hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Belsen

Alphen, Netherlands. 15 April. Seventy years ago this morning elements of the 11th Armoured Division, British 2nd Army (Lt. General Miles Dempsey) liberated the notorious Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp.  What the British soldiers discovered upon arrival was hell on earth. Twenty of the eighty remaining guards were immediately executed on the spot, "for mutiny".  The Camp Commandant was arrested and later that year hanged with five other members of his command group.

It is unclear how many were murdered in the typhus-ridden camp but it certainly numbers in the hundreds of thousands at least. The British Army erected a sign which read, "This is the site of the Infamous Belsen Concentration Camp liberated by the British on 15 April, 1945.  10,000 unburied dead were found here. Another 13,000 have died since.  All of the them victims of the German new order in Europe and an example of Nazi kultur".

Commentary: modern Germany is utterly aware of the dark eloquence of this dark past which continues to inform its present and rightly so.  No European must ever forget what happened for the holocaust is and must be seared into the European soul.

However, perhaps the most eloquent commentary came from a simple British sergeant when some of the SS guards refused to help bury the dead.  "You f...... bastards created this mess. You f...... bastards can clear it up".

Never again!

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Little Britain: The Death of the Sspecial Rrelationship?


London, United Kingdom. 14 April.  Is the Special Relationship finally dead?  This city of cranes, this monument to super-wealth, in which new gilded towers soar ever upwards on every street corner in the pursuit of Mammon, is the very picture of prosperity and Britain’s still extant global interests.  And yet behind the cathedrals of plate glass that surround me all is not well.  Britain’s Little Britain politicians in their Little Britain election campaign seem to care little about the real world beyond their rhetoric and understand even less.  Instead, every ingredient of substance is tossed like a French omelette for the sake of narrow political gain. Yesterday, it was the turn of the Anglo-American ‘Special Relationship’ to be given the Chicken Little sky-is-falling-in electoral treatment by the Press.  They may have a point.

The Times ran a story entitled “America reconsiders special relationship with Britain”.  Normally we Brits always tend to use the upper case for the Relationship, whilst the Americans (and The Times) see the relationship very much in the lower case.  It concerned a paper completed for the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in Washington by Derek E. Mix entitled, “The United Kingdom: Background and Relations with the United States”.  Indeed, I have it here before me with my notes scribbled all over it.  Now, I have known its author for many years and like the work of friends I have known and worked with at CRS over the years, such as Stan Sloane and Dick Grimmett, Derek’s paper is the very epitome of balance and carefully-considered wording.

The paper makes every effort to consider the Sspecial Rrelationship in the round. Britain remains an important trading partner of the US, and there is no question that the intelligence relationship is ‘Sspecial’ given the extremely unusual closeness of the UK’s SIS and the US’s CIA/DIA/NSA.

However, it is the ‘defence-strategic’ Rrelationship which is the very pith of the Sspecialness of the Rrelationship.  When Churchill coined the phrase “Special Relationship” back in 1944 he understood both its strengths and weaknesses.  From the very first meeting of the joint chiefs of staff in January 1942 the Americans were in charge. However, Britain (plus Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand et imperia al offered immense power).  Those days are long gone but the central principle of the Rrelationship was and is that Britain remain the most militarily powerful American ally, in return for British influence over American policy and strategy.  In other words, the Americans make the securing of Britain’s global interest implicit in the City here cost-effective.

In his report Derek is also scrupulous in his acknowledgement of the continued strength of the Rrelationship. “U.S. and UK officials, from the cabinet-level down, consult frequently and extensively on many global issues. American and British diplomats report often turning to each other first when seeking to build support for their respective positions in multilateral institutions or during times of crisis…” 

However, there can be no doubt that the defence-strategic core of the Sspecial Rrelationship is under the most intense pressure.  In a January 2015 meeting President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron went through the usual rituals of ‘Sspecialness’, reaffirming mutual love and respect.  Privately, President Obama pushed hard for Cameron to commit to the NATO base defence-spending guideline of 2% of GDP.  In spite of Cameron having lectured all other NATO members about the need to meet that commitment at the September 2014 NATO Wales Summit, Dave refused.  The reason is now clear; Cameron is making huge, unfunded domestic spending pledges (£8bn for the NHS) as part of his Little Britain election campaign, has protected so many other areas of government-spending from spending cuts AND at the same time has promised to remove Britain’s £90bn budget deficit by 2020 that something has to give.  That ‘something’ is Britain’s defence budget.  To be fair Ed Miliband is little better.

Cameron’s tenure as prime minister has been pot-marked by strategic illiteracy.  Indeed, ever since then Foreign Secretary Hague’s May 2011 speech which asserted there would be no “strategic shrinkage” under Cameron’s administration, Britain has been ‘shrinking’ alarmingly.  Unfortunately, Cameron neither gets, understands, nor seems to care about Britain’s place in the world, its influence or indeed the maintenance of Britain’s ‘strategic brand’ essential to the country’s security and defence.  Indeed, at no point in this election campaign has he even mentioned Britain foreign and defence policy.  It is one of those areas off-limits, like Europe and immigration. As for a Cameron vision of Britain in the twenty-first century world – forget it.  This is bordering on criminal for a country that is still one of the world’s top five powers. It is as though Cameron and his cronies not only accept decline as given, but welcome it.

In the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review Cameron made a contract with the British armed forces.  Accept the 8-10% of funding cuts and the 30% cuts in operational capability and from 2015 on real investment will take place in the Future Force.  Let me tell you now; if Cameron is re-elected that contract will be broken in SDSR 2015 and the next comprehensive spending review.

But here’s the rub; Britain’s security and defence strategy pre-supposes a close relationship with that of the United States.  An increasingly over-stretched America facing a burgeoning China, a revanchist, unstable Russia and the rise of the Islamist anti-state is looking ever more to its allies to ease the burden.  Just at the moment America needs Britain, Cameron’s Little Britain is in danger of going AWOL. 

Perhaps the most telling comment in Derek’s excellent report is this: “In an increasingly “G-20 world”…the UK may not be viewed as centrally relevant to the United States in all of the issues and relations considered a priority on the U.S. agenda”.

Cut Britain’s armed forces further, Prime Minister and you will not only kill the Sspecial Rrelationship, you will effectively remove the central assumption implicit in British security and defence strategy – relevance to Washington.  Indeed, here’s a bit of ‘Strategy 101’ for you, Prime Minister.  The reason for strong British armed forces is not to rule the world but to influence Washington and to keep NATO relevant to the Americans.  You are about to destroy both, if of course you are re-elected.

Little Britain: the death of the Sspecial Rrelationship? Prove me wrong, Prime Minister! Commit to NATO's 2%!


Julian Lindley-French 

Friday, 10 April 2015

The Strategic Risks of Devaluing Nuclear Weapons


Alphen, Netherlands. 10 April.  The Little Britain general election campaign drones on with blown-up, strategically-illiterate little politicians daily offering irrelevant political gimmicks to an uninterested and unimpressed electorate.  Little or no mention has been made thus far of Britain in the world, and no vision whatsoever of a strategic Britain in a strategic twenty-first century.  It really is dire stuff. Indeed, if one adds up all the extra-money daily promised to the all-consuming National Health Service and subtract that from the cuts necessary to reduce the structural deficit then by 2020 Britain will have to change its name to “NHShire”, because that is all that is going to be left.  At least Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent (and its successor) got a mention this week, but only as ever in the form of politics pretending to be strategy.  Defence Secretary Michael Fallon accused Labour leader Ed Miliband of planning to scrap the deterrent so as to do a power-confirming deal with Planet Scotland’s very own Scottish National Party.

My friend and colleague Paul Schulte of the University of Birmingham recently wrote a fascinating piece entitled “The Strategic Risks of Devaluing Nuclear Weapons”.  His essential thesis is that the current debate, particularly in Western countries, is more informed by political conceit than strategic rationale.  In a sense, Schulte confronts the essential paradox of deterrence – how does one prove a negative?  How does one prove that the existence of nuclear weapons prevents their use? 

Implicit in the piece is another set of questions concerning the political utility of such weapons. Unstable, revisionist states, such as Iran and North Korea, seek such weapons for purposes of regime prestige or to create the space for an aggressive foreign policy which could at some point involve the use of large-scale conventional force and/or proxies to foster their respective regional-strategic ambitions.  Big revisionist states with third and fourth generation nuclear weapons, such as China and Russia, see them as leitmotifs of power and of national influence.  Even the US and France maintain some belief that nuclear weapons have a political utility beyond a purely deterrent role.

Of the established Nuclear Weapons States only Britain has a significant part of the political class that believes Britain’s deterrent should be scrapped because of cost and/or for the sake of ideological purity.  However, at no point in the British debate has there been or is there any real sense of the strategic value of the British nuclear deterrent.  Worse, Schulte warns that the political devaluation of nuclear weapons is only likely to increase and much of that devaluation driven by the most parochial of political conceits. 

To be fair, those that espouse unilateral disarmament also espouse a a legalistic rather than a power concept of international politics.  Much of the political Left in Britain believes (not unreasonably) that scrapping Trident would strengthen arms control regimes such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  They can certainly point with some conviction to the paradoxical hypocrisy of the Nuclear Weapons States who as recently as the 2010 NPT Review Conference re-affirmed their determination to “achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons”. However, a further British retreat into a legalistic foreign and security policy would take place just at the moment power is making a big comeback.  

Another ‘reality’ implicit in Schulte’s argument is that given the contemporary state of world politics general and comprehensive nuclear disarmament is as unlikely as nuclear weapons being disinvented.  Therefore, those that advocate scrapping the British nuclear deterrent fail to understand that their arguments about morality are irrelevant and their arguments about cost valueless.  By unilaterally disarming Britain would a) signal a final and irrevocable British retreat from strategic influence and realism; b) demonstrate a profound strategic malaise at the heart of the Western unity of effort and purpose; c) tip the balance of power in favour of states which are led by people it is reasonable to assume are less rational about the appalling, horribleness of nuclear weapons.  In other words, if Britain unilaterally scraps its deterrent it would help make nuclear war more not less likely.

Trident is in fact a metaphor for Britain’s role in the world, much like most British politicians are a metaphor for leadership.  Those who believe Britain is a serious power in a dangerous world tend to believe that Britain must retain a minimum deterrent as an ultimate agent of stability.  Those who believe Britain should abandon such weapons believe the UK has little or no independent, international role to play anymore beyond the self-satisfying disbursement of copious amounts of British taxpayer’s money in the form of aid. 

Given the world into which Britain and the West is moving it would be utter folly at this moment to abandon the British nuclear deterrent on a whim without a proper assessment of the strategic implications and its impact on friend and foe alike.  Such an act would also reveal (yet again) the extent to which much of Britain’s political class lacks any understanding of the real world or of the role a state as powerful as Britain could and should aspire to play.


Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Beware Greeks Seeking Russian Gifts


Alphen, Netherlands. 8 April. To paraphrase and corrupt my Virgil, “I fear the Greeks, even when they seek gifts”.  Today, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will meet with Russia’s President Putin. The talks will apparently focus on energy and on joint infrastructure projects.  However, the timing could not be more auspicious.  With the seventieth anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany but a month away Athens has provocatively (I would say outrageously) delivered a €341bn ($371bn) bill for more war reparations in addition to those settled by the Federal Republic of Germany in 1961.  Moreover, with Greece due to repay €460m ($505m) tomorrow, and negotiations for a further bail-out of €7.2bn ($7.8bn) from fellow Eurozone partners at a very delicate stage, by meeting with Putin Tsipras is playing a dangerous game and clearly indicating to Berlin and Brussels that Athens seeks alternatives.  Greece must be careful seeking Russian gifts for President Putin will certainly want something very strategic in return.  What will that be?

Most European analysts and commentators are sanguine suggesting that Moscow is itself in no position to offer Greece gifts.  Russia’s economy is also weak, they say.  That is to entirely miss the point of President Putin’s grand strategy – the application of all Russian national means in pursuit of all-Russian, i.e. Putin’s national interests.  It is precisely because Russia’s economy is relatively weak that Moscow has embarked on an expansionist grand strategy.

This was clear to me during my visit to British forces in Cyprus.  Moscow approached Nicosia with a proposal for a new Russian air and naval base on the island to counter the British (and American) presence, which includes highly-sensitive listening stations that reach across the Middle East.  Indeed, the Russian presence was palpable and very apparent with Russian money clearly influencing EU member Cyprus and its leaders.  A couple of weeks ago when I was in Serbia Russia’s presence was also clear and apparent.  Indeed, wherever I see a Gazprom sign at an airport it is clear Russia seeks influence.

Russia is a sophisticated state with sophisticated analytical capabilities.  In recent months Moscow has undertaken a root and branch reassessment of the strengths and weaknesses of NATO, the EU and the respective European powers.  Moscow would not be so crass as to demand of Athens a veto over EU or NATO in return for investment and funding.  Rather, Moscow seeks to undermine the strategic unity of effort and purpose upon which both NATO and EU cohesion are built and force European states to treat individually with Moscow rather than collectively.

Furthermore, if one looks at a map of Europe the strategic reason for Russia’s salami-slicing power-politics becomes apparent - an implicit but nevertheless real greater Russian sphere of influence.  Critically, Russia is seeking to extend its influence on a line from Cyprus in the Mediterranean, through Greece, Serbia, Hungary and Ukraine, via Belarus into the Baltic States.  The chosen method is a mix of co-option, coercion and the maintenance of non-frozen ‘frozen conflicts’ across Central, Southern and Eastern Europe.  The aim is to force states across the region to look to Moscow as much as they look to Berlin and Brussels simply by the facts of power and presence and to keep Berlin off-balance.

It is an effective strategy. First, faced with European irresolution such strategy could achieve Moscow’s strategy aims at a relatively low cost. Second, because Moscow is correct in its assessment that Germany, the key European power, is unable and unwilling to play classical power politics.  Third, of the other major European powers France is much-reduced and Britain has made itself entirely irrelevant.  Fourth, the Eurozone crisis and the community model of European politics implicit in the Euro have been much weakened by the Eurozone crisis with so-called ‘solidarity’ threadbare at best.  Fifth, Greece is ripe for the taking.  Always somewhat semi-detached from both NATO and the EU Greece could indeed fall into a Russian sphere of influence, something which Moscow has repeatedly sought since at least 1945. 

There is no room for complacency in Europe or the wider West about any accommodation between Athens and Moscow at this time of crisis with a Greek government that is both desperate and non-conformist.  Sadly, most European commentators have repeatedly misunderstood both the strategy and the outcomes Moscow seeks because so mired are they in the false certainties of the European Project that they cannot bring themselves to believe either Athens or Moscow are capable of action that does not conform with EU conceits.  It is like distant relatives who turn up to a genteel family reunion, get drunk, pee in the plant-pot and ruin the party – it simply cannot be happening.  It is.

Therefore, Berlin and Brussels must stop seeing the Greek government as a problem child and the Greek debt crisis as a technical matter solely to be resolved within the Eurozone ‘family’.  It is that but it is also a systemic struggle about who decides what and how in the EU and what power and influence Russia has over NATO and EU members and by extension over European stability and security.

Beware Greeks seeking gifts, especially those on offer from Russia’s Trojan Horse.


Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Five Star Praise for “Little Britain” (amazon.co.uk)


Alphen, Netherlands. 7 April. In an act of shameful and shameless self-promotion this blog is devoted to five-star reviews of my latest, and very reasonably-priced, book “Little Britain: Twenty-First Strategy for a Middling European Power” (amazon.co.uk).  One former German defence minister described the book as a “first-class example of the difference between strategy and politics”.  Enjoy!  I did.

Professor Simon Serfaty, Professor and Eminent Scholar, Old Dominion University & Zbigniuew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, CSIS, Washington DC

“One thing is sure: there is no room in the consensual bandwagon for Julian Lindley-French. But he, in turn, has no time for and little patience with those people whose most daring thought is to jump in it. I have known, heard, and read him for many years: he never stopped challenging his interlocutors, and having read his most recent book on Little Britain, I am now totally sure he never will either. Two immediate consequences follow from this condition. First, few, if any, will or can agree with everything he writes. That would be too much to expect from the reader and more than what Professor Lindley-French wants. Second, most, if not all, readers will gain from his writing, either by strengthening or challenging their own thinking. So, whether a scholar, a pundit, or a policymaker – whatever your status – hurry up and have a look at this book. It’s worth your time.

But it is also worthy of the moment, set in the broad strategic landscape, as well as in a transatlantic and European context. A world that is being recast, an America that seems adrift, and a European Union that is fading cannot afford a Little Britain that stands passively on the sidelines: “a big country” that “acts like a little one” – a “Belgium with nukes,” too proud to withdraw but too weak to lead and not strong enough to matter.

Relative to the United States especially, the need now is not merely for allies that are or sound willing but also are and remain militarily capable, politically relevant, and broadly compatible. Compatibility will always be there, but capabilities are dwindling and relevance is fading. As I write these lines I have in mind two recent Washington Post and New York Times reports published in successive days last month on Britain’s military decline (March 13 and 14 respectively). Absent Britain, as happened in Minsk when a dubious accord over Ukraine was negotiated by France and Germany with Russia, America’s faith in Europe is significantly diminished. Remember: Obama gave up on his idea of “unbelievably small” strikes against Syria after Parliament voted down David Cameron’s intention to be part of those strikes. Seemingly, the idea of being left alone with the French did not prove appealing to the current U.S, president. Credibility matters and France remains short on this side of the Atlantic.

Go read this action-oriented book – you’ll enjoy and learn from it”

Professor Paul Cornish, RAND, Cambridge

“Julian Lindley-French is one of the most knowledgeable, trenchant and provocative commentators on UK, European and international security and defence. Little Britain is his most recent book and is a tour de force. This is far more than a plea for more defence spending; Lindley-French argues for structural change within the UK defence and security establishment. Rather than call for more more warships, more armoured vehicles, more aircraft and so on, Little Britain points to the urgent need in Britain for national strategic vision, confidence and competence. With the next Strategic Defence and Security Review due to begin in the UK soon after the May general election (whichever party or parties is in government), Little Britain will be essential reading for policy-makers, journalists and the concerned general public”.

L. J. Hartman

“Bringing the original up to date since the Crimea/Ukraine and ISIS happenings. A good book remains good and worth a read if you are interested in current affairs, world politics & potential resolutions”.

Unknown Reader

“In the run-up towards the 2015 election this book is a timely reminder of where the UK stands within the wider world and what the future may hold. The efficiency of narrative isn't to be underestimated, rivalling Stephen Holmes 'The Matador's Cape' in its ability to present an insightful well defended series of arguments while educating the reader. This book should not be the province of the academic alone but for the concerned citizen who wants to understand what is happening behind the news. Here then, is not only a devastatingly accurate assessment of the state of the Kingdom in early 2015 but a warning of what is to come. The solutions and choices outlined by Professor Lindley-French offer some hope that we are still a power to be reckoned with and will continue to find our way in the wider world if we have the courage to take the lead”.


Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

JLF’s Guide to the British General Election


Alphen, Netherlands. 1 April. Today is April Fool’s Day so it is entirely appropriate that I write a blog on the forthcoming British General Election, which officially kicked off this week with a sustained barrage of lies, nonsense and utterly disingenuous disinformation.  Therefore, for those of you out there who suffered the ignominious moral turpitude of being born on the wrong side of the Atlantic and/or English Channel (if you were born on the wrong side of both at the same time you have no-one but yourselves to blame) here you will find all you need to know about the forthcoming hustings. 

Core message: The most important thing to understand is that General Election 2015 is a good old-fashioned 1960s-style class war.  The British political Right is primarily the preserve of the Eton College-educated aristo ┼▒ber-class, “make ‘em cheap, flog ‘em high” ultra-big business, and gin and tonic-drinking, golf-playing small business.  The political Left has been finally, irrevocably and completely captured by British university lecturers (‘intellectuals’), their former students and their utterly unworldly view of everything and everyone.  Indeed, what passes for ‘debating’ these days in British universities normally involves the far Left debating the utterly implausible with the hard Left, fuelled by politically correct but completely irrelevant research and, of course, copious amounts of cheap booze (alcohol). 

The Conservative Party: (Motto - “Long-Term Self-Importance Plan, small government at any cost, and a rollicking good time for the chaps”.)  

Leader: David Cameron (Old Etonian ‘OE’, Lord Blagger and Upper Class Twit of the Year). 
Policies: Whatever big business wants.
Aim: To be in charge as that is what we ‘OE’ types do – noblesse oblige and all that.
Assessment: Bonkers rich, in the pocket of big business and but determined to achieve a champagne surplus by the end of the next parliament in 2020 at whatever the cost.
Supporters: In-bred aristocracy, Old Etonians. bloody big businessmen, landed gentry, women in tweed suits and sensible shoes, and nouveau riche (“oh please”) small business-type persons in the process of being house-trained. Intellectuals-banned (apart from Oliver Letwin (fellow ‘OE’)), no university lecturers welcome.   
Views on the EU: Somewhere over there, I think?  Didn’t Boris go to Brussels once, or was that London?  Full of the French, or is that Belgians? Hun not too far away either.  But big business paymasters say we must stay in EU to ensure cheap labour, so we will con the peasantry with a pretend in-out referendum.

The Labour Party:  (Motto - “We grow money on trees, and spend even more.”)

Leader: ‘Ed’ “Keep the Red Flag Flying” Miliband (Belgian Socialist of the Year, Chief Hampstead Intellectual. Call sign: ‘Geek’, aka ‘Wallace’). 
Policies: Soviet-lite statist
Aim: Re-nationalise everything and anything that moves under the rubric of ‘fairness’.  However, under no circumstances tell anyone until after the election.   
Assessment: Really bonkers. No idea where the money comes from but can think of a zillion ways to spend it.  We are all immigrants really.
Supporters: Power-hungry class warrior trade union barons, ageing trade unionists in south Wales who still think Labour is working class, minorities of various persuasions ‘invited’ to Britain by the last Labour government to re-create class war, everybody on benefits, lefty ‘wimmin’ who think men should be banned in the name of equality, AND mid-ranking university lecturers who are by and large lefty ‘wimmin’. 
Views on the EU: No referendum - far too democratic. Britain should be part of Belgium.

The Liberal Democrats: (Motto: “More Europe, Scrap Britain!”)

Leader: Nick Clog (Dutch Liberal of the Year and pretend Sheffielder). 
Policies: Not immediately apparent.  However, if they ever had any policies other than their traditional “we disagree with both Conservatives and Labour about everything” they were abandoned some time ago when they joined the Coalition Government and became yellow Tories. 
Assessment: Nothing to assess but clearly completely bonkers.
Membership: Declined somewhat in recent years.  There is apparently a nice lady in Chiswick, another rumoured to be hiding somewhere around Cheltenham, and an ‘activist’ (oxymoron if ever there was one) at the University of the M6 near Keele.  The remaining three are high-ranking university lecturers teaching semantics.
Views on the EU: Closet and not-so-closet Euro-federalists. Want to rig forthcoming British EU referendum by giving everyone in the EU a vote.  Whatever Brussels wants goes.
 
United Kingdom Independence Party: (Motto - “What do we want? The 1950s! When do we want it? Then!”)

Leader: Nigel (‘Nige’) Farage (Pretend Bloke and Beer Drinker of the Year). 
Policies: Rebuild the British Empire in Essex
Aim: To get everyone to accept that Johnny Foreigners were essentially a mistake but can be corrected with an Australian immigration points system.  Burn all intellectuals at the stake.
Assessment: Certifiably bonkers.  And, as the Aussies can’t count, UKIP’s one policy could prove problematic.
Supporters: Everybody over 70, anybody BUT university lecturers (“lefty, pinko, Trots”) and their fellow travellers in the Metropolitan (London) liberal elite….and no foreigners!

The Green Party: (Motto - “All power is bad. Back to the fifteenth century!”)

Leader or chair or “really slightly more equal than the rest of us” person: Nathalie Bennett or Caroline Lucas or as it is a Wednesday Claire from Bristol.
Policies: Romantic tree-huggers.  “We will let you know”.  Yet to be decided. Need to consult the runes and the druids. 
Aim: To move everyone to the other planet upon which the Greens live.
Assessment: Clinically insane.  The Greens are in effect an anarcho-syndicalist union who want to save the Earth by living on planet cloud cuckoo. And, anyone who asks a serious question is an oppressor. 
Membership: Very clearly clinically insane members of the philosophy faculty at Sussex University, i.e. all of them.
Views on the EU: The Hapsburg Empire is a good thing – no power.

Scottish National Party: (Motto: Referendum? What Referendum?)

Leader: Alex Salmond or is it Nicola Sturgeon?
Policies: Nationalist romantic. 
Aim: To really piss off the English and to claim the ‘no’ vote in the Scottish referendum never happened.
Assessment: They have been at the Scotch far too long.  Their one and only policy is Scottish independence and to hell with the rest of ye with an independent Scotland funded by a a petro-economy, albeit without the petro.  Consequently, Scotland would revert to what it has always been – a rock stuck on the end of England.
Supporters: Assorted members of the Clan Lunatic Celtic Fringe all of whom suffer from an inferiority complex caused by the Scottish Football Team repeatedly, usually and always losing to England.  In fact, losing to England at everything, all of the time apart from some irrelevant little skirmish back in 1314 which they forever bang on about.
Views on the EU: If it really pisses the English off it must be a good thing.

Plaid Cymru (Motto: “Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwilliantysiliogogogoch–easy for us to say”)

Leader: Indecipherably Welsh
Policies: Unutterably Welsh
Assessment: Impossible - Welsh
Membership: Unspeakably Welsh
Views on the EU: Is Welsh the official language?  Brussels seems to speak the same gobbledygook!

On Thursday 7 May millions of ordinary, decent British people will need to decide a government from a ‘choice’ that ranges from the clinically-insane to the terminally self-interested.  In the end it will come down to either Prime Minister Dave “Lord of the Blaggers” Cameron or Prime Minister Ed “aka Geek, aka Wallace” Miliband.  Not surprisingly the bulk of the British people are as confused and as undecided as I am, not least because they are now daily bombarded with ‘facts’ that taken together represent the greatest work of political fiction since Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli wrote “Sybil”. Disraeli once also said, “lies, damn lies, and statistics”.  If he were alive today given the disinformation all the parties are peddling he surely would have said, “lies, damn lies and politicians”.  As Winston Churchill may well has said, "Never has so much nonsense, been peddled for so long, by so many".

Hey ho! Only 37 days to go!


Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 30 March 2015

The Fourth Gulf War


Alphen, Netherlands. 30 March.  At the Arab League Summit this weekend in Egypt’s swanky Sharmh-el-Sheikh resort Egyptian President al Sisi said, “The Arab Nation has passed through many phases, none of which has posed as much a threat as the one we’re experiencing now”.  He chose his words carefully.  The leaders of Pan-Arabism and the states they represent believe they are facing two potentially existential threats – anti-state Sunni fundamentalism in the form of Islamic State and Iran’s Shia-inspired regional-strategic ambitions.  The rebellion of Yemen’s Shia Houthi people may on the face of it appear to be a small war in a faraway country about which we know little.  In fact, it could mark the start of the fourth Gulf War and a reckoning of power between Arab states and Iran that has long been in the making. Why now and what are in the implications?

There have been three Gulf Wars thus far. Between September 1980 and August 1988 Iran and Iraq fought out a bloody stalemate that cost at least 600,000 lives and possibly as many as a million.  In 1991 a US-led coalition retook Kuwait from Saddam Hussein after he had invaded the small desert sheikdom in August 1990.  In March 2003 the US led another coalition that defeated and occupied Iraq ostensibly to prevent Saddam acquiring weapons of mass destruction. The 2003 invasion proved so controversial that together it led in time to a profound loss of western self-confidence, a crisis in US leadership and the effective end of Britain and other Europeans as serious military powers.

Today all of those strands of ambition and irresolution are coming together to create the conditions for a new general Middle East war focused on the Gulf but with consequences that would reach far beyond it.  Ever since Ayatollah Khomenei overthrew the Shah in 1980 the Islamic State of Iran has had ambitions to dominate the Middle East.  However, as an essentially Shia Persian state in a largely Sunni Arab region Tehran found it difficult to export its creed of pan-Shia Islamism/statism. 

To generate ‘credibility’ on the Arab Street Iran made Israel its target of choice and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict its casus belli.  Tehran has been conducting a long proxy war against the Jewish State via Hezbollah in Lebanon and by supporting the Shia-leaning Alawhites in Syria to which President Assad belongs.  With the 2003 collapse of Saddam’s Sunni-dominated Baghdad regime, the 2011 withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and the emergence of a Shia-dominated regime Iran has been able to extend its reach across much of Iraq and by extension the Gulf region. 

On the face of it Tehran seems willing to accept a de facto, non-declared ‘alliance’ with the West and its allies to defeat Islamic State. However, the current struggle with Sunni fundamentalists only delays the coming power struggle for regional-strategic dominance in the balance-of-power tinderbox that is today’s Middle East.  It is against that shifting kaleidoscope of power, weakness and allegiances that the Yemeni strikes must be seen.  At the core of this struggle is the deepening stand-off between Iran and Saudi Arabia.  

In 2014 Saudi Arabia surpassed Britain to become the world’s fifth biggest defence spender.  For many years Riyadh’s expensive military was seen as boutique force, a plaything for the super-rich Saudi royal family. No more.  Riyadh’s 2013 intervention in Bahrain to suppress discontent and the use of predominantly Saudi air power now to check Yemeni rebels suggest this powerful force will be at the forefront of an emerging Saudi-led coalition as Arab nationalists seek to both expel Iran from Iraq and Syria and defeat Sunni fundamentalism.

It will be an unlikely coalition with some even more unlikely fellow travellers.  First, the Saudi-led the Gulf Co-operation Council is openly aligning itself alongside Egypt and Jordan.  The purpose is twofold – to construct a coalition and to buttress weak states in the struggle against the Islamic anti-state and Iranian subversion.  Second, although no such tie would ever be admitted, Israel is by extension a de facto fellow traveller with this group, at least until the Iranian threat is diminished.

It is in such a strategic context that this weekend’s Saudi air-strikes in Yemen, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent speech to the US Congress warning about an Iranian nuclear deal, and today’s critical talks in Geneva over that self-same deal must be seen.  If the Geneva talks succeed there is a small, just a small chance that other regional arms control agreements could be fashioned that will help to ‘build-down’ tensions and de-escalate the growing military confrontation.  Of course, such a ‘vision’ pre-supposes that a Geneva deal would also see a profound shift in the direction of Iranian foreign and security policy.  As yet no such shift is apparent.

The West?  Explicit in Riyadh’s use of air power in Yemen is an implicit move by Saudi Arabia to establish regional-strategic leadership.  Riyadh is acting partly because like many Arab states that lean towards the West they have lost confidence in the United States to prevent Iran, its nuclear programme and its regional-strategic ambitions.  As for the British and French, the former power-brokers in the Middle East, a conversation I had recently with a very senior Jordanian revealed the extent to which Amman believes London and Paris have lost the regional-strategic plot and the rest of Europe with them.  Therefore, it is not just the battered peace of the Middle East that is hanging in the balance in Geneva today, but the tattered banner of the US and the wider West.

If the Geneva talks fail, or the ‘agreement’ to halt the Iranian nuclear programme is a temporary sham to provide President Obama with some form of foreign policy legacy, the strategic consequences will be profound.  Indeed, if Iran moves to build the bomb the pressure on the GCC, Egypt, Syria, and even Israel, to launch a pre-emptive war against Tehran could become irresistible.  That is the implicit message in the Arab League decision this weekend to create a new Arab Rapid Reaction Force.

Furthermore, a fourth Gulf War could well involve nuclear weapons and more likely than not drag in Russia, the West, and possibly even China.  

Have a nice day!


Julian Lindley-French