It's always difficult to work out exactly how serious politicians are when they hand down - to great fanfare - statements and papers.
Do these represent genuine policies addressing future challenges, or are they simply attempts to thrust party-political mythology into the mainstream of national thought?
Journalists are complicit in elevating the status of white papers by passing them off as news, or indeed fact. This makes it difficult for audiences to dismiss such documents for the rubbish they are because, at least for a while, everybody is pretending they actually mean something.
That's why the UK government's Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy offers such a brilliant chance for proper analysis.
We remain close enough to the UK to immediately perceive the illogicality and blemishes of the document; yet far enough away not to need to be polite as politicians serve up absolute tosh.
Watching British politics is, for us in Australia, like seeing our society "through a glass darkly". It's fascinating precisely because there are echos of similarity suddenly jarring into horror. How excitedly, for example, we follow the continuing antics of the soap-opera car crash that is Meghan, Harry and the rest of the royal family, only to abruptly realise - and how do I break this gently - that although Elizabeth II last touched down here in the Howard era she is, incredibly, still our Queen too.
The UK government's paper reveals a similar melding of clear observation with an evident desire to resurrect a fairytale of global leadership that vanished long ago. It's rare to discover a document that manages to synthesise taut reasoning and cohesion with such a flummery of sugar-coated prescriptions; a vision of such overarching ambition so wildly at odds with reality that it will repay in spades any time expended on its logical deconstruction.
So let's begin, like the headlines, with the announcement that Britain will boost its number of nuclear warheads by almost 50 per cent, from 180 to 260. The document then (possibly) seeks to reassure readers that "only the Prime Minister can authorise their use". Bearing in mind that the current occupant of Number 10 is the highly engaging buffoon Boris Johnson, many might shudder at a prospect that is no less disconcerting than the prospect of an Ayatollah in Tehran suddenly commanding an arsenal capable of ending life as we know it.
What are the prospects for disarmament, let alone civilisation, when even the tiny UK is stoking up its capacity to fight a nuclear war? And if the UK's getting more bombs, why shouldn't we? The logic is as non-existent as it is both inescapable and futile. It's the product of a bureaucracy where everybody has become so caught up in avoiding the next hairpin bend that nobody has bothered to realise the road is about to come to a (literal) dead end.
Johnson's personal ambitions appear, however, to be more (personally) focused on occupying a $16 million command post to be built beneath Number Eleven. Apparently unsatisfied with current arrangements, the PM's ordering a host of flatscreens so he too, just like the US President, can be photographed issuing orders to his myrmidons across the world.
Leave aside, if you can, the fact that this man is a grinning, boorish clown whose incompetent policy settings have recently made him responsible for the death of more Britons than any other individual since Hitler in 1945. The reality is that since the fall of Singapore in 1942 the UK has played no part whatsoever in Asia's affairs (with the possible minor exception of the struggle against the Malayan communists).
This document trumpets a significant "tilt" to Asia and, we're told, one of the Royal Navy's two aircraft carriers will travel out later this year. It will, then, sail back home again, presumably leaving the natives overawed at this majestic - if extremely transient - display of power.
Tonga will roll out the welcome mats, but it's highly unlikely the Brits will carry out freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea. Doing so would represent a crisis in relations with China, a real superpower. That's the last thing Johnson wants, because it would expose his bluffing for exactly what it is - nothing more, or less, than a puff of hot air.
Banks of electronic gadgets in situation rooms and glib rhetorical flourishes serve no purpose in covering massive holes in logic or capability. Misleading verbiage and military hardware won't assist the UK in achieving the one thing that might make the country more secure in the long run - getting the international system to work positively and co-operatively.
This is not just a fading power struggling for relevance, it is a completely washed-out one that should be accepting a new role positively crafting a sharing and united world, not one coerced into doing the right thing by force.
The UK has taken a good look at itself in the mirror and seen exactly what it wants to see.
Watching the guards drill is still a regular pleasure of a trip to London, and all of us are still regularly found tut-tutting yet titillated by the continuing soap opera called Buckingham Palace (isn't it marvellous to witness a family even more dysfunctional than one's own?). That Whitehall can still produce this sort of rubbish is, however, a remarkable triumph of delusion. The time has nonetheless come when toys, tales of Empire, and similar illusions must be packed away in the nursery cupboard.
Johnson is looking more and more like the mad Halloween clown of one of those slasher American movies. Seemingly harmless, he emerges (to thumping chords and sudden screams) as much more than the incompetent buffoon he initially appeared to be. He's certainly not the sort of person who should have the power to end life on Earth.
It's time to stop the delusion that Britain is still "great".
Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer.
Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer.
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