hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Thursday, 1 October 2015

SDSR 2015: The Second Battle of (Max) Hastings

Alphen, Netherlands. 1 October. Sir Max Hastings is the doyen of British military history and strategy and more often than not an expert with whom I am in violent agreement. However, in an op-ed for The Times this week entitled, “Britain needs more in its arsenal than loose-lipped generals and No. 10 fudge” Hastings misses the point about the forthcoming Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR 2015) and the future force the British are (as ever) stumbling towards. The armed forces of Great Powers serve four purposes: to reinforce the state; to generate and project the influence of the state; to deter other states and those with pretencions to be a state from projecting their influence; and if needs be to punish and defeat the enemies of the state through violence. Therefore, given the world into which Britain and its armed forces are moving SDSR 2015 should champion a defence-strategic concept that enables Britain to exert political influence over allies and partners, and a future force established on what I call the Super Joint Force Concept.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have not suddenly become a No 10 spin doctor.  SDSR 2015 will indeed be the “fudger’s fudge” about which Hastings warns. Hastings is also surely right when he suggests there is a “…mismatch between commitments and military resources”.  Hastings certainly nails the strategic soufflé that is David Cameron when he writes about the, “prime minister’s eagerness to focus on the short-term terror threat, whilst running down the capability to participate in inter-state warfare, which may not be as redundant as he supposes”. Last week I briefed senior NATO commanders on the strategic direction and method of President Putin and the Kremlin’s belief that force creates “new realities on the ground”, as evident in both Ukraine and Syria.

However, having identified the malaise Hastings gets defence strategy wrong.  Indeed, in spite of his concerns about the need for Britain to think big about threat and risk the defence strategic implication at the centre of his article is wrong; that a mass of force is more important than a force that can truly project, credibly command, and effectively connect.

For example, Hastings complains that Cameron can do, “nothing to avert the catastrophe of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers…which are less relevant to Britain’s security needs than is the Great Pyramid”. He then compounds his error by pointing to the lamentably small size of the British Army at the outbreak of World War One.

First, Hastings seems to forget that Britain in 1914 was an imperial power with an empire built on the strength of the Royal Navy with land forces the world over primarily designed to run said empire. Second, it was reasonable for London to assume at the time that those great continental powers France and Russia could cope with Wilhelmine Germany’s Army.  Third, the role the British naval blockade played in bringing Wilhelmine Germany to its knees was vital to winning the war. Fourth, over the four years of the war it was the innovative mobilisation of British imperial land forces, and after a shaky start the development of air and land tactics together with new technologies, that led to the modern concept of military jointness. Britain’s imperial land forces also delivered the critical defeat of the German Army which eventually ended World War One.

A more open-minded view would see that the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will in time act as a core power component for the future force, affording Britain influence, projection, and command and reinforcing Britain’s strategic brand.  Indeed, they will be national strategic platforms that will happen to be run by the Royal Navy (after all they float - hopefully) upon which and from which one of the world’s top five military powers will be able to launch air, maritime and amphibious operations and from which significant land operations can be supported. When I speak to French colleagues far from wanting to scrap their one aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle they want morel; and France is essentially a continental, land power. In other words, they will be currencies of power.

Hastings’s critique of the new mobilisation structure also misses the point.  Yes, in a growing economy it is hard to recruit reserves, and yes there is a large dollop of political spin masking cuts to the regular force which the part-time force is meant to hide.  However, what really matters is the mobilisation mechanism upon which the Reserve Force relies and the break-out from the professional military ghetto than the Force helps.  In a true national emergency Britain would be in a far better position than most allies to begin the process of mass mobilisation of a twenty-first century democracy, something for which Hastings at least implies there may be a need.

Hastings also implies that the Army needs to be much bigger, but for what? However big the British Army it could never be big enough to prevail in sustained counter-terror, stabilisation and reconstruction campaigns over time and distance.  The 400,000 US Army was almost broken by Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, Britain’s forces will always need to work with allies – American, Canadian, European, and of growing importance the world-wide Anglosphere, plus Japan and possibly India.  That is why a future force that reinforces Britain’s traditional strategic virtues, updates them and thus makes Britain an indispensable ally represents sound strategic and political investment for Britain. 

Given the centrality of the United States to British defence strategy of critical importance will be Britain’s ability to retain influence in Washington, which is as weak today as I have ever known it. And yet Americas NEED for a British military that can work to effect with US forces has probably never been greater either.  Indeed, an over-stretched American military is under pressure from emerging great illiberal powers such as China and Russia abroad, and from its own sequestering politicians at home.  

Therefore, to meet the defence-strategic and force-strategic challenge Britain needs a cost-effective, powerful core or hub force designed to multiply power and project influence (for Britain, its allies and the international institutions to which it belongs). The force must be able to can act credibly and affordably across much of the conflict spectrum, as well as in and across government.

Such a force would necessarily be informed by three defence planning assumptions: Britain will be dependent on allies and partners the world-over and thus the force must act as an interoperability and command focal point for multinational coalitions engaged in counter-terrorism and stabilisation and reconstruction operations; the force must enshrine a mechanism to enable a ‘surge’ towards the high-end of advanced expeditionary operations alongside the Americans, and a strong national defence in the event of a major national emergency; and force connectivity must be an essential element of credible whole-of-government crisis responses, particularly in the event of a major terrorist or state-sponsored attack.

Certainly, if SDSR 2015 is to pass muster for more than five political minutes it must be seen to balance effectiveness, efficiency and affordability. That means finding new ways to balance ends, ways and means through a radical force concept.  That in turn means developing a super or deep joint force concept that promotes a new force singularity via a new relationship between the Royal Navy, the British Army, and the Royal Air Force.  

A ‘balanced’ force would thus look something like this; the development by 2025 of a modern blue water Royal Navy, able to project, protect and sustain a pretty high-end, deployable Army of special and specialised forces (with support), and a Royal Air Force that can both protect the home base and reinforce and sustain the deployed force. Such a force will buy Britain influence, leadership and effect.

In the end, SDSR 2015 is not about the Army fighting the Navy fighting the Air Force over limited resources much though many of them see it that way. SDSR 2015 is really about what kind of power Britain aspires to be in the twenty-first century, what kind of military power Britain needs to be, how much twenty-first century relevant influence and effect Britain is prepared to invest in, and to what extent Britain’s future forces will be able to cope with inevitable future shock. 

Therefore, SDSR 2015 must be seen in context as the first stage of a defence-strategic recovery programme.  If Whitehall and the Top Brass hold their nerve and for once evince a modicum of imagination and innovation what could (and I stress could) emerge from the political swamp that is SDSR could in military terms be quite exciting.

Clearly, SDSR 2015 will be a close run thing. Whilst the July decision to maintain defence spending at 2% GDP until 2020 enabled Britain’s armed forces to step back from the brink of irrelevance, it is only just. Indeed, SDSR 2015 will fail if it reinforces the pretence that Britain can afford the £100bn Successor replacement for the Trident nuclear system AND a credible global reach, highish-end, deployable conventional force from within a £34bn defence budget. SDSR 2015 will also fail if it ‘fudge’s’ Britain’s investments in so-called ‘enablers’ vital to the effectiveness and protection of the nuclear deterrent, and a deployed British force. 

However, if SDSR 2015 confirms an innovative British future force established on the Super Joint Force Concept then it will have done its job and Britain’s forces can look towards 2020 and 2025 and beyond with at least some cautious confidence. If not, and SDSR 2015 really is another astrategic exercise in ‘how much threat can we afford’, and/or a muddling-through trade-off between No 10, the Treasury and the three Services, then President Putin will be able to sleep easy firm in his belief that his strategic super-bluff will in time work.

Therefore, Sir Max, with respect whilst you are right to be concerned about SDSR 2015 you are fighting the wrong battle, on the wrong ground, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. 

Julian Lindley-French          

Monday, 28 September 2015

Who Will Make the Future?

“Who will make the future?”
Eric Hobsbawm

28 September. The masters of the universe met in Washington last week. Watching the body language of Presidents Obama and Xi was like witnessing a form of geopolitical cross-dressing. President Obama once the youthful Mercury of a new America was lame duck expectant.  President Xi, the unelected victor of a thousand Party power struggles, was self-promotingly, self-assured. This was no ordinary state visit. Xi had come to America to confirm China as the ‘other’ superpower in a new bipolar world. Power is back, red in tooth and claw.

Viewed from close to the Russian border in a tired, failed Europe the sight of Obama and Xi power-striding across the White House lawn looked a bit like the last lap of one of those weird Olympic walking events in which the protagonists are endeavouring to move fast without ever breaking into a run. For that was the essential point of Xi’s visit to Washington; to mark the start of the marathon bipolar power race that will come to define the twenty-first century.  Hopefully peacefully, quite possibly not.  Like all marathons the real racing will not come until the latter stages. 

Obama and Xi walked side by side trying by their forced, relaxed nonchalance to communicate one’s strength to the other.  A hint of the hard yards to come came from Obama – cyber, industrial and military spying,  trade imbalances, dumping, China’ extra-territorial ambitions in the South China Sea, were all (sort of) on the agenda.  However, as with so much to do with the foreign policy of this White House, almost but not quite. Xi just matched Obama step for step, firm in his belief that when the real racing begins power will do the real talking.  Indeed, having confused its values with its interests for far too long Xi believes America will be exhausted and Washington will as ever snatch defeat from the jaws of its own over-stated victory, particularly in Asia.

Europe’s puny leaders looked on. It felt ever so like the Cold War when Europeans routinely watched the Americans and the Soviets debate Europe's destiny over Europe's head.  One man clearly understood that. Although not in Washington President Putin was knocking hard on the White House door by offering support over Syria and thereby suggesting a return to the ‘the good old days’ when Soviet Russia really mattered, rather than merely appeared to. 

As an aside, Britain went its own increasingly idiosyncratic way last week by offering a glimpse of its future strategic life outside the EU. Having for years been America’s poodle Chancellor George Osborne was in Beijing trying to turn Britain into China’s Pekinese. Osborne, Cameron’s designated 2018 successor as prime minster, offered China terms to support a British civil nuclear programme which Britain had once given the world that were so advantageous they were close to slavish.

Last week was all about power and weakness, who's up and who's down, who's rising and who is most decidedly not. Whilst America and China pondered the future of the world millions of illegal migrants were continuing their Cook’s Tour of EU countries, deciding which one they would like to try this week. They were noisily but ineffectually assisted by weak European leaders busily engaged in destroying their own rules and further crumbling the Tower of Babble that the EU has become. Power? Rules? Who needs them?

And that is the tragedy of Europe’s great liberal crisis.  European leaders seem unsure now as to whether the security of others is now more important to them than the security of their own people.  Small leaders in a big world,who refuse to prepare or compete offering instead empty and meaningless liberal mantras. Word is that Chancellor Merkel will be made UN Secretary-General for turning Germany (and much of northern Europe) into Lebanon on the Rhine. Well, that’s alright then.

‘We’ Europeans are lost in a failing, declinist, liberal experiment called the EU unable or unwilling to see what is soon to come over our horizons, ever more subject to the will and whims of emerging illiberal Great Powers. Our great friend America is over-stretched and politically indifferent in equal measure, and thus we Europeans have doomed ourselves to suffer the prescriptions of somebody else’s future. And I say that as a confirmed liberal.  Make no mistake, self-obsessed Europe's future also died in Washington last week as little institutionalism was replaced by big, brash, bipolar power politics as Europe’s fall from power was eclipsed like a giant blood moon by China’s rise.

If Europe is to survive this Huxleyesque world Europeans must escape the trap they set for themselves; the institutional denial of power that is constraining Europeans within Europe and Europeans without Europe to disastrous effect.  Indeed, if Europe is to influence the world America and China will together make and quite possibly break, and face down the ‘mini-me’ tribute act that is President Putin’s Russia, then Europeans must re-learn and quickly the rules of the game they gave to the world. Europe must re-grasp the principles of power and influence that for centuries made Europeans the champions of the world.

If ‘Europe’ is to survive the brave new bipolarism Europeans must put away the toys and grow up; fold away the Meccano set that is the EU, collect up the little pieces of little Lego Brussels, and lay aside the political Barbi doll that is ‘ever closer union’. Europe is far too old for such childish fantasies now.  Instead, Europeans should build together what European states should always have built – the European Alliance.  Then and only then will European states be able together to face the future with confidence.  Then and only then will Europeans be able to face the Americans and Chinese with credibility.  Then and only then will Europeans be able to put President Putin back in his little box.

It was not meant to be like this.  At the end of the Cold War ‘Europe’ was meant to emerge as the ‘other’ liberal pillar of a liberal world-wide west which would dominate the world.  Instead, in Washington we witnessed the launch of the world-wide East of which America is now a part, with power no longer centred in the American half of the Atlantic, but somewhere deep in the Stygian depths of the mid-Pacific.

There was one final irony last week in Washington. China's rise will release America from the shackles of European institutionalism and that most entangling of alliances if Europeans continue to refuse to invest in power.  After all, institutions in the American power mind were always for lesser peoples not blessed by America’s manifest destiny.  Make no mistake, once America’s most European of presidents has gone Washington will get back to the business it loves best; power.

Who, indeed, will make the future? It will not be we Europeans and forgive me my hubris but the world will be worse for it.

Julian Lindley-French                    

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Countering Russia’s Strategic Maskirovka

Riga, Latvia. 24 September. Power and freedom speak with a clarity and eloquence that is matched only by history here in Latvia. Tonight I will address NATO commanders with a speech entitled “Countering Strategic Maskirovka”. I coined the term Strategic Maskirovka because it seemed to me terms such as hybrid or ambiguous warfare are far too limited and too military to describe contemporary Russian ambition, strategy and actions.  Rather, Moscow has adapted its traditional art of military deception (maskirovka) into a strategic campaign from the head of state down in a bid to exploit the many divisions within Europe and the wider West and offset Russia’s many weaknesses. Strange then that in the past fortnight Russia suggests it is open to partnership in the struggle against ISIS and despatched upwards of fifty combat aircraft to Syria to reinforce the point. What is Moscow up to?

In fact, Russia’s actions over the past fortnight or so all conform to the tenets and goals of strategic maskirovka, including the forced removal of a hard-line separatist leader from ‘office’ in eastern Ukraine.  The aims implicit in Russian strategy can be thus summarised: the creation of a contested but de facto ‘buffer zone’ to Russia’s south and east, and acceptance of a special sphere of Russian interest incorporating EU-NATO ‘neighbourhood’ state such as Latvia; to keep Europe and the wider West strategically-divided and politically off-balance, to establish de facto legitimacy for Russia’s conquest of Crimea and much of eastern Ukraine; and to use the threat of ISIS to establish a transactional strategic relationship with the US over the heads of the EU, NATO and most Europeans.   

Any such ‘partnership’ would be fraught with dangers. Russia’s aim is to blur the distinction between influence, co-operation and competition by exploiting ‘strategic ambiguity; i.e. the refusal of many European leaders to face up to the reality of Kremlin’s strategy and actions. The very act of deception is an eloquent statement of influence designed to force leaders who want to look west to look instead east. This goal is both implicit and explicit in recent ‘snap’ military exercises around this region all of which imply the political circumcision of the Baltic States from the rest of Europe, and the nuclear intimidation of allies who might seek to come to their rescue; a strategic an end in and of itself. 

That is why Russian offer of partnership against ISIS must be treated with extreme caution, especially so as its come at a moment when the Obama Administration’s strategy is on the brink of failure. Critically, implicit in any mil-mil talks over Syria and the defeat of ISIS would be a de facto acceptance that Russia is an indispensable partner, not just in the Middle East but also here in Europe, and in effect reward Moscow the special status it craves.  It is that prospect of an enhanced Russian role that led hard reality Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu to hot-foot it to Moscow this week to seek assurances that Russia would not support Assad and by extension the Iranians so they could intensify their attacks on the Jewish State.

Like it or not Putin has in the short-term out-manoeuvred the West and succeeded in giving the impression Russia is far more powerful than it actually is, another goal of Moscow’s ‘strategic ambiguity’. That is why negotiating with President Putin from a position of his strength is dangerous.  Sadly, someone, somewhere in DC, Brussels or Berlin is today suggesting that a deal with Moscow over Syria could help President Putin realise his prejudice about the West is utterly misplaced and thus lead him to return to the path of partnership.  Apart from the sobering consequence of the oil shock on the Russian economy I see absolutely no evidence of such a shift in President Putin’s prejudice or Russian strategy.

That is why NATO exercises here in Latvia such as Steadfast Pyramid and Pinnacle are so important. They demonstrate not just a commitment to collective defence and strategic reassurance, but also a form of forward deterrence. Dishonourable it may be but if Russia succeeds in establishing a transactional relationship with the West then part of that transaction must be the integrity and freedom to choose allegiances of states like Latvia. If that means NATO troops being stationed here permanently to ensure transactions are honoured so be it.  

Which brings me full circle to countering Strategic Maskirovka.  Maskirovka lives in the dirt down underneath the broken floorboards of international relations, amidst the dust and cob-webs of de-stabilisation, deception and disinformation. Now, I am no naïve when it comes to international relations and sometimes dirty deals must be done. However, such deals should at least be thought through because the implications to say the least are profound.

Right now President Putin and his Kremlin team believe they are winning this sordid little ‘war’ they are waging with the West and any such deal would confirm him in his prejudice that we are weak. However, Putin also needs something from this deal – to come in from the cold. Therefore, any form of co-operation in the Middle East must only be countenanced in return for clear evidence of Russian withdrawal from eastern Ukraine and an end to pressure on Latvia and the other Baltic States. Crimea?  Done deal I am afraid.

Latvia’s freedom is Europe’s freedom.  Fail here and President Putin could succeed in his efforts to replace the rules-based community concept of international relations so beloved of Europeans with his hard-edged dark power politics. Any deal that permits Putin to believe de facto or otherwise he  is a vital broker in Western security after all that Moscow has done over the past twenty-four months would come dangerously close to appeasement and must be resisted at all costs. Rather, Europeans and North Americans must together ask why they have failed so badly in Syria and move to correct that failure before many more die and possibly millions more decide to move the Middle East to Europe.

Russia: the indispensable power? Prefer not.

Julian Lindley-French 

Monday, 21 September 2015

Groundhog Day in European Defence

Brussels and Oslo. 21 September. Winston Churchill once said, “True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous and conflicting information”. This past week in Brussels and Oslo at two high-level conferences to discuss European security and defence I have seen the best and worst of elite Europe. Threats abound; Russian challenges in the Arctic/High North and its use of strategic maskirovka/ambiguous warfare to Europe’s east, ISIL and the collapse of the Middle Eastern state order to Europe’s south, cyber-penetration of a virtual Schengen, uncontrolled massive migration and lawlessness, strategic tensions with newly-powerful illiberal states, arms races and proliferation, American overstretch, state-threatening organised crime, and I could go on. However, the biggest threat comes from a strategically under-cooked elite Europe that only wants to see the world as they would like it to be not as it really is. The result is a Europe that is by and large bereft of strategic judgement and unable or unwilling to apply statecraft and a failed Brussels elite that is retreating steadily into the meaningless mantra of ‘ever more Europe’.

On Wednesday last I visited Planet Brussels to attend the magnificently-named European Defence Summit.  It was an excellent event organised by the Munich Security Conference and I was honoured to be present. However, I spent much of the day feeling like Bill Murray in that old film Groundhog Day. You know the one; each morning Murray awakes to find he is trapped in a nightmarish repeat of yesterday. 

For the past thirty years I have listened to the High Priests and Priestesses of Unionology calling for ‘ever more defence Europe’.  Now, I would not mind if such calls came from younger members of the Church of Unionology. After all, Brussels is built on large numbers of young people working in the name of ‘Europe’ for next to nothing in search of patronage that will they hope confirm them as members of said EU elite.  However, when it is the same old people saying the same old thing and nothing happens I am reminded of Einstein’s definition of insanity; repeating the same experiment but expecting different results. That is why group-think prevails in Brussels and healthy dissent is so frowned upon. Indeed, on some occasions I am almost crushed in the Brusssels rush of the young and ambitious to agree with the old and stupid.

Rather, Priesthood did what they always do when faced with a crisis; talked about how a future ‘Europe’ that will probably never exist might in future deal with such crises if in future (not now) such dangers ever intrude on their EU self-obsession. If you want to understand why Europeans are so crap at managing crises you need look no further.  Bill Murray might be stuck forever in yesterday, the Priesthood are forever stuck in a fantasy ‘tomorrow’.

Now, contrast the Summit with my meeting in Oslo. Late on Wednesday night I flew from Brussels to Oslo to address a meeting with my friend the impressive Norwegian Defence Minister Ine Erikson Soreide at another excellent event this time co-organised by the Norwegian Parliament and the Norwegian Atlantic Association. The speech she gave was quite simply the best speech I have heard for a long time by any serving defence minister.  Grounded firmly in reality the speech balanced strategy, politics and cost to present a vision of a Norway that is thinking seriously about how a small European state balances defence ends, ways and means. Indeed, as an example of a small state thinking big politics in a big world I have heard no better.    
The problem with ‘more defence Europe’ is as ever the set of political assumptions that are behind it.  The Priesthood believe the ‘finalitć’ of European defence to be a system of common security and defence that will ensure both efficiency and effectiveness though the creation of a singular political and security entity called ‘Europe’. However, that is simply not how security and defence works. It is the impracticable in pursuit of the unworkable.

Take the pooling and sharing of military assets.  Some marginal pooling and sharing makes sense if it is parallel with an effective system for loaning assets to those engaged in coalitions.  However, deep pooling and sharing which the Priesthood seek by removing sovereign choice effectively destroys the ability of a state to to choose which coalitions to join and how.  In other words, the very idea of ‘more defence Europe’ trades defence effectiveness for a false efficiency in pursuit of unrealistic politics at the expense of sound defence strategy.

That is why pooling and sharing is still born.  Yes, it may make sense for smaller EU member-states who will never have to really think about leading, organising or enabling (framework nation) variable coalitions of Europeans and non-Europeans.  Moreover, there are some very expensive systems such as satellites for which collective procurement makes sense because all states can use such systems by acting as intelligent customers without infringing sovereign choices over the use and utility of force.   However, collective procurement will only ever work for the likes of Britain, France and Germany system by system.

Europeans must also avoid false defence economies. At the European Defence Summit it was fascinating to see southern European defence manufacturers queuing up to support the Priesthood with the call for a single European procurement structure. Naturally, they talked the talk of innovation, economies of scale and security of supply. However, what they really wanted was a new form of protectionism in the shape of a single European defence procurement budget; the very antithesis of innovation, competition and value for taxpayer’s money.

Europe’s defence bottom-line is this; Britain, France and Germany as well as to a lesser extent Italy and Poland, may never be able to prevail alone in crises. However, they must all retain sufficient command autonomy and flexibility to enable and assure coalitions of the willing not just with other Europeans, but also with the US and partners the world over.  That is the single most salutary pol-strat lesson from the past thirteen years of pol-mil campaigning.

The EU certainly has a role to play in European defence not least in cyber-defence, critical national infrastructure protection, and societal resilience. However, because NATO is built on the assumption of collective coalition action in crises and collective defence rather than common action/defence the Alliance must and will always remain more important than the EU in the field of defence.  The trick will be to prevent the sovereignty-busting ambitions of Planet Brussels (NATO HQ is not actually in Brussels) from affecting the Alliance to the point of failure.

European defence highlights the dangerous contradiction to itself and others ‘defence Europe’ has become.  The specific problem is the relationship between the here and now and the then and beyond goal.  Europe’s elite are failing the here and now precisely because they deliberately (at least in Brussels) confuse the sound security and defence of Europe with ‘ever more Europe’ and the building of a European super-state. Indeed, the fruitless search for a truly ‘common’ security and defence policy actively prevents collective action and thus in turn provides an alibi for many EU member-states to avoid strategic judgement and statecraft.  Worse, it enables strategically-illiterate European politicians to defer vitally-need defence spending in favour of a fantasy defence union and thus in turn undermines NATO.

To paraphrase Churchill: The future security and defence of Europe will reside in the capacity of all Europeans to collectively evaluate uncertain, hazardous and conflicting information and then decide and act quickly on the appropriate course of action.  Such action will itself depend on firm collective political will, a willingness collectively to invest in the means to ensure desired outcomes, and a shared collective determination to stay the political and military course.

Russia and ISIL have revealed a Europe that is increasingly lawless and defenceless. However, it is not the likes of Russia or ISIL that is leading Europeans towards disaster, but small politics in a big world political leaders unable or unwilling to grip the big dark picture world in which Europeans live and thereafter apply strategic judgement and the principles of statecraft.

More European defence, yes please. More EU defence, no thanks.

Julian Lindley-French 

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The Strategic Implications of Comrade Corbyn

“In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issue are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia”
George Orwell

 Alphen, Netherlands. 15 September.  Saturday’s thumping victory by hard left candidate Jeremy Corbyn in the elections to lead Britain’s main opposition party has implications not just for Britain, but for allies and partners the world over.  This long-time pacifist, who wants Britain out of NATO and the EU, is also a committed nuclear unilateralist and long-time ‘friend’ of Hamas and Russia. Corbyn is now on paper at least but one electoral step from becoming the prime minister of a top five world power. What are the strategic implications of Comrade Corbyn?

British politics: It is a mark of the failure of the mainstream political class on both the centre left and centre right of politics that a serial leftist rebel and protester could be elected to one of the great offices. It reflects a mood across much of the country that holds Orwell’s dictum to be true.  Indeed, a huge number of British people have lost all faith in the self-important, self-obsession of a self-satisfied Westminster/Whitehall elite that has compounded strategic error with strategic error. 

Countering ISIS: In the immediate future agreement over a decision to extend RAF strikes against ISIS to Syria has suddenly become far harder for Cameron to achieve.  This is because decisions over the the use of British force are focused more on the so-called Privy Council than Parliament.  The Council brings together the leaders of all the main political parties with senior lawyers and other key figures in the name of Her Majesty the Queen.  It has traditionally reflected a much more consensual approach to strategy and action than the public impression allows for. However, for the Privy Council to work members must accept the responsibilities of official secrecy if they are to have access to key intelligence and planning documents.  Corbyn is not at all sure that he even accepts the principle of the Privy Council.

Defence Policy: All the assumptions underpinning British defence policy are now at risk.  The new Labour leader is particularly keen to scrap the ‘Successor’ programme that will see Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons replaced in the late 2020s at a cost of some £16bn.  Corbyn also wants to set up a so-called Defence Diversification Agency that would seek to re-task those working in Britain’s large defence-industrial sector so that swords may in future become ploughshares.  This ‘policy’ implies that Corbyn wants not only to unilaterally scrap Britain’s deterrent, but much of the conventional force and the industry that supports it.  People around Corbyn are already talking of a root-and-branch review of how Britain engages in the world and Corbyn himself has said he could foresee no circumstances in which as prime minister he would order the deployment of British forces.  There may be one cloud that has a partially-silvered lining; the idea that the defence budget can fund both a submarine-based strategic nuclear deterrent and a global reach conventional force will be revealed for it is – patent nonsense.

British Foreign and Security Policy: The election of an insurgent to lead the Labour Party has the most profound implications for Britain’s foreign, security and defence policy.  Indeed, given that Cameron has only a majority of twelve in the House of Commons it is likely he will need a significant number of Labour MPs to defy their leader if he is to gain the support of the House. 

EU and NATO: Corbyn himself is a long-time Euro-sceptic who has been a long-time on record of wanting Britain to quit the EU, which he believes to be a super-capitalists, super-plot.  By holding such implacable views he has already set himself on a collision course with much of the Parliamentary Labour Party, not least his own new Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn.  Certainly, the election of Corbyn has made a Brexit vote in the forthcoming referendum on EU membership more likely. He is equally and implacably opposed to Britain’s membership of NATO the very existence of which challenge his long-held pacifist views.  Interestingly, the newly-elected deputy leader Tom Watson wants to retain the nuclear deterrent and keep Britain in NATO, which should make for some interesting Shadow Cabinet meetings.

The Crisis of Liberal Democracy: The abject failure of European leaders to deal with a cacophony of crises that they themselves have helped generate – from handing too much power to a distant, technocratic Brussels, through the eternal Eurozone crash and on to the seemingly insoluble migrant crisis – has led to another crisis; the crisis of liberal democracy.  The election of Jeremy Corbyn thus says something else about politics, policy and strategy in Europe and indeed the wider West.  Establishments everywhere are under pressure from insurgent politicians and their groupings.  Huge numbers of electors see little or no relationship between what mainstream political leaders say, what they actually do, let alone what they achieve.  This systemic failure by distant mainstream politicians to cope with crises and protect their people from dangerous change has been exacerbated by the 2008 financial crash and the subsequent austerity which has left huge numbers of people at the poorer end of societies feeling victimised.

The Rise of the Insurgents: Sooner or later one of these insurgents is going to get hold of the keys to one of the great states of the West – be it Trump in the US, Corbyn in the UK, or Le Pen in France.  The world will then be in for roller-coaster politics as the insurgents, by definition anti-strategists lurch between disengagement and over-engagement.

The Death of Statecraft: However, to my mind perhaps the most dangerous strategic implication from the election of Corbyn will be the death of statecraft – the reasoned art of conducting state affairs.  One reason why mainstream Western politicians have failed is because it is very hard for the Western state to ‘succeed’ in the twenty-first century in a world in which borders seem archaic and identities endless. It is Putin's Russia that will likely prove the beneficiary of this as Corbyn's starry-eyed nostalgia for a fantasy Russia will make Britain's role in deterring Russia hard to take seriously. 

The Political Irony that is Jeremy Corbyn: Which brings me finally to the political irony that is Jeremy Corbyn. Seventy-five years ago today in the skies above London the decisive engagement took place in the Battle of Britain.  Believing the RAF to have been virtually destroyed the Luftwaffe pressed home a daylight attack on the great city.  The shock of German aircrew was all the greater when far from being faced by a few squadrons of Hurricanes and Spitfires to which they had become accustomed they were suddenly confronted by large formations and were defeated.  It was a turning point in World War Two and is today rightly commemorated.  To Corbyn and his Corbynistas the Battle of Britain has about as much resonance for a modern Britain in a modern Europe in a modern World as the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. 

The irony is that Jeremy Corbyn believes himself and his supporters to be the future.  In fact, they are the heirs of George Orwell and as such offer all of us little more than a return to the class war, Orwellian world of the 1950s.  As such they are every bit as anachronistic as the forty Hurricanes and Spitfires that will today take to the skies of Britain to commemorate The Few.

Julian Lindley-French      


Monday, 14 September 2015

Has Mama Merkel Met Her Maggie Moment?

“The past is another country. They do things differently there”.
L.P. Hartley, “The Go Between”

Alphen, Netherlands. 14 September. They call her ‘Mama Merkel’. The hundreds of thousands of migrants now in Germany and struggling across Europe see German Chancellor Angela Merkel as their saviour.  Without consulting the German people or her EU counterparts she threw open German borders, unilaterally suspended the Dublin Convention, and effectively destroyed the Schengen system of free movement within the EU.  Her actions whilst clearly motivated by the best of intentions remind me of the last days in power of another formidable female leader Margaret ‘Maggie’ Thatcher.  Thatcher fell because she sought to impose an unfair tax on Britain’s poor – the infamous poll tax.  She was advised not to by her colleagues but such was her sense of political superiority after eleven years of untrammelled and unquestioned power she went ahead anyway. Worried about her growing megalomaniac tendencies it was her colleagues in the Conservative Party who in 1990 eventually brought her down.  Has Mama Merkel met her Maggie moment?

The answer is as yet unclear.  Yesterday, Germany for the second time in a month acted unilaterally to “temporarily” reintroduce border controls and in so doing suspend one of the EU’s four fundamental freedoms – free movement.  It is hardly surprising given that last week German Interior Minister Thomas de la Maizière warned that up to one million people could claim asylum in Germany in 2015.  Last week Merkel herself warned that the influx would change Germany for ever, and that Germans could expect 500,000 immigrants each year for years to come.

Now, I have long defended modern Germany which I admire from those who try to equate the actions of this powerful model democracy with its Nazi past.  However, Berlin’s irresponsibility these past weeks clearly smacks of a German Chancellor allowing Germany’s past to pollute policy. In her efforts to assuage that past by offering open door asylum she has massively increased the so-called ‘pull factors’ for migrants and refugees from the Middle East, Africa and beyond and come dangerously close at times to acting as a recruiting agent for people traffickers.

Chancellor Merkel has no need to assuage Germany’s Nazi past or the hard-line intolerance of the Communist East Germany in which she grew up by destabilising contemporary Germany and by extension much of neighbouring Europe.  Yes, her instinct to help is laudable and reflects a quintessential decency at her core that shines through.  However, ‘decency’ is not policy and at the very least she should have consulted the German people about their willingness to accept such imposed change.  Whatever commentators might say about Germany’s failing demographics sudden, imposed hyper-immigration (which is what we are witnessing) has not worked well in Europe and led to profound tensions over identity, culture and worse.

The impression given is one of lofty detachment, Indeed, Merkel’s high-handedness can at best be described as ‘let them eat cake’ politics. Telling fellow Germans and Europeans to get used to such inflows without admitting that the crisis is as much a consequence of elite failure to predict and prepare as the collapse of the Levant smacks of the worst kind of political hubris. And, it appears all too typical of a detached, limousine-riding, champagne-quaffing, palace-residing, security ring-fenced European elite all too ready to lecture the poorest in society who must cope with such an influx about the human rights of others.

Some sense of realism must also be established. In an effort to mask a profound mistake Chancellor Merkel implies that everyone now making their way to and across Europe are the saintly victims of conflict. Many clearly are and are deserving of our help and, indeed, a Europe-wide humanitarian response. However, within the exodus there will be opportunists, criminals and even terrorists which is why due process must be re-applied rigorously if the first duty of any leader is be upheld and seen to be so; to protect her own people. 

Control and some sense of strategy and order must be established and quickly. Even though it is unfashionable these days for continental Europe’s elite to admit David Cameron and the British are right about this crisis the most important first response is to help displaced Syrians in the camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Thereafter, the flow to Europe must be controlled by diplomatic engagement with Turkey, the establishment of reception centres in Greece, Italy, Spain and elsewhere, the quick and proper assessment of asylum claimants, with those who fail to qualify for asylum returned to their country of origin. If migrants refuse to disclose their identities, language and dialect experts must assist with the identification of their likely origins.  Countries that refuse to take migrants back must face EU and national aid sanctions/incentives. Such a rigorous approach would be massively strengthened by evidence of a strategy to go after the major criminal gangs who are driving this exodus and profiting from it. Germany must use its undoubted power and influence to champion such a system to be run jointly by all EU member-states.  Only thereafter will Chancellor Merkel begin to regain the trust of the people who are going to have to live with the massive change she suggests is coming.  Hopefully, today’s ‘crisis’ meeting of national interior ministers will adopt such measures but do not hold your breath!

There is one other aspect of this crisis which suggests it may be time for Chancellor Merkel to step down from power.  Twice in the past fortnight she has unilaterally-suspended cornerstone EU rules.  However, she has repeatedly told David Cameron that the very modest reforms to the EU (more modest by the day) will be impossible.  She not only gives the impression that it is she who decides the fate and status of millions of Europeans who did not and cannot vote for her, she also gives the impression that in the EU whilst it is no rules for Germany, it is too many rules for the rest of us. Worse, at a dinner in Downing Street a couple of years ago she told David Cameron that if a Brexit became likely she would move to isolate Britain.  Britain has done a pretty good job isolating itself but she is clearly far more Machiavellian than the impression she likes to give.

Margaret Thatcher suffered from a dangerous trinity of power; a dominant domestic political position, an innate, unyielding Machiavellianism, and a long period in office during which those willing to stand up to her were replaced by ‘yes men’. From a distance it looks as if Angela Merkel is showing signs of suffering from the same dangerous trinity.  For Germany’s sake, for Europe’s sake and indeed for own sake it is perhaps time for this quintessentially decent woman to go.

The past is indeed a different country and nowhere more so than Germany.  However, if Chancellor Merkel does not restore some element of control to the current mass influx then the future Germany will also be a very different country and they will have to do things very differently there. The German people should have a say but Germany too must tread warily.

Julian Lindley-French               

Friday, 11 September 2015

Jean-Baptiste Juncker: More Europe at Whatever Cost

“There is not enough Europe in this Union. And, there is not enough Union in this Union”.
Jean-Claude Juncker

Alphen, Netherlands. 11 September. What does Wednesday’s speech by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker really say about the State of the Union? Last week I was accused by a senior figure (not unreasonably) of ‘carping’ on about ‘Europe’.  He is right.  As a historian and strategist the implications of what is happening to power in Europe has to my mind the most profound implications for the Rights of Man, for democracy, liberty and political legitimacy.  And it is over that simple issue of political principle where Juncker and I part company.  

Juncker and I come from two very different political traditions that in and of themselves reflect the fundamental split that exists between most Eurozone and non-Eurozone members.  I am very much the political child of the English enlightenment, of John Locke and Thomas Paine, and the need for power to be legitimised and checked by close proximity to the citizen.  Juncker is the child of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV’s First Minister, who championed the idea of ‘dirigisme’, the top-down imposition of the state on the citizen in his/her name by an elite that knows best.   

Juncker’s political agenda came across most clearly when he addressed the two headline crises of the moment: the migration crisis and the future of the Eurozone. On the face of it many of the proposals Juncker made to ‘manage’ the migration crisis make policy sense. He is right to suggest the crisis is systemic requiring a Europe-wide response built on solidarity, humanity and commitment. I buy that.  However, the crisis also needs stopping and that means strategy, structure and tough action, all three of which were notable by their absence from the speech.  Rather, like Angela Merkel, Juncker seems almost content to envision potentially millions of non-European migrants coming to Europe with all that entails for the future of European societies and the functioning of many EU member-states.

As ever with Juncker the devil is in the detail of the language.  He calls for the ‘compulsory’, i.e. dirigiste, relocation of an ‘initial’ 160,000 migrants, a ‘common’ EU migration policy, asylum-seekers (he refused to call them ‘migrants’ which is what the majority are once they set foot in the EU) to be given the right to work from the day they arrive in the EU whilst they await a ruling on their right to stay. A ruling that Juncker would prefer was made by the European Commission and not individual member-states.  Juncker also called for the EU’s Frontex force to become a “fully operational border and coastguard system,” to patrol the EU’s borders, i.e. another stepping stone on the road to his beloved European Army.  And, he calls for a “more powerful EU foreign policy”, focused on Brussels and not the member-states. 

However, it is only when one reads the passages in the speech about deeper Eurozone integration does the sheer scale of Juncker’s political ambition become apparent – the effective scrapping of the sovereign nation-state in Europe stone by sovereign stone.  Juncker first calls for the Eurozone to have its own treasury, and a seat for on the IMF and World Bank. He then suggests that salaries across the EU must be harmonised to ensure the same jobs get the same pay, which would effectively end the free market in Europe.  This is super-statism and super-dirigisme at its most implacable.

The speech must also be placed in its wider political context. On July 1, the “Five President’s Report for Strengthening Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union” was slipped out.  In fact, the report should have been entitled, “Enforcing European Political Union” for whilst the focus of the report is on how to enhance the functioning of the Eurozone the objective is decidedly political – the ‘Grexification’ of the Eurozone state. In the report ‘Presidents’ Juncker, Tusk, Dijsselbloem, Draghi and Schulz (the EU elite love making themselves presidents these days) proposed a three-stage plan that by 2025 would see a Eurozone that was fully-integrated by 2025, i.e. a super-state in all but name (and possibly with name).   

Stage one, entitled “Deepening by Doing” would be completed by 30 June, 2017, and would complete the “Financial Union” by centralising more state power in dirigiste European institutions whilst at on and the same time magically enhancing ‘democratic accountability’. Stage Two, “Completing EMU”, would see ever more binding powers imposed on member-states to ensure ‘convergence’ between economies and thus further reduce the ability of any member-state to makes its own policy,.  Stage three, “at the latest by 2025”, would see a “deep and genuine EMU” put in place.  Naturally, the document is replete with references to ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’. This is nothing new; whenever EU dirigistes seek to remove power ever further from the people it is done so in the name of the very people who are being politically enfeebled. 

Set against such political ambition David Cameron’s hopeless attempt to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Juncker, Germany and the Eurozone (for that is what it is) is doomed.  The strange thing about Cameron is that he is meant to have studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics across the road from me in Oxford. And yet he seems unable to comprehend that as a British Conservative he is actually engaged in a battle of the most profound political importance between small government English Lockeism and big, distant government EU Colbertist dirigisme.  I suspect he spent too much time in The Bear pub. Not for the first time Cameron has under-estimated the strategic implications of one of his many narrow political gambit.

Indeed, unless Cameron gets serious about his renegotiation he will place the British people in the worst of all dirigiste EU worlds.  The only way to stop such drift will be to threaten a Brexit and mean it for such a threat is likely the only way to get Germany and other Eurozone member-states to confront the full implications and consequences of Juncker’s dirigiste vision.

Juncker’s speech marks a true parting of the ways; a vision of and for Europe that goes far beyond the super-Alliance of European states in which I believe.  An elitiste, dirigiste ‘Europe’ focused on the European Commission and the European Parliament in which the once supreme European Council would be reduced to little more than a toothless advisory body.
Non-Eurozone states will soon have to face the profound choice they have all be ducking; join the new ‘state’ or leave the EU.  Are there alternatives? The federalist Spinelli Group are drafting what they call the ‘final treaty’ (sounds ominous) and have proposed the idea of ‘associate membership’ for states like Britain.  To Juncker’s mind that would be like being a little bit pregnant – simply not possible.  Indeed, for Juncker one will need to be either in the Eurozone or out of the EU. ‘Associate membership’ would for Juncker simply mean putting states like Britain into a form of political sin bin in which they are forced to pay but have no say until they come to their political senses and cave in (which is what Cameron usually does in any case when it comes to matters EU).  Perhaps the most cynical passage of the entire speech was Juncker’s call for a ‘fair deal’ for a Britain he does not like and which he would be quite happy to see go.

How can Juncker get away with such a speech?  After all, in the past European Commission presidents were seen merely as the EU’s top bureaucrat appointed by and subject to the member-states.  However, Juncker claims that when I voted in last year’s elections for the European Parliament I somehow knew I was voting for so-called Spitzenkandidaten.  In other words, he claims a political mandate from an electorate that did not realise it was voting for him and of whom only 41% voted. It was a political coup.  
Jean-Baptiste Juncker wants more Europe at whatever cost and that is something I can never accept.  Indeed, Juncker’s claim in the speech that “our European Union is not in a good state” is precisely because it is not in Juncker’s interest for it to be in a good state. For Juncker no crisis is a bad crisis if he can demand ever more ‘Europe’ at whatever cost. That is why in the final analysis the speech was a carefully-crafted exercise in political opportunism by a canny federalist who sees an opportunity to cross a political Rubicon from state to super-state via the white hot political ‘crucible’ of crisis. 

Therefore, for all the above reasons I will continue to ‘carp’ on about Europe precisely because the EU is bloody important, for the moment I still have the right as a ‘citizen’ to exercise my view, and above all this is a bloody important moment in the EU’s political destiny.

There is of course one other vital difference between Juncker and me which may I fear prove critical; he enjoys distant power, whilst I am a mere peasant.

Julian Lindley-French