Weekly Column

Deter or Compel

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“For every action…there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Newton’s third law is as applicable to life as to physics. We know that for every action- good or bad- there is a benefit to be gained or a price to be paid.

Hamas must have known that there would be swift and terrible vengeance for their outrage on 7th October. Israel had no choice in the matter. The low-grade Yemeni rebels, the Houthi, must have known that their missile and drone attacks on Western ships transiting the Red Sea would similarly bring perfectly legitimate military force down on their heads. The reality is that both are miserable pawns in a very major chess game. It is their backers, the Iranian Ayatollahs (together with their embryonic nuclear capability) who are using them as cynically disposable proxies to escalate their hatred of Israel and implicate the West in it.

It is Tehran which needs to be reminded of Newton’s third law. They must be warned that if they seek to stifle the West’s economy by closing either the Straits of Hormuz or the Suez Canal, then they will pay a terrible price for doing so. We are not necessarily punishing the Houthis for their (so far relatively minor) piracy in the Red Sea so much as delivering a real and intentional warning to their paymasters, Iran. It is deterrence (which worked so well in the Cold War), rather than military reaction when it is almost certainly too late.

The same applies to the Rwanda legislation which left the Commons this week for what will, I hope, be a swift transit through the Lords (who have to recognise the firmly expressed will of the elected House.) I hope that in the event not one single immigrant, refugee or asylum seeker will land up in Rwanda. But the mafia style people smugglers who are behind the flood of rubber boats crossing the Channel, will only stop their wicked trade if demand dries up; and that will only occur if their clients realise that the risk and the cost are pointless. We cannot compel under these circumstances, but we can most certainly deter. The Rwanda threat must be as severe and realistic as it can be to make them think again. Deterrence worked with the Romanian illegal immigrants, who have now dwindled to a trickle thanks to the sure and certain knowledge that they would be immediately returned to their homeland.

The consequences for those who would appear to have wrecked the lives of several thousand postmasters whose plight has finally been fully recognised must be so severe and so clear that the same events- and even worse the apparent cover-up - will never be allowed again. I personally hope that it will be Fujitsu who have to fork out the many millions of pounds compensation which will come about for these tragic victims if the Government’s emergency legislation to compensate them passes through Parliament as swiftly as possible.

The Social Contract- under which we all agree to obey the law in return for peace and security - only works if there are equal and opposite consequences for those who might choose to break that sacred contract. You can’t make people do things- and nor in a free society should we try to. But you can deter them from doing the wrong thing. Hamas, the Houthis, Iran, the trans-channel people smugglers and the Post Office/Fujitsu must made to realise it.

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James Gray
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Published Date
January 19, 2024