In and among this morning’s Gerard Baker, “Britain, the new banana republic“:

At least, I suppose, we don’t have to worry about a military coup. The repeated privations and humiliations visited upon Britain’s Armed Forces have reduced them to a state where they couldn’t overthrow a statue.

So then I turn to the Telegraph’s comment pages, and:

Telegraph – War is never going to be a politically correct pastime, by Con Coughlin

Given the opportunity to score a few brownie points for political correctness, rather than backing the military on a difficult, but nonetheless important, issue, there was never any doubt about which course of action Mr Browne and the Prime Minister would choose. The British Government’s decision to sign the treaty banning cluster bombs is yet another example of New Labour’s total inability to provide our service men and women with the practical and moral support they deserve.

While most of the other countries signing the treaty have steadfastly refused to commit their troops to combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan – Ireland, the host nation, still proudly clings to its neutral status – Britain is currently committed, at the Government’s request, to fighting wars on two fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan. And yet, when important concerns are raised about the effectiveness of our combat operations, Mr Browne seems disinclined to take them seriously. Last week, for example, when an Oxfordshire coroner claimed that the entire fleet of the RAF’s Nimrod surveillance aircraft were “not fit for purpose”, Mr Browne insisted that they were perfectly fit to fly and would continue with their operational duties.

Similarly, after Mr Browne completed a two-day visit to Afghanistan earlier this week, he issued a Panglossian statement about how impressed he was by the progress being made by the British military and the Afghan government.

This view is very much at odds with that expressed by senior military commanders on the ground who, apart from being frustrated by the lack of troops and helicopters that would enable them to accomplish their military objectives, are utterly demoralised by the Government’s failure to provide a clear and coherent strategy for the British mission.

But then Mr Browne, who is so under-employed at the Ministry of Defence that he also finds time to fill the post of Secretary of State for Scotland, is hardly the man to provide it.

It is hard to think of another country that would allow its Defence Secretary to have a job-share scheme during a time of war. Mr Browne’s position sums up New Labour’s total disregard for the true interests of our Armed Forces.

Good lord.

Update (5.31):

I’m putting this in this entry just, uh, cuz.

The Times – It’s 1899: ban the bomb from balloons<br/> Past Notes: today we ban cluster bombs. Then there were different weapons under scrutiny, by Graham Stewart

The detached air of the delegates in the opening negotiations hardly suggested they were serious. However, as the discussions dragged on, so the throng of peace campaigners and reporters waiting expectantly outside began to play on the minds of the representatives. Mass petitions were handed in. There was even a poem from the Queen of Romania written under her pen name, Carmen Sylva.

Thus while the general disarmament talks were successfully sidelined by the need for “further serious study” and a court of arbitration was devised that lacked teeth, genuine efforts were made to outlaw those weapons that seemed particularly frightful.

The result was a series of declarations in which the big powers agreed not to use either expanding “dum-dum” bullets or asphyxiating gas against each other. Also ruled out was the novel practice of dropping bombs from balloons, which was condemned as an unwarranted danger to innocent civilians on the ground.

The prohibition was set to expire after five years but was renewed by a second Hague conference in 1907. A further renewal was intended for a date in 1915. Instead, that was the year the Germans first unleashed chlorine gas attacks on the Western Front. When the British and French protested that this breached the solemn undertakings at The Hague, the Germans claimed that only chemical shells had been prohibited, not their chosen means of gas delivery.

In war there is not just atrocity. There is the legal loophole.

And that’s Germany.