Alphen, Netherlands. April 8. Henceforth, the Lindley-French Blog Blast will be The Lindley-French Analysis. This blog was born amidst the wreckage of the Great Financial Crash, we are now in the midst of the Great COVID-19 Crash. All major crises accelerate change, this one will be no different. Therefore, it is also time for this blog to change.
It is some ten years since I posted my first Blog Blast. My motivation then, as it is today, was to speak strategic truth unto mainly European power which routinely placed parochial, short-term, self-serving politics before sound strategy and policy. Back in 2010, as an experienced analyst who had witnessed power in Brussels at close quarters – both EU and NATO – I was concerned that many of Europe’s leaders lacked the strategic depth to deal with the complex challenges of the age. The world was in flux and yet European leaders seemed impervious to change, stuck in a 1990s time-mind-set. Europe was also in shock and the EU effectively paralysed by the Eurozone crisis. The US and its allies were also mired in a series of conflicts from Afghanistan to Iraq, and far beyond. Europeans seemed incapable of gripping the scale of the challenges they faced or their own rapid decline. My own country, Britain, had become profoundly complacent and overly reliant on one financial sector for its income. China was on the rise and Russia on manoeuvres.
My early blogs were often quite aggressive. They needed to be. Europe’s leaders were stuck on default as another phase of Project Europe began and with it ever more ‘Europe’. The Constitutional Treaty had been replaced with the just ratified Lisbon Treaty and yet more significant powers were being transferred from the European nation-state to the EU institutions with profound implications for governance and democracy in Europe. And yet, citizens were being routinely treated as (at best) children by a ‘we know best’ ever more distant elite many of whom seemed lost in a globalist ideology. For Brussels citizens a ‘problem’ to be circumvented, by-passed, ignored for some ill-defined greater good that saw ever more power in ever fewer hands. If citizens objected they were castigated as populists and nationalists or asked to vote again in a series of referenda from France to the Netherlands to Ireland to Denmark. In Britain, Tony Blair had a more elegant solution: he simply reneged on his promise to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty for fear the people might give the ‘wrong’ answer.
Ten years on Europe’s battle over collective and common inaction still rages, even as the Real World beyond the Euro-World moves on. Since 2010 the consequences of policy failure have become all too apparent. Fragile Europe is still stuck with the Eurozone a constant accident waiting to happen again and again and again. Europe’s nation-states are in danger of being hollowed-out, Potemkin villages vulnerable to the slightest shocks, as their ability to affect change drains away, with no-one quite sure where power lies. At least there was a strong Germany. Now?
Insights, controversy and education
The blog has had its insights. In 2011, I was one of the first, if not THE first, to predict Britain would leave the EU. It was analysis, not genius. To make the Euro work in the wake of the crisis continental Europeans would need to go to a place where Britain simply could not go – real banking, fiscal and political union. The alternative would be for the British to expend huge sums on a project of which they were not effectively a part. This blog was also the first to suggest the ‘West’ was evolving from a place into a global idea, and that the Atlantic Alliance should be seen as part of a global security network of liberal democracies faced by the growing systemic challenge of the two power autocracies, China (real power) and Russia (pretend power). The idea of a Europe on ‘strategic vacation’ was invented here, and I also made the important distinction between a European Army (which will never happen) and an ‘army of Europeans’ (which really should).
The blog has also necessarily courted controversy. For example, some took my commentary on Brexit as proof I was a Brexiteer. In fact, I was never a Brexiteer and campaigned for Remain. To my mind, Brexit was a denial of Britain’s historic role as Europe’s balancer and I wanted the British to stay in the fight for a reformed EU in which the distance between power and people was not driven ever wider by the dirigiste instincts of a faraway elite. Paradoxically, given my above analysis, the innate contradictions from which the Euro suffers meant Britain would always be able to exert its pragmatic influence, not least because for the most part Berlin agreed. In any case, politics in Europe is (or at least should) never be about absolutes.
I have also made mistakes, which I regret. As a student of Soviet history it was a mistake to entitle a piece EUSSR and I was rightly berated for it. It was a response to a senior Commission official who had suggested my concerns about giving the New Berlaymont ever more power in the name of ‘Europe’ might be the result of my suffering some form psychological malaise. Re-education? These things can happen when one exists in a political pressure cooker for many years. Still, if one cannot take the criticism, don’t write the piece!
Given my education some have asked why I did not become part of that elite. First, said elite did not want me as I am far too uncomfortable for them. Second, I am a product of English political culture, which fought a civil war to deny kings absolute power, the same culture which over a century later informed the American Revolution. My fear was of democracy diluted to the point of irrelevance in the process. A Hotel California Europe in which I could vote anyway I liked but I could never leave. Indeed, I was also the first to use the Hotel California metaphor in the context of Brexit: Britain could check-out any time she liked, but she could never leave. However, my challenge to a kind of absolutism in Europe that wrapped itself in the cloak of freedom and democracy and yet promised a form of bureaucratic tyranny was the challenge of a citizen, not a wrecker.
Perhaps my most controversial analysis was at the height of the post-911 conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Given the threat posed by Al Qaeda, Islamic State et al, I asked why there appeared to be a disconnect between immigration policy and security policy in many Western European countries. It seemed strange to be sending Allied forces faraway to keep Salafist Jihadism ‘at strategic distance’, whilst allowing large numbers of people from the very same socially and religiously conservative regions to settle in Europe. Not surprisingly, given the nature of this age and medium, there were misplaced accusations of racism. In fact, my analysis was essentially about strategy and policy. Respect, irrespective of race, gender, creed or orientation, is hard-wired into my DNA. There have been too many good people from all over in my life to think otherwise. What the attacks revealed was also a growing intolerance of analytical nuance and the politicisation of insight, together with a dangerous demand that analysts ‘conform’ to dogma.
Friendships have also been forged and broken by this blog, and I have not always been popular with my peers, most notably in academia and elite think-tanks, particularly in Europe. My Quaker-inspired strap-line, ‘speaking truth unto power’ was the result of a creeping conviction that too many European think-tanks were doing the opposite. Trapped by the need to raise money, much of it from the very people they needed to analyse, I saw good minds being suborned by power, particularly in Brussels. Independence of thought and analysis is the sine qua non of contemporary liberal democracy and vital to the holding of distant power to account.
I am also a member of a very pragmatic British school of political Realism, rather than the ideological school one finds elsewhere. For all the focus on European politics, policy and strategy, it has been big defence that has been the constant that has bound together a decade of informed and experienced reflection, with NATO, European and British defence policy to the fore. Indeed, my entire approach is that of an historian addressing strategy, as I am first and foremost an Oxford historian with a profound interest in defence strategy. Everything I think and write goes back to the education in modern history I received many years ago at Oxford from the likes of Sir Michael Howard, Leslie Mitchell, Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann, and my old and late-lamented mentor, the wonderful David Cox. It is also my Oxford education that, like Gibbon and Macaulay before me (No, I am not comparing myself to either of them) that informs my firm Realist belief that freedom can never be take for granted. Realism why defines my staunch support for my friends in Poland and the Baltic States in the face of a revanchist Russia.
Taking a stand
My analysis is not and never will be neutral. Indeed, belief is central to my analysis. To my mind, the world is a safer place when North Americans and Europeans are in harness. For me, the Atlantic Alliance is THE cornerstone alliance of world security. However, for the Alliance to endure it is vital Europeans finally step up and become strategically responsible actors, something they can only do through the closest of collaborations.
Finally, I am also a British patriot (no nationalist) who believes Britain still has a major role to play if not as the world power of yore, as an Atlantic and European power, but only if London’s elite Establishment once again learns to believe in Britain and its people. Critically, if Britain is to return to its Realist tradition it must again align the ends, ways and means of British security and defence policy with the strategic roles and responsibilities expected of a still major regional strategic power.
So, when the dust of the Great COVID-19 Crisis begins to settle geopolitics will again be cast by Realpolitik and if Britain thinks it can evade the responsibilities of its power then London is deluded. That is why throughout this journey, and whilst I have often attacked elites and establishments, the aim has never been to destroy them, but to make them better so they can serve me, the citizen, more effectively.
The Lindley-French Analysis
Now, my blog is at another crossroads and about to evolve again. The next decade will be tumultuous as power, space and freedom once again become sorely contested on the anvil of the new Global Bipolarism as Pax Americana and Pax Sinica compete for dominance. In such a world it is as an analyst at the juncture between academia and practice where I can best add value. Consequently, there will be fewer ‘blogs’ but each blog will be longer and deeper and grounded in evidence.
The journey will be bumpy as I will never compromise with thought ‘fashion’, and I will continue to call it as I see it. The other day a Dutchman took great pride in telling me the Dutch were direct to a fault. He also castigated the English for never saying what they really think. In fact, and with no disrespect to the Dutch who I (by and large) admire, the Dutch can indeed be direct, but often only about the things that do not matter. They can also take easy offence when they find an Englishman who really does say what he thinks.
In that light, the one thing I can assure you of, as a Yorkshireman, Englishman, Briton, European and Atlanticist, is that I will continue to say exactly what I think without fear of grace or favour. Thank you for your support. It has been an honour to serve you all. Here’s to the next decade of informed citizen engagement with power. Without it freedom will not endure.
Stay safe, everyone!