hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 21 July 2017

Suez 2017 & the French Letter

“I see myself as no longer able to guarantee the robust defence force that I believe is necessary to guarantee the protection of France and the French people…and to sustain the aims of our country”.

Letter of Resignation, General Pierre de Villiers, Chief of the French General Staff, 18 July, 2017

Alphen, Netherlands. 21 July. He might have been British! The resignation letter from General de Villiers to President Macron captured succinctly the dilemma faced by almost all of Europe’s serious defence powers – all six of them! Or, to put it another way, it seems these days that Europeans can either have sound defence or sound money, but not both. What happened, and what are the implications?

France, like Britain, is a defence paradox. The French armed forces are not just central to the defence of France, and the exercise of the very considerable influence Paris enjoys, they are part of the very soul and identity of France. President Macron, who has triggered what is a crisis in French military leadership unheard of since the days of President de Gaulle and the Algerian crisis back in the early 1960s, reflects this paradox. With a defence budget of some $35 billion France is a leading world military power. President Macron says he wants to increase that budget from the current 1.77% GDP to 2% GDP by 2025 to meet the NATO Defence Investment Pledge.  And yet General de Villiers has resigned over a planned $900 million cut to the defence budget.

At the level of strategic power and influence in what is a rapidly changing world France’s excellent armed forces faces exactly the same problem Britain faces – an enforced retreat from excellence because defence investment is arbitrary rather than strategic. France has a force with a little bit of everything, not much of anything, doing far too much of all things, pretty much everywhere, and pretty much all of the time.

The cause of France’s growing defence crisis is need of Paris to reduce its crippling annual deficit and burgeoning national debt. This is partly due to the formal commitment made by France to cut public expenditure by some $50bn to get the deficit within 3% GDP demanded by the EU. And yet, France’s military commitments continue to grow. These range from a long-term engagement to stabilise the Sahel, but also extend across what is a broad military-strategic effort from counter-terrorism to counter-Russia, including the maintenance of an expensive independent nuclear deterrent.  Taken together, and the missions imposed on the French force by the livre blanc de la defense, and the military tasks it implies, are leading inexorable to a breakdown between what the force can afford to do, and what the force must critically be capable of doing. This tension is made daily more onerous by the parallel need to understand and then invest in future war if deterrence is to remain credible.

There is also a political dimension to what is, in effect, a sacking by President Macron of his military chief. “Jupiter” as Macron is now called in France, after the Roman king of the gods and god of thunder and lightning, is about to attempt to face down the six big ‘syndicats’ (trades unions) in an effort to reform France’s labour market. Being seen to be tough with the military is one way to indicate to the political Left that this non-aligned president is not only is tough, he is prepared to be just as tough with the political Right.

Strategic implications? Here, Macron’s appointment as defence minister might offer a clue. Florence Parly is a class act.  A socialist and graduate of the elitist ENA, she is also an ardent pro-European. With France and Germany about to announce a plan to construct a ‘7G’ fighter, and Berlin committed to some form of EU-centric European Defence Union, could it be that Macron is about to abandon France’s much cherished defence sovereignty to embed itself within European defence? European Defence Community redux?

Which takes me back to Suez. In the wake of the disastrous 1956 Anglo-French ‘adventure’ to seize back the Canal Zone from President Nasser’s Egypt London and Paris went their separate ways. After US President Eisenhower rightly out a stop to Britain’s almost post-imperial adventurism Paris and London drew completely different strategic conclusions. France vowed never again to be humiliated by the Americans. Britain vowed never again to be on the wrong side of the Americans. Is a similar strategic divergence again on the cards? After all, with Britain leaving the EU London will naturally lean more towards the Anglosphere, not least because the US-led NATO will be the focus of British defence efforts.  

Not so fast. Whilst my prescription has that nice neat strategy feel to it that in Europe is invariably wrong, the simple facts of power and capability suggests something else might happen.  Indeed, in spite of Brexit and Macron’s ‘more Europe’ posture Britain and France are actually very close. Events will ensure they remain so because if Macron is no de Gaulle, Theresa May is no Anthony Eden. Moreover, Florence Parly was a board member of THALES, a French defence-industrial giant not only at the heart of European defence, but central to the vitally-important Franco-British strategic partnership.

Therefore, Macron is far more likely to reinforce France’s traditional ‘cob-web’ foreign policy strategy than ‘lose’ France’s distinctiveness in the German-led EU. Paris has traditionally exerted influence by maintaining a series of bilateral strategic relationships with key partners, most notably the US, Germany, and the UK. For Paris, and for all the talk of more EU defence, relative power suggests that EU Brussels will remain just one more strategic bilateral relationship through which Paris exerts influence. However. The French armed forces are a key lever of that influence and will remain so only if they are properly funded and that funding is applied properly. Are you listening, Chancellor Hammond?

As I peer through the thick fog of jaw jaw that so mires clear strategic analysis in Europe one thing is clear; the Franco-British strategic defence partnership is, and will remain, vital to the defence of Europe. This is because, as the General’s resignation letter implies, France, unlike a lot of other Europeans, takes matters strategic very seriously in what is going to be a very dangerous age. It is precisely because of the reason General de Villiers resigned that Britain and France need each other. Indeed, neither power these days is sufficient alone to fulfil even its basic mission of defence in a world in which the one certainly is uncertainty. In other words, France must lead, even as France reforms. Britain?

Plus ca change, plus la meme chose?

Julian Lindley-French      

Friday, 14 July 2017

War or Peace?

“An Englishman's self-assurance is founded on his being a citizen of the best organised state in the world and on the fact that, as an Englishman, he always knows what to do, and that whatever he does as an Englishman is unquestionably correct".
War and Peace
Leo Tolstoy

Alphen, Netherlands. Quatorze juillet. Interesting week. On Monday I drove some 600 kilometres from here to Strasbourg to address senior executives on matters strategic. On Tuesday I drove some 500 kilometres from Strasbourg to Brussels to address senior British military commanders. All went well until I reached Belgium, which was closed for repairs. And then I flew from Brussels to London, and my own failing state, the fabric of which, both actual and political, seems these days to be in a permanent state of disrepair. On Thursday I addressed the Air Power Conference on future war in which I painted a Monck-esque picture of hybrid, hyper, and kinetic war combined creating chaos across a Europe made brittle and vulnerable by years of strategic pretence.  With politicians all too keen to avoid hard choices, and senior civil servants all too career keen to protect them from such choices, neither Britain, nor any other European state is at all serious about addressing the very real possibility of such a war. Rather, they prefer to live in the twilight world of an implicit Ten Year Rule in which nothing bad can happen if it costs too much.

Talking of chaos it is perhaps fitting that I write this piece on Bastille Day. With Macron and Trump reviewing shiny military stuff in Paris, on the centennial of the arrival of the Dough Boys in France, the symbolisms of power and pretence are at their most stark. Issues of war and peace seen through the lens not of history or strategy, but of ceremony and appearance.  In Europe’s post-strategic age appearance is all the rage. And yet the symbolism of Macron with Trump also matters for the British. Britain’s entire security and defence strategy relies on being close to, and exerting some influence over, the Americans. Make no mistake, Trump is with Macron (rather than May) because the Trump world-view can be essentially broken down to winners and losers. Right now, Trump sees Macron (and by extension France) as a ‘winner’, and May (and Britain) as a ‘real loser’. Result? Britain is failing to exert influence in Washington, as well as losing influence in Berlin and Paris.

Political London is a mess. The smell is awful. Made worse by the huge posters promoting a new ‘blockbuster’ film “Dunkirk”, which commemorates another moment of ‘glorious’ British failure.  Dunkirk happened because all power is relative. In 1940 Britain’s army was defeated because an enemy had spent more and better for a significant period proved it on the beaches of the Pas de Calais. It happened because at a time of danger a powerful state put sound money before sound defence? It happened because a powerful state chose to recognise only as much threat as it thought it could afford? It happened because of the the gap between what a state said what it must do to secure and defend itself, and what it was actually prepared to do. A gap that became so wide as to make the Potemkin preservation of appearance more important than either the protection of its people, or projection of its influence and effect. That state was Maginot France. Maginot Britain?

Britain’s credibility and influence is fast declining.  Specifically, and consequently, Britain is not spending anywhere near well enough on either security or defence (the two are very different) to meet the risks, threats, and indeed opportunities as established in Britain’s own National Security Strategy. Rather, London is retreating into the appeasement of reality, and a kind of defence theatre d'absurde in which a proud but increasingly cardboard cut-out military desperately tries to close its many gaps with a ‘can do’ spirit, and by sending one man (or woman) here, a little force there, armed with a little bit of everything, but not much of anything. Rule Britannia? I don’t think so. Indeed, I can almost hear Chancellor Phillip Hammond in the wake of a coming security shock saying “Don’t worry. We were defeated within our national means”.

Ultimately, the rational for what passes as current British security and defence policy comes down to an interpretation of the word 'security' - the first duty of the state. For Phillip Hammond 'security' is purely financial and economic.  Prime Minister May rather confirmed that in Prime Minister’s Questions when she referred to the national debt being at a peacetime high. Firstly, she is wrong. Between 1922 and 1955 both Britain’s net public debt was far higher than today. Second, Britain is not at peace. Britain maybe not at war, but it is certainly no longer at peace.

Consequently, Hammond's economist's 'in an ideal world, all things being equal' approach to security and defence, in which all threats must meet his deficit reduction target, is becoming daily more dangerous. Or, to put it another way, Britain is locked into a race to the bottom between preparing for either a major economic shock or a major security shock...but not both. You takes yer pick, you yer makes yer choice. Balance?  Forget it! As an informed citizen I am frankly appalled by my great country’s across the board retreat of late into strategic pretence, and how such retreat is making Europe and the wider world more, not less dangerous. You don’t believe me? Look around you.

As I drove back from Brussels Airport to my home yesterday morning I was thinking of Churchill and the ‘wilderness years’, and wondering after a week of discussions whether Britain can escape the political and strategic wilderness in which it is now lost.  It would take real leadership and I see neither the talent nor the capacity for such leadership in London today. Rather, what Tolstoy wrote of his fellow Russians seems better applied to Britain’s elite these days. “A Russian is self-assured simply because he knows nothing and does not want to know anything, since he does not believe in the possibility of knowing anything fully.”

War or Peace? Britain must end the strategic pretence and finally decide what kind of power it seeks to be. Pocket superpower or yet another weak European? This is a big question for the choice Britain makes could well help decide whether it is indeed future war or future peace, future defence and deterrence or future defeat.

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 6 July 2017

2020: World of War

“We who have put this book together know very well that the only forecast that can be made with any confidence of the course and outcome of another world war, should there be one, is that nothing will happen exactly as we have shown here”.
The Third World War, August 1985: A Future History
General Sir John Hackett

Alphen, Netherlands. 6 July. With the world stuttering towards a possible armed confrontation between the US and North Korea, and between superpower America and proto-superpower China, it seems appropriate to announce the publication of a new book in which I have made two very substantial contributions. Entitled 2020: World of War (London: Hodder) the book is edited by my friend Professor Paul Cornish and Kingsley Donaldson, and is (of course) brilliant and very reasonably priced.

The book sets out a series of dangerous, but plausible scenarios that “depicts twenty-first century international security as a complex of interwoven pressures, challenges, hazards and threats”.  Critically, the book avoids overly-military prescriptions and advocates the need for a real joined-up government and governance approach to dealing with complex crises. At the heart of the book there are seven scenarios, although the threat posed by Russia’s strategic challenge is also considered, together with a piece entitled Strategy in Breadth, which captures the essence of both the challenge and the much-needed strategic response.

Scenario 1: Unravelling Imperiums: China and the US in the South-East Asia Region. China in 2020 is on the verge of re-establishing one of its greatest historic achievements; reclaiming its place at the centre of world affairs.  However, Beijing’s actions are clumsy and aggressive leading to dangerous frictions across Asia-Pacific, but most particularly in south-east Asia.  What if strategic miscalculations by China are matched by similar mis-steps in other key capitals?

Scenario 2: The Afghan Factor. Afghanistan in 2020 is still a failing state, and unlikely to be stable for the foreseeable future. India and Pakistan continue to struggle, both overtly and covertly, to assert dominant control over southern Afghanistan. As the West retreats in the wake of a failed stabilisation mission and tensions mount a combination of poor policy decisions in Islamabad and New Delhi, terrorist attacks, transnational organised crime, and nuclear proliferation results in that worst of all nightmares; a pre-emptive nuclear strike.

Scenario 3: The Caliphate Resurrected: Cairo in Chaos. In 2020 having lost Mosul and Raqqa, and with Egypt collapsing, a reinvigorated IS establishes a powerful base in lawless Libya.  As IS shifts the centre of gravity of the campaign to create a new Caliphate they come to an uneasy but enduring alliance with Al Qaeda. Specifically, they see an opportunity to exploit the huge numbers of disaffected migrants trapped in camps across southern Europe. They set out to recreate the Ummayid Caliphate of the 8th century across North Africa and Southern Europe. The campaign fails because most migrants want nothing to do with either AQ or IS, but not before several months of lawlessness is endured as gangs of terrorists roam across southern Europe, and co-ordinated terrorist attacks take place in the cities of northern and western Europe.

Scenario 4: The Passenger in Seat 7B. In 2020 a hitherto virtual threat becomes real as an individual exploits the interplay between criminality, terrorism, advanced weaponry and the darker reaches of cyber-space, to force the effective collapse of UK border security.

Scenario 5: Dark Code: The Cyber-security Challenge. A massive cyber-attack takes place on the British power grid. Several people are killed and many injured as a result of the attack. However, only later does the geostrategic significance of the attack become apparent…
Scenario 6: A Disunited Kingdom: UK Domestic Security. Brexit has many consequences, but perhaps the least understood is the impact on the Union itself. As Scotland gains independence the bonds between the four home nations fray and border security becomes an internal issue for the islands for the first time since the 1998 Good Friday agreement led to the removal of the border between the UK and the Irish Republic. On the UK mainland the impact is far, far greater as internal border security is forced onto to the agenda for the first time since the Union of Crowns in 1603.

Scenario 7: Operation Imperfect Storm. Based on a scenario I have been offering in various speeches and lectures for some five years now this scenario poses THE most sobering question of all. What if several (or all) of these scenarios occurred simultaneously? Fantasy? Think about it. None of the scenarios are entirely implausible in the twenty-first century, which means they could in some form all be plausible together – a meltdown in the Middle East, Russian cyber and territorial aggression in central and eastern Europe, and armed conflict in the South China Sea between the US and China.

The message of the book is clear: if peace is to be preserved as some sort of recognisable state, and today’s complex international security environment is to be managed effectively to that end, policy-makers and strategists must have the capacity and the confidence to deal with a wide-range of evolving security challenges.

Former NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson says of the book, “This informed and expert book examines credible scenarios of what might happen, could happen, and hopefully won’t happen”.

2020: World of War…or big strategy for dumb, little leaders. As the Yanks like to say, "have a nice day".

Julian Lindley-French 

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Europe’s Twin Crises: Migration and Terrorism

Alphen, Netherlands. 3 July. This blog coincides with the publication of a new book edited by Professor Paul Cornish and Kingsley Donaldson entitled 2020: World of War (London: Hodder) in which I have a chapter. A second blog on the book itself will be published later in the week.

The mission of this blog is to confront difficult policy and strategy issues.  With badly-managed hyper-immigration into Europe once again on the rise this blog poses two policy questions.  What is the link between migration and terrorism? What level of increased risk will be imposed on European citizens through the importing of conflicts made elsewhere whilst Europe’s leaders fail to find a balance between security and humanity?  This blog makes no judgement on those seeking a better life in Europe. As an immigrant myself I would do exactly the same if faced with the same circumstances.  It takes incredible courage/desperation to set off into the unknown in the hands, and at the mercy of the unscrupulous. However, migration and terrorism are twin crises that when combined with mismanagement in Europe enable a link between them.

Relevant Facts

The International Office of Migration says that thus far in 2017 some 95,768 people have entered Europe illegally across the Mediterranean. Some 85% have made the crossing from Libya to Italy, with over 500,000 having passed through Italian ports since 2014. In 2016 over 10,000 arrived in Spain from Morocco, a 46% increase over the previous year.  A leaked German government report of May this year suggested up to 6 million illegal immigrants were waiting to cross the Mediterranean into Europe, with over 1500 having died already in 2017 trying to make the crossing. One Spanish official warns that Spain is facing an “avalanche” of people. 

The other day I gave a talk in Vienna to language professionals on the front-line of migration management. My speech focused on the relationship between badly-managed hyper-immigration and terrorism. My essential point was that most European leaders will do almost anything to avoid answering the questions I have posed at the outset of this blog, rendering impossible the making of policy and the crafting of strategy. Consequently, the risk grows daily to the very people to whom, and for whom, they are meant to be responsible. Three recent tragedies in my own country, Britain, serve to illustrate the extent to which political leaders are failing, even refusing, to protect their own citizens.  

Home-grown or imported?

Politicians talks increasingly of home-grown terrorism when atrocities are committed. Really? The recent attacks in the UK were all the products (save one) of immigration. The suicide bombing in Manchester, which killed twenty-two and injured many more, was committed by a first generation Briton of Libyan descent whose family had been granted political asylum in the 1990s. Two of the three terrorists who committed the London Bridge attacks were born in Pakistan and Morocco respectively, whilst the third was of Moroccan-Italian extraction. Only the (alleged) terrorist who attacked Muslims outside a mosque in North London identified himself with what might be termed extremist nativist identity.

Last month Britain’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that over the last year the UK population grew by the largest number since 1947, when huge number of British servicemen returned to the country in the wake of World War Two. According to the Head of the Population Estimation Unit at the ONS, “net international migration continued to be the main driver”. This would tally with recent Home Office (interior ministry) figures that suggest that each year up to 250,000 immigrants simply disappear from official view.  In other words, the British government has no clue who is in the country, making the crafting of security policy almost impossible. Much the same can be said for the rest of Europe.  From a security perspective this is an unacceptable situation.

Strategic Implications

Strategic implications?  Control of immigration has clearly been lost by the British and other European states.  Consequently, trust is breaking down between Europe’s citizens and their states/EU over this issue.  It is a breakdown of trust that accelerates in the wake of every terrorist attack creating the political space for so-called ‘populists’ to exploit, which in turn widens the gap between communities within society.

Societal challenges? It is in that gap between communities where terrorism is so often spawned. Even if migrants eventually gain the right to stay in Europe, as most do, there is little evidence of their being properly integrated into society.  Britain again.  Trevor Phillips, the former Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality warned recently that ‘communities’ in Britain now live “parallel lives” with little contact between them.

Policy assumptions? London is seemingly incapable of deporting all but a few of those who have no right to be in the country, and given the growing pressure from huge numbers of people from war-torn and impoverished societies to get into Britain, such pressures will only grow.  As will the threat from terrorism. As Mosul and Raqqa fall Islamic State terrorists will disperse with many of them doubtless seeking to return to Europe from the Levant hell bent on causing carnage. 

Analysis? The refusal of Europe’s elite to recognise the link between badly-managed hyper-immigration and terrorism prevents coherent policy and strategy being crafted to deal with either or both. It is this failure of policy that provides the sombre answer to the questions I posed at the outset of this blog. Consequently, the level of risk imposed on British/European citizens will increase steadily through a mix of political incompetence and misplaced political correctness. Result? Many more Europeans – black, white, and people of faith and of no faith – will die because leaders lack the political courage to do what is necessary to make their own people safe.

What to do?

The strategic aim of policy should be an end to uncontrolled, badly-managed hyper-immigration, the re-establishment of control, the effective management of sustainable levels of immigration, and a proper understanding, and thus separation of the migration crisis from the terrorism crisis, via considered and properly applied policy and strategy.  The ‘solution’ to what is a systemic crisis, and the confluence between hyper-migration and terrorism, will require political courage, effective management, sustained efforts at integration, and long-term investment in source countries over the short, medium, and longer-terms.

Effective management: People with a right to asylum must be assessed quickly and afforded sanctuary. However, asylum must not be a backdoor route to permanent residency in Europe.  Those with no right to stay must be returned from whence they came, albeit in a manner consistent with Europe’s commitment to humane treatment.  Those who discard their papers in an attempt to thwart identification must be assessed by language and dialect experts.  More routes should be made available for properly managed immigration to Europe. Border checks should be rigorously enforced with a proper EU-wide effort to support the front-line states such as Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Spain.  In Britain’s case identity cards must finally be issued to everyone in the UK. It is simply unacceptable that a country that is so obviously a target for terrorism has little or no idea who is in the country. Efforts by legions of human rights lawyers to thwart due process in deportation cases must be resisted.

Integration: Far more systematic efforts must be made to foster social cohesion between host societies and immigrants. Efforts could include the recruiting of Imams born in their host country, rather than importing them from abroad.  Much greater efforts also need to be made in language training.  In fact, once such communities are established many second and third generation citizens do very well at school and in broader education. They must be afforded every opportunity so to do. In return for sustained efforts to promote better integration European governments must also work with communities to promote deradicalisation. The flow of money from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States into Europe in support of radical interpretations of Islam, such as Wahhabism, must be stopped, whatever the diplomatic consequences. The Times today reveals that London has suppressed a report that identifies the scale of financial support from Saudi Arabia for such extremism.

Investment: More sustained efforts is needed by all Europeans via the EU to inform and deter would be migrants from undertaking such a perilous gamble in the first place. This will also require the sustained application of aid and development in source countries.  Too often aid and development by European states reflects more the ticking of politically-correct boxes than a systematic and rigorous outcomes-driven application of taxpayer’s money in pursuit of strategic security goals.
Mind the Gap

Europe is not as yet a Kumbaya society. Badly-managed hyper-immigration involves importing into Europe the very stresses, problems, and indeed dangers, from which migrants are fleeing. Yes, there can be an upside to immigration, but there are also huge dangers for Europeans that range from crime to terrorism, as well as the creeping paralysis of effective foreign, security and defence policies as European leaders seek to ‘buy off’ diverse groups within society. Until Europe’s leaders properly confront the link between migration and terrorism the gap between what the politicians say, and the experience ordinary people face on the street, will continue to widen with profound implications for the very trust upon which society relies.
For Britain the implications of the twin crises are sobering. A state that cannot control its borders, does not know who is in the country, cannot house those people in the country properly, provide security, and which is led by people who refuse to face reality – Left and Right – is a country in terminal decline.  That, I fear, is the future for my once proud country, but one which could also apply equally to the rest of Europe.  Make no mistake, Europe’s society-bending, society-changing hyper-immigration crisis is only just beginning, and Europe’s leaders are in denial. What more could the terrorists want?

Unregulated hyper-immigration would always pose a policy challenge to European leaders. However, it is the confluence of huge and fast flows of unregulated migrants with Salafist jihadism that poses a real threat to Europe. That might seem a statement of the blindingly obvious. Sadly, it is not for too many of Europe’s in-denial leaders. For once Europe’s leaders must have the courage to face reality, and be honest about it.

Julian Lindley-French 

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

…as Britain’s Military Sinks?

Not so fast…

Alphen, Netherlands. 28 June. View this second blog of the week as a compare and contrast exercise. On Monday I celebrated the maiden voyage of HMS Queen Elizabeth, and I stand by every strategic word of that piece, apart from the fact that she will not be commissioned in 2017. Got that wrong. However, as I indicated most of that blog was written at the time of the ‘floating’ of ‘QE’ back in 2014, and my hopes that the ship and her sister HMS Prince of Wales would lead to a more properly strategic assessment of the role, scope and capabilities of Britain’s armed forces. Sadly, it seems from what I have been told that is not to be the case. Instead, fears expressed in my 2015 book Little Britain now look like being realised. Even as I posted the piece I was painfully aware of what London is probably about to do to Britain’s armed forces.  If realised, the strategic vandalism by a Government about to renege on the modest commitments made in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review is stunning. What is about to happen, why is it about to happen, and what are the strategic implications? This is what I have been told.


The British Army will be cut from the ‘absolutely irreducible’ 82,000 personnel (current level c. 78,000 in SDSR 2015, to 65,000.  82,000 is an already absurdly small figure for a power such as Britain. The current Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, will be sent to NATO as Chairman of the Military Committee. He will be charged with the job of limiting Britain’s reputational damage reputation in NATO. He will fail.  My very high-level contacts in Washington and Brussels are only too aware of this development, and are frankly amazed at the mixture of incompetence and strategic illiteracy for which London now has a well-earned reputation.  The Government will try to assuage the concerns of the Head of the British Army, about the coming cuts to his force, by making the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Nick Carter the next Chief of the Defence Staff.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon will, as ever, fail to put up any resistance. He has spent his career acting as the ‘safe pair of hands’ sent onto the media circuit to defend the indefensible. He will do it again. Prime Minister May will try to stifle any debate in Cabinet and beyond, and act quickly before there is a functioning House of Commons Defence Committee that can challenge such dangerous folly. Indeed, Downing Street is planning a fait accompli in the wake of the vote on this week’s Queen’s Speech before opposition to the plan can be mobilised.

The cuts, I am told, will also affect the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.  It will take longer now to procure the aircraft, weapons systems, drones, and other capabilities (most notably cyber) committed to in SDSR 2015 and before. The vitally-needed replacement Maritime Patrol Aircraft, the Boeing P8 could be either delayed or reduced, or both. The number of F-35Bs needed for the two aircraft carriers, will be either cut or some of the F-35Bs replaced by cheaper F-35As, or both.


There are three main political drivers that are killing sound strategy; cuts, Hammond, and Corbyn.  The tattered and panicky May government is trying to close an impossible gap between a failing ‘austerity’ programme, growing demands for more and enhanced public expenditure, and low taxes. The recent fall in the value of the pound has also pushed up the cost of defence procurement.  The fingerprints of Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) Phillip ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ Hammond are also all over this plan. Hammond’s idea of strategy tends to go no further than the balance sheet of government. He and his Treasury colleagues too often refuse to consider external strategic events and threats, and see defence merely as a cost rather than a value. 

Security is also beginning to consume defence. In the face of recent terror and cyber-attacks London is ‘reassessing’ priorities.  London now believes it faces a much more organised and dangerous threat from Salafist Jihadis living in the UK. Former senior officer Richard Kemp, who worked on this issue, said this week that the figure of 23,000 active jihadis and motivated sympathisers, which is the assessment MI5 has worked to of late, is a gross under-estimate. The nonsensical political correctness that enabled such networks to flourish in Britain during the Blair-Brown years is sadly beginning to reap its grim harvest.  Add that to the fact that London simply has no real idea who is in the country and the result is a Government close to panic.  

And then there is the Corbyn effect.  In the wake of the appalling Grenfell Tower disaster it is clear that demands for improved social housing are seen by ministers as irresistible if Jeremy Corbyn is to be kept out of 10 Downing Street.  Add those demands to the eternal call for ever more funding for the bottomless cash pit that is the National Health Service and it is clear something has to give. The head of the doctor’s union the British Medical Association this week called for Britain to spend the same proportion of government expenditure on healthcare as the rest of Europe. He failed to point out that the rest of Europe can only afford such expenditures because most Europeans choose not to defend themselves. Britain?

What on Earth?

What are the strategic implication? In a speech in London last December I said that Brexit would ultimately be decided by power. As I spoke I saw Britain’s armed forces as a key strategic lever in the negotiations.  By re-committing a growing force to NATO London would prove that a strong strategic defence relationship between Britain and its European partners would be dependent in turn on a decent post-Brexit economic and financial settlement for Britain. Sadly, if my information is correct, London’s strategic illiteracy is about to be translated into negotiating illiteracy as Britain cuts one of the main influence enablers available to it. In so doing Britain’s shrinking influence will be further cut at a critical moment. This seems not to matter to Mr Hammond who seems content to turn Britain into an EU colony; subject to EU laws, but no influence over them, i.e. a colony.

And then there are the Americans. In April I was in the White House. It is clear that an increasingly overstretched US military needs strong allies as part of a new and more realistic transatlantic ‘contract’. It was my hope that London would help lead a host of allies to ease the pressure on the US.  HMS Queen Elizabeth was meant to be visible proof of that commitment and would thus also help to restore London’s much-reduced and much-needed influence in Washington. Britain’s influence over NATO and/or the EU? These cuts will simply confirm that not only is Britain broken, but London will be unable henceforth to bring any force of any substance to any major crisis. What does the current strategic environment threaten? It threatens the very series of major crises in which Britain needs to seriously engage which this plan if enacted will prevent.  Sadly, it seems Britain is about to pull up a drawbridge to nowhere.

As for Sir Michael Fallon and his pouring of balm on a broken defence and an open political wound, don’t believe a word of it. For once London do the right thing for the right strategic reasons, not the wrong thing for the wrong political reasons, and invest properly in the very defence that in 2015 you said Britain needed!  It is not rocket science.

If this information is correct, and I desperately hope it is not, there is only one word for it;

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Lizzie Goes Forth!

HMS Queen Elizabeth last night passing under the Forth road and rail bridges...just! Given the Brit-bashing these days perhaps she should be renamed HMS Defiance!

Monday, 26 June 2017

HMS Queen Elizabeth Sails!

Alphen, Netherlands. 26 June. On rare occasions I reserve the right to re-publish a blog almost word for word if an event warrants it. As I write, Britain’s new super aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is about to set sail for the first time to begin sea trials in the North Sea.  The cynic in me wonders that if this mighty ship might last longer than the country that built her. It is certainly the case that the politicians in London and elsewhere in the UK are trying their damnedest to reduce Britain. Rarely, has Britain been so badly-led, and rarely has an official opposition been so lost to the land of the strategic and political fairies. Yet this blog is about strategic fundamentals if it is about anything, and ‘QE’ is at least a statement of hope that at some point Britain will again get leaders who recognise such fundamentals, rather than merely playing at strategy. Right now, she sits in her Rosyth dock, engines humming and her 700 strong crew busily preparing her for her maiden voyage.  At around midday she will sail under the massive Forth Railway Bridge, itself a signature British engineering achievement from a previous age. 

HMS Queen Elizabeth is also far more than a ship.  Displacing 65,000 tons the ‘QE’ is the first of Britain’s 2 new super aircraft carriers.  Her flight deck is the size of 60 Wimbledon tennis courts or 3 World Cup pitches.  When commissioned in 2017 she will carry up to 50 aircraft in a hangar that is the size of 60 Olympic-size swimming pools.  She is twice the width and some 90 metres longer than her predecessor HMS Illustrious.  She is also a potent symbol of British power, unity, alliance and partnership that will fly the White Ensign the most famous flag of the most famous navy in the world.  Indeed, a navy that in many ways made the modern world.  In tandem with her future sister-ship HMS Prince of Wales she will act as a hub for a new type of agile and mobile global reach military power projection that will assure and ensure maritime and land security across the globe. 

HMS Queen Elizabeth will exert influence and effect across three strategic spaces – the peace-space, the security-space, and the battle-space.  Able to reach 80% of the world’s population she will act in crises as diverse as disaster relief and help prevent and deter full-blown war which cannot be ruled out in the hyper-competitive twenty-first century.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is a symbol of national unity.  She was built in sections at 6 shipyards across the United Kingdom.  Indeed, she is perhaps the most innovative ship ever built with each section bought to Rosyth to be welded together.  As some in Scotland contemplate secession she is a potent symbol of what this old great gathering of peoples can still achieve in the world together.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is a symbol of alliance.  She is testament to Britain’s determination to inject real power into both NATO and the EU.  As Americans complain about burden-sharing or the lack of it here is a European ally that in spite of many challenges is willing to invest in the highest-end of high-end military capabilities.  Alongside the new Type 45 destroyers and Astute-class nuclear attack submarines joining or soon to join the Royal Navy this great ship will put Britain at the heart of NATO and EU task groups.  Indeed, her very existence will underpin all the navies across both the Alliance and Union.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is a symbol of partnership.  Britain made an historic mistake in the early 1970s by focusing exclusively on Europe and what became the EU. Whether Britain stays or leaves the EU this ship will help re-invigorate Britain’s traditional partnerships with countries like Australia, India and Japan (see history).  She will also help reinforce key partnerships with close, powerful friends such as France and Germany.  Critically, she will help keep America strong where America needs to be strong as Washington faces a growing gap between what it needs to be able to do and what it can afford to do. To that end, HMS Queen Elizabeth will be a vital partner of both the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps.

My belief in HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales has been absolute from the day they were conceived.  This is not simply because of the power projection or fighting power the two ships will afford London or the Carrier-enabled Power Projection in the strategy-documents, or indeed because I favour the Royal Navy over the British Army or Royal Air Force.  I do not.  As I write in my recent book Little Britain ( my belief in these ships is because of what they say about Britain and its future as a major power.  This has nothing to do with Britannia ruling the waves, but rather the willingness of a twenty-first European state to confront political realism with imagination and determination built on the recognition that credible military capability still underpins all power and influence.  

HMS Queen Elizabeth is a national strategic asset.  She is an entirely appropriate statement of strategic ambition for one of the world’s leading political, economic and military powers and will serve Britain and its allies and partners out to 2060 and beyond.  As such she will help reinvigorate the British strategic brand critical to keeping the West strong – the West that is today an idea rather than a place.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is a symbol of my country; a ship and a country of which I am justly proud.  HMS Queen Elizabeth is a big-picture ship of a big-picture country in a big-picture world. Let’s hope Britain really still is a big picture country.

Julian Lindley-French