Many years ago, it was part of my job (and, I confess, part of my need to get out of the office occasionally) to spend time on the borders of NATO, where “an attack on one member country would be seen as an attack on all of them”.

I didn’t visit all of them: a little-known fact is that the organisation’s borders include US/Mexico and US/Russia (separated by 4km of water in western Alaska).

And, in my day, Ukraine was not a player. It was, and it remains, a far-off country of which we know little.

Also (I suspect little-known) is that, 13 years ago, NATO promised membership to Ukraine and Georgia – both former Soviet Union republics – without specifying when that would happen. As a result, they are considered partners but not members.

A bit like Malta.

Partners are not included in the policy of collective defence, even though Ukraine has sent soldiers to join NATO forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

So while Russian troops continue to mass on Ukraine’s borders in what looks like preparation for an invasion, what is NATO – ‘the West’, in both civilian and military eyes – going to do about it?

Unlike proudly neutral Malta, Ukraine is definitely anything but. It is desperate to join the first team of players north of the equator. But NATO is determined that this will be an invasion to stand by and watch. As it did when the Crimean peninsula was annexed from Ukraine in 2014. ‘Partnership’ meant little then. As had been the case when Russia attacked Georgia.

I have always been a supporter of NATO, being convinced that it was the strong and united force that President Mikhail Gorbachev had recognised, realising that there was no point in continuing a ‘cold war’ that could end only in mutual total destruction. But I am forced to wonder, now, what is the point of it.

On the same basis, where is the will, these days, of ‘the West’, both collectively and individually… towards absolutely anything that other countries might do?

The Germans and French opposed NATO membership of Ukraine and Georgia on the grounds that it would “antagonise” Russia (which, one might think, would surely be the point of allowing it).

‘The West’ has recently responded to China’s well publicised genocide and ‘crimes against humanity’ by deciding not to send diplomats to the Olympic Games (big deal). It failed to respond to China’s shredding of the rule of law in Hong Kong. Any noise it makes about preserving the independence of Taiwan is seen by all sides as no more than a bluff.

It appears that any autocratic country can do anything it likes- Revel Barker

It has emerged as a toothless tiger in Afghanistan, leaving the country much as it found it and probably worse. It has been going round in circles about crises in the Middle East since the days of Lawrence of Arabia.

Britain may bluster with its nuclear submarines and massive (but badly designed) aircraft carriers but its ‘warship diplomacy’ is nowadays a subject to sneer at.

The United States, once considered to be the other ‘world policeman’, lost in Vietnam and Afghanistan and no longer, it seems, has the will for fighting (or even for threatening) any more wars.

France and Germany want an EU army but don’t want its presence to offend or upset any other nation and, meanwhile, cannot even defend its own borders.

On the issue of climate change, ‘the West’ pats coal-burning China and India on the back like a fond grandpa and says: “Well, okay but just try to do your best to give up smoking. It will make nanna feel happier.”

In fact, if you look at the world now, it appears that any autocratic country can do anything it likes, from polluting the atmosphere to torture, murder and invasion.

And this is where persistently neutral countries like Malta can play a role because what oligarchs have in common is a need to launder their ill-gotten gains. They also need passports that will allow them to travel outside their own fiefdoms.

Malta is well known – at least in Europe – as a country that allows, even encourages, these facilities. (Yes, we know, the Russians buy posh houses, even newspapers and soccer clubs, in the UK, but let’s talk about Malta, for a minute.)

Small and neutral though it may be, it could help to police the world by denying what is seen, everywhere, as benefitting likely criminal – even ‘crimes against humanity’ – activities.

In turning a blind eye, or in accepting dodgy paperwork, about the sources of wealth and ready money, this country is complicit in any connected crimes. A co-conspirator, an accomplice after the fact, to who-knows-what evils.

Looked at that way, it is not ‘neutral’ at all.

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