THERE’S nothing like the prospect of war to get big bucks flashing before the eyes of certain governments. Most countries who can afford to manufacture, acquire and sell arms have past form in this regard. For its own part, the UK Government has long had an unscrupulous track record in such a role.

What most folk don’t realise is that the true value of arms sales presented by the UK is often misleading. In short, figures quoted for the value of export licences are usually based on what’s known as Standard Individual Export Licences (SIELs).

But as a report last year by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) revealed, most sales take place using an Open Licence system that obscures true value.

To give just one example, in the case of sales to Saudi Arabia according to CAAT research, the UK sold more than £20 billion worth of military equipment and services to the Gulf state since 2015.

READ MORE: Ukraine: UK to provide weapons and training over fears of Russian build-up

This is almost three times higher than the £6.7 billion worth of arms sales published by the Department of International Trade in the same time period.

As Katie Fallon, parliamentary coordinator at CAAT summed it up, “the use of Open Licences covers up the real extent of the UK arms trade and makes it impossible to know what quantities of weapons are being sold around the world”.

All of which got me thinking as to the contents of that British arms shipment to Ukraine despatched this week under the eye of UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace. By and large, UK defence establishment sources were tight-lipped when it came to spelling out what weapons had been supplied and how many were contained in the shipment flown to Ukraine aboard giant RAF C-17 Globemaster cargo planes. This too before other less “public” shipments that are doubtless making their way to Kyiv as I write.

For his part Wallace would only confirm that “light anti-armour defensive weapons systems”, were among them, while insisting that they were “to use in self-defence” and were “not strategic weapons and pose no threat to Russia”.

READ MORE: Russia denies looking for pretext to invade Ukraine

And there you have it. Yet again another example of the woolly headed thinking that the UK Government has made its hallmark. Just how can Wallace say they pose no threat to Russia when the precise reason for their delivery is to enable Ukrainian forces to destroy Russian armour most likely killing their crews in the process?

Also, in saying such weapons pose no strategic threat, did Wallace and those at Whitehall pause and consider that sending such weapons is precisely the sort of provocative move that could precipitate the very Russian invasion most are trying to avoid, and thus pose the gravest of all strategic threats to peace in Europe?

The National: Russia Putin

As regular readers of my articles will know, I’m under no illusions as to the threat posed by Russian president Vladimir Putin (above) both domestically in Russia and in terms of a foreign policy that some believe is driven in part by his desire to put Russia back centre stage as it was during the Soviet era.

My long piece in the Sunday National last weekend entitled “‘Drumbeat of war’ gets louder as Putin pushes West on many fronts”, I hope made that point clear. I understand too the concerns that exist in Moscow over Nato expansionism.

But I can’t help feeling that to date the UK Government’s response to this crisis has been all over the place. For sure there’s certainly been a lot of talking tough and “Global Britain” swagger, the express aim of which appears at times more akin to sowing division and mistrust among European allies than presenting a united front against the Kremlin’s ambitions.

EVEN as the UK arms shipment was on its way this week, several British newspapers and other commentators were beside themselves with glee when news got out that the RAF planes carrying arms bypassed German airspace, opting instead for a longer route over Denmark and Poland.

Had the unusual flight routing come about because Berlin had blocked the flights in connection with longstanding German opposition to providing the Ukrainian military with arms, some UK commentators speculated?

At times, the tone of such speculation had jingoistic echoes of that wartime “Dunkirk spirit” and you “can’t trust the Jerries”, that has become the leitmotif of this UK Government when blaming Europe and Germany for anything that goes wrong but is usually of Britain’s own making.

For its part, the Government in Berlin denied that it had blocked the flights, telling the German Bild newspaper that an application for a military flight had not been filed by the British side.

Germany too has made clear its support for Ukraine against any Russian aggression, but at the same time ruled out allowing its own defence sector to export weapons to Kyiv over fears it could “inflame” the situation.

Twice before Angela Merkel’s government has intervened to veto the delivery of weapons Ukraine had already paid for, including a US shipment of rifles and anti-drone systems from Lithuania.

There are those who will argue that Berlin’s motives are driven simply by a desire not to alienate Moscow any more than necessary given hopes for the launch of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

But Germany’s new government these past days has given the clearest indication yet that it will discuss halting Nord Stream 2 if Russia attacks Ukraine.

The National: Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the UK was prepared to confront 'bullies' amid growing concerns over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine

Equally important for the moment though is that while the UK and Ben Wallace (above) rush to send arms to Ukraine, Germany has taken a more considered approach with its foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, insisting her country would stick to its ban on weapons exports as part of a new German approach aimed at fostering peace via diplomacy.

While in Kyiv for talks this week Baerbock also made the case for the revival of the so-called Normandy format between Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine to ensure that Europe doesn’t lose its diplomatic grip over the negotiations.

This is real diplomacy in action. One that eschews provocative gestures and dangerous sabre rattling while recognising that the most effective lever available to back Ukraine is solidarity, and the unanimous commitment of the EU, the G7, and Nato.

The UK, meanwhile, does what it so often does on the international stage these days, talks up “Global Britain” and sends guns even at the risk of making a bad situation worse. There is a lesson here for any future independent Scotland.