hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 14 December 2018

A Brexit Briefing Note

To:      A Senior Italian

From: Professor Dr Julian Lindley-French

Date:   14 December 2018


In the wake of last night’s dinner at the European Council and the suspension by Her Majesty’s Government of the Parliamentary vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Britain’s exiting of the European Union is at an impasse.

·       If permitted to endure this impasse will further damage relations between the United Kingdom (UK), the European Union (EU) and its member states, and threaten to impact upon NATO.

·       The specific cause of friction is the so-called Irish Backstop which will be triggered in the event of no agreement on the future political and trading relationship between the EU and the UK.

·       In such circumstances, a part of the UK, Northern Ireland, would remain effectively part of the EU single market and customs union to prevent a so-called hard border on the island of Ireland. The fear is that a hard border could threaten the standing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended twenty-five years of armed struggle between Irish Nationalist and Republican groups and Loyalist and Protestant groups.

·       The failure to reach an agreement over the future political and trading relationship would see a de facto customs ‘border’ established in the Irish Sea between two parts of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

·       A significant section of the ruling Conservative and Unionist Party see such an infringement of national sovereignty as too high a price for an agreement with the EU and thus seek what they term a ‘clean Brexit’, i.e. no deal.

·       Last night the French and Irish governments respectively took a very hard line over any possible adjustment to, or indeed possible reassurances over, the temporary nature of the Backstop. This markedly increased the likelihood that on 29 March 2019 Britain will leave the EU without a deal, immediately become a so-called Third Country, and thus be excluded from both the single market and the customs union with profound implications for trade and the wider British and European economies.       


There are several background and more immediate political factors that have led to this situation. It is also fair to say that the seeds of Brexit were set back in 1972 when then Prime Minister Edward Heath suppressed the legal advice that confirmed the then European Economic Community had ambitions for political integration that went far beyond what was called by the British the ‘Common Market’. The causes of the current crisis can be thus summarised: 

·       The British Parliament formally, and overwhelmingly, contracted out the decision on Britain’s future membership of the EU to the British people in the form of the June 2016 referendum. However, much of Parliament and their Remainer followers in the country have refused to accept the result.    

·       In March 2017 the British Parliament also overwhelmingly agreed to invoke Article 50 and formally set in motion the formal two-year process of withdrawal from the treaties of the European Union.

·       In June 2017 Prime Minister May called a snap general election in an attempt to increase her majority in the House of Commons and thus strengthen her Brexit Parliamentary and negotiating positions. She achieved neither and since that failure has been forced to backtrack on the firm statements of British policy objectives she made in her January 2017 Lancaster House speech.

·       As her position became progressively weaker Prime Minister May side-lined her pro-Brexit ministers in the Cabinet and handed over the detailed negotiation of both the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on a Future Partnership to senior civil servants. Whilst professional the civil service has seen the negotiations as an exercise in damage limitation and thus further reduced Britain’s negotiating ambition.

·       The political weakness of Prime Minister May and the lack of certainty over Britain’s negotiating objectives enabled the European Commission to adopt a very hard-line negotiating position which has prevailed.

·       The forced disclosure last week to Parliament of the legal advice to the Prime Minister made it clear that the Withdrawal Agreement as envisaged would force Britain into a form of legal subservience to the EU and possibly in perpetuity. This led, in turn, this week to a triggering of a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister May. She won that vote but her political position has been further weakened.                    


Britain is suffering a humiliation at the hands of the EU and its member-states that is akin to a strategic defeat. If forced into a form of subservience to Brussels by becoming a so-called ‘rule-taker’ rather than a ‘rule-maker’ the implications for the EU, UK and possibly NATO are profound and can be thus summarised:

·       Possible break-up of the UK: with the humbling of London by Brussels Scottish Nationalists will increase efforts to secure Scottish independence. They will claim the real power in Scotland is Brussels, not London and that after some 415 years since the Union of Crowns in 1603 England and Scotland should separate.

·       Hatred of the EU: Across large swathes of so-called Middle England, the most powerful political constituency in the UK, the EU has traditionally been seen as an irritant. In the wake of such a defeat, the EU could well come to be hated and seen as a coercive power imposing a form of virtual occupation upon the UK.  

·       De facto loss of the UK to NATO: In such circumstances, the UK could well finally lose any will to play the role it has traditionally played as Europe’s strongest military power. Worse, a growing constituency in England is likely to question Britain’s security and defence commitment to Europe.

Possible ways forward:

·       No deal: under the terms of Article 50 this is the default position if the current situation pertains unless either A50 is suspended under the terms of this week’s European Court of Justice ruling, or extended in agreement with the EU in an attempt to find and/or finesse a politically-acceptable solution. As of last night, the latter option is unlikely as the European Council is unwilling to either renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement or even offer meaningful assurances on the temporary nature of the Backstop.

·       Another general election: this is the preferred option for the opposition Labour Party which if successful would see Jeremy Corbyn returned as Prime Minister. A Corbyn government, under pressure from its mainly young activists, would undoubtedly seek full membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union in what would in effect be a de facto renunciation of the Referendum. He would claim that his electoral mandate provided the legitimacy for such a reversal. However, Corbyn is to the far left of the political spectrum and holds life-long pacifist and Euro-sceptic views. He would likely move quickly to reduce defence expenditure and end Britain’s role as a strategic actor of any weight. He would also demand the EU suspend rules on state aid so he could begin a programme of renationalisation across swathes of British industry and transport. Corbyn is unlikely to get his way even if he triggers a vote of no confidence in the May government in the New Year (as he is threatening) because under the Fixed Term Parliament Act the next national vote is scheduled for no later than May 2022.  
·       Second referendum: There is a growing demand amongst Remainer campaign groups for a second referendum or ‘People’s Vote’ to reverse the June 2016 decision to leave.  Such a referendum is replete with dangers. It would be seen by many of the 17.4 million who voted to leave in 2016, in what was the biggest vote in British democratic history, as an attempt to simply deny them what they were promised when they voted – that Government would act on their decision. Such a vote would also be seen as the natural heir to the 2005 votes in Denmark, France and the Netherlands over the draft Constitutional Treaty and thus little more than an exercise in elite manipulation and betrayal. This would undoubtedly open the door to more populism and hatred of the EU. Such a vote would also take time to organise and hold. Finally, the incumbent Government would also need to legislate which Prime Minister May has said she will not do under any circumstances.

·       Adjusted Withdrawal Agreement: the most likely option at present is some adjustment to the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration to assuage the fears of those MPs who oppose the current deal. The so-called ‘meaningful vote’ must now take place prior to 21 January 2019. Downing Street is hoping that with 29 March fast approaching, and when faced with what hard-line Remainers call ‘crashing out’ of the EU, MPs will finally accept the current proposal. Without some adjustment, this hope is unlikely to be fulfilled unless there was a Damascene conversion on the part of large numbers of MPs publicly and implacably opposed to the Withdrawal Agreement.  Critically, the small Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (or DUP) currently props up May’s minority agreement and they are implacably opposed to any deal that treats Northern Ireland as separate from the rest of the UK. However, the French and Irish effectively blocked that possible route last night and in so doing tipped Anglo-Irish and Franco-British relations into crisis, thus confirming and reinforcing the impasse.

A Creative Way Forward?

One thing that has been apparent throughout this entire tragic process has been the lack of negotiating creativity on either side. All Europeans face emerging political and security challenges and to lose cohesion so profoundly at such a critical juncture is disastrous. That analysis was the main reason I actively campaigned to remain in the 2016 referendum. It may well be that the deadlock in Parliament will require some form of a referendum. However, such a vote could not, and should not, be seen as simply a ‘now get it right this time you morons’ vote for that would undoubtedly backfire. Therefore, any such vote would need to be the first vote on a new arrangement between the UK and the EU with the options on the voting slip leave or remain within the framework of the EU under new terms.

However, for such an idea to work the UK would need to accept that the writ of the European Court of Justice would endure across large swathes of British jurisprudence. Equally, for such an idea to have any chance of working the EU would also have to accept adjustments to the so-called four freedoms, most notably freedom of movement.  If successful Britain would become a Senior Associate Member of the EU and be exempted from further economic, monetary or political union unless it so chose. Such a status would befit Britain’s status as a top five world power and limit the reputational damage now being inflicted on the EU as the intransigent bureaucratic destroyer of democracy. A central concern of many Britons (this one included) is echoed across Europe – that the EU is morphing into some form of empire run by an unaccountable, distant elite with the gap between voting and power growing inexorably. The danger is that the EU is coming to be seen by millions as the Nemesis of democracy in Europe rather than its upholder.


My position is clear: I am an Englishman, a Briton and a European.  There is a danger now that those three identities will become mutually exclusive.  It has always been my belief that Europeans should seek to work ever closer together and that is still my position. However, that belief also contains within it implacable opposition to the gutting of the nation-state and the concentration of too much distant power in too few elite Brussels hands. Whilst I regret this situation profoundly my country is now under attack from hard-liners in Brussels and elsewhere and I will defend it whatever it takes, whether the attacks come from Dublin, Paris or wherever. 

This is because the stakes are so high for the Britain that I love. Britain was born as a strategic project and it will die if it is humiliated. Intended or not that humiliation is now underway from institutions in which I have believed for much of my life and from people I have long regarded as friends. Please be aware that these are the stakes if we fail to find an amicable solution to the Brexit imbroglio as friends. If not, along with many of my fellow Britons, I will join the Resistance.

Julian Lindley-French,

14 December 2018

Thursday, 13 December 2018

The European Defence and Security Dimension in Northern Europe

Alphen, Netherlands. 13 December. Yesterday I returned from Stockholm where I gave a speech at a conference jointly organised by my friend Anna Wieslander, Director of the Atlantic Council, and Berlin’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. The conference was entitled The European Defence and Security Dimension in Northern Europe. The session was chaired by my great friend Kate Hansen Bundt, Director of the Norwegian Atlantic Committee, and the speech considered the internal and external challenges for Northern European security. As you will read, in a week when Britain’s humiliation and loss of influence have been all too apparent I do not pull my punches on the possible defence-strategic implications of Brexit for Northern Europe.
The European Defence and Security Dimension in Northern Europe

Thanks, Kate. There are three questions this session addresses: How is the deteriorating security situation in Northern Europe relevant to the future development of European defence? How should the transatlantic link develop in light of deepened European defence co-operation? How will European defence co-operation with the UK look post-Brexit?
My core message is this: be it Arctic resources, the Northern Sea Passage, China’s interest in the region with the Arctic Road Initiative or Russia’s determination to defend its nuclear bastions and extend its access to the North Atlantic, including Moscow’s growing A2/AD bubble, Northern Europe is for the first time on the global frontline of systemic competition – both economic and strategic. Consequently, the allegiances of the democracies in the region will become more not less important. But, will they be any good?

How is the deteriorating security situation in Northern Europe relevant to the future development of European defence?
Relevant Fact: Of 116 major cyber-attacks identified by Crowdstrike Foundation, cyber-security specialists, in the first half of 2018 the Chinese and Russian state together were responsible for well over 60% of the attacks with over 35% of such attacks targeted on technology firms.

All open democratic societies face 5D warfare by the strategic autocracies and this region is no exception. Disinformation, destabilisation, disruption, destruction and deception are and will be applied across a new spectrum of escalation from hybrid war to cyberwar to possible high-end hyper war.
The method of war is to undermine the margins of Alliance and Union and to engage in war at the seams of complex, diverse societies with the aim of coercing people and thus undermine NATO and the EU in the eyes of its citizens to foster more instability. Consequently, there are no distinct flanks in Europe just places and peoples to be manipulated. The strongest defence is thus strategic solidarity, political cohesion, hardened systems and more robust and resilient peoples as part of a new partnership between the state and the citizen.

The good news is that whilst Northern Europe might be on the front-line of such attacks the states herein are sufficiently cohesive with the appropriate historical experience of galvanising society in defence to lead by example in the striking of a new balance between people protection and the projection of deterrence and the necessary defence power that deterrence and defence in the twenty-first century demands.
How should the transatlantic link develop in light of deepened European defence co-operation? 

Relevant fact: According to General Mark Milley, the newly-appointed Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs, during his testimony to the Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee on Defense, if one strips out the relatively high cost of US labour the combined defence outcomes China and Russia generate are dangerously close to that of the US, and far, far beyond any defence outcomes Europeans aspire to.
General Milley, went on. “I’ve seen comparative numbers of US defence budget versus China, US defence budget versus Russia. What is not often commented on is the cost of labour. We’re the best-paid military in the world by a long shot. The cost of Russian soldiers or Chinese soldiers is a tiny fraction”. In other words, US forces maybe over-paid, but they are also over-stretched, over here and pretty much everywhere which magnifies the military purchasing power parity of China and Russia which is already far closer to that of the US than a mere comparison of headline budgets would suggest.

The message is clear: if the US defence guarantee to Europeans is to be maintained given the global reach US forces must maintain in the face of an aggressive Russia and a strategically-insurgent China, not to mention the regionally-strategic challenge posed by the Middle East and North Africa, Europeans are going to have to become far more militarily capable and able in the worst-case to act as effective first responders. The question is how?
Neither PESCO nor the European Defence Fund suggests the EU, in terms of defence strategic ambition, envisages a European defence capability that will transform the European pillar of the transatlantic relationship. Creating ever more acronyms without ever more forces will not solve Europe’s defence gap.

Therefore, the transatlantic link is likely to become more transactional and more conditional even as it becomes more important with coalitions of the strategically-willing and really capable the future unless institutional European defence – NATO and/or the EU – finally gets its act together.  On that front, it is interesting that the British are now talking about a Five Eyes satellite positioning system now London has effectively been expelled from Galileo (for which Britain has paid a lot of its taxpayer’s money and invested much technology).
The bottom line is this: it is hard to imagine the US relying on neither NATO nor the EU in an emergency as they are currently resourced and postured.   

How will European Defence co-operation with the UK look post-Brexit?
Relevant fact: post-Brexit some 80% of European defence capacity will be outside the EU. The UK already represents 25% of European defence capacity.

European defence depends on a committed Britain. However, Britain is undergoing a national humiliation akin to a strategic defeat at the hands of its partners and allies that potentially has huge implications for the future defence of Europe. As a very sensible fellow Briton put it to me recently, “why should we defend those bastards when they are trying to force us into submission and subservience?”  Let me be blunt. Do not think for a moment that European defence can be separated from Brexit as the hard-line taken by the European Commission over Galileo has revealed. In the Brexit worst-case such defence-strategic co-operation could be deeply undermined if the political relationship becomes even more toxic. No Galileo, no access to British intelligence?
Yes, at one level we British are going nowhere. I fully acknowledge and support Britain’s defence-strategic engagement in Northern Europe with its focus on the Joint Expeditionary Force or JEF. And, it is good to see that two Royal Navy ships have visited Stockholm in the past six months.  The close co-operation between Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian and British forces during the recent NATO Exercise Trident Juncture was particularly important.

But, let me be equally clear about the Brexit danger we all face: I campaigned for Remain but like many British people I will never accept aspects of the current EU Withdrawal Agreement, specifically the so-called Irish backstop as currently envisaged. Worse, if Britain is manipulated back into the EU via some ‘now get it right this time you morons’ second referendum then, whilst the EU was seen as an irritant by many in the past, it could well come to be hated, a form of virtual occupation. It is utterly unacceptable for other Europeans to humiliate a top five world power, be it by design or by error, and expect that power to defend them at one and the same time.  
You do not want that and I do not want that, so let’s not go there. We need together to find a basis for a real, enduring and legitimate partnership between Britain and the EU that ensures our people can commit if needs be to the real price that credible defence demands – a willingness to put national treasure and British lives on the line in your defence.  If such a relationship is not forged then make no mistake popular support in Britain for defending other Europeans will plummet.  Of course, the Mediocracy who run Britain will not admit any of what I am telling you but this IS the reality you must all confront if you want Britain to engage fully in the future defence of Europe. In other words, you will need to consider burden-sharing not just with the Americans, but also the nature of the future strategic relationship between Britain and the EU which, like it or not, will have profound implications for NATO and thus the security of Northern Europe.

In fact, Britain’s strategic drift towards the mid-Atlantic is already underway.  You should examine the defence-strategic choices the British are making rather than the words London is using.  All the major defence investments are in areas where the British can rely upon and/or are dependent on US systems and defence-industrial capabilities – maritime/amphibious power projection built around new US Marine-friendly Queen Elizabeth class heavy aircraft carriers, data-linked F-35 Lightning II air assets, new Astute-class nuclear-powered attack submarines and new Dreadnought-class ballistic missile submarines.   In an emergency, the British Army is meant to generate two divisions under NATO command for the defence of Europe. Fat chance of that with the Army at its smallest since Napoleonic times.
The implicit strategic message? Britain is a nuclear-armed island and, in the worst case, if somewhere on Europe’s margins fell to a fait accompli Russian attack, and whilst London would see such an attack as disastrous, it is hard to see Britain going to war given the current configuration and capability of Britain’s armed forces, the state of British politics and the stretched relationships between Britain and its European partners.  Thankfully, having worked at both the EU and NATO I am still confident in the enduring nature of our friendships and the creativity we can all foster, and that given goodwill a solution to the Brexit imbroglio can be found with which we are all comfortable.

The only real winner if this mess continues would be President Putin and others who wish none of us well. I want the JEF to be an exercise in real defence co-operation aimed at boosting deterrence rather than some Brexit political crisis management gambit that is little more than an exercise in damage limitation.  
Galileo anyone?

Thanks, Kate. 
Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

St Malo: Defending Europe Twenty Years On

Last week some of you will have read (hopefully) my blog E.U.S.E.L.E.S.S? The blog questioned the practicality of President Macron’s plans for deeper European defence integration twenty years on from the St Malo Declaration. In the wake of the blog, a very senior French friend and colleague of many year’s standing challenged my thinking in his usual insightful and balanced way. I am not at liberty to publish his emails but below is an edited precis of the two responses I offered which expand on my thinking about the role of Europeans in their own defence and the future of a necessarily adapted post-Brexit transatlantic relationship.

Cher Ami,

Forgive my tardy response to your, as ever, considered reflections. Let me cut straight to the chase. You are right that Europeans have common interests as you are right that the UK has at times been a brake on French and other ambitions for deeper European defence integration. That said, St Malo was always an exercise in studied ambiguity. The British made it perfectly clear on HMS Birmingham twenty years ago that they did not share the political ambitions of President Chirac for the then European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). That France talked up St Malo was both France's right and responsibility at one and the same time. Moreover, I also accept that President Macron is seeking deeper European defence co-operation rather than integration per se, although the language he employs is the stuff of European integration. As for the stuff about President Trump and the US, I just ignored it.

Still, I stand by my realistic (as opposed to conservative) analysis; we have been here so many times before. Yes, France has ambitions for a European force but few others share that ambition. Critically, Germany does not which means that in spite of some soothing words from Berlin NOTHING much will happen...AGAIN!

At the same time, Paris seems to live in a strange fantasy that it can aggressively seek to damage Britain over Brexit but still preserve the substance rather than the appearance of the Franco-British strategic partnership. Dream on, my friend. Without France and Britain in the lead together there is no chance of a 'European defence' being generated that has more warriors than words. And, no chance whatsoever of President Macron's ambitions being realised, especially if such ambitions are presented as, or implied as being, an anti-British French démarche. For example, the Dutch have made that perfectly clear to me. 

There is also a chance that France will end up isolated by this game. Senior Americans have made it perfectly clear to me that Washington will back London. Unless Berlin backs Paris beyond soothing words the danger is that France will be left out of the power game that is always the real essence of European defence. With friendship and respect, I think the mistake you make is to see defence integration as a step on the road to political union. If it is EVER going to happen defence integration can only come as a consequence of political union and we are a very long way from that. 

What we need is a European military capability that can act as an effective first responder in and around Europe across a spectrum of threats. Indeed, the security and defence guarantee afforded by an over-stretched America can only be credibly afforded if we Europeans do far more JOINTLY together from tail to teeth. Unless PESCO, the European Intervention Initiative (EII) et al are going to make a real contribution to resolving that pressing conundrum they are little more than political distractions at a time of strategic danger if they offer no real, substantive increase in and improvement to European military capabilities. Worse, once again another bout of this endless and pointless 'European Army' debate enables free riders to free ride and the strategically-illiterate to hide behind false dreams. It is a merry-go-round of strategic irresponsibility at a time when Europeans can ill afford such petits fours luxuries that in reality keep the debate on the future of defending Europe frozen at the level of political inputs rather than the defence outcomes we Europeans desperately need to generate. 

So, my challenge to you as a Briton is thus: OK France if you believe you can deliver a European force sufficiently able, capable and usable in time then be my guest. Show us the way. After all, we have been here before and nothing much has happened, other than Britain has been blamed when it has not worked out. After all, Britain is leaving the EU and now is your chance. I am not holding my breath as I am fully aware the real reason why there has been so little progress towards deeper European defence integration is that there is no shared strategic culture upon which to base it.

Which brings me to France and Britain. Given the threats that are emerging around us I have been pushing hard for the maintenance of post-Brexit vital relationships, with the Franco-British strategic partnership to fore. As you know, it is a partnership in which I profoundly believe with a France that I continue to see as a firm friend. Still, my expert perception is that France is seeking to exploit Britain's current difficulties with President Macron often taking the hardest of stances against Britain. Faced with such intransigence I will defend my country even though I am deeply saddened by what has happened. You and I are both historians and you know how ready we English are to respond to a French challenge, and vice versa. So, let's not go there. We are friends not enemies. 

My simple position (and I have stated this publicly to senior Americans) is that it is time for Europeans to become less dependent on the US and that it is also in the American interest that Europeans become more strategically autonomous. Here, I am in full agreement with President Macron. My frustration is I suspect shared by my many French friends and concerns the need to get on with the development of such a capability that by definition would need to include Britain. The hard truth is that the main cause of European dependence on the US is the inability of Europeans to defend themselves. End such dependence through the procurement of relevant capability at a sufficiency of capacity and strategic autonomy will be a natural by-product. 

It will not come cheap. Having looked into the nature, scope and cost of 'strategic autonomy' my assessment is that to replace the 'public good' implicitly and concretely provided by US, and to a far lesser extent by the UK, and without further weakening the current NATO-centric defence (key point), would require at least 3% GDP expenditure on defence per annum. France and Germany, as leaders, would quite possibly be required to spend up to 4% to set up a properly strategic and expensive European état-major (HQ). Now, that could be spent enhancing the EUMS (EU Military Staff) or jointly. My strong belief is that in the first instance such investments would need to be spent jointly as only over time could the invested structures evolve into a 'défense commune'.  

Which brings me to what might seem at present to be a paradoxical proposal for a deeper Franco-British strategic partnership. First, European 'strategic autonomy' of any credibility rests for the time being on the Franco-British strategic partnership holding firm in spite of Brexit. Second, France should now propose a deepening of that relationship (it was never an EU dependent relationship) the moment Britain formally withdraws on 29 March 2019. The Mediocracy who run Britain simply cannot afford to look anymore needy than they already are by approaching France with a defence begging bowl. Third, Britain should seek a formal and complete relationship as part of the above initiative with President Macron's EII with France’s strong backing.

In a sense, such an approach would re-create the St Malo, Cologne Summit, Helsinki Declaration dynamic of 1998-1999. Back then we collectively committed to the formation of a 60,000 strong European Rapid Reaction Force of sufficient mass and manoeuvre to give St Malo some defence weight. The creation of such a force as a concrete output of PESCO, EII and all the other acronyms with which European defence is so burdened would remind everyone involved in the sorry saga that is Brexit that we are friends, allies and partners. And, that Brexit is a second order issue when it comes to the very dangerous 'First Order World' into which we Europeans are headed, with many of the most dangerous ‘bits’ being in Europe's strategic neighbourhood.

To conclude, we need the pragmatic rebuilding of European military power under Franco-British leadership. If WE don't do it no-one else will. In time, the non-British bit that emerges might lead to some form of European defence integration that could in future form the European pillar of an adapted Alliance with the UK part of an Americo/Anglosphere within the framework of the Alliance. With ‘Five Eyes’ ever more important as a strategic coalition I would suggest to you that is already happening, at least in part.

Britain is already withdrawing from the defence of Europe, whatever the political rhetoric to the contrary. If one looks at where the bulk of Britain's capital defence investment is going it is not to build a continental army. Indeed, the British Army of today is smaller than the Old Contemptibles of 1914! The bulk of the investment is going in US-friendly maritime/amphibious/air power projection assets such as Queen Elizabeth class heavy aircraft carriers, F35 Lightning 2 aircraft, Astute class nuclear hunter-killers, Type 26 and 31 destroyers and frigates and Dreadnought class nuclear ballistic missile subs). This is not to mention Britain’s world-class intelligence assets which the rest of Europe cannot do without and which is an unspoken (and often typically unacknowledged) British contribution to European security. In other words, there is a real danger that France and the rest of the Continent will effectively lose Britain from its defence whatever the Mediocracy in London say. Do you want that?  If you do then so be it. The hard line taken against Britain’s access to Galileo is both a sign and legalistic nonsense for which you will pay a strategic price. 

I will, of course, let you know when I am next in Paris as dining together would be a delight!



Friday, 30 November 2018

Dire Straits? Black Sea Security Perspectives

This blog contains the speech I had the honour to give on Wednesday at the excellent Defence and Security Conference in Bucharest, Romania which was organised by the British Embassy.   
The title of this session is Black Sea Regional Security Perspectives. Perhaps it should have been entitled ‘’Dire Straits’ given what has happened in the Kerch Strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

From my distinctly Yorkshire perspective looking at a map it is hard to separate such regional perspectives from the wider perspective of European security in 2018 and Russia’s ‘fact-changing on the ground’ ambitions therein. As events this week demonstrate this region is one of the major friction points of a wider Euro-strategic struggle between President Putin’s Russia and the West. General Mark Carleton-Smith, Head of the British Army, said this past weekend that Russia is now a bigger threat than IS and that Moscow will seek to exploit any vulnerability and any weakness. Geopolitics is afoot in this region and it is exacerbating and being used to exploit more regional-specific tensions and it is the link between the two upon which I will concentrate.

The essence of the regional-strategic challenge is Russia’s efforts to re-draw the map of eastern and south-eastern Europe in order to re-establish a new/old sphere of influence herein. What is particularly concerning is the method of ‘warfare’ the Russians are employing across a new spectrum of conflict from hybrid, cyber to high-end, and what my good friend General John Allen calls hyper war.

Central to that strategy is war in many forms at the margins of the alliance and at the seams within society. Such a strategy can be particularly effective in societies which are deeply contested or in which elites are open to undue influence. 

Against that backdrop let me address briefly the five issues central to this session: Russian pressure on Allied unity; the implications of the Crimean and Ukrainian crises; the problems of Transnistria, maritime challenges in the Black Sea and the frameworks for regional and sub-regional co-operation.

Russian pressure on Allied unity:

Russia has crafted a new way of warfare that I call 5D warfare that reaches across a conflict of conflict and escalation from disinformation to disruption to destabilisation and possibly to destruction and all leveraged by copious doses of deception. Again, war at the seams and the margins, informed by Strategic Maskirovka (see my 2015 paper for the Canadian Global Affairs Institute) and aided and abetted by the denial from which Western political elites suffer.

The virtual Soviet Union - implications of the Crimea and Ukrainian crises

Those implications are plain to see – Russia will do whatever it deems necessary to exert control and influence over places it believes vital to its expansionist national interest and the recreation of what it deems unilaterally as ‘buffer states’ between itself and the rest of Europe – a kind of virtual Soviet Union is you will. For sake of elegance let me divide the Crimea and Ukraine crises into two. The Crimean crisis has shown the willingness of Moscow to change borders in Europe by force if it believes the strategic prize worth it. In this case, it is the ability of Russia and in particular the Russian Black Seas Fleet to project influence into the region and beyond into southern Europe, the Levant and beyond into the Gulf and the Middle East and North Africa.

The Ukrainian crisis is also an example of 5D warfare in action designed to keep Kiev and other states off balance politically and permanently, to exert influence through uncertainty by making Allied and EU member-states unsure as to their true security and thus help shape the choices and policies that make. Put simply, for as long as Russia can get away with the nibbling away of other’s state sovereignty it will and by all means possible.


This is indeed a complex issue. With some 34% of the population ethnic Russians Moscow has some claim to an interest in Transnistria which is one reason why the so-called ‘autonomous territorial unit’ has remained locked in a post-Soviet ‘frozen conflict’. 

And, even though President Putin has hinted that he believes Transnistria falls on the Western side of his imaginary boundary for the sphere of influence he is carving out the fact of the struggle and its proximity to Moldova, Ukraine and Romania makes it again fertile territory for the kind of war at the seams and at the margins I outline earlier. Do I have solutions? No. However, I am clear that Russia will endeavour to fill all and any political vacuum in central and eastern Europe.  

The Black Sea Maritime challenge:

The Russian Black Seas fleet is clearly in a position to seal off the Black Sea and to use it as the base for operations of varying intensity against states around the sea. Clearly, Moscow would prefer a strategic partnership with Turkey to enable the Fleet to gain access to the Mediterranean. However, given the focus on armed influence protection of contemporary Russian policy all NATO and EU allies across the region and partners – Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and, of course, Georgia should be concerned about the type of forces the Russians are developing in the region as the modernisation programmes of the armed forces bear fruit.

Let me cite an example. From a Romanian point of view any threat to the Port of Constanta would be serious. It has the capacity to handle 100,000,000 tons of goods per year at its 156 berths. The Danube-Black Sea Canal is a vital transit between Romania and Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Slovakia and Germany.

The centrality of the port to the Romanian economy cannot be over-estimated, as the European Commission has stated. It is also extremely vulnerable to disruption and coercion.

So, what needs to be done? One should not underestimate Russian ambitions to force states in the region to look to Moscow (again) as much as they now look to Brussels. THAT is the essential contest and one could imagine the Eurasian Union being strengthened in time as part of such a strategy.

At the policy level Romania and its allies need to counter 5D warfare by helping embed such concepts at the heart of NATO defence and deterrence and the EU’s CFSP and CSDP.  Cross region institutional ties also need to be strengthened, such as the Regional Co-operation Council with strategies such as South-East Europe 2020 strengthened and taken forward. Investments in infrastructure that further embeds Romania and the wider region in the free economy are also vital.

However, there are a range of strategic steps that should be considered now:

1.     A new Romanian security concept to counter coercion across the hybrid-cyber-hyper spectrum, with UK help if requested’

2.     Improved indicators to identify when hybrid warfare is being enacted and where it could lead. This will, of course, be dependent on strengthened relationships in intelligence with strong allies such as the United Kingdom, possibly through close bilateral as well as multilateral relationships.       

  There are also a range of practical political steps Romania might wish to consider to render itself more resilient in the face of war at the seams of society and ‘war’ at the margins of the Alliance and the Union.

1.     Make critical infrastructure (such as Constanta) more resilient to cyber and other forms of disruptive attack.

2.     Make critical people more robust by making it harder for corruption to work.

3.     Modernise our security and defence forces to ensure they meet the challenge of the coming age not the past. 

There are also a range of institutional reforms I think we must all take together:

1.     The EEAS should be strengthened and given more resources to engage more effectively in frozen conflicts such as Transnistria.

2.     NATO deterrence and defence need to be upgraded to emphasis early-warning with much of it based on AI, quantum computing and machine-learning to help identify the algorithms of complex 5D attack.

3.     NATO has said it will not undertake offensive cyber but as part of a new concept of deterrence it is hard to see how we can ‘deter’ without it’.

Perhaps the greatest need is political. i.e. that all of us recognise that we are once again in a contested strategic space called Europe, that we are on the same side in this struggle and that all Europeans are in this together, with Britain and Romania to the fore and in which the worst-case really could be the most realistic case.

One final thought – institutions matter. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that the essence of the tension with Russia here in South-East Europe is about the rights of free, sovereign states to choose their own strategic alignments and alliances and a kind of Moscow Machtpolitik, Realpolitik, zero-sum, sphere of influence free for no-one but Russia in which Russian local might is right.

Therefore, if we collectively are to engage with Russia it must be from a position of strength. In other words, we need a new dual-track approach to Russia – committed dialogue and strong defence.

To finish, let me go back to my map. Look at it. Like it or not, Romania and the whole South-East European region is again at the epicentre of geopolitics and we all need the strength of mind to realise that. In the security and defence domain relationships matter and in spite of the current political turbulence one vital strategic partnership which this conference is rightly helping to strengthen is that between the UK and Romania.

Happy 100th birthday Romania!

Thank you.

Julian Lindley-French,


28 November 2018  

Monday, 26 November 2018

E.U.S.E.L.E.S.S? Is Macron’s Euro-Army ‘truly’ that barmy?

“We will not protect Europeans unless we decide to have a true European Army”.

President Emmanuel Macron, 6 November 2018

The European Acronym Soup Troop

Alphen, Netherlands. 26 November. Friendly-Clinch's First Iron Law of European Defence is the more the acronyms the weaker the force.  Indeed, if aggregating acronyms was the mark of military might then ‘Europe’ would be a superpower. Since 1996 when I completed my doctorate on European defence at EUI (European University Institute) we first had the NATO-friendly ESDI (European Security and Defence Identity) for the WEU (Western European Union) the same year. In 1998 the Franco-British St Malo Declaration paved the way for ESDP (European Security and Defence Policy) whilst in 1999 the Headline Goal came and most definitely went before the ESS (European Security Strategy) was penned mostly by refined hot air in 2003 before we arrived at the unfortunate misnomer that is CSDP (Common Security and Defence Policy with the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009.

In the past year alone we have had PESCO 2 (Permanent Structured Co-operation - PESCO 1 was part of Lisbon) and E2/EII (Macron’s European Intervention Initiative) to be partly funded by the EDF (European Defence Fund) armed with a ‘massive’ defence investment pot of €5bn per annum from 2020 onwards. Being an expert on ‘European Defence’ sometimes feels like being a bit-part actor in that old Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day as another load of stuck-in-time, bad politics dressed up as good strategy leadership BS (another military acronym) about Europe, the EU and defence is proclaimed over and over and over again. What makes Macron’s call any different?

Macron’s Machinations

Putting aside the Gallic elite penchant for drawing out Gaullist ‘grands dessins’ from the gilded cabinets of the Elysée whenever a French president suffers an outbreak of ‘les gilets jaunes’, President Macron might have a point, if that is he means what I hope he means. Over the many years I have studied and worked on European defence it has oscillated between incapability and ‘unuseability’ usually ‘achieving’ both. Serial and persistent underfunding of defence by European states has rendered most of Europe’s armed forces incapable in the face of the threats they face. 

Two specific factors seem to be driving Macron’s thinking. First, he has fallen out with President Trump.  In any case, Monsieur le president clearly understands that with growing pressures worldwide on US forces the danger is that the American security guarantee to Europe will become less credible over time unless Europeans can increase their own military might. Second, in the wake of the Brexit ‘deal’ Macron has decided to become a ‘frenemy’ of Europe’s only other military power of any note – Britain. Macron has made it clear he intends to lead the charge to punish Britain for Brexit in the upcoming negotiations over the future relationship between Britain and the EU. In so doing Macron will sacrifice the Franco-British Strategic Partnership that both London and Paris had once hoped would form the basis for a European joint future force. The French are even threatening to build windmills on the Agincourt battlefield, damn it! Once more unto the breach…?

‘True’ European defence?

The problem for Macron is that ‘True’ European defence if that is what he means, will not come to pass until a ‘true’ European government is in place and Europeans, most notably the French, are a very long way from sanctioning that. The prospect of an EU Army was always deemed unworkable by anyone vaguely sensible because without a European Government it would be unusable if all 28, soon-to-be 27, EU member-states did not agree. President Macron might wish to consult the history books and see why the first great attempt to create a European Army failed. In October 1954 the EDC (another acronym), or European Defence Community, was killed off by the French precisely because Paris could not bring itself to scrap a latter-day version of the ‘Grande Armée’ in favour of a genuinely federalist European structure. My sense of the French is little has changed on that score, not least because the French like many other Europeans still insist rightly on a final national say when it comes to sending their young men and women into harm’s way. In a democracy, one should only be sent to one’s death by people one had at least the chance to vote for.

There is also an apparent flaw in the thinking behind President Macron’s call for deeper ‘joint’ (i.e. nationally-controlled but collectively-applied) European forces in that the way forward he has suggested is first to pool defence budgets, particularly procurement budgets, which is also good for the French defence industry of course. The more one pools the more one integrates. One paradox of European defence is that only through defence integration would Europeans ever come close to generating the kind of military capabilities at the level of capacity they would need to be for Europeans to be ‘truly’ strategically autonomous from the Americans, as Macron has called for. The other paradox is that whilst such a force might act as an effective ‘common’ deterrent against any external foe planning to attack the EU, it would kill off at a stroke any chance that France could project force as an independent power in pursuit of what Paris deems it national collective security interests.

Future war, Europe today

What President Macron should be suggesting if his vision for European defence is gain any traction is that irrespective of the politics of the moment ‘defence’ is about strategic outcomes and in this case how to effectively defend Europeans against military and other dangerous megatrends. It is high time Europeans started to think properly about how they will defend themselves against future industrial warfare. As the world stands on the brink of the Fourth Industrial Revolution the nature of warfare is likely to change profoundly. Future war will reach across what I call the 4Ds of disinformation, destabilisation, disruption and destruction with an added fifth ‘d’ deception added for good measure. Future war will also extend across a spectrum of domains from hybrid warfare, which weaponises information to cyber warfare that does the same in the digital domain, then onto the ultra-dangerous high-end of hyper warfare in which advanced, intelligent technologies inflict ‘intelligent’ destruction on structures, systems and societies. In other words, a new balance needs to be sought between people protection and power projection if the democracies are to retain the capacity to act in an emergency.  

There is a third European defence paradox. Whilst Full Metal Jacket European defence integration might be a disaster for France it might make sense for a lot of other less powerful EU member-states. Whatever level of defence investment small European states commit their stand-alone forces will always be both incapable and unusable unless they are embedded within structures such as the EU or NATO.  This is the reason why the NATO Defence Investment Pledge exists of 2% GDP per annum on defence of which 20% must be spent on new equipment. It is also the reason for the 17 collaborative projects of PESCO 2. In other words, if any group of states should lead the way towards an EU Army it is the smaller powers, not France.

Groundhog St Malo

There is a final twist to European defence in this Brexit week. On 3 December 1998, twenty years ago next week, President Jacques Chirac of France and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain agreed the St Malo Declaration. The Declaration states, “…the Union must have the capacity for autonomous actions, back up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them, and a readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises”. Amen to that!

However, for all of Macron’s ambition, my conversations of late with a range of senior Europeans confirms that few if any are willing to make the kind of defence or security investments that would replace the Americans and exclude the British or eclipse NATO with the EU. Indeed, the debate still remains focussed on what price the Americans will rightfully demand of their European allies to remain the backbone of an essentially Atlanticist future European defence.                  

Therefore, whilst Macron’s European Army is not barmy unless the Americans and British are on board Macron’s vision for European defence will remain more Bill Murray than Bill Moltke. Or, should that be Jacques Tati? Jour de Fete anyone?

 Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Brexit Withdrawal Agreement: Analysis, Assessment and Reflection

A frictionless future?

Alphen, Netherlands. 20 November. At last, something Brexit to analyse, so I will analyse! The Draft Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and European Atomic Energy Community.

The draft Withdrawal Agreement implies delivery at some point (but no more than that) of many of the Brexit promises made, although not in full, and not immediately.  The Agreement will at some point end unfettered freedom of movement, there will eventually be an end to large annual British payments to the European Union, and Britain will in time cease to be a member of the Single Market and THE customs union, although London will almost certainly remain part of A customs union. There will also be a formal end (of sorts) to Britain’s membership of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy.

However, a significant problem remains the status of Northern Ireland and the so-called ‘backstop’. During the transition period which is currently scheduled to end on December 31st 2020, and which Prime Minister Theresa May prefers to call the ‘implementation period’, the whole of the UK must remain within the EU customs territory. Any disputes would be settled by a joint committee but any issue relating to EU law would be settled by the European Court of Justice of which the UK would cease to be a member come March 29th 2019.

The treaty agreeing a future relationship is wholly dependent on there being a technical solution found to enable frictionless movement of goods, services and people across the inner-Irish border for fear that a restored active border could endanger peace in Northern Ireland and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that sealed it. Both the EU and the UK have committed to ‘best endeavours’ to find such a solution within the timeframe of the transition. However, if no solution is found the British face the prospect of being locked into a permanent customs union on Brussels’ terms with a high level of regulatory alignment with a whole host of EU rules and regulations without limited influence over them. Alternatively, the British could step outside of the customs arrangement but would be required to establish an implicit border in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland thus weakening the integrity of the UK (and the Good Friday Agreement if hard-line Unionists resist).  

The critical issue is that the Agreement locks the backstop into legal perpetuity once it is established, which is of dubious legality under public international law.  One very senior British lawyer, Remainer and former Attorney-General Lord Falconer claims there is no legal basis for a treaty which denies a party that has given reasonable notice the right to abrogate an instrument that affects its borders in such a way. Therefore, it is quite possible that a legal challenge could be mounted against the Agreement and without some softening of the language it is very hard to see how Parliament or future British governments can or would accept it. 

The Political Dividing Lines

May’s treatment of the Irish question also reveals her attitude towards the kind of full sovereignty Brexit Boris Johnson and other Brexiteers want. In international relations, very few states enjoy full sovereignty as most are constrained by a complex web of treaties and agreements. However, faced by a divided Cabinet and Party and under pressure from big business and HM Treasury May effectively scrapped what might be termed a strategic and political Brexit in favour of a narrow, technical Brexit and in 2017 effectively handed over ‘competence’ for its negotiation to the civil service with instructions simply to get a deal. Given that Britain was from that point on the demandeur the negotiations effectively boiled down to the actual political and financial price Britain would pay for access to EU markets.  And, as the Treasury and big business strengthened their respective grips policy issues were subordinated to supply chains. The result is that Brexit has become precisely that; a supply chain Brexit. 

It is May’s shift from Brexit means Brexit to the preservation of supply chains at almost any cost which has exacerbated the political divisions that now exist.  By abandoning the commitments she made in the Lancaster House and Florence speeches, as well as her so-called ‘red lines’, she has reinforced a sense amongst many that promises have been broken. This makes it unlikely that May will succeed in getting the Agreement through the House of Commons (at least in the first instance). Full sovereignty Brexiteers believe she has betrayed Brexit, whilst the ten MPs of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) upon which her minority government depends for survival are likely to withdraw their formal support under the so-called Confidence and Supply Agreement if Northern Ireland is treated differently from the rest of the UK. On the Remainer side, there is disquiet that the Agreement fails to commit Britain to the Single Market.   Her parlous political situation has been created by the promises she made in the immediate aftermath of Brexit and before she lost her majority in the House of Commons which implied a hard or ‘clean’ Brexit.   

May has also failed to communicate effectively the sheer complexity associated with disentangling 45 years of deep statutory engagement in the EU. One problem she faces is that the extent of Britain’s entanglement in EU law went far beyond what most British political leaders were ever willing to admit to the British people.  The EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier has suggested that the transition period will now need to be extended to December 2022. This is almost certainly correct. Unfortunately, May continues to deny the length of time it will take for Brexit in any form to be realised.

A fait accompli

In essence, Britain is now faced with a fait accompli because foolishly (or deliberately) there are insufficient plans in place to deal with a 'no deal' scenario.  Without an Agreement in place, Britain’s formal departure from the EU next March generate real friction at the UK’s borders with profound implications for the vital relationships upon which Britain’s trade depends.  The paradox is that Britain now has little alternative but to rely on an Agreement that will please no-one and which future British governments will doubtless seek to overturn. As such this agreement reflects May’s singular political talent for delaying the consequences of hard choices until a later date.   

The Agreement effectively leaves Britain in a strategic no man’s land between two extremes. Those who envision Britain becoming a ‘Singapore of the Atlantic’, which is highly unlikely and those who simply seek to cancel Brexit. What the Agreement will ensure is that Brexit will remain a toxic issue in British politics for the foreseeable future as it leaves Britain’s relationship with the EU wholly unresolved.  

Worse, there is now every possibility that some EU member-states will seek to change the terms of the Agreement or at least insist that so-called ‘side agreements’ are tacked on. France, Spain, the Netherlands and Denmark have expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of a British commitment to permit their respective fishing fleets to access British waters. Spain has expressed deep concerns about the status of Gibraltar.  


There was a certain symmetry reading some of the details of the Withdrawal Agreement in Rome on a seat overlooking the ruins of the Circo Massimo and Nero’s palace.  History has been in full flow this week with anaemic analogies all over the place.  Dunkirk? Suez? In fact, one need look no further than Brexit I for an appropriate analogy. In November 1534 King Henry VIII of England began in earnest the first Brexit by breaking with Rome and the Catholic Church. To suggest that the first ‘withdrawal agreement’ was a tad complicated is perhaps a masterclass in English understatement. It was probably not before Cromwell won the English Civil War in 1649, or even the Glorious Revolution of 1689 before Brexit I was finally concluded. Brexit II?  

Whilst it is unlikely to take that long to confirm Brexit II reading the draft Agreement confirmed to me that this flawed deal marks only the end of the beginning not the beginning of the end of this new schism. Such moments are times for pragmatism and it would be useful if all parties to this conflict took a step back and saw Brexit in its wider strategic context. Europe stands on the verge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and a revolution in civil-military technology that imply as much threat as opportunity. It is vital Europeans stand together in the face of such change.  

The exercising of statecraft imposes discipline and at this moment of fracture, it is to be hoped that the relationships therein are maintained and that the very process of transition/implementation introduces some much-needed calm. And, that the process itself will also lead responsible figures on both sides to recognise that the Agreement on offer will simply not stick if it continues to create resentment on both sides of the Channel. Finally, a real, equitable and sustainable political settlement will need to be fashioned.

Personal reflection 

Some months ago I was asked by someone in Downing Street very close to May for ideas. My answer was simple and to the point: Prime Minister May must show some bloody leadership! In the email to Downing Street, I also suggested that there was no way out of the Brexit trap in which Britain is currently enmeshed without a major political and constitutional crisis,. That crisis is not breaking.  My specific advice was that whilst I might not like everything she does I would accept her leadership if I felt she was acting in the best interests of the country. It is my contention that given the circumstances Prime Minister May is providing such leadership.

Having dissembled for two years for the past six months she has done exactly what I asked – lead (and no I am not claiming it was my influence). She has also done things I do not like. So be it. She is the prime minister and I am not.  She also continues to infuriate me at times with her lack of trust in the British people and she has made some egregious political errors which have made an already hard mission nigh on impossible.  There is no other option but to give May and the Withdrawal Agreement the benefit of my very considerable doubt. There is no sensible alternative. Equally, my faith in May and the wider British government (the Mediocracy?) has been much undermined by what can only be described as strategic and political incompetence.

Julian Lindley-French