hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 16 January 2017

Snowmeeting: Atlantic Resolve or Yalta II?

“It was for the freedom and independence of Poland that Britain went into this war…It’s also important that Poland is a Catholic country. We cannot allow internal developments there to complicate our relations with the Vatican…”
Prime Minister Churchill, by way of pompous opening…
“How many divisions does the Pope of Rome have?”
Marshal Stalin, in direct response.

Trakai, Lithuania. 16 January. A myriad of miniscule snowflakes drift across the landscape before me giving the impression I am enshrined in a Georges Seurat painting. The frozen lake and frigid forest before me dipple and dapple as momentary shafts of weak sun paint solitude in broad brushes. Here, at the truly beautiful IDW Esperanza Resort in deepest Lithuania I have just had the honour of part-moderating the outstanding annual Snowmeeting in support of Foreign Minister Linus Linkevicius and his team. What was interesting to me was the marked difference between how the Russians see the current strategic situation in NATO’s east, and how senior NATO politicians and officials see it. If there was an implicit if unspoken theme running throughout the Snowmeeting it was this; no more Yaltas.

Yalta I took place between February 4-111945. Otherwise known as the Crimea (!!!) or Argonaut Conference, the meeting was the last time British Prime Minister Churchill, US President Roosevelt and Marshal Stalin of the Soviet Union were to meet. The purpose of the meeting was in effect to ‘carve’ up post-World War Two Europe into spheres of influence between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies.

Marshal Stalin certainly understood that, as did Prime Minister Churchill, although by 1945 Britain was, as it is today, a shadow power with little or no real influence. Unfortunately, an ailing President Roosevelt still clung onto the idea that Stalin’s Russia would be a constructive partner in a post-war United Nations which would see Machtpolitik in Europe replaced by Gesetzpolitik.

On several occasions over the last year I have head Russians call for a Yalta II. As I rose to speak some 187 US main battle tanks, 4000 personnel, plus a couple of hundred other assorted vehicles of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team were bedding down in Western Poland as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.  US Army Europe yet again to the fore of defending Europe. The Russian reaction was both typical and illuminating, as though a virtual Yalta II already exists. That the Americans were intruding on an existing sphere of Russian interest, rather than reinforcing the defence and deterrence posture of NATO in pursuit of the legitimate collective security of the Alliance.

Yalta was just one of a whole herd of elephants in the room at the Snowmeeting. Perhaps the largest was Colonel-General Kartapolov’s nearby Russian Western Military District which can now boast both mass and manoeuvre forces way beyond anything NATO can put into the field,. As I spoke there were some 400,000 Russian troops either side of me, reinforced by treaty-busting short range nuclear missiles, including the estimated 800 tanks of the First Guards Tank Army.

President Putin’s reaction to Atlantic Resolve is not that dissimilar to Marshal Stalin’s put down of Churchill in 1945. For Putin power is as power does. And yet at the Snowmeeting NATO officials put preservation of existing structure above transformation and effect by highlighting the marginal gains the Alliance has made by halting the decline in defence-spending as absolute gains.  President Putin, rather, views Russia’s influence through the all-important prism of relative power. Russia to Putin’s mind now ‘controls’ much of Eastern Europe simply by the fact of the military vice Russia is constructing there. A few American tanks to his mind makes little real difference to the politico-strategic situation, not least because he thinks President-elect Trump is of a similar mind and about to ‘reward’ him with some form of Yalta II.

There are lots of caveats in my analysis. Let’s see what President Trump really demands of Russia and what, if anything, actually comes out of the Putin-Trump bromance. However, Trump has a point in his critique of NATO. For too long Europeans have become strategically ‘fat’, lazy and complacent under the protection of America’s strategic umbrella. It really is about time an American president exerted pressure on all of us to get our European strategic act together. A Yalta II might also look superficially attractive to a president who is going to want to spend most of his time meeting the needs of the people who voted for him. President Trump is first and foremost a businessman. In business spheres of business influence are an essential part of deal-making.

For all of the above reasons President Putin believes he is well on the way to securing his strategic objectives and the creation of a buffer zone – both actual and virtual – between Russia’s Western border and the NATO he despises. Ukraine has been divided, both the EU and NATO have all but abandoned any further enlargement to Europe’s further east, Turkey  has been rendered semi-detached from the Alliance, and powerful Russian forces exert an unwarranted influence over the Baltic States whether we like it or not.

What I heard at the Snowmeeting was as ever interesting. However, I come away from Trakai with a profound sense of unease. Business as usual is about to end, hard change is coming fast to the transatlantic relationship, and yet what I heard was business as usual. Europeans had better understand this in the way President Putin clearly does. Unfortunately, we Europeans have become very good at self-delusion, at forever ‘defending’ values, but useless at defending space, territory and people, or even wanting to think about it.

To President Putin’s mind NATO is the new Vatican – pious but powerless. President Trump could well be of the same opinion.

A new Atlantic resolve or Yalta II? Our choice to make!

Julian Lindley-French           

Monday, 9 January 2017

MY NEW BOOK: The New Geopolitics of Terror: Demons and Dragons

“Ultimately, strategy is about getting more out of a situation than the starting balance of power would suggest, i.e. creating power. In essence, leaving aside major technological innovation, that means inducing others to pull with, rather than against the West. The choices Western leaders face will not be easy, apparent or costless. The crafting of what might be genuinely considered a grand strategy for the Middle East, i.e. one which all the major state powers support would be momentous. Such a strategy would not only require political dexterity on the part of Western leaders few if any have demonstrated, it would also require nothing short than a twenty-first century Marshall Plan for the Middle East”.

The New Geopolitics of Terror: Demons and Dragons
William Hopkinson and Julian Lindley-French

Alphen, Netherlands. 9 January. It is my pleasure to announce this week’s publication of my new book The New Geopolitics of Terror: Demons and Dragons (London: Routledge) which is, of course, brilliant and very reasonably-priced. Co-written with former senior British practitioner William Hopkinson, with a powerful foreword by General John Allen, President Obama’s former Special Envoy, the book places the current conflict in Syria in its regional-strategic and geopolitical context.

Central to the thesis is that the instability of the Middle East is as much due to interference by outside mainly western powers as inept, incompetent, and corrupt leaders in the region. The essential mission of the book is to consider what if anything the ‘West’ should do to reduce the threat the Middle East poses to itself and to others. The book examines a century of Western policy failure in the region beginning with the 1916 Anglo-French Sykes-Picot Accord.

To reinforce that narrative the book places the current struggle in Syria and Iraq in its regional-strategic and geopolitical context. The ‘demons’ are the many often small criminal and terrorist groups in the region seeking local or regional dominance. Al Qaeda and Islamic State are a relatively new phenomenon that bestride the distinction between local, regional and geopolitical with roots deep in both Sunni society and yet with systemic ambitions. As such they are the nexus between terror and geopolitics.

The dragons are the states. Even as weak states in the region struggle to survive there is also a regional-strategic struggle underway for supremacy in the Middle East between an Iranian-led grouping, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. On the surface the struggle appears to reflect the confessional divide between Sunni and Shia, but it is driven as much by Realpolitik calculations as questions of faith. The future of Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, is central to that struggle. A general Middle Eastern war cannot be ruled out, in which modern destructive technologies would be used to devastating effect.

The failed West has much to answer for. A central contention of the book is that for the first time in a century of by and large policy bungling policy the ‘West’ is now in retreat both in and from the region. This has enabled outside powers such as Russia, and to a lesser extent China, to exploit the vacuum left by a retreating West. Today, the influence of both Americans and Europeans is at a low ebb in the region. Consequently, Europe in particular has become prey for many of the anti-Western forces the region is spawning.

The retreat of the West from the Middle East has many facets. Americans and Europeans do not agree over policy or strategy, and neither are prepared to commit the resources or possibly the forces needed to change the situation on the ground. Europe is itself in full-scale retreat from geopolitics for the first time in four hundred years willing neither to defend nor secure itself, nor engage in a region strategically vital to its own security beyond iterative, gesture-prone ‘investments’. And yet, for all the West’s many failures in the region the consequent policy and strategic vacuum is not only making the Middle East more dangerous, but has led to the loss of Turkey. Turkey remains a vital actor in the region as it has been for centuries.

Ultimately, the struggle in and for the Middle East is as ever about power - big power, who has it, who does not, who can apply it and how. Therefore, the book concludes with a warning. Whilst the West is certainly part of the many problems in the region, it is also vital to any possible conflict resolution. However, any such resolution would require such policy cohesion and consistency over time and space that it would look like the kind of grand strategy not seen since the Marshall Plan and the reconstruction of Europe in the wake of World War Two.

First and foremost, ‘The Plan’ would need to be established on a series of diplomatic partnerships in which Americans and Europeans work together with key powers in the region to help ease the many grievances that drive the many and merged conflicts across the region. Moreover, for such a plan to work an accommodation would need to be sought with Russia and Iran, or if they prove irreconcilable, they would need to be faced down. However, no ‘intervention’ could possibly work until the terror the Middle East is spawning has been contained and over time reduced.  

The book concludes by exploring four policy options all of which are stark: do nothing; organise serious humanitarian action and support; undertake serious military interventions to defeat Islamic State and impose a solution on Syria; or undertake serious military and other interventions to reshape the region. None of the above are attractive and no ‘success’ could be guaranteed. However, unless the West is willing to seriously re-engage in the region using all possible means and forms of engagement then not only will the people of the Middle East continue to suffer, but Europe and the wider world will have to face the many consequences of the interaction between the new terrorism and the new geopolitics for which the region is the terrifying cauldron.    

The New Geopolitics of Terror: Demons and Dragons.

Julian Lindley-French   

Friday, 6 January 2017

Trump: Geopolitics is more than the Art of the Deal

“My style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after. Sometimes I settle for less than I sought, but in most cases I still end up with what I want”.

Donald J. Trump, “The Art of the Deal”

Alphen, Netherlands. 6 January. Giving evidence to Congress yesterday leaders of the US intelligence community were clear; Russia was not only complicit in the election-warping theft of data and its release, Moscow is a “full-scope cyber-actor” engaged in a cyber offensive against the United States. In other words, Russia is using cyber as statecraft as part of a concerted anti-American geopolitical campaign. And yet, President-elect Trump seems to reject much of this assessment. Why?  

Geopolitics is the competition of and for power. The successful conduct of geopolitics is driven by a clear understanding of a state’s interests, a proper perception of relative power and weakness, driven forward by well-considered policy, and applied via well-crafted strategy underpinned by an appropriate mix of hard and soft power tools and instruments of which cyber is now but one. The aim of geopolitics is to shape the choices of others in pursuit of those interests.  Central to the successful conduct of geopolitics is in turn a proper understanding of the strategic environment, the likely choices and capabilities of adversary states and actors, and indeed those that lead them. Consequently, the gathering of information and the expertise to interpret it are the stuff of ‘intel’. Knowledge and understanding are strategic weapons in geopolitics.

However, if one reads with serious intent President-elect Trump’s recent Twitter storm his ‘beef’ with the US intelligence community seems to run far deeper than concerns that the intelligence community is seeking to de-legitimise his November 2016 election victory.  There is profound ‘cultural’ dissonance between Trump’s understanding of geopolitics and that of much of the Washington policy establishment. For the status quo latter American geopolitics concerns the establishment and maintenance of strategic relationships with friendly states and actors vital to the securing of American interests. For the radical Trump geopolitics seems rather to simply be an extension of his real estate business, with the world as real estate. 

Cultural friction is not the only issue between Trump and High Washington. President-elect Trump seems also to conflate his determination to ‘clear out the swamp’, with his rejection of intelligence assessments, and his desire to reform US intelligence efforts. Let me try and untangle the Trump conflation.

That US intelligence structures need reform is a moot point. There is no question that since the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in the wake of 911, to better co-ordinate the efforts of the many agencies in the domain of ‘intel’, there have been occasions when intelligence assessments and analysis have been politicised. The structure is also top heavy and critically the CIA’s vital Directorate of Operations has withered. However, the need for agency reform has nothing whatsoever to do with the US intelligence assessment of Russian complicity in the 2016 cyber-attack on American democracy, most of which comes from the National Security Agency (NSA). If Trump wants that evidence ‘re-scrubbed’ he should speak to Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. The British also have clear evidence of Russia’s 2016 cyber-offensive, and I am sure Prime Minister May would be only happy to share that information post the January 20th inauguration as part of the new ‘special relationship’.

What this rumpus really reveals is Donald J. Trump’s understanding of geopolitics is vastly different from that of High Washington.  In Art of the Deal Trump states, “…listen to your gut, no matter how good something sounds on paper”. Trump has repeatedly said during the transition that he sees his strength as a deal-maker. In real estate the deal is the end in and of itself, with relationships merely a ‘beautiful’ means to that end. However, geopolitics are not iterative they are constant, meaning that relationships are as important as ends. Indeed, in geopolitics means and ends are essentially the same thing, with relationships built on years of analysis-led mutual understanding.

If President Trump sees geopolitics as merely a series of trade-offs then the world is in for a rough few years.  For example, if President Trump seeks a deal with Putin over combatting Islamic State, would he in return accept Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and much of Eastern Ukraine? Will he offer Europe a continued American security guarantee but only in return for much more money spent by Europeans on their own defence, and on condition they offer more support for what he deems to be America’s interests? Art of the Deal suggests that implicit in any of those ‘deals’ would be the constant threat that he could abrogate all and any of them at any time if he did not get what he wanted, as he pushed for ever more. Art of the Deal certainly implies he will be anti-EU. He would far rather have a group of weak European satellites subject to his will, than a co-ordinated group that could act as both partner and competitor. If so, NATO would only be of utility to Trump as a tool for ensuring European compliance as the supplicant partner in a new transatlantic ‘deal’.  

However, it is his relationship with China that is likely to be the biggest challenge for the Trump ‘doctrine’ of geopolitics. Donald Trump is instinctively attracted to those with a ruthless appetite for and understanding of power. That is why he is a ‘friend’ of Putin. However, Beijing is far more complicated and sophisticated than one-man Moscow. Like Beijing and Moscow Art of the Deal suggests that Trump geopolitics would also be instinctively drawn to the idea that might is right, with Western-led institutions seen merely as constraints on his deal-making action.  

What allies need to understand is what matters to Trump. Trump’s overarching aim is to secure and maintain his own power and wealth. America is a means to that end. Preserving his voter-base will thus be central to Trump geopolitics. A trade deal with China is central to that ambition. However, to get such a ‘deal’ with China will demand trade-offs. What would those trade-offs be? Would be implicitly accept China’s absurdly grand self-proclaimed sphere of interest in East Asia in much the same way he is about to legitimate Russia’s sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and the Middle East? What would he want in return? China to stop using competitive devaluations of its currency in a de facto geo-economic ‘war’ with the US? China to enter into a bilateral trade deal with the US to replace the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the rest of Asia-Pacific simply be forced to accept their 'place' in the new Pacific order?  He says he wants China to thwart the nuclear ambitions of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un but in return for what? Would be implicitly accept that Taiwan's future is an internal Chinese matter? They must be quite nervous in Taipei right now.           

Yesterday it was announced that two Russian warships had arrived in the Philippines for ‘exercises’. President Putin has sent those warships deep into the Pacific because he sees a strategic and political vacuum developing due to America’s retreat from geopolitics. Traditionally, American presidents have prevented the emergence of such vacuums by establishing early a series of foreign and security principles or 'doctrines' that make it clear to the world where America sees it vital interests, and which in turn are reinforced by a series of alliances and relationships.

If, as seems likely, President Trump abandons a ‘doctrine’ in favour of a series of iterative deals he will help deepen the emerging vacuum because neither allies nor adversaries will have any certainty as to the nature or extent of America’s commitment to them or indeed anything else. To say this would be somewhat of a paradox is an understatement; that is precisely what happened on President Obama’s watch with a White House that had neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies, just values…and vague ones at that.

President-elect Trump must realise and quickly that the White House cannot play petty politics with geopolitics. There are brave Americans risking their lives and their freedom daily to give the Office of the President the information it needs for the Commander-in-Chief to successfully conduct geopolitics and, when the time inevitably comes, make some very big calls. And, there could well be a very big call to make during President Trump’s first year in office if North Korea proves it can place a nuclear warhead atop a missile capable of reaching Seattle.

In geopolitics gut feeling is never enough.  Indeed, successful geopolitics demands far more than the art of the deal. ‘Deals’, however clever, are often the antithesis of geopolitics because in the absence of principles of political realism they destroy good, long-term relationships with friends, too often in favour of bad, short-term relationships with (excuse me) assholes.

Relationships not deals are the key to successful geopolitics as President Donald J. Trump will soon discover…along with the rest of us!

Julian Lindley-French  


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Britain Must Play Offence with Defence in 2017

“Britain spends some 7% of GDP on security in the round. Elements of this broad security spend that the Government has shifted into the defence budget to give the appearance of maintaining the defence budget at 2% GDP. It has done this by exploiting to the full the NATO definition of ‘other’ expenditure in support of deployable forces. This has been done primarily by shifting intelligence assets and resources not directly supporting the force to within the defence budget. Therefore, the ‘increase’ in the defence budget announced in the July [2014] Statement is unlikely to lead to enhanced fighting power, which was the political inference in maintaining 2% GDP expenditure on defence”.

Professor Julian Lindley-French, evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee, November 2015

Alphen, Netherlands. 3 January. Britain must play offence with security and defence in 2017. Why? 2017 will be one of those inflection moments in geopolitics and Britain needs to influence it. Brexit, Trump, Russia, IS, and and a host of wider challenges to the fast collapsing Western world order 1.0 demands proportionate action by one of the world’s top five world economic and security powers. Consequently, invisible security power and visible military power must be at the core of Britain’s 2017 influence campaign in at least two vital strategic arenas; Brexit and the forging of a new hard-nosed strategic relationship with the incoming Trump administration.

Brexit: In my November 2016 remarks to the annual alumni meeting of University College, Oxford I said Brexit will not be resolved by the pettifogging process and legalism beloved of Brussels, small European powers, and Whitehall. Britain’s new relationship with the EU will be forged over power fundamentals such as wealth, security and defence. Unfortunately, the process-junkies of the London elite establishment simply do not get this. That once great newspaper The Economist, which today too often confuses ‘analysis’ with one-eyed efforts to thwart Brexit, mistakenly suggested in its Christmas edition that the EU may withhold security and intelligence co-operation if Theresa May seeks a hardish Brexit. Wrong. Britain’s security and intelligence services are by far the best in Europe, particularly in the fight against IS. Take the Dutch for example.  Whatever Britain’s future relationship with the EU the Netherlands would never countenance seeing co-operation end between its MIVD and Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) because of some parochial, vindictive directive from Brussels. Much the same can be said for the rest of Europe, including France and Germany.

Trump: Hard-headed businessman that he is President-elect Trump has already indicated he will judge America’s European allies on the extent to which they are willing to invest in their own defence, and their concomitant commitment to support America’s global security role. Trump’s litmus test will likely be the willingness of allies to meet the NATO defence investment pledge of 2% GDP on defence, of which 20% must be investment on new military equipment.

The problem: The strategic situation has worsened markedly since the disastrous 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR 2010) and yet London sticks doggedly to too many of its already outdated prescriptions. Britain will blow both opportunities to influence Brexit and Trump if London continues to play defence pretence. London routinely trots out the mantra that Britain is one of only five NATO members that spend 2% of GDP on defence, and that London is investing some £178bn on new equipment. This is simply political rhetoric. As former Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Houghton suggested in December 2015 the reality is that Britain’s armed forces are too small, hollowed-out, over-stretched, under-resourced, and increasingly stressed, with little or no relationship between roles, missions, capability and capacity.

The force challenge: Take the British Army. At 82,500 the Regular Army is too small, efforts to offset cuts to the force via the creation of a 30,000 strong part-time Reserve Army have failed, and much of the non-commissioned officer backbone of the force taken voluntary redundancy in disgust. Moreover, the insistence on cost-neutral investments (?) is forcing the Army to make bad choices, such as the December 2016 decision to scrap more main battle tanks simply to fund lighter armoured vehicles just at the moment the Russians are deploying significant numbers of the new T-14 Armata tank to NATO’s eastern border.  Much the same can be said for the Royal Air Force.  However, it is the Royal Navy which reveals the extent of that lack of balance in Britain’s unbalanced defence policy. This year it is likely the first of Britain’s two new super-carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth will be commissioned. I say ‘likely’ because my sources in the Trump camp tell me President Trump could well cancel the vertical take-off version of the F-35 to teach US defence contractors a lesson about excessive cost and poor performance. The problem is that the F-35B is the very aircraft for which the British carriers are designed and why the two ships are so big. Should the F-35B indeed be cancelled the two ships will either have to be re-designed (again) to handle conventional carrier aircraft, turned into gigantic helicopter carriers, or simply mothballed. The strategic and political impact of any of the above would be disastrous for London precisely because the two carriers are meant to be national strategic assets and statements of power.

The cause: Beyond including the cost of intelligence and ‘other’ items in the defence budget for the first time in its history Britain’s sea-based future nuclear deterrent is now funded from the defence budget.  At the current level of defence investment Britain can afford either a powerful conventional force, or a credible nuclear deterrent, but not both.  The result is that the credibility of both Britain’s conventional and nuclear forces is declining and in turn undermining Britain’s strategic influence at a critical juncture.

The consequence: No real increase will take place in force investment until at least 2019. Consequently, the Royal Navy will lack the personnel to properly man the two carriers because SDSR 2015 forced the Senior Service to make an absurd choice between capability and capacity at the operational expense of both. There is now profound uncertainty about when the under-hulled Navy will actually get the new frigates on order.  Moreover, its state-of-the-art Type 45 destroyers are effectively laid up due to a design flaw in propulsion and power systems. There is also much concern about the ability of a future deployed British maritime force to defend itself in the face of emerging anti-ship technologies.

The paradox?  The danger exists that the two great carriers, far from projecting power and influence, will instead become icons of strategic failure and incompetence. Certainly, those that need to know in Washington, Berlin, Paris, Moscow, Beijing, Brussels and elsewhere, understand this. This is the reason why Britain punches so far beneath its weight these days in international affairs.  

The solution: If Britain is to properly use its armed forces as a lever of strategic influence (as it should) it must do so by creating a force that can not only play a full and proper role in the contemporary and future defence of the Alliance (and not just the defence of Britain), but also help relieve the pressure on over-stretched US forces, and demonstrate the indispensability of Britain as a security and defence ally to Americans and Europeans alike. In other words, London must urgently rebalance Britain’s unbalanced defence policy so that investment in military assets is matched by investment in the numbers and quality of personnel needed to exploit those assets, together with the supporting structures needed to sustain the force across the entirety of its roles and missions.

The proposal: The British government very publicly announces an addendum to SDSR 2015 (it has been done before) in which it states that 2% of GDP will be invested in the future force, and that the cost of the new Successor nuclear deterrent programme will again be met from the national contingency budget. London should also announce that much of the funding diverted in 2015 away from defence will be reinvested in defence. Much of the rest of the shortfall, the Government should state, will be met from the gesture-laden, appallingly wasteful aid and development budget, too much of which has been revealed of late to be hopelessly out-of-control, and in terms of the British national interest by and large useless.

The conclusion: Will London have the strategic vision and the political courage to do this? Probably not. The price?  A loss of critical influence at the very moment when Britain needs not just to appear strong, but to be strong in the coming Brexit negotiations and the forging of new power relationships.

The bottom-line: IF London in 2017 is to influence the power fundamentals of its respective relationships with Europeans and Trump Britain must play offence with defence. To that end, London must stop being in thrall to accountants and penny-pinchers, and start re-capitalising all of its influence assets. That means more strategists in charge who properly understand power and its application.

Julian Lindley-French    

Friday, 30 December 2016

2016: The Year of Vladimir Vladimirovich

“Moscow has three main reasons for engagement in Syria: to demonstrate that Russia is a world power which must be taken seriously; to maintain Russia’s Mediterranean base and the possibility of imposing Area Denial on the West in the Eastern Mediterranean that it gives Russia; and to have lever­age in places where Russia’s strategic concerns are more vitally engaged, such as Ukraine and the Baltic States”.

The New Geopolitics of Terror: Demons and Dragons (Routledge: January 2017)
William Hopkinson and Julian Lindley-French

Alphen, Netherlands. 30 December. Yet again Vladimir Vladimirovich has out-flanked his hapless American counterpart and in so doing has engineered the impression it is Washington not Moscow engaged in a new Cold War.  The same day Putin played peacemaker in Syria outgoing US President Obama expelled 35 Russian ‘dips’ from the US, and imposed new sanctions on Putin’s inner-circle for Russia’s cyber-adjusting the recent US elections. So, how has Putin pulled it off and what can the West do about it?

Like many Western analysts I heard the news of the Russian ‘guaranteed’ nationwide ceasefire in Syria with deep ambivalence. The liberal democratic ‘me’ is relieved that there may just be a pause in the slaughter. However, the Realpolitik ‘me’ knows only too well that this strategic pause is but a hiatus in the grand strategic ambitions of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin as he takes stock on what has been a year of success beyond his wildest dreams.

Vladimir Vladimirovich has brilliantly exposed the wishful-thinking of Western elite establishments on both sides of the Atlantic. Remember a year ago (a long time ago, eh?) when politicians and establishment pundits were certain in their complacency. Brexit was the preserve of eccentric, nostalgic, English insurgents. Trump was an insult to prevailing political correctness who would not make it beyond the Republican primaries, let alone become president. And, Chancellor Merkel was busy telling her fellow Germans ‘wir schaffen das’, as the country reeled under the impact of over one million irregular migrants arriving en masse. Merkel should at least have read her history of Arminius, his defeat of the Roman Empire in the First Century BC, and Rome’s forced withdrawal from Magna Germania.

However, it is in Ukraine and the Levant where Vladimir Vladimirovich has most exposed the powerlessness and fecklessness of the West. Having changed Europe’s established borders by force in 2014 Putin has consolidated his hold on Crimea and Eastern Ukraine by entering into the charade that is Minsk I and Minsk II. If I were Ukrainian I suspect I would prefer to call it Munich I and Munich II. After all, saving Chancellor Merkel’s ‘peace in our time’ political face in an election year seems to be the only possible ‘benefit’ to have emerged from either agreement. There is clearly going to be no peace in or for Ukraine.

In Syria Vladimir Vladimirovich has thus far achieved almost all of his policy and strategy goals. He has humiliated the West (a goal in and of itself for Moscow) and in so doing gravely undermined American and European influence across the entire Middle East and North Africa. He has forced EU and NATO members to the east of the West to wonder if NATO these days is in fact Munich on steroids. He has also begun to exert real destabilising influence across much of southern Europe and brilliantly driven a wedge between Turkey and its NATO allies.

That he could achieve his aims reflects a strategy that in turn brilliantly combines a mix of force, deft diplomacy, and the sustained use of disinformation and destabilisation to create an image of a Russia of which he personifies which is far stronger than it actually is. However, make no mistake, Vladimir Vladimirovich could not have made 2016 his own without the active and complicit participation of the Obama administration and Europe’s strategically-illiterate leaders.

So, what can be done to stop Vladimir Vladimirovich, beyond the holding of yet another strategically-flatulent EU or NATO summit? Political realism is needed. 2017 is unlikely to be the year President Putin is confounded.  President Trump will be in the White House in 19 days-time and seems more intent on buddying-up to Putin and teaching the ‘allies’ a lesson than containing the former or reinforcing the latter. Worse, Brexit and a deepening Eurozone debt crisis will again likely consume much of ‘Europe’s’ political energy during a 2017 when several key EU members will be engrossed in elections.

Firstly, the US and EU must endeavour to maintain sanctions (a big if) to curb Putin’s undoubted ambitions. Secondly, it will be vital to steadily strengthen the eastern NATO/EU border with a forward military presence that can act as a credible trip-wire and thus deterrent. Above all, Vladimir Vladimirovich must no longer be allowed an uncontested cyber and information space. In other words, Western powers must go on the cyber and information offensive against Russia.  That act alone would finally send out the signal to Vladimir Vladimirovich that the West has got his combative message, and that if Russia continues to attack the many vulnerabilities of Western societies, the West will attack Russia’s many weaknesses.

The brilliance of Vladimir Vladimirovich’s strategic understanding is that he is a strong leader of an essentially weak state, attacking weak leaders of states that are essentially far stronger. but who are incapable of his ruthless grasp of power and strategy. In other words, Vladimir Vladimirovich may be brilliant, but he is also ultimately weak.      

No, I do not like President Putin, but I do respect him. And, I must admit, I vaguely fear him. Which, after all, is the very objective he set out to achieve.

2016: the year of Vladimir Vladimirovich. 2017?

Happy New Year!

Julian Lindley-French          

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Robert Hunter’s Yuletide Failures!

Alphen, Netherlands. 28 December. This is getting to be like one of those end of year ‘hits of…’ TV programmes. After my Twelve Failures of Christmas (which Judy Dempsey cites in today’s Washington Post) blog, my old friend and America’s former top man at NATO Ambassador Robert Hunter has emailed me with a few more yuletide failures to add to my own. Robert has kindly given me permission to publish them in this blog:

“13. Failure of the United States to get a sensible set of policies for the Middle East that let Syria get out of control and thus produced so many of these migrants (forget about the gross failure by the US, aided and abetted by Lap Dog Blair, in invading Iraq).

14. Failure of the Obama administration to keep a steady focus on Europe, in its entirety.  And ignoring all advice to do something about it.

15. Failure of the Obama administration to do things that might, just might, have prevented Putin’s actions in Ukraine (e.g. trying to mastermind a coup.) As a result, US military leaders call Russia an “existential threat” to the US (nonsense) as opposed to seeing the mess in Europe, partly of America’s causing (and with no American effort to help out), as far more important and “existential,” thus taking the American eye off the ball and failing its European partners, and thus the West as a whole.

16. Putting in senior foreign policy positions in the US, beginning late in Clinton, accelerated in Bush, and continued in Obama, people  who were over their heads, with no capacity to fit pieces together, while meanwhile keeping at arms-length people who know what they are doing and have proved it.

17. The failure of the US (and Western) foreign policy establishments to do any serious and original thinking since the late 1990s on the grounds that history has come to an end, Russia is of no account, and we are on top.

That’s enough to be getting on with…..and I haven’t even got to Putin and Trump playing with their nuclear toys.

The Grinch won!

But Happy Christmas, anyway.  The world has seen worse”.

Sadly, Robert is to a large extent right. Some years ago another old friend Chris Donnelly tried to establish a think-tank that could ‘think the unthinkable’ at the heart of the British security and defence establishment. It was shot down precisely because it thought the unthinkable and was thus deemed politically unacceptable, even though much of the thinking has since been proven entirely credible.  And, because such thinking was rejected much of Britain’s security and defence is today increasingly incredible.

Another old and trusted American friend, Hans Binnendijk, challenged me over Christmas to focus on the positive in 2017. Fair point. The ‘positive’ will (sort of) come from me in January with the publication of my new book Demons and Dragons: The New Geopolitics of Terror, which is of course brilliant, very reasonably-priced, and can be pre-ordered on Amazon! Well, Hans, I will do my best, but in the end all any of us can do is call it as we see it. Right now, Western security and defence is not a pretty picture.

Still there are two bits of good news. First, Sheffield United beat Oldham Athletic 2-0 on Boxing Day to remain second in League One of the English Football League. ‘League One’ is a bit like Britain’s defence policy – the third rate misleadingly described as first rate. Second, there will be much for me to write about in what is going to be a 2017 every bit as bumpy as 2016.    

The retreat of the Big West from strategy into process and wishful thinking has accelerated the West’s own decline and bolstered posturing mini-powers such as Putin’s Russia, and micro-powers such as IS, and made them far more dangerous than need be the case.

Happy New Year!

Julian Lindley-French  

Friday, 23 December 2016

Amri: The Twelve Failures of Christmas

Alphen, Netherlands. 23 December. Sadly, given the events in Berlin I am not feeling particularly Christmassy this year. No, I am angry. Angry at the Islamist who took the innocent lives at a Berlin Christmas market. Angry at the failure to capture the alleged perpetrator Anis Amri. Above all, I am angry with our so-called leaders. Yet again one event has revealed them for what they are; wishful thinking, bungling incompetents seemingly unable or unwilling to properly defend the very people who put them in their ivory towers. For Amri, or whoever carried out the Berlin attack, to get behind the wheel of that articulated lorry and mow down swathes of festive revellers there were at least twelve failures to act:

Failure One: The very fact that Amri was allowed to get to Europe reveals again the farce that is the EU’s so-called external border.

Failure Two: The failure of Italy to deport Amri back to Tunisia once he was convicted of setting a detention centre alight.

Failure Three: The radicalisation of Amri within an Italian prison. Prisons across Europe seem to be little more than incubators for Islamisation these days.

Failure Four: Failure by Italy to deport Amri after he had served his sentence.

Failure Five: Failure to monitor Amri as he made his borderless way through Schengenland from Italy to Germany.

Failure Six: Having established that Amri was a threat the failure to maintain surveillance on him in Germany, partly as a function of the limited resources available to the German security services and partly due to the German government’s own fragmented structure.

Failure Seven: To permit a ‘fighter’ on a martyrdom mission to walk away from the scene of his crime and to bungle the investigation for twenty-four hours.

Big Failure Eight: The well-intentioned but absurd pretence by Chancellor Merkel with her ‘wir schaffen das’ mantra that by letting in well over one million irregular migrants into Germany (and thus Europe) without any real effort to properly document the new arrivals.

Big Failure Nine: The determined refusal to ignore the relationship between a failed migration policy and a failed security policy at a time when Islamic State declared their determination to attack Europe.

Big Failure Ten: To infer that any criticism of gross elite incompetence is somehow a right-wing political conspiracy and express feigned surprise when more European citizens die at the hands of an extremist permitted to make his way across Europe in spite of a whole raft of warning signs.   

Big Failure Eleven: To place more importance on hiding the facts of failure from citizens above establishing a proper policy, structure and system to manage both extreme migration at a time of extreme insecurity. This failure includes failing to prepare for or manage the huge and dangerous inflows into Europe, to establish a mechanism for establishing nationality early, to properly monitor dangerous individuals, to establish a proper system for deporting failed asylum seekers, to deal effectively with radicalising Mosques and individuals.    

Big Failure Twelve: If Amri is indeed the perpetrator, and that has yet to be properly established in a court of law, perhaps the biggest failure this whole tragic saga reveals is this; Europe’s leaders deemed Amri’s human rights to be more important than the human rights of the victims of his attack who had their lives snuffed out at that Christmas scene I know so well.

Europe is in a security crisis. Yet again the seemingly total inability of Europe’s leaders to properly secure and defend the very European citizens who elevate them has been revealed. Not for the first time, and I suspect sadly not for the last, I must again ask of our leaders how many more of us have to die before they get collective their security act together.   

Europe today is neither secure nor properly defended precisely because of the dangerous conceits of an incompetent European elite political establishment who simply refuse to face up to the hard realities of this dangerous world. And, in spite of their abject failure Europe’s leaders wonder out loud why so-called populists are emerging to challenge their complacency. Just how many Amris are stalking our streets? Europe’s leaders have not got a clue.

Get you act together, leaders!

Julian Lindley-French