After the momentous events in Parliament following the invocation of Article 50 last week, it was interesting being in Berlin at the weekend. I lead the UK delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. This is a gathering of parliamentarians from across the alliance who provide some democratic accountability for those running NATO. As someone brought up in the Cold War, Berlin has always had a fascination for me. I found time to walk the line of the old Berlin Wall and to try and get a feel for how life was in the scary days when West and East faced off against each other over the iron curtain.
In a recent poll of young people in the USA a third believed that President George Bush had been responsible for more deaths than Stalin. Such ignorance seems incredible to many of us but serves as a reminder that we must state the case for democracy and the many virtues of the democratic West over the vile misery that both communism and national socialism brought on the world. For the record, the Nazis were responsible for the deaths of 17 million, including the 6 million who died in the holocaust. Communism out did that by killing around 100 million.
We now live in what people call the post-Cold War era. But it feels pretty chilly to me. Russia is ruled by a dangerous kleptocrat who threatens the peace of Europe as much today as when I was a soldier in the early 1980s when the British Army was on high readiness for what could so easily have been a nuclear conflict. At least in Soviet days there were checks on the actions of its Government with so called ‘doves’ as well as ‘hawks’ in the politburo. Now there is only one person, a hawk who will do anything to stay in power by suppressing dissent in Russia and even killing his enemies on the streets of London. We need to explain the threat to a society weary of war, that NATO is the only guarantor of our security. This should not just be a matter of concern to Parliamentarians sitting in a conference room in Berlin but understood here at home where all our lives could be affected if a resurgent Russia is not deterred by a coherent military alliance in the West.