hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Juncker Makes a Good Start

Alphen, Netherlands. 17 September.  The other day I was talking to a senior German politician and I was struck by the commonality of vision between us over the future of the EU. Importantly my colleague said that whatever the hairy-kneed lunatic Celtic fringe to the north of England vote for tomorrow – bigness or complete non-EU littleness – the relationship between Britain and Germany remains vital if a competitive, open-for-business Europe is to be built established on real economics and real growth. 

Implicit in Jean-Claude Juncker’s new European Commission is perhaps a pragmatic recognition that for the EU to survive its people must prosper and for its people to prosper Europe must be globally competitive.  For that reason the Juncker Commission headlines jobs, growth and investment, a digital single market and, here’s the cruncher, a deeper and fairer economic and monetary union.

Do not get me wrong.  I have not withdrawn my citizen’s principled objection to Jean-Claude Juncker.  His appointment as European Commission President was illegitimate and reflected German domestic politics and a grubby stitch-up/coup contre des etats between leaders in the European Parliament that had been planned well-before the May elections.  Indeed, the whole process was elite cronyism that made a mockery of those sad pre-election TV and radio advertisements inviting ‘we’ the citizenry to have our ‘say’ on the EU’s future.  It would have been at least more honest for said advertisements to have said “have your say peasant, whinge if you like, but we the elite will completely ignore you”.

Still, implicit in the composition of the new Commission is the suggestion at least that Juncker is sensitive to his own illegitimacy and cognisant of the need for change even if also implicit in the headlines is the mother and father of all political and cultural battles between liberals and statists, intergovernmentalists and federalists.  The first signs are vaguely encouraging.  Whereas the Barroso Commission was obsessed with regulation for regulation-sake and how to impose ever greater amounts of centralising, growth-killing lollops of Brusselsness on the rest of us the Juncker Commission has a pragmatic balance about it. 

The Commission certainly does not lack for experience or people who have fought, won and lost national elections.  Team Juncker comprises five former prime ministers, four deputy prime ministers, nineteen former ministers and Lord Hill.  The British appointee re-confirms that now long-established British tradition of complaining about the illegitimacy of the European Commission whilst at the same time proposing a Brit no-one outside of a small London clique has ever actually heard of.

The rest of the Commission is the usual carve up.  Whilst Commissioners are meant to remove their national shoes as they enter New Berlaymont they of course do not.  Of the important portfolios the Italians got foreign affairs and security policy, the French got economic and financial affairs and the Germans got digital economy and society.

Team Juncker will also have seven vice-presidents (how many do you need M. Juncker?).  The Commission goes to great lengths to tell me that 3 of the 7 or 42% will be women.  Indeed, the Commission goes to even greater PC lengths to point out that nine of the twenty-eight Commissioners will be women (whoopee!).  As someone who really could not give a toss whether an appointee is male or female my only demand is that the appointed women are good and judged on the basis of their professionalism not gender.  Too often in this absurdly politically-correct age one sees women appointed simply because they are women.  Not only does that diminish women and champion mediocrity it is a form of discrimination which is increasingly alienating the rest of us who are not part of the grey, male and stale political Establishment. 

Juncker has shown genuine magnanimity towards David Cameron and the Brits.  Having completely outflanked David Cameron (which is not exactly a shortlist these days) by appointing Hill as Commissioner for Dodgy Money, sorry Financial Services, a key British interest, Juncker is demonstrating a willingness to understand London’s concerns.  Moreover, Juncker is also signalling he understands that once the Eurozone, Scottish and Ukrainian crises are over the next big crisis waiting in the wings for the EU (after the coming Italian financial crisis) is the British/English crisis.   
The key appointment is somewhat grey (sorry Frans), clearly male, and very much part of the political Establishment, erstwhile Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans.  He will act in effect as Juncker’s Number Two on those days when Jean-Claude is a “little under the weather”.  He will also have the critical responsibility for reforming the European institutions and the only good joke one ever finds in Brussels – subsidiarity. 

Timmermans will be critical in ensuring the non-Eurozone member-states are not marginalised to the point of exclusion as and when the Eurozone core moves to deepen political and fiscal integration.  If the Eurozone does not further integrate and undergo deep structural reforms then it will either break up or bankrupt the few northern European taxpayers (me) that are at present simply bankrolling a crisis trapped in a no man’s land of irresolution…and then break up.  No pressure then.

Perhaps Juncker’s biggest challenges will be to curb his own federalising instincts and the Euro-fanatics who work for him whose life-work is to kill the member-states and replace them with a country called “Europe”. 

Of course, all of this makes the real question; how does Europe prepare together for a twenty-first century world of which it is part but over which it has little control?  Implicit in that challenge is the biggest question of all which of course Juncker will be keen to dodge for now; a Europe of nation-states or a European state.

Juncker has made a good start but the key question remains; will he pursue a liberal or a statist agenda.  If he follows the latter Europe is indeed doomed and it will simply be a matter of time before the EU fails.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 15 September 2014

Russia: Fight Ambiguous Warfare with Ambiguous Warfare

Riga, Latvia. 15 September. Two thousand five hundred years ago the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote, “To fight and conquer in all our battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting”.  Russia is fighting a war of conquest in Ukraine and it is Europe’s first true strategic test of the twenty-first century.  It is an intelligence-led (FSB and GRU) ambiguous or hybrid war in which disinformation, deceit and distraction are the primary tactics.  The immediate aim is to confirm the seizure of Crimea as a fait accompli and to create a new Russian protectorate called Novorossiya, the Tsarist-era name for south-east Ukraine.  If successful Russia will review the performance of its strategy and the response of the West before it considers if such a strategy can be applied elsewhere around its borders.  The over-arching strategic objective is to re-create a new sphere of influence that would strengthen Russian prestige and influence in Europe and create a buffer zone between Russia, the EU and NATO.  The dynamic centre of Moscow’s strategy is the modernising Russian armed forces reflective of a Kremlin world view that has abandoned partnership as unfavourable to Russian interests.  Instead, Moscow has returned to a zero sum game analysis of power in which only one side can prevail.  How can Russia’s ambiguous warfare be countered?

Sitrep: Russia remains as committed to its war aims as ever.  This week’s separatist-led attack on Donetsk Airport and the illegal entry of a new convoy into Ukraine marks the beginning of a new phase of Russia’s ambiguous war.  The first phase hid behind the strategic denial of European leaders that Russia would undertake such conquest in the twenty-first century Europe.  As Europe's leaders have slowly awakened to this reality this new phase hides behind a ceasefire that Moscow claims to back but which is now breached daily.  

The Western Response:  Do the same to Russia as Russia is doing to the West.  In other words the West must as a collective entity prey on Russia’s insecurities as Russia is preying on Western insecurities.  Russia insecurities essentially concern costs versus benefits for an essentially fragile state and can be thus summarised: a) Russia is a declining power that must act now if it is to establish a European order that is Russia-friendly and thus prevent in the Moscow strategic mind the consolidation of the EU and NATO on its borders; b) irrespective of current actions Russia will over time be locked out of the European financial and energy markets and must therefore re-establish Russian strategic ‘independence’; and c) in spite of Russia’s military modernisation programme over the longer term Moscow will become relatively weaker compared with NATO.  The next decade is decisive.

Countering Russian Strategy: The West must complicate Moscow’s strategic calculations.  The aim must be to convince the Kremlin that the survival of the Putin regime requires an accommodation with the West, most notably the EU.  Such a strategy would need four elements: a new political strategy; NATO military modernisation; a new NATO Forward Deterrence Concept; and an Allied intelligence-led ambiguous warfare concept.

      New Political Strategy: The West must develop a political counter-strategy to contain and roll back Russian aggression.  The aim of such a strategy would be to convince the Kremlin that it would be in Russia’s best interest to withdraw from Ukraine (including Crimea) pending talks that are aimed at finding a just settlement for ethnic Russians in Ukraine and the protection of the Russian Black Seas Fleet base in Sevastopol.  Such a strategy would preserve Ukrainian territorial integrity and enable Moscow to claim it is acting in the best interests of all the parties to the conflict. However, such a strategy would require first and foremost unity of effort and purpose.  Sadly, that is lacking.  For example, having supposedly suspended the sale of two advanced warships to Russia at 0430 hours on Saturday the French permitted Russian crews to re-commence training on one of the ships in St Nazaire. 

Good Cop, Bad Cop: France, Germany and indeed the EU could act as the ‘good cops’ committed to keeping lines of communication open and offering Russia a new political relationship with Europe.  Such open communications would have four objectives: a) to demonstrate to Moscow the political and economic consequences of continued aggression; b) the benefits of respecting sovereignty and close working relationship with the EU; c) the need to re-posit all European disputes within institutional frameworks that promote peaceful and legitimate conflict resolution. The US and UK would, on the other hand, play the bad cops, emphasising the threat Moscow poses to the European order.  London and Washington would thus champion the medium to long term strengthening of NATO as a “bastion against madness”, in the words of my good friend Professor Simon Serfaty.

      NATO Military Modernisation: The pace and scale of NATO’s military modernisation must be overtly linked to that of Russia.  Russia needs to see that the strategic balance in Europe has been affected by its actions but to Moscow’s detriment.  Today Moscow believes the Baltic States are indefensible.  Moscow also believes that between 2015 and 2020 the so-called correlation of forces will shift inexorably in its favour given its military modernisation programme and lack of any substantive countervailing modernisation in NATO Europe (whatever last week’s NATO Wales Summit said).  Therefore, as NATO nations spend four times that of Russia on defence it must be made clear to Moscow that any attempt to establish military supremacy in Europe will fail and thus simply be a waste of money.

NATO Forward Deterrence:  NATO must create a Forward Deterrence conventional force concept in support of all the Eastern Allies to underpin strategic reassurance and collective defence.  Moscow believes the Baltic States are vulnerable to disruption, destabilisation and are thus effectively indefensible.  Therefore, effective collective conventional deterrence is at least as important as effective collective defence. Building on the NATO Wales Summit the Alliance must establish a properly graduated response designed to ensure the West dominates the escalation ladder.  A Forward Deterrence strategy would confirm the creation of a trip wire force on the territory of all the Eastern Allies.  This force would involve US, UK and other high-end Western combat forces permanently established in the Baltic States and elsewhere.  NATO is already doing this to an extent but such a force would need to be properly established within twenty-first century layered deterrence. 

Twenty-First Century Layered Defence: The new Spearhead Force must be reinforced by the NATO Response Force which in turn is established on a modernised NATO Article 5 defence that combines advanced deployable forces, missile defence and cyber-defence into an effective bastion.  Critical to such an Allied defence strategy would be the reinvention and modernisation of the old NATO REFORGER concept with US and Canadian forces flying from Continental North America to provide reinforcement during times of tension.  Such a layered defence would need to be designed, exercised, tested and validated.

 Allied Ambiguous Warfare:  The West must convince Moscow that its strategy is in fact backfiring.  Therefore, NATO must invent its own form of ambiguous warfare. For example, Special Forces in relatively small numbers could be sent to Ukraine as advisers to assist Kiev’s forces in a policing mission in Eastern Ukraine.  Certainly, the presence of such forces would complicate Russia’s strategic calculus.  The forces could go to Ukraine either under a NATO flag, an EU flag or as part of a coalition of national flags and at the invitation of the Ukrainian Government.  The aim would be to assist with a disciplined and proportionate response by Kiev to the threat posed to Ukrainian stability prior to talks over a new constitutional settlement.  Russia would not of course object as according to Moscow it is an internal matter for Ukraine and Russian forces are apparently not engaged in Ukraine.  The presence of Western Special Forces would be reinforced by a major NATO-led training mission in Ukraine (NTM-U). 

The best way to combat ambiguous warfare is through ambiguous warfare.  The real test is whether Moscow is right or not.  Is there a West and if so does it have the collective political courage and guile to craft and enact such a counter-strategy?

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 12 September 2014

NATO: The Riga Test 2014

Riga, Latvia. 12 September.  The Riga Conference is one of those annual ‘must not miss events’ on the strategic merry-go-round.  Today I have the honour to chair two defence ministers, a NATO leader and my old friend Ariel Cohen on the gripping subject of the NATO Wales Summit 2014: Revitalising the Transatlantic Bond.

The thrust of my leadership will be to explore the growing gap between defence rhetoric and strategic reality in Europe.  Specifically, I will test my panellists with a simple question; can the people of Riga sleep soundly safe in the knowledge that NATO is REALLY defending them?  With Russia behaving like an old bad-tempered and grumpy uncle who has been on the alcohol for too long my Riga Test is pertinent to say the very least.  Indeed, two years ago I posed the same question but as ever got no clear answer. 
Central to the Riga Test 2014 is the apparent contradictions in the ‘only bit that really matters’ core of the NATO Wales Summit Declaration – the bit that matches political intent with military capability.  The Declaration kicks off with the usual summit guff.  “Based on solidarity, Alliance cohesion, and the indivisibility of our security, NATO remains the transatlantic framework for strong collective defence and the essential forum for security consultations and decisions among Allies”.  It goes on (and doesn’t it just), “The North Atlantic Alliance binds North America and Europe in the defence of our common security, prosperity and values.  It guarantees the security of its members through collective defence”.  And yet, the key paragraph on defence spending suggest that NATO Allies will only ‘aim’ to spend the NATO minimum of 2% GDP on defence “within a decade.  I am still trying to get my head around this clear retreat from reality.

In 2012 here in Riga I wrote, “The thing about power is that it is as unforgiving to those that have it as it is to those who do not…It is clear that President Putin’s world view is pretty ‘unreconstructed’ (to use the appalling non-speak of modern European academia).  His world is one in which hard power is used to project soft power into spheres of great power influence and devil take the small-most”.  If anything back in 2012 I was being overly-restrained given events in Ukraine.

The piece went on, “Riga is the crucible in which a new Alliance will either be forged or die.  Riga’s credible defence demands a new strategic bargain between Washington and Berlin and given events elsewhere the possible re-structuring of NATO into the EUrosphere and the defence Anglosphere.  The alternative is a United States pulled progressively away from the defence of Europe by events elsewhere, a NATO that fades as a result and poor, little Latvia once again trapped between the Russian (planned) and German (not-so-planned) spheres of influence.  History suggests that will not turn out well”.

There is an old joke about NATO.  NATO Heaven is a place where the police are British (or what may be left of we British), the cooks are French, the lovers are Italian, the beer is German and it is all organised by the Americans.  NATO hell is a place where the cooks are Scottish, the lovers are German, the police are French, the beer is American (heaven forbid!) and (sorry Italians) it is all organised by the Italians.

There is a third ‘place’ called NATO Purgatory.  It is a place where leaders talk endlessly about ‘solidarity’, ‘cohesion’, ‘collective defence’, ‘security’ and ‘indivisibility’ but in fact do nothing whatsoever about any of them.  A place where a few remaining deckchairs are endlessly re-organised into “Readiness Action Plans” and given fancy titles, such as “spearhead” or “very high readiness” even as the NATO Titanic sinks ever lower into the rising tide of regional and global insecurity.

If Riga is to be properly defended NATO will need a credible twenty-first century Forward Defence concept.  That means Alliance leaders who radically re-conceive of NATO and build a truly twenty-first century NATO Future Force at its core.  A NATO Future Force that can both deter and if needs be fight built on the investment vitally needed today if strategy, capability and affordability are to be balanced and a networked force crafted that enshrines close interoperability and deep jointness.

There was some good work done in Wales ‘in the circumstances’.  But that, as ever, is NATO’s eternal problem; Alliance leaders never actually address the right circumstances.  Certainly, my vision for a NATO Future Force was not adopted and NOTHING in the Wales Declaration suggests one is about to be created for all the fancy speak. 

So, does NATO pass the Riga Test 2014?  The good people of Riga have as yet no need to stay awake each night in fearful insomnia.  However, they cannot possibly be sleeping as well and as soundly as they did, even as recently as 2012.

As for getting a clear answer; I look forward to it!

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

9 September. Nine days to go to D-Day and the Scottish Referendum. Like many of us I am a true modern Briton - Europeanish, English, Scottish, and Yorkshire-ish - and yet like millions of us I am denied a voice in the most important constitutional question facing my country in over 300 years. For months I have wanted to send a message of hope, belief and mutual respect to my friends and family in Scotland.  Instead I have listened to incompetent politicians simply create division where none exists. Whilst our politicians are by and large complete pratts - and we can all agree on that  - we the people of our small island need each other, respect each other and must stay united as we all push for a new twenty-first federal Union in which finally power will be returned back to the people in a real democracy.  Please join me and millions of others in a show of support for Scotland, our Union and our future democracy by going to and add your voice of support not for this Britain but a Better Britain in which all have a voice.

Sod the politicians, trust the people!

All best,


China’s Fiery Cross?

Alphen, Netherlands. 9 September.  The South China Sea is hotting up as Beijing ups the ante on its long-term aim to establish effective and exclusive control.  China is planning to build an artificial island on Fiery Cross Reef complete with military air strip and a 5000 tonne sea-berth.  Beijing’s strategic aims would appear to be fivefold: to create a military capability on the disputed Spratly Islands that uses force to ends the sovereignty dispute with the Philippines and Vietnam, to control the oil and gas resources believed to lie under the Spratly Islands, to reinforce China’s self-proclaimed Air Defence Identification Zone; to extend Beijing’s self-proclaimed Exclusive Economic Zone; and in time to tip the strategic balance against the US, Japan and South Korea. 

The Fiery Cross or Crann Tara is aptly-named.  A Fiery Cross was a medieval Scottish (they get everywhere) device used to summon the Clans in the event of danger.  It was a half-burnt wooden cross soaked in blood and used to warn clans of the revenge by fire and blood that awaited those that did not answer the summons.  I am surprised Scottish Nationalist leader Alex Salmond has not invoked the Crann Tara in his Little Scotland mission to destroy the UK. He has invoked just about every other bit of Braveheart bravado.

The planned Chinese base on Fiery Cross Reef would extend a UNESCO-commissioned Chinese-built observation post that already exists. The artificial island would be at least twice the size of the US military base on the British Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia and cover some 90 square kilometres or over 50 square miles.

What are the wider strategic implications?  2014 has seen a distinct upturn in Beijing’s determination to extend its power writ across the South China Sea.  If the construction of the artificial island goes ahead it will show a flagrant disregard for international law not dissimilar to that of Russia in Ukraine.  If successful China could well seek to build a string of such islands to create an offensive military capability designed in time to shut the Americans and its allies out of huge areas of both the South and East China seas.

Beijing is clearly determined to ensure China is the dominant strategic power in East and possibly South Asia.  However, unlike Moscow Beijing is clearly prepared to build up its power patiently trading on the political and military weakness of neighbouring states, the increasing political and military overstretch of the United States and the strategic denial of European leaders who refuse to realise that the world is on the brink of a new age of ‘might is right’ hyper-competition.

This bigger strategic picture was missing from last week’s NATO Wales Summit.  The basic assumption behind the new first-responder Multinational Spearhead Force was that the Americans will always be able to act like the US Seventh Cavalry in those western movies of old.  In the event of threat the US would ride over the horizon to save Eastern European ‘homesteaders’ from Russian aggression.

However, implicit in the emerging and de facto Beijing-Moscow Axis is an agreement to offer mutual support by complicating America’s strategic calculus during times of stress by staging diversionary crises that stretch US forces to breaking point.  The use of Moscow-style ‘ambiguous warfare’ could well be at the forefront of such a strategy so successful has it been in dividing Europeans.  A reality self-evident yesterday when the EU could not agree to implement beefed-up sanctions.  With the US cutting its armed forces by 2020 more than the entire European defence budget the prospect of a strategically-paralysed US is now very real.

Therefore, NATO allies need to understand the nature of the new twenty-first century transatlantic contract implicit in Wales.  The Americans will guarantee Europe’s defence but only if Europeans help ease the pressure on the United States and its forces.  That means Europeans able and willing to join the Americans in future ‘broad coalitions’ not just against the likes of Islamic State but in wider state-on-state conflicts.  Indeed, NATO only makes sense from an American strategic perspective if it is part of a US-led world-wide web of democracies that can and is able to work together politically, strategically and militarily.  That is why Australia is such an important part of America’s ‘broad coalition’ because the presence of Canberra establishes the precedent for NATO as a mechanism for the generation of globally-capable coalitions.  It is also why Japan is changing its constitution to allow for the possibility of offensive military operations and South Korea is keen to get involved with NATO.

Taken together Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine and Beijing‘s ambitions in the South China Sea mark the start of a new age of global challenge to the once Western-led order.  There were some signs at the NATO Summit that some of the leaders might have understood this.  However, only a very few of them did (at best) whilst the rest still seem lost in the regionalisation/integration fairy-tale that is the EU.  It would of course be nice to think that good old-fashioned Machtpolitik is a thing of the past.  That is after all what most Europeans and their leaders want to believe.  It is not.

Therefore, it is time to set the Fiery Cross aloft and remind the Western clans that there are still those in the world who really do believe might is right and are prepared to use it if needs be to achieve their ambitions.  All of which makes the NATO ‘agreement’ to possibly increase defence spending a little bit and possibly within a decade seem what it is - absurd.

Julian Lindley-French 

Monday, 8 September 2014

NATO Wales: No Action (more) Talk Only?

Alphen, Netherlands. 8 September.  Last week former NATO Supreme Commander Jim Stavridis and I co-authored a blog which called for the creation of a NATO Future Force driven by a contextually-relevant NATO Strategic Concept and underpinned by Alliance strategic unity of effort and purpose.  To be honest I was not expecting too much from the NATO Wales Summit and only time will tell whether finely crafted and drafted ‘language’ actually means anything.  Indeed, after a depressing encounter last week with senior Dutch politicians I suspected that the Summit would be more of the same ol’, same ol’ – short-term politics dressed up was long-term strategy. 

This weekend I have been carefully reading the Summit Declaration and associated press releases (yes, I really am that sad).  My conclusion is this; whilst historians will not look back on the Summit as a pivotal moment in NATO’s now long and bumpy journey they will see it as an important moment and possibly even the start of a truly twenty-first century Alliance.  There was of course a lot of politics – the Summit was after all full of politicians.  However, for some leaders at least there was finally an acceptance of what NATO is today, how it can best be used and some consideration as to its future. 

NATO today is a coalition generator and commander for offencive security operations by assorted members and partners alike and an absolute defence guarantee for its members.  Nothing more, nothing less.  To an extent, Wales succeeded in reinforcing both missions.  Indeed, the Readiness Action Plan, in many ways the centrepiece of the Summit, echoed (again to an extent) the call Jim and I had made last week for a new agile strategy that in effect merges collective defence, crisis management and co-operative security into a coherent security and defence concept.  The addition of cyber-defence to collective defence was certainly also a step down the road to the overhaul and modernisation of Alliance collective defence that has long been needed.  

However, it is where ambition and investment meet that NATO’s rubber really hits the road.  With the new ‘Spearhead’ force ‘complementing’ the existing NATO Response Force and the seven High Readiness Forces one has to ask just how many such forces the Alliance can create from ever-shrinking militaries.  Indeed, the Declaration simply does not add up - literally.  New forces cost money and on the critical issue of defence spending the Summit Declaration simply demonstrates the extent to which the Eurozone crisis has and is undermining NATO.  It was depressing to read of, “the aim to move towards the 2% guideline within a decade with a view to meeting their [nations] NATO Capability Targets and filling NATO’s Capability shortfalls” [my emboldening]. 

In other words many NATO members have no intention of spending more on defence and that for them NATO will continue to either recognise only as much threat as they can afford or expect others to do their defending for them.  Pure nonsense!  One thing is clear about the world in 2024; the continued military weakness of Western democracies will only make it more dangerous than it need be.  Clearly, for some countries, not least the Netherlands where I live, Russia’s actions in Ukraine have not been enough of a defence wake-up call.  What will it take?

The Summit also points towards a two-speed NATO that will rarely if ever operate at 28.  The news that a ‘core coalition’ of NATO allies (plus Australia) will join the US in combatting Islamic State reinforces the Alliance as an organiser of US-led coalitions for those states that can and will.  First, the states involved are in and of themselves interesting - America, Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Turkey.  These are NATO’s big and bigger powers, plus the home of the current Secretary-General Denmark.  This is clearly NATO’s core group with whom the Americans will do business and Germany’s presence is important and to be commended.  However, where is the Netherlands, Spain et al?  Second, the involvement of Australia in the coalition also suggests the US sees future NATO as one element in a world-wide security web of democracies focused on the United States but divided into the protectors and the protected.

There was of course the usual need for the Summit to clear up unfinished business – the maintenance of an Open Door policy to new members, the need to remain engaged in Afghanistan, the usual blah-blah about NATO-EU relations and the even more usual nonsense about defence-industrial co-operation.  However, there is something of an ‘overtaken by events’, formulaic quality to these paragraphs which clearly suggests little political appetite to actively pursue such ‘commitments’.

The bloody big elephant in that Celtic room was of course Russia.  The Summit Declaration used strong language, “We condemn in the strongest terms Russia’s escalating and illegal military intervention in Ukraine and demand that Russia stop and withdraw its forces from inside Ukraine and along the Ukrainian border”.  Nothing there to make President Putin blink ‘ceasefire’ or no ‘ceasefire’ and I suspect Moscow simply sees this as NATO posturing after the fact of its actions in Ukraine.

The other elephant in the room was not so big and could be shrinking fast – Britain.  For what progress there was in Wales the much-challenged British Prime Minister David Cameron can take some credit.  Indeed, with strong American support the Summit was something of a success for British diplomacy and London is to be congratulated for that.  However, with Scotland about to vote on independence it could be the very last such ‘British’ success.  If Cameron loses Scotland it will certainly be his last ‘success’ as he will not survive secession.  Yes, the confirmation at the Summit that the second of Britain’s new super-carriers HMS Prince of Wales will join the British fleet as planned was good timing, decent politics and effective leadership.  The same can be said for Britain’s offer to lead the new Very High Readiness Force.  However, if the UK is to continue to lead by example (a very big if) London must maintain defence spending at above 2% GDP.  Of course Little Britain could do that at a stroke with the loss of Scotland simply by spending the same amount.  However, the loss of Scotland would be a national humiliation and dangerously weaken one of NATO’s core states at a critical strategic moment.

As with all such declarations the devil is in the language and the detail and the Declaration still reeks of denial and strategic pretence.   Indeed, as I read through the text I could not help but be reminded of my Oxford thesis on British Policy and the Coming of War 1933-1941.  Back then I had the very real privilege of reading all the British Cabinet minutes covering that vital nine year period.  Two themes emerged from my study.  Firstly, prior to World War Two both the Baldwin and Chamberlain cabinets were deeply split over what to do about the rise of Hitler.  On one side of a very intense argument were the ‘rearmers’ who drove through the huge 1934 rearmament programmes.  These created radar, the Spitfire, the Hurricane, Bomber Command and the new Royal Navy which fought and eventually helped defeat the Nazis.  On the other side of the argument were the appeasers and those simply in denial about Hitler.  Second, there was a desperate attempt by the Cabinet to give the appearance of unity of effort and purpose where frankly none existed.

It is clear that NATO today suffers from similar divisions and has a very long way to go before the Alliance is in that now hackneyed phrase ‘fit for purpose’ for all the challenges that the world will undoubtedly throw at it.  Indeed, at points the Summit Declaration has a strange ‘magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat’ quality to it given the gap between strategy and politics that is all too apparent.

That said I will go as far as to say that as far as it went the Wales Summit saw some Alliance leaders begin to think big and look beyond their immediate domestic challenges.  Maybe, just maybe, a new reality is slowly dawning.  For that reason NATO’s twenty-first century may just have started in Wales and for that reason alone the Summit is to be commended.

NATO: No Action (more) Talk Only?  Only time will tell if it is not already too late!

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 5 September 2014

Defence Double Dutch

Alphen, Netherlands.  5 September.  That great Dutch leader Johan de Witt had a simple saying, “if you are going to do something do it well”.  This morning at the NATO Wales Summit Alliance leaders will agree two smoke and mirror commitments.  The first ‘commitment’ will be to a ‘new’ Rapid Reaction Force.  This will add yet another such multinational 'force' to the now great collection of NATO Response Forces and EU Battle Groups that are never actually used because political leaders can never agree on when and how to use them.  The second ‘commitment’ will be to TRY and spend 2% of GDP on defence within TEN YEARS.  This is a commitment’ that was actually made back in 2010 and which all NATO members should already have fulfilled.  Indeed, the host David Cameron has spent much of the Summit banging on about this to his partners.  However, the man who could well be about to lose Scotland will soon have to admit that on current planning even British defence spending will soon fall below the very target he is espousing.  It is pure Cameronism – say one thing, do another...or rather do nothing.

Sadly, the Summit is another pathetic attempt by European politicians to bridge the now unbridgeable gap between strategy and politics.  There is no better example of that than here in the Netherlands.  Yesterday, I had the very distinct honour of giving the ‘keynote’ Johan de Witt lecture to veterans of the Royal Netherlands Navy and the Royal Netherlands Marines Corps in Rotterdam.  Now, I fully admit that my Dutch is not as good as it should be given that I have lived in this country for seven years and my wife is Dutch.  The simple truth is that the massive bulk of my business is elsewhere precisely because Dutch leaders are not really interested in either strategy or defence.

My lecture was a hard-edged, carefully-researched analysis of the nature and pace of dangerous change in the world.  The message was clear:  geopolitics is back and Europeans need to get their defence act together collectively and individually if they are to prevent conflict and to underpin all other forms of influence and soft power vital to world peace in a dangerous twenty-first century.

When I had finished a very senior Dutch politician replied.  Thankfully I could only understand about 50% of what he said and I can only hope the 50% I did not understand was more positive than the nonsense I understood.  The Netherlands Armed Forces are always there during crises, he said.  Thousands of Dutch troops are deployed around the world and they do a great job.
The first assertion is not true – Dutch politicians stay out of a lot.  The second assertion is only partially true but at least the third assertion is true.  As I have seen from first-hand experience the truly outstanding qualities of the men and women of the Royal Netherlands Armed Forces as they endeavour often at great risk to offset the strategic myopia of a political class that is simply not serious.

The elite are true Dutch masters of the “we only recognise as much threat as we can afford” school of European decline.  The Netherlands says it spends about 1% of GDP on defence.  However, if one removes the figure-fiddling The Hague routinely deploys actual expenditure is nearer 0.8%.  To justify such free-riding I was given yesterday the usual nonsense about the cost of welfare, health and education being the priority and that defence can only be considered after all of these have been paid for.  It is the mantra of all free-riders who want others to defend their countries for them as though those who spend more on defence do not face similar challenges.
As I listened on stage I sat there in mute disbelief at the cultural gap.  Not the gap between me and my Dutch political colleagues but rather the cultural gap between the Dutch political class and strategic reality.  Masking reality is the stuff of Dutch politics these days, not confronting it.  One would have thought with Russian artillery pounding Ukrainian cities as I spoke that the key strategic event for them would be taking place in Eastern Ukraine.  No, the key ‘strategic’ event for them was this week’s meeting of the European Central Bank at which ECB President Mario Draghi announced additional hundreds of billions of my Dutch taxpayer’s money to spend on the purchase of bonds to stimulate the failing Eurozone economy. 

The Eurozone is now in permanent crisis with many of its economies unreformable due to weak national institutions and a lack of political will to make critical structural reforms.  Historians will look back on the entire Eurozone adventure as the ultimate act of elite political irresponsibility.  And yet all Dutch politicians and their Eurozone counterparts do is try and hide the scale of the disaster from their publics by pouring good money after bad in an effort to ‘stabilise’ the benighted currency.
That is why it will take TEN YEARS (I might add ‘at least’) before the Netherlands can spend 2% GDP on defence at a time when world events are crying out for an increased European defence effort.  In effect, The Hague is raiding the Dutch defence budget to fund the transfers of billions of my taxpayers Euros to keep failing economies afloat who will not do the necessary to make the Eurozone competitive.   “Please, we want to get off the world so we can NOT fix the Eurozone crisis”, was in effect the message from my Dutch political colleague.  Let me repeat, politicians are NOT actually fixing a Eurozone crisis just keeping the Eurozone afloat in a kind of permanent bad marriage.  The Eurozone is now lost in a no-man's land between integration and irresolution with politicians hoping that world growth will reinject economic growth into a Eurozone steadily being strangled by the inertia of its own contradictions.  Fat chance. 
Ten years from now given the dangerous shift in world power that is taking place it will be far too late to increase defence expenditure.  By then real power in the world will be very much less democratic and very much more dangerous.  The irony is that the Netherlands will find itself as a consequence of its strategic myopia and defence denial in a kind of Euro defence zone, a strategic, political and military no-man’s land which will suffer all the same ‘structural’ contractions and weaknesses as the Eurozone and dare I say NATO.

After the lecture had finished one and all boarded a boat to cross the Rhine to visit His Netherlands Majesty’s Ship Karel Doorman.  At 28,000 tons and costing €350m she is not only brand new but a hugely impressive warship.  However, as I was standing on the helicopter deck I could not help conclude that she is in many ways all that is wrong with Europe’s Potemkin defence – a political statement rather than a product of considered defence strategy.  A ‘look what we’ve got’ ship that in fact masks the reality of the sorry state not just of the Royal Netherlands Navy but the Dutch Armed Forces and indeed many such armed forces across Europe.

Be it in Wales or in Rotterdam all I heard or saw yesterday is defence double Dutch.  Johan de Witt must be spinning in his grave.

Julian Lindley-French