hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Abandon all Hope Ye Who Enter Here


Alphen, Netherlands. 4 August. Dante’s warning in the Inferno seems apt for a Europe facing mass irregular migration.  Trapped between the ‘let’em all in’ lobby and the ‘Chicken Little society will fall’ lobby most of Europe’s leaders have done what they always do when strategy, policy and politics do not align – little or nothing. There is neither effective national policies in place nor any semblance of effective pan-EU co-ordination. The sad reality is that Europe’s politicians have ducked and weaved around a strategic challenge that has been long in the making.  So, what must be done to balance the responsibility to protect migrants and protect host populations from the destabilising impact and indeed dangers posed by mass irregular migration?  Here is some food for thought.

Understand the scale of the challenge: According to the UN mass irregular immigration into Europe represents some 3% of global movements.  Still, the figures are daunting.  According to the BBC over 200,000 irregular migrants crossed the Mediterranean in 2014 with a similar number expected in 2015. They are a diverse bunch of people and range from those seeking escape from persecution and/or war or to those who seek a better life.  

Face up to the challenge: An effective policy will require action that will appear at times tough. There are no easy solutions to this crisis and political leaders must be honest about that before policy can be created and strategy enacted. The reasons are manifold. Any attempt to exert the necessary policy control over chaos would involve concentration of peoples, followed by processing and in many cases deportation.  For many Europeans there would be echoes with the holocaust and the Nazi persecution of Jews and minorities.  Liberal European governments have also been constrained by Universalist human rights legislation that they created in the aftermath of World War Two in what was a very different age.  

Be honest about the challenge: Mass irregular immigration has the potential to destabilise European societies but Europe needs migrants.  For example, according to the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) most irregular migrants seek to reach the UK not to claim mythically-generous welfare benefits but to enter Britain’s notorious black economy.  It is naïve in the extreme to believe that uncontrolled mass irregular migration does not carry with it real dangers for European societies, be it via a boost to criminal networks or via the importation of the very extremism that many of the migrants are fleeing.  Equally, Europe’s ageing populations need migration for societies and economies to continue to function. Therefore, more legitimate avenues for migration need to be created.

Make necessary changes to policy: One reason that mass irregular migration is taking place is that the EU’s Schengen Area has failed.  Free movement across borders within the EU depends on effective control of the EUs external borders. Those controls have effectively collapsed and free movement across inner-European borders is being exploited by criminal gangs almost at will.  Therefore, effective controls need to be re-established both within Europe and at the EU’s external borders.  Critically, there is no point in the likes of Britain and France lecturing Greece and Italy about the need to do more without offering support to better control inflows of irregular migrants.  Fail to do so and the ‘beggar thy neighbour’ policy of encouraging migrants to move to neighbouring countries will continue and sour relations between European states.

Rebuild popular trust in immigration and asylum procedures: Swedish Foreign Minister Wallstrom is right when she says that the entire immigration and asylum system in Europe is in danger of breaking down.  Therefore, something new must be tried. A joint system (and I mean ‘joint’ not another European Commission power grab) of control and assessment at Europe’s borders is needed.  And yes that will mean the establishment of humane camps in places like Italy and Greece in which officials from all EU member-states quickly assess an individual’s right to remain. Such a system will demand strong action. If an individual fails to gain asylum then he or she must be deported from Europe quickly. If an individual seeks to hide their country of origin then experts in language and dialect must be employed to help identify from where that person hails.  And, if countries of origin refuse to accept the return of such irregular migrants European aid must be cut.  Critically, each individual must be treated with respect and each case judged on its merits.  Referring to people as “swarms” is not helpful.

Take a holistic view of the challenge and have the political courage to act: Any solution will take time, Europe to act together, and a proper understanding of the drivers and mechanisms behind mass irregular migration. Critically, the pipelines of irregular migration will need to be rolled back and that will take sustained collective action.  Effective policy will require the establishment of a complex framework that combines effective border controls, policing, immigration and asylum assessment, offensive action against trafficking gangs, and support through aid for those communities most likely to migrate to Europe.

Recognise the price of failure: Like many European citizens I am conflicted over the issue of mass irregular migration. At one and the same time I feel threatened by the scale of such migration, what it could mean for the future well-being and cohesion of my society, and my need to show humanity and compassion.  Equally, I have also completely lost faith in my leaders to confront and meet the many challenges posed by mass irregular migration.  As a seasoned political analyst and historian I know that neither the hard left nor the hard right offer any solutions to this crisis (or anything else for that matter). However, failure by mainstream political leaders to grip this crisis will only accelerate the dangerous drift towards political extremism and populism that Europe’s seemingly endless economic crisis has spawned. That would indeed be a price that is both too high and too dangerous to pay. Get a grip leaders!


Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 30 July 2015

EXERCISE REINFORCEALL: Plugging America’s Atlantic Gap


Alphen, Netherlands. 30 July. Back in the Cold War there used to be an annual military exercise named REFORGER.  Return of US Forces to Germany was meant to reassure NATO allies and deter the formidable Group of Soviet Forces Germany by demonstrating the capacity of the US armed forces to rapidly reinforce its allies from continental North America with a large combat force.  It was a moot point for those of us around at the time that in the event of an invasion the six Soviet tank, shock and air armies stationed just over the then inner-German border could be held at the ‘killing zone’ in and around the Fulda Gap.  Many members of the British Army of the Rhine had their doubts. Thankfully, those days are gone but the need to reassure America’s European allies and to develop allied forces into strong partners of the American armed forces has not. Both requirements pre-suppose a permanently-visible strong American military presence in Europe. Why?

It is necessary to see the European theatre as part of the biggest of America’s big grand strategic pictures.  Like it or not Europe for the moment remains at the juncture of emerging global struggles in which American leadership is vital.  NATO Strategic Direction East sees a Russia that is retreating ever deeper into political cynicism, militarism and a very narrow view of its national interest.  NATO Strategic Direction South sees the collapse of much of the Levant and with it the rise of Islamic State, a terror organisation with the wealth and ambitions of a state that threatens to destabilise not just much of the Middle East and North Africa but Europe as well.  Add to that heady mix of disturbance and destruction state conflicts across the Middle East and North Africa, criminality with strategic implications and the spread of destructive technologies and the need to stabilise the region in which most of America’s democratic allies reside is a paramount American national interest.

In other words, not only does Europe remain a vital strategic space for the security and defence of the United States now is the tipping point between European and by extension American power or weakness, security or insecurity, deterrence or defencelessness, influence or irrelevance.  That is why last month’s decision by the British to maintain defence spending at 2% GDP is so important.  It provides the chance (but only if Whitehall and the British defence chiefs do not blow the opportunity) to create the kind of long-reach, deep joint future force America will need at least it major allies to possess. In other words, Britain must lead an American example.

There is however another reason why the US needs to retain a strong military relationship with its European allies. Read carefully the 2015 US Military Strategy and America’s new strategic military reality becomes apparent – armed forces that have a lot of everything but no enough of anything everywhere. To remain strong the world over the US needs strong, capable regional allies on both its western and eastern strategic flanks.  Whilst there is much in the Obama Administration’s world-view with which I disagree the 2014 European Reassurance Initiative and the commitment of $1bn for training and temporary rotations of US forces through Europe made real strategic sense as a down-payment on such a vision.

Furthermore, for the American military strategy to work the US needs a world-wide web of like-minded and interoperable military partners. Steps are being taken to that end. In May US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter initiated Operation Atlantic Resolve, which mirrors similar efforts in the Asia-Pacific region designed to enhance military interoperability with allies.  In June the US Army reversed the long-trend of downsizing by moving to build-up military equipment levels in Central and Eastern Europe that echoed the pre-positioning strategy of the post-Cold War era.

However, as I suggest in my new book NATO: The Enduring Alliance 2015 (Routledge: London), far more needs to be done and much greater strategic ambition generated on both sides of the Atlantic.  Clunky though it may sound I would reinvent REFORGER in the guise of REINFORCEALL – an annual major US reinforcement of Alliance forces that is seen as part of a US-friendly development programme for NATO Forces.

Such an ‘exercise’ would not simply involve large and expensive bits of metal charging around at various velocities and going bang at various rates.  It would also involve a series of conferences and workshops designed to consider and further military innovation and creativity, with a clear emphasis on value-for-money solutions. Ideas would then be worked up ‘scientifically’, with scenarios developed for exercises which really test structures, responses, capabilities and capacities. A really awkward squad (Red Team) would need to be embedded at the heart of the entire process to prevent the ‘keep the commander happy group think’ towards which all military headquarters gravitate and which I have seen at first hand all too often.

The output/outcome of EXERCISE REINFORCEALL would be enhanced interoperability standards for Alliance forces to better enable allies to operate to affect the world over with those of the United States.

Allied Strong – REINFORCEALL. Just an idea.


Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Who Will Win China’s Power Struggle?


Alphen, Netherlands. 28 July. The People’s Bank of China has already pumped some $7.8bn in the Chinese stock market over the past three weeks in an effort to stop the free-fall in Chinese equities.  However, the market fell yesterday by a further 8% and today by 3%. The cause of such market turbulence is an equities and asset bubble driven up by investors betting that the Chinese Government would take whatever action necessary to maintain the value of shares.  This is because the political settlement put in place after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre is dependent on a ‘contract’ between the Chinese Communist Party and China’s burgeoning middle classes; the former will enrich the latter in return for the latter accepting Party control. Therefore, what is at stake is far more than a ‘market correction’ of China’s hybrid, partially open stock market.  A power struggle is underway between the Party and its command economy and casino capitalism.  It is also a struggle between economic nationalism, globalisation and ultra-rich money lords that has profound implications for China, Asia-Pacific, and the wider world.

The domestic implications for China are profound. When Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule I suggested that far from Communist Beijing taking over 1 July, 1997 marked the beginning of a struggle for China that would one day see uber-capitalist Hong Kong and Shanghai take over Beijing. That struggle is indeed implicit in the current market turbulence.  This is because when Deng Xiaoping set China on the road to what he called ‘reform’ back in the post Mao late-1970s the Party deliberately left ambiguous the relationship between the command economy and China’s emerging market economy.

By 1989 the steady growth of a middle class fuelled by the new market had begun to challenge the control of the Party.  The inherent tension was expressed by students during the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations. However, the brutal suppression of those demonstrations was in parallel with the establishment of the ‘contract’ between the Party and the middle classes which enabled the Party to retain political control.  It is that contract that is now under duress as middle class savings and investments are threatened by the stock market crash and with it China’s political stability.

There are also profound implications for China’s neighbours and indeed the wider Asia-Pacific region. The Party has clearly moved to exploit Chinese nationalism in the wake of the 2008 global financial and economic crash as a buttress against renewed domestic dissent. Indeed, China’s extra-territorial claims in the East and South China Seas and the development of an increasingly expeditionary-capable military seem to match the relative decline in China’s economic performance in the wake of the 2008 global financial and economic crash. 

Many years ago when I lived in Hong Kong I saw the power of Chinese nationalism.  For many years the Party kept a lid on such passions by offering ideology as an alternative to nationalism. However, nationalism run deeps in the majority Han Chinese population, as does the sense of grievance many Chinese feel towards the West and its past treatment of China.  Critically, with year-on-year economic growth in double-digits for many years many Chinese had never had life so good. There was no need thus to challenge a national or a world order that was beneficial to China.  That may be about to change.

The implications for the wider world economy should China retrench both politically and economically are profound.  China has used its extensive sovereign wealth funds to make investment in assets the world over.  These asset purchases have been particularly important in Europe where such investments have helped stave off bankruptcy both of major corporations and indeed states. They have also helped to fuel the ability of Western consumers to buy Chinese goods which in turn has helped maintain China’s export-led growth.  Should those ‘investments’ now be turned inwards to maintain Chinese shares at an artificially high price then the implications for a fragile world economy are profound to say the least.

At its extremes the struggle for China could go one of two ways.  The Party could re-impose a command economy and effectively close China’s economy to foreign investment in the name of Communist dogma.  However, such a move would hasten China’s decline and impact negatively on powerful vested interests, not least the People’s Liberation Army which is a major player in the Chinese markets.  Alternatively, the Party could lose political control in which case it is far more likely that extreme nationalism would raise its ugly head. China has no experience of the kind of social-democratic, free market balance that has evolved (and I stress evolved) in North America and Western Europe.

Therefore, the non-Chinese world should have no illusions as to the strategic stakes implicit in the current travails of the Chinese stock markets.  Huge forces are being unleashed and huge forces are under stress which without very careful management could see China’s stability and that of the wider world threatened.  Therefore, not only is it vital China engineers a soft landing to this crisis, it is also vital China develops institutions that ensure more balance in the relationship between the Chinese state and its stock markets.


Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 24 July 2015

Brexitwatch: Obama Must Support Cameron


Alphen, Netherlands, 24 July. “Having the UK in the EU gives us much greater confidence about the strength of the transatlantic union”.  The British media, particularly the slavishly pro-EU BBC, is full of President Obama’s call yesterday for Britain to remain within the EU.  The slant the story has been given suggests Obama is telling Britain to remain within the EU if it wants to retain influence in Europe, the wider world, and more critically Washington.  In fact, in the interview Obama is far more circumspect and far from interfering in British internal affairs he merely expresses the US national interest.  Equally, Obama again highlights three questions central to the Brexit debate.  Can Britain retain its wider influence via its EU membership if Britain has little or no influence in the EU?  Could Britain’s influence survive a Brexit? Is a fair deal for Britain in the coming post-Eurozone crisis EU possible?

Can Britain retain its wider influence via its EU membership if Britain has little or no influence in the EU?  The answer is a clear no.  Not surprisingly the EU warts and all lobby are going ballistic this morning. The central argument of this lobby, which is routinely trotted out at gatherings of the ‘great and good’, is that ‘given’ Britain’s future is in ‘Europe’ the EU must be accepted for what it is warts and all and at whatever cost to the British taxpayer. The failure of the EU warts and all lobby is their supine refusal to accept that the status quo is indefensible.  It is change within the Eurozone that is shifting the relationship towards costs and and away from benefits and that consequently Britain occupies a political position in and on the EU that is fast disappearing. Consequently, there is a very real danger that the 2017 Brexit referendum (or whenever it takes place) will settle nothing with none of the fundamental issues now at stake properly addressed.

Could Britain’s influence survive a Brexit? Yes, although no member of the EU warts and all lobby have ever answered or wanted to answer this question.  With political will Britain the world’s fifth biggest economy and a top five military power, with the world’s most extensive and possibly most experienced diplomatic representation, free to make its own agreements and alliances. could and would prosper as an independent country.  Period.

Is a fair deal for Britain in the coming post-Eurozone crisis EU possible? Possibly, but much would need to change in Britain’s relationship with the EU. Indeed, this is the key ‘fairness’ question and goes to the heart of Cameron’s attempts to renegotiate Britain’s membership of a changing EU.  For all the obfuscation of the Foreign Office’s every which way but loose Balance of Competences review the simple fact is that the EU is not fair to Britain.  Membership costs Britain roughly £20bn per annum whilst Britain suffers a trade deficit with the rest of the EU worth some £52bn, partly due to blocks placed by Germany and others on the Services Directive and by extension the fulfilment of a really single, Single Market. 

Worse, Britain finds itself in a permanent minority with its interests routinely and increasingly trodden into the ground by an unholy alliance of Eurozone members and the European Commission.  Last week the Commission arbitrarily, simply and unilaterally rewrote a binding 2010 agreement preventing the use of British taxpayer’s money to fund the latest Greek bailout.  Late last year Britain was slapped with a huge additional bill by the Commission following a ‘reassessment’ of the size of the British economy to include the proceeds of crime. Naturally, France and Germany received reduced bills from the Commission.

Therefore, if President Obama believes it an imperative American interest for Britain to remain in the EU then he needs to swing the full weight of US diplomacy behind Cameron’s efforts to get a fair deal for Britain in the EU.  First and foremost that means supporting Cameron openly to end the dangerous political fantasy of ‘ever closer union’ and support the idea of the EU as a super-alliance of free and independent nation-states (which I support) rather than super-state.  As the eternal Eurozone crisis demonstrates political adventurism that is not grounded in political and economic reality is fast leading Europe and indeed the wider “transatlantic union” towards ruin. 

Thereafter, the Americans must support Cameron in his pursuit of the objectives laid out in his January 2013 Bloomsberg speech; the creation of a competitive EU via a Single Market that is really ‘single’, a flexible EU that scraps the ‘one size fits all’ philosophy that traps Europeans between a federal ‘Europe’ and a Europe of nation-states; an EU that respects national parliamentary sovereignty and which only acts when collective action is agreed and necessary; an EU that respects democracy and is open and accountable to the people, which today is not the case; and a new political relationship between Eurozone and non-Eurozone members that if not agreed would effectively condemn the latter to taxation without representation.  Remember that Yanks?

Above all, President Obama must also face the contradictions inherent in his own position.  First, that a Britain forced to accept membership at any cost of an EU that is fast moving away from London’s long-held idea of ‘Europe’ as a trading bloc far from reinforcing British clout will simply destroy it.  Second, that the EU will a) evolve into a United States of Europe not unlike the United States of America; and b) that a ‘US of E’ would be pro-American.  As the Greek debt crisis has shown the former is extremely unlikely and the latter by no means assured.

President Obama might also wish to avoid the charge of hypocrisy by insisting in his support for the British people the same principles that underpin American liberty – government by the people, of the people and for the people.  Finally, President Obama may also wish to ask himself one other question this morning; is he happy to impose a political settlement on the British people that he would never dream of imposing on the American people.  If he is then he is no democrat.

Failure by the US to support Britain’s search for fairness WITHIN the EU could well accelerate Britain’s departure from it.

Julian Lindley-French


Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Ukraine: Is Russia Planning a New Military Offensive?


Alphen, Netherlands. 22 July. For obvious reasons I tend to steer clear of speculation and focus this blog instead on policy and strategy implications.  Moreover, predicting Russia’s actions can be a nightmare, not least because of the Kremlin’s mastery of disinformation (see my paper of this year for the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute – Countering Strategic Maskirovka).  However, something is clearly going on even if a new Russian-backed assault would mark an egregious breach of February’s Minsk 2 cease-fire agreement.  Sadly, Minsk 2 is already observed in the breach with so many loopholes. An OSCE report of this week cites 617 breaches in the Donetsk Airport alone and over 400 killed. 

Headline: Some commentators have suggested a major Russian offensive against Kharkiv, but there is little solid evidence for that. Equally, several solid sources to whom I have access have suggested preparations are underway for a renewed assault on the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Mariupol, even if in recent days pro-Russian forces associated with the Donetsk People’s Republic withdrew from the strategically-important village of Shyrokyne close to the port. There is certainly some evidence of new Russian forces present to the north of Mariupol, something Moscow of course denies.

Why attack Mariupol again?  First, Mariupol is a port and therefore of significant economic and strategic value if the wider ambition to create a Greater ‘Novorossiya’ that stretches west to Odessa and beyond is to be rendered politically and strategically viable. Second, more realistically the creation of an enclave along the Kharkiv, Donetsk, Lugansk, Sloviansk, Mariupol axis would depend on the future export of gas, although much of that would be ‘exported’ directly via pipeline to Russia which is only some 55 kms/35 miles distant.  Indeed, the capture of Mariupol would render a fully autonomous eastern ‘Ukraine’ more economically-viable as it would link existing coalfields to the two enormous iron and steel plants situated in Mariupol.  Third, the capture of Mariupol would straighten the defensive line pro-Russian forces hold and make it harder for Kiev to recapture the city.  Fourth, the capture of Mariupol would confirm eastern Ukraine as a buffer zone of Russian influence, which is clearly central to Moscow’s thinking.

Critically, with a population of 500,000 Mariupol remains the last significant city under Kiev’s control in Ukrainian hands in the region if one excludes Ukraine’s shaky grip on Kharkiv.  Finally, the capture of Mariupol would send a strong signal to Kiev and the rest of Europe that Russia has achieved its strategic objectives and that the removal of Crimea and much of eastern Ukraine from Ukraine’s control marks for the moment at least the limit of Moscow’s ambitions. 

Why attack Mariupol now? The reasons for such an assault now would make some strategic sense from a Russian standpoint, First, Russia has often acted between mid-July and mid-August as the rest of Europe slumbers on beaches (or wherever), including most of its leaders.  Russian troops entered disputed South Ossetia on August 8, 2008, following a major incursion by Georgian forces the previous day.  The Russian assault was right in the midst of the Beijing Olympics when the world was similarly distracted.

Analysis: The idea of a broad  or rather Greater Novorrossiya that stretches across much of what is today southern Ukraine was always a political fiction designed to keep Kiev and the West politically off-balance.  Indeed, in much the same way Moscow has used the conflict in eastern Ukraine or the Donbass to divert attention from the fait accompli in Crimea Greater Novorossiya is designed to divert attention from more modest strategic objectives.

Some commentators suggest the capture of Mariupol could act as the springboard for a further Russian-generated offensive south and west along the Sea of Azov coast to create a land bridge to isolated Crimea.  To be frank I am also sceptical as to the feasibility of such a land offensive. First, the distance between Mariupol and the Crimean capital Simferopol is 437 kms or 272 miles.  Second, such an offensive would require significant support from regular Russian land, sea and air forces.  Such support would give the offensive the appearance of a full-blown invasion with extended lines of supply and logistic and destroy Russian claims to ‘plausible deniability’.  This would run counter to Russia’s Maskirovka strategy and open Russian up to yet more sanctions, which Moscow still seems keen to avoid.  Third, the distance between eastern Crimea and Russia across the Russian-controlled Kerch Strait is only 3.1 kms or 1.9 miles at its shortest.  For the moment supply and re-supply can come across the strait or simply via the Russian-held naval base at Sevastopol. It is more likely that Crimea (which has been lost to Ukraine and the West has tacitly accepted that) will in future enjoy a similar status to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, which sits between Poland and Lithuania with access to the Baltic Sea.

There is some evidence of new Russian forces brought into the Western Military District (Oblast).  Normal rotation of Russian forces in the region would take place in October or November.  There is also evidence that fuel and armament depots have been fully stocked with new tanks and artillery deployed to the District.  Furthermore, the Russian Black Seas Fleet is currently being reinforced with six Admiral Grigorovich class missile frigates, although this deployment has been planned for some time.

Conclusion: There is some evidence to suggest a significant operation against Mariupol could well be planned for the coming six week period prior to September.  The operation will involve significant but limited Russian air, sea and land forces in support of separatist forces with the aim of taking Mariupol and holding it and straightening the defensive line to north and west of the city.  The offensive will first be denied and then justified as consolidating the cease-fire line agreed under Minsk 2, which is notoriously vague on the issue of Mariupol (and the future of the entire ‘Donbass’ region).  If separatist forces come up against significant Ukrainian opposition then Russian forces may be deployed to break such resistance.  However, a major offensive against the Kharkiv region or south and west of Mariupol is unlikely.


Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 16 July 2015

MH17: One Year On


Alphen, Netherlands. 17 July. This time last year I was at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.  There is every reason to believe that I walked passed people making their way to check-in to Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17.  Many of them would have been excited by the prospect of a much-needed summer holiday in tropical climes.  Some four hours later they were shot out of the sky over eastern Ukraine by a Russian BuK SA11 missile.  Two hundred and ninety-eight people were murdered, the unwitting and latest victims of a war made in Moscow.

There is little chance that those responsible for this appalling act of mass murder will be brought to justice. Worse, Russia indicated this week it will do all it can to frustrate justice.  Moscow continues its cynical effort to suggest that Ukrainian forces were somehow responsible.

For the record, the missile was fired from a Russian BuK SA11 system that had crossed the border from Russia into Ukraine the days before the disaster.  It was under the control of Russian military intelligence (GRU) and manned by separatists who had been inadequately trained in Russia under GRU supervision.  Indeed, there is evidence GRU personnel were either on board the launcher or close by.  Lacking its main radar system the launcher was unable to identify whether the airliner was friend or foe. The crew assumed it to be a Ukrainian transport aircraft. 

Moscow did not order the launch and was as horrified as the rest of us by what happened.  However, Russia bears as much responsibility for this act of mass slaughter as the separatists who launched the missile.  It is for that reason Moscow will do all in its power to prevent the full facts from ever being agreed, even if they are well known.

My thoughts are with all the victims of the appalling war that is still disfiguring Europe.  However, this morning you will forgive me if my particular thoughts are with the 90 people from the region in which I live including a colleague of my wife at Tilburg University and his family who lost their lives a year ago on MH17.  My thoughts are also with the bereaved all around me who must be going through hell this morning.

Rest in Peace!


Julian Lindley-French

The Iran Nuclear Accord: Briefing & Assessment


Alphen, Netherlands. 16 July. The “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” agreed on 14 July in Vienna between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the E3/EU+3 states: “The E3/EU3+3 (China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States, with the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy) with the Islamic Republic of Iran welcomes the historic Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which will ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful, and mark a fundamental shift in their approach to this issue”.  Whilst the JCPOA concerns the nature and scope of Iran’s ambitions to build nuclear weapons the Accord is also about contemporary geopolitics and the regional-strategic security and stability of the Middle East. 

The Accord: The JCPOA is 159 pages long which attests to its complexity and builds on the November 2013 Geneva Accord or Joint Plan of Action.  The main aim of the Accord is to reaffirm the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as the essential benchmark for preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to so-called non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS). Under the agreement Iran is to be transformed from a so-called ‘threshold state’ into a NNWS. Central to the Accord are strengthened safeguards and a verification and inspection regime that is intrusive even if it stops short of ‘no warning inspections’.

Specific Measures: The focus of the Accord is on preventing the weapons-grade enrichment of both uranium 235 and plutonium.  Uranium enrichment will be curtailed by reducing the number of operational centrifuges from 19,000 to 5000 and limiting Iran to the use of short lifespan first generation centrifuges.  Medium-enriched uranium will be rendered unfit for use in weapons.  Some 9700 kg of Iran’s 10,000 kg low-enriched uranium will also be shipped abroad.  Fordow, one of two main research and development sites, will cease all enrichment and become a physics research centre with no access to fissile material for at least 15 years.  The Arak heavy water reactor vital to the development of weapons grade plutonium will have its core destroyed and Iran will seek no heavy water production again for at least 15 years.

Verification and Inspection: Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) inspectors will have the right to inspect so-called ‘suspicious facilities’.  The so-called Safeguards Regime is based on but more extensive than those agreed under the NPT.  However, the inspectors will be unable to carry out snap exercises.  Iran will also be required to address so-called “possible military dimensions” of its nuclear programme. 

Sanctions Relief: In return for compliance with the terms of the Accord the EU, US and United Nations Security Council will lift a range of trade sanctions and unfreeze some $150bn of Iranian oil assets currently held in foreign banks.  However, sanctions relief is linked to Iran’s compliance over time and thus will take place in stages.  Critically, there will be no complete relief from sanctions until the agreement has been implemented in full and the Arak reactor destroyed.  There is a strong ‘snap back’ regime in place that allows for sanctions to be re-imposed quickly if the Accord is breached and without a further UNSC Resolution.

Analysis: A key phrase in the Accord reads, “They [the Parties to the Accord] anticipate that full implementation of this JCPOA will contribute to regional and international peace and security”.  Indeed, the Accord reflects a rapidly changing region and wider world and a battle over the conduct of international relations that goes far beyond the issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Specifically, a global struggle is underway over between a legalised order and Machtpolitik and between globalisation and Islamisation. 

In Iran there is clearly some tension between relative moderates around President Rouhani who believe that Iran’s changing society must accommodate itself with globalisation and hard-liners in and around the powerful Revolutionary Guard who see themselves as the guardians of the 1979 Revolution.  However, it would be far too simplistic to suggest there is a split between Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani.  Iran remains first and foremost an Islamic Republic with clerical power still the deciding force in Iranian policy-making.  The Accord would seem to reflect an accommodation between the two factions both of which believe they can gain.

Tehran has signed up to the Accord because it it believes it has the upper hand in the struggle for regional dominance in the Middle East.  Indeed, Persian Iran is at one and the same time confident in its ability to influence the by and large Arab region in which it sits.  Equally, Shia Tehran is deeply concerned by the rise of Sunni Islamic State and pragmatists clearly believe some form of accommodation will be needed with all anti-IS forces across the region.  However, a temporary suspension of competition with peer competitors such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States does not mean that competition over regional-strategic supremacy has been postponed indefinitely.  Indeed, suspension of Iran’s nuclear ambitions over the short-term would help forge an implicit anti-IS ‘coalition’ which perversely could help weaken regimes such as the Saudi monarchy because of the split within the Arab-Sunni world that would ensue between leaders and led. Iran is also fully aware that Saudi money paid for much of Pakistan’s nuclear programme and Riyadh is quite capable of rapidly becoming a nuclear power should the Accord falter. 

Israel is of course key. There is as yet no sign that the Accord will lead to a shift in Tehran on its long-standing and extreme hostility to Israel.  Indeed, with significant funds about to be released to Iran one of the key tests of of the Accord concerns the impact it will have on wider Iranian policy.  If Hezbollah is restocked and re-supplied and President Assad in Syria bolstered it will be clear that Iran is just as committed as ever to an eventual showdown with Israel and that hard-liners still drive much of Iranian foreign policy.  However, if that money instead goes into supporting the hard-pressed Iranian population then some moderating of Iran’s position may be underway.

The geopolitics of the Accord are equally fascinating. After a bruising couple of years which saw Russia use force in Ukraine and China seize territory (and build it) in the South China Sea the Accord demonstrates that a legalised systems of international relations is still workable and that some semblance of ‘international community’ still exists.  Arms control (for that is what the Accord is) is unlike disarmament in that whilst the latter is part of an ideal the former is a pragmatic function of security and defence policy, i.e. the more arms are limited by accord the less likely they will be built and the more likely legal solutions to disputes will be sought.  The world is in the balance between a treaty-based system of world order and a new balance of power. The Accord is a modest but important step back from the brink of Real and Machtpolitik and new regional and global arms races and a strengthening of the regimes and international institutions that underpin a legalised world order.

Assessment: As ever with such accords the devil will be in the demonstrable upholding of the detail with political and strategic implications that go far beyond the many technical pages of the Accord.  It Iran adheres to the Accord in full some semblance of trust will be established which in time may allow for the establishment of shared interests and actions.  If Iran seeks to use the very detail of the Accord to split the fractious coalition that negotiated it then the there is a very real danger of treaty breakout and a defection that will make the current fragile situation even worse. 

President Obama is surely right to make the effort implicit in the Accord for all the reasons laid out above.  However, neither the White House nor the EU powers can dismiss the stated concerns of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.  This Accord might not be the “historic mistake” he claims it to be but unless a clear determination to uphold it to the letter is apparent from Day One then the very real danger exists that Iran will out-manoeuvre a naïve Administration and a Europe that really does not want to be bothered right now.  As former US President Teddy Roosevelt once said, now is the time to speak softly but carry a big stick.


Julian Lindley-French