s neighbours, destroy the Sudanese air force, arm the various rebel movements, and help them with air strikes; the result of which would be three new independent states in southern, eastern and western Sudan, all well armed and hostile to the Sudanese government. And making an example out of Sudan would deter other countries from harming EU interests, including the welfare of EU citizens.