It is a sign of getting older that much of what passes you by seems vaguely familiar – that feeling of ‘I have seen this before somewhere’. Sometimes, that feeling can be much more dramatic – not dissimilar to the time-stopping adrenaline dump and sense of dread you get when a child crosses the road into your oncoming car. The headlines over the last week concerning the unfolding events in Ukraine and the Crimea have brought home to many of us the lesson that however much we may wish it differently, history has a tendency to repeat itself, it is just a matter of how large the time-cycle may be.
It has been an underlying doctrine of military and geo-political theory over the last decade that the concept of large-scale military invasion, and the need to either defend against state-sponsored invasion or to send large amounts of troops across oceans to respond to such attacks, belong to a doctrine of war than is as far removed from the needs of the 21st century as cavalry charges and lances. For those of us blessed to have been born in the ‘developed’ world of Europe and North America in the second half of the twentieth century, wars and their consequences seem to have become almost a historical anachronism (despite the reports we see from distant lands), and have little to do with our daily lives. For those living in eastern Europe and especially in the states surrounding the lands considered as part of the Russian Rodina, the memory of war, invasion, massed transports, national repression and genocide are not only real, but are spectres that are never far from the back door.
The end of the Cold War led many to believe that the historical imperatives that had under-pinned human society and geo-political strategies for millennia had come to a natural end, and in a world of unlimited opportunity and rapidly expanding technological capability, the concept of states going to war with each other (at least major states that understood how geo-politics worked), was as out-moded as the idea of a water-wheel or horse-drawn plough. Francis Fukuyama’s ‘The End of History’ was only the most popular (and perhaps most hubristic) of that trend, but whether it was from a political or an economic perspective (Gordon Brown announcing the end of economic boom and bust), there was a seriously-held view that the affairs of human-kind had reached a state of stasis whereby the rest of history would unroll in a benign world of peace, sufficiency and mutual support.
As you may have noticed, it didn’t quite work out like that. The Arab Spring, events in Syria, Chinese regional aggression and the growing assertiveness of Russia as manifested in the recent posturing are all symptoms of a simple fact, that on a certain level (and certainly when it comes to the political level) human beings are just not good at getting on with each other. Much like primates in a simple social-science experiment, it seems that they will always take the opportunity to grab short term advantage, even if it is clearly against their long-term benefit.
It may seem a remarkable leap to move from the historical imperatives that have created the national and trans-national influences of eastern Europe to a review of the financial situation in the UK security sector, but some of the lessons are not that dissimilar. The first is those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and the second is that however bad things are, ‘This too shall pass’. Reading recent postings by Infologue columnists, it seems that there is a real feeling that a significant stage has been reached, and that signs of recovery and greater business confidence are appearing – even if it is still within a context of low-margin, high-pressure contacts, and a subsuming of security management services into larger, more diffused business models. It has certainly been a tough few years, and like the fox that has survived the harsh winter, even the faintest glow of the emerging spring sun brings feelings of hope and a belief that better days lay ahead.
Many of the people reading this column will have been through more than one cycle of economic boom-and-bust, and will be in positions where their experience and strategic perspective allow them to see beyond the immediate needs of daily survival. It would be nice to believe, though perhaps naïve, that this time we can create a sustainable economic model that gives the greatest good to the greatest number – or perhaps we will once again continue on the historical treadmill that leads, seemingly inevitably, to the rise of imperial oppression in one sphere, and, even in the warm days of economic recovery, economic polarisation and alienation in another.