hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Syria’s Olympian Tragedy and the New Middle East

Alphen, the Netherlands.  30 July.  The struggle for Syria is forging a new Middle East.  Summer Olympics are often used by desperate, repressive, time-expired regimes to act repressively.  The Russians invaded Georgia in the midst of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  Now, the Assad regime is attacking Syria’s largest city Aleppo.  Some estimates suggest up to 200,000 people have already been killed in the war with the UN estimating another 200,000 internally displaced and some 250,000 having fled abroad.  Certainly, the loss of Syria’s biggest city to the diverse anti-regime coalition could mark the beginning of the end for President Assad and his Alawite-dominated minority government.  Such is the level of outside interference that the simple truth is that none of us know when and how this will end.  The only thing that can be said with any certainty is that the Baathist Syrian state is already dead.  How the corpse is disposed of could well decide the future shape and ‘balance’ of the new Middle East. 

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem flew to Tehran Sunday to seek more Iranian support.  For Tehran Syria is critical in their efforts to construct an anti-Israeli coalition that they hope will surround Israel.  Republican US Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, speaking in Jerusalem on Sunday, as part of a strangely amateurish foreign policy venture, called for the strong US defence of Israel and said that preventing Iran obtaining nuclear bombs would be his “highest national security priority”.
The Free Syrian Army is being supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and to some extent Turkey.  This not only reflects the split within Islam between Shia and Sunni, it also reflects the uneasy balancing act between Arab, Persian, Kurd and Turk that plays out across the region and the struggle for influence and supremacy over what it now the new Middle East.

The new Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo will be a key actor.  Indeed, the true litmus test for Egypt’s future foreign policy orientation will be the fate of Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel.  Any linkage Egypt makes between the struggle of the Palestinians and the struggle in Syria could well decide Cairo’s relationship with Israel.

All of this means that Israel faces layers of uncertainty on its borders unparalleled since 1967 and much of it beyond Tel Aviv’s control.  Lebanon is being daily more destabilised by the Syrian struggle by allegiances for which local borders are meaningless.  With some 1000 Syrian refugees a day now crossing from Syria into Jordan the Hashemite Kingdom is again being destabilised. 
Israel’s nightmare is to be surrounded to the north and east by Iranian-backed proxies with Hezbollah to the fore and to the south by a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority and a hostile regime in Cairo.

In such an event Iran’s nuclear bomb would not be used to directly threaten Israel but rather to guarantee a free hand for Iran to build its anti-Israeli coalition.  As ever the Palestinians are again being used again for the wider designs of others.  It is a role into which they seem forever to have been cast.

And then there is the grand strategic struggle.  Syria is on the new front-line of the new geo-politics.  Yesterday’s decision by Moscow to refuse to permit a search of any ship flying Russia’s flag en route to Syria simply demonstrated the same old-fashioned thinking in Moscow that led to the 2008 invasion of Georgia.  However, the West’s reluctance to intervene on humanitarian grounds is not simply due to Russian and/or Chinese intransigence.  There are profound concerns about the impact and cost of such an intervention and how it would influence a post-Assad government, the wider region and the dangers associated with injecting Western forces into the Middle East cauldron, particularly after such a bruising experience in neighbouring Iraq and over-the-hill Afghanistan.

The simple truth is that the only option available to the world’s real democracies (the conceptual West) is concerted and systematic diplomatic and humanitarian pressure.  Given that the West must focus policy on Syria and Syrians.  Now that the Annan peace plan is dead the concerted aim must be to decouple as much as possible the conflict from the regional and global issues that are so clouding it and put all efforts into finding an early and durable solution for Syrian people.  Only then and only in time might a successor regime emerge in Damascus that is neither a threat to itself or others, but there is no guarantee.    

The simple truth is that this struggle has so many players that anyone offering a clear view can only do so from the perspective of ignorance or bias. 

As the world loses itself in an Olympian dream a nightmare is awakening.  It is time to wake up!
Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 27 July 2012

OIympic London

Alphen, The Netherlands.  27 July.  Nineteenth century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once described London as the modern Babylon.  Today, the Games of the XXX Olympiad begin in London.  Over five weeks both the Olympic Games and the Paralympics will, to employ one of the many Olympic cliches now in the starting blocks, shine the light of the world on Britain’s capital city.  What London will it reveal?

In a sense it was entirely appropriate that London was awarded the Olympics and not Britain.  For a long-time now a settlement founded by the Romans between AD 43 and 50 has been a city-state within a state.  This old, great city now has a population of over 9 million people, which according to the 2011 national census released last week grew by some 800,000 over the past decade and probably many more.  Today, London contains over 20% of the UK’s total population.
London’s economic and corporate stats are simply stunning.  London contributes some 17% of Britain’s total GDP, with an economy roughly the size of Sweden, Belgium and Russia.  It is home to the European headquarters of 35% of the world’s largest companies, many of them Olympic sponsors.  65% of Fortune’s Global 500 companies base their operation centres in London with more foreign banks represented than any other world city.  London is thus the very symbol of globalisation – for good and ill. 

Like many Britons my feelings for London are profoundly ambiguous.  Naturally, I am proud of what this city has come to represent as a beacon of freedom during war and a world power in its own right.  And yet much of its wealth was founded on oppression and its under-regulated banks have done much to tarnish the reputation of London and done much damage to the wider British economy.
And yet this is the paradox of London.  The British Government might pretend it will act to tighten regulation over Mammon, but in reality it is Mammon which runs the British Government.  London’s financial clout is far too important for a government desperate for tax revenues in a depression.  This week it was announced that year-on-year the British economy had shrunk by 0.7% by the end of Q2 2012.  Thus, the benighted banks will receive no more than a slapped wrist for their many manipulations, the LIBOR scandal being but the latest and probably by no means the last.

However, it is London’s over-bearing political influence that is perhaps most profound.  London long ago subjugated England and turned a green and pleasant land into a sometimes quaint, sometimes fractured hinterland.  The little countries on London's periphery have retreated into the fantasies of faux self-government replete with myth and legend.  Indeed, the Scots pretence that they can gain pretend independence if they press the Braveheart button will only reveal further the true power in the land - London.  Scotland the Brave will forever be Scotland the Broke without London.
Having vanquished the rest of Britain a new battle is being fought by London and over London.  On one side of the front-line stand those who see London as the champion of free-market globalisation.  Capitals flows are their weapons of choice, their aim to make London as attractive as possible to as much foreign capital as possible wheresoever its provenance and however ill-gotten a gain.  Leading the assault on the City walls is the European Commission at the head of a medieval assembly of European regulation barons.  At heart this struggle for London is one between Anglo-Saxon-led free-marketeers and continental statists. It is a struggle that has already seen many continental free market refugees arrive in London like latter-day Huguenots.

The struggle even takes a physical form.  The new high-speed rail link through the Channel Tunnel to Paris, Brussels and shortly beyond is a physical manifestation of attempts by continental Europeans to forever tie London’s destiny and that of Britain to their own, which is unlikely to be a happy one.  And yet, even though that great old River Thames which has for two millenia defined London flows to the East it rises in the West.  In this age of electronic capital it is ultimately the West, South and far East where London sees it destiny.  Globalisation will prevail.  Yes, European markets matter but the greater the effort by Brussels to tether London the more likely it will break free.  At this defining point in ‘Europe’s’ destiny one thing is clear, London is with them but not of them, to paraphrase Churchill’s great dictum about Britain and Europe.

So, in a sense, the Olympics and London are made for each other.  For, if the Olympics these days represents the place where global capital meets global sport, the London Olympics represents the global capital that pays for Olympic sport.
Citius, Altius, Fortius!
Julian Lindley-French 

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Euro-Realism 2: How Safe is My Money?

Alphen, The Netherlands.  25 July.  Here we go again. Lucullus, in Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens (spot the irony) warns, “This is no time to lend money, especially upon bare friendship without security”. As a Dutch tax-payer that warning carries little irony as billions of my hard-earned tax Euros and those of my fellow tax-payers have already vanished down the black hole of a failing currency – either in direct transfers or by printing money that I will forever have to underwrite.  No wonder the Dutch political elite have decided to go AWOL and that this is a good time NOT to have a government.  

This week’s statement by rating agency Moody’s, a Dark Lord of the Market Universe, that the AAA borrowing status of Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands is now on notice thus comes as no surprise.  Indeed, in spite of German protests it strikes me as plain common sense as the sums of my money needed to save the benighted Euro become ever more astronomical.  “Even if such an event [a Greek exit from the Euro] is avoided, there is an increasing likelihood that greater collective support for other Euro area sovereigns, most notably Spain and Italy, will be required”.  The statement goes on; “The burden will likely fall most heavily on more highly-rated member-states [i.e. me] if the Euro area is to be preserved in its current form”. 
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaüble thinks Greece now incapable of reform and yet this week the so-called troika; the IMF, European Central Bank (ECB) and European Commission arrived in Athens to assess Greek ‘eligibility’ for another €31.5 billion ($38.1bn) of my money.  This is the 'last' tranche of an €130bn ($157.4bn) bail out that apparently I agreed to last March.  Although the Greeks have managed to trim €17bn ($20.5bn) from their national debt to bring it down from 160% of GDP to 132% it is nothing like enough.  Now, Athens has stalled.  Greece has promised to reduce it budget deficit to below 3% of GDP by the end of 2014.  In 2011 the Greek overspend was the equivalent of 9% of GDP.  Clearly, the 3% target is pure Greek drama as Athens is now behind with its spending cuts as the Greek economy shrinks faster than planned.  More importantly, reports from within the all-mighty German Central Bank (Bundesbank) indicate that Berlin now accepts Greece’s exit from the Eurozone as inevitable which means all my money will be lost.  And yet Athens may demand another €50bn ($60.5bn).
On to Spain.  As the value of Spanish government debt plunges Spanish banks are beginning to crack with some €250bn ($302.7bn) in government bonds in their vaults, some 30% of Spain’s national debt.  The ECB has already told me that I ‘promised’ €100bn ($121.1bn) of my money to pump into Spain’s banks, even as the Spanish take their money out and put it all in German banks – so much for solidarity.  Indeed, Spanish banks have lost 3% of their deposits in recent weeks, leading them to take a further €106bn ($128.3bn) of my money via the ECB or some 9.5% of their total borrowing. 

My money is also being used for similar purposes in Ireland and Portugal and it is fast reaching a point where the indirect transfers of my money via the ECB must be replaced by direct transfers of my money via the Dutch, German and other governments.  And now I hear that Italy, the world’s third biggest debtor, may also need enormous chunks of my money, I must be incredibly rich.

Sadly, I am not rich.  Rather, I am being asked, no forced to bankrupt myself, to risk all for which I have worked so hard for so many years and to end my life a pauper simply to fund permanently failed southern European economies and an absurd piece of political adventurism in the name of a European solidarity that exists only in the minds of the Euro-Aristocracy who have enriched themselves in the name of Europe. 

The simple fact is that whatever the economic and political shape of Europe the state institutions of southern European countries are simply not strong enough to withstand the shock of reform needed to ween them off my money.  There are thus three questions I want the politicians who put me in this mess to answer.  First, how much is saving the Euro worth?  Second, how much would the break up of the Euro cost?  Third, (and most pressing) when is this going to end…and how?

How safe is my money?  The one thing I will never get is an answer.
Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 23 July 2012

NATO: Connected Forces, Connected Minds?

Alphen, The Netherlands.  23 July.  NATO must contend with two competing and contending inner-realities: a schism in Alliance strategic culture and concept, driven by deepening divisions over the world view and the future of the Euro; and the austerity-driven need for shrinking armed forces to work ever more closely together in a world in which the balance of power is tipping against the West.  It will not be an easy balance to strike.  Forever in search of said new balance NATO has launched the Connected Forces Initiative or CFI.  However, like most things NATO whilst the idea is good real questions remain as to the extent the member nations will really grip the challenge.  The bottom-line is this; the only way CFI can succeed is to be radical in both thought and act.  In effect, CFI is seeking what I call ‘organic jointness’; forces that not only act as one, but think as one.    

The Oxford English Dictionary describes “organic” as "an organised structure within a cell". Today that means an entirely new way of thinking about the relationship between the world, armed forces, technology, the societies they serves and. above all, ideas.   The specific challenge concerns how small military 'producers' meet their security and defence obligations in a very large and unstable 'market' in which the defining feature is and will be friction and turbulence and the defining factor cost.

'Connectivity' is the key. Indeed, ‘connectivity’ must become NATO’s driving mantra because the force most connected will be the force most likely to strike a balance between effectiveness and efficiency.  However, this in turn will require a complete change in mind-set amongst political and military leaders, particularly in Europe.  European armed forces can no longer compete on mass and quantity and NATO can thus no longer simply flood the ‘market’.  Rather, the Alliance needs to be able to make intelligent choices and identify critical points in the ‘market’ over which it can and must exert influence given challenges that will range from state failure to state conflict and all that lurks in between. 

In Europe a defence planning Rubicon has been crossed and yet too many military leaders talk as though this is a temporary blip before their return to greatness.  Indeed, given cuts to NATO Europe forces that is on average some 25% since 2008 European armed forces no longer have the size to 'think' as separate countries, let alone act as separate services.  To be properly connected armed forces will need a radical, unified concept of how best to a) exploit the five dimensions of twenty-first military effect - air, land, sea, cyber and space; b) recognise that a new inner-relationship must be sought with the US; and c) inject some real meaning into the woeful non-relationship with the EU.  That will require a NATO that can re-conceive of itself as a critical strategic node or hub at the core of a web of real strategic partnerships the world over with NATO Standards which promote effective ways of working acting as the Alliance’s core ‘product’.   This will be no easy task for an Alliance that still remains too much of a self-licking lollipop.

The connectivity revolution must start within the Alliance.  Critically, new thinking will be needed if the 'corporate memory' that has been built up so painfully over the past decade is to be properly exploited rather than shelved as lessons-learned and then lost. To that end NATO must far better, scientifically and systematically exploit exercising, training and education.  Exercising is a key but woefully ill-exploited change agent.  Too often the testing of concepts, experimentation and the taking of risk it implies is avoided in favour of of the formulaic and disconnected rehashing of the already known.

However, it is the connectedness of minds that will define CFI.  Transformed defence education is pivotal to CFI.  Indeed, for CFI to work there must be a much tighter relationship between the knowledge base, research, defence education and action based on an Alliance-wide defence education concept that both empowers the learner and ends the box-ticking culture that so bedevils defence academies.  In other words, learning must also become outcomes-based, life-long and enduring based on Alliance-wide education standards.  

Organic Jointness is thus at the heart of the Connected Forces Initiative built on the principle of connectivity.  The realisation of such a goal will demand a radical commitment to force quality that goes way beyond the rehearsed rhetoric of past NATO initiatives.  Things really are different now and unless the Alliance actively promotes the rigorous development of comparative advantage in thinking, concepts, technology and, above all, people it really will in time fade into irrelevance.   

NATO: connected forces, connected minds. 

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 20 July 2012

Euro-Realism: Why We Need a New European Security Strategy

Alphen, the Netherlands. 20 July.  I am a Euro-realist, neither a Euro-sceptic, nor a Euro-fanatic.  My motivation is to drive through the fathoms of political fantasy and folly pouring forth from the current crisis, much of its cascading down from on high as a generation of failed political leaders try to hide behind a rhetorical deluge.  In December 2003 Robert Cooper formerly of the parish of Whitehall but for a long-time now a senior Brussels apparatchik produced a typically elegant and erudite European Security Strategy or ESS.  The aim was to give some common strategic direction to Europeans and their role in the world and inject some energy into the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, or CFSP, in the citizen-busting jargon of the Euro-Aristocracy.  In spite (indeed because of) my concerns about the EU’s direction of travel I now believe that a new European Security Strategy should be drafted.  Why?

First, the ESS focused on what Europeans could do more effectively together, as such it went back to the principles of Europe’s founding fathers – the EU should only act where unity of state effort and purpose would make the sum greater than the parts. 
Second, whilst much of the ESS, and its 2008 follow-on the catchily-named Report on the Implementation of the European Security Strategy, remains as relevant today as 2003 it is politically tired.  The simple fact is that the past decade has crammed in a whole life-time of politics and even though implementation of the ESS has by and large ranged from the disappointing to the dire something is needed to remind Europeans that their Euro-world is not the only world on this planet.
Third, because the ESS is not the Euro.  Indeed, even if further European integration, driven as it is by the saving of a failed currency rather than loftier, more constructive goals, will sooner rather than later drive Britain out, it is vital that ALL Europeans together take another look at the world beyond their borders. 
Fourth, precisely because Britain is likely to remain over the medium-term Europe’s strongest hard security actor it is vital that a) Europeans consider a future EU security architecture in which Britain could be a partner rather than a member; b) demonstrate to Europeans and others that EU-life is not simply about the Euro and that there is an issue where ALL European member-states can work constructively together; and c) demonstrate that Britain’s commitment to a stable and secure Europe will remain absolute both through NATO and the EU.  One of the great and many failings of the current age is that so much of the good work done by the EU, often led by its three major actors Britain, France and Germany, has been lost in the Euro-scream.
Fifth, not only has there been a revolution in strategic affairs since 2003, there is likely to be a further revolution in strategic affairs by 2023.  That revolution needs to be examined, assessed and responses and ideas considered in a systematic and methodological manner.  Europeans will need to be proactive not just reactive.  What is clear is that whatever the institutional arrangements within Europe, who is in and who is out, such is the world in which European states reside that they are going to have to work together intensively to influence the big, dangerous events coming their way.  Europeans thinking big about big things is a prerequisite for a European Security Strategy, be it formal or informal. 
Sixth, for all its myriad failings and its tendency to be more reflective of crisis management within the EU rather than beyond, both the Common Foreign and Security Policy and its offspring the Common Security and Defence Policy need to be modernised.  Mired both geographically and functionally in complexity Europeans together face risks and threats both near and far ranging from social collapse to catastrophic terrorism on to hyper-competition through to state conflict Europe’s political leaders will need four quintessential commodities; forewarning, capabilities, credibility, but above all options. 
The simple strategic truth of this age is that the flag one puts atop an engagement, be it political and/or military, is as important as the force one sends.  The very fact that the West retains the option to engage and intervene under a political identity that is NEITHER NATO NOR the US is hugely important. 
It will be messy and difficult but ten years on from Robert Cooper’s triumph of Euro-pragmatism it is time Europeans re-drafted the European Security Strategy.  It may after all finally start Europeans thinking about the real question that now confronts them; how much are they going to have to pay for their own security, given that the Americans are about to pay far less?
Time for a dose of Euro-realism because only such realism is likely finally to get to Europeans to get serious about security.    
Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Blair and Brown: Jobs for the Boys

Alphen, the Netherlands, 18 July.  There is nothing that proves the essential corruption of modern political life than the sinecures handed out to failed ȕber-elite politicians who did their country grave harm.   The carefully-timed summer announcements that two former failed British prime ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, are back is but the latest example of high political contempt for public virtue. Multi-millionaire Tony Blair has been appointed by Labour leader Ed Milliband as an advisor on “Olympic legacy”; for that read political advisor to Milliband in the run up to the 2015 general election.  Meanwhile, Gordon Brown has been appointed as UN Special Envoy for Universal Education, which could only have happened with London’s (and Labour’s) formal blessing.

These two men together conspired to do more damage to my country than any prior political partnership.  They quite simply misled the British people about their aims and their intentions to disastrous effect and like many millions I believed them.  Indeed, until the mid-naughties I had been a life-long Labour Party supporter.  Thanks to these two I will never again trust Labour with my country.
Their failure might best be summed up as the four ‘I’s; Iraq, ‘investment’, Scottish indepdence and immigration. All are testament to political hubris.  Evidence suggests Blair misled the British people over the Iraq War.  The false dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction led to hundreds of British troops being killed in a war fought on the most tenuous of legal grounds, and many tens of thousands of Iraqis.  This week, in a letter to David Cameron, Sir John Chilcott, who heads the Iraq Inquiry talked of a number of “unresolved disputes” triggered by Blair’s testimony, “…including the treatment of discussions in the cabinet and cabinet committees and the UK position in discussions between the prime minister and heads of state or government of other nations”.
Brown disastrously destroyed the public finances of the country, over-spending massively in the name of ‘investment’ and then tried to blame the mess on the world around him.  Had Brown maintained a commitment to sound finance Britain would be one of the strongest economies in Europe rather than being dragged through the deep morass of debt which was Brown’s legacy to Britain. 
With a referendum due in 2014 Blair’s flawed devolution policy has even opened the door to Scottish secessionists and could see the break-up of the United Kingdom. 

However, it was hyper-immigration which was the signature policy of both Blair and Brown and which has been a disaster for the country. This week the Office for National Statistics released the latest census. Since 2001 the population of England and Wales (excluding Scotland) went up a massive 3.7 million, much higher than thought to 56.1 million, and increase of 7%.  This was a deliberate policy choice that ran totally against the wishes of the massive majority of British people with the aim of ramming “diversity down the throats of the right” as one Blair aide put it and gerrymandering the vote.  Such has been the impact of hyper-immigration that English society in particular is still in a state of shock with Westminster having to resort to draconian race laws to suppress dissent and thus prevent an explosion in the powder keg that is contemporary England.  The England I once knew has been destroyed.  England today is a broken place where life is fair neither on Britons nor the many decent immigrants who make a contribution to British life.  A black friend of mine works on the front-line of the social and racial tensions caused by Blair-Brown.  He calls it a war.

What is strange is why the Labour Party is rewarding Blair and Brown whilst trying to pretend to the rest of us they have moved on.  It implies that nothing has in fact changed.  That come the general election in 2015 the same political con-trick will be employed to dupe millions of Britons like me sympathetic to social democracy and social progress.  What I fear is that again behind the no doubt slick social democratic façade will be a hard left agenda that will again lead the country to the very precipice of disaster.
Until the political class in Britain learn there is a real price to pay for failure at the top they will continue to play an all-too-cosy game in which backs are quietly and lucratively scratched and failure rewarded with directorships and fancy EU and UN appointments.  For that to happen there has to be real sanction for failure. However, as all the many faux inquiries have demonstrated into the many disasters these past fifteen years there is little appetite in the British Establishment for proper accounting.  There are endless inquiries into seemingly endless crises but no-one at the top is ever actually responsible let along sanctioned.  No wonder the British people despise politicians, particularly the cosy elite at the very top.
What one-time American President Andrew Jackson once said of a young Washington applies equally to modern day London, “I weep for the liberty of my country when I see…that corruption has been imputed to many members of the House of Representatives, and the rights of the people have been bartered for promises of office”. 

Blair and Brown: jobs for the boys.
Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 16 July 2012

Leviathan: The Great European Divide

 Alphen, the Netherlands. 16 July.  In 1651 English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote “Leviathan” in which he said prophetically, “The only way to erect…a common power, as may be able to defend [men] from the invasion of foreigners, and the inquiries of one another... is to confer all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men...Leviathan”.  Hunkered down behind the Eurozone crisis is Europe’s key existential question; can the future prosperity, stability and, indeed, democracy of Europeans be afforded by one single super-Leviathan?

The current crisis has painfully exposed what is the great European divide; those who believe in a greater ‘Europe’ and those suspicious of grand constructs that not only threaten hard won freedoms but also seek to replace the nation-state.  Sadly, friendships have been torn asunder over this issue; I too have lost a couple. 
Many continental Europeans are used to so-called ‘dirigisme’, diktat by fiat from above.  As an Englishman grounded in a political culture in which fundamental individual freedoms are sacrosanct the very idea of a European Leviathan is dangerous political folly.  It would require trust in a European political caste over which I have no writ. 
Later this year I will have the honour of addressing a meeting of senior French politicians and officials.  ‘L’Europe’ is very much a concept that France has championed.  Whilst it is a perfectly honourable creed it, ‘Europe’, begs the ultimate political and economic question; what is the ‘finalité’? 
First, there would need to be a European head of state, a real European president supported by a real European government led by a cabinet replete with European ministers, covering all the many competences of a modern state; a single system of justice and policing, sound economic governance and all aspects of ‘Home’ Affairs. Second, Europe’s five hundred million or so very disparate peoples with their myriad of cultures, traditions, beliefs and languages would need representation via a single European parliament credibly charged with powers of political oversight and made up of Europe-wide political parties.  Third, there would need to be a real executive supported by a European ‘civil service’ charged with implementing European policy and held to account by a functioning parliament.  Fourth, there would need to be a European Finance Ministry supported by a real European Central Bank that would act as a bank of last resort, much like the US Federal Reserve.  Finally, and critically, any such ‘state’ would send European citizens to their deaths in war in the service of a real European Army, Navy and Air Force.   
To make that work France would need to be scrapped, the French Government in Paris reduced to being little more than an English county council or more aptly a French departement.  Parliamentary democracy in France would be diluted some tenfold as by ratio of population to representation the size of European parliamentary constituencies increased in size some tenfold.  French national control over all main tax-raising powers and indeed all other aspects of sound money would be handed over to the European finance ministry.  The French would also need to abandon their armed forces, its military traditions, history and glory and subordinate it to a European Army.
Of course, money is the root of all evil.  The Europe on offer today is one of mutual impoverishment, which makes it different to the 'Europe' of yore.  For the first time European integration pre-supposes little or no economic growth.  In the past ‘Europe’ has been built on the transfer of surpluses from the taxpayers of the formerly rich north and west Europe to those of the poor south and east Europe.  How long can Western European politicians impose such transfers on their newly impoverished taxpayers in the name of Europe before they revolt? 
For me ‘Europe’ can only ever work as a tight alliance of nation-states in which the political centre of gravity remains national sovereignty under national parliamentary control ‘harmonised’ into a tool for strategic influence, both within Europe and beyond.  To that end the place of Brussels is to serve the European state, not replace it.  I will never compromise on this point. 
Shortly before his death Hobbes said, “I am about to take my last voyage. A great leap in the dark.”  He could well have been speaking of the giant leap into the political dark that is now taking place in Europe.  Ultimately, a European Leviathan would be an insult to the tradition of English and Scottish political thought that made parliamentary democracy possible – Hume, Locke, Mill, Smith et al.  And, if friendships are lost because I will not compromise on this fundamental political principle, then so be it. 
A European Leviathan; be careful what you wish for.
Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 13 July 2012

Will Someone Please Save Europe from Belgium?

Alphen, just over the Dutch border from Belgium.  Friday, the 13th.  Will someone please save Europe from Belgium?  The influence of this chocolate superpower is growing by the day.  Now, my own country, Her Imperial Britannic Majesty’s Dis-United Kingdom, has made the odd mistake over the years.  We are good at mistakes. Indeed, London is currently working through Britain’s new foreign policy manual; “101 Mistakes To Make Before You Collapse”.  Perhaps Britain’s greatest mistake came at the very height of Empire – we made Belgium!  Yes, I know, it is a terrible admission to make and hardly a testament to sound British judgement.  Sorry.

The 1839 Treaty of London was a British-led deal between the Great Powers, the Dutch and the “Kingdom of Belgium” to create a buffer between the French and the Dutch.  Belgium was to be perpetually neutral and Britain was to guarantee Belgium.  Now, having led Western Europe’s only failed state to the heights of its ‘glory’ it is Belgians leading the way towards something all the more ambitious - a failed European super-state. 

Eveywhere I turn there are wild-eyed and ever so slightly dishevelled Belgians leading calls for the Super-Onion.  Be it Onion supremo ‘President’ Herman van Rompuy, or Chief Euro-Parliamentary Onionista Guy Verhofstadt.  Everywhere I turn Belgians are telling me I have no alternative but to bow to the ‘power’ of Belgium, sorry Brussels, and scrap my country so that Belgium can be made to work.  Did I miss something?

The latest piece from the chocolate superpower goes under the characteristically misleading title of “The European Council and the Community Method” (no, it is not some form of bizarre group sex but one does need a good smoke after reading it).  Written by one of those consummate Onion insiders Philippe de Schoutheete, former Belgian Ambassador to the Onion, it is a true horror story.

Like all good horror stories the paper starts by presenting the very essence of normality.  Europe was made up of a series of cozy hobbit-like shires nestling in the green and pleasant vale that was 1950s ‘Europe’.  Because the Hobbits had no issues that divided them they all agreed to come together to grow a European Onion.  However, because they were all as lazy as hell and did not really trust each other one little bit they also agreed to create something called the European Omission, whereby they all pretended to ignore their many disagreements and let some bloke called Manuel, a Portu-Belgian, decide things for them.  Of course, the Belgians maintained ultimate control by making their own lad Herman, King of the Belgians and President of Europe at one and the same time.  After a particularly damp period the Onion went mouldy and the only way to save it was to make the Omission responsible for ‘growth’, overseen of course by Herman.

And then the descent into horror quickens.  The good Ambassador cites the secret Treaty of Lisbon which the Belgians, sorry Brussels, had imposed after French and Dutch Hobbits had rather objected to their country being taken away simply to save Belgium.  The Belgians having given this democracy thing a try demonstrated that it did not work but avoiding a Belgian government for many years and decided this would also be good for Europe.  Thus, the only solution was to recast the Onion in the image of Belgium and overseen by the sprouts in Brussels.

At the end there is nowhere to run.  There is no life after debt.  Sooner or later the Onion crushes all before it and Europe is finally turned into Belgium; a happy but broke place where the people live happily ever after, love each other deeply but have no say over anything. At least the beer is good.

To be fair, the Ambassador is right about the essential challenge of our Euro-time; “One may ask whether the true debate today is not between the Community method and intergovernmental decision-making, but rather between governance and government”.  For those of you not-versed in Onion-speak the meaning is simple; is there any way we Hobbits will ever again trust the Muppets who have created this mess?  Moreover, is there any way that we can be convinced to give Belgium, sorry Brussels, even more power but ask less questions.  For that is what at the end the good Belgian Ambassador is offering.

He concludes with a warning.  “No political system can survive without giving hope to its citizens. Europe has been a great channel of hope for several generations, including mine. And today? It is not hope that encourages integration, it is market fears. Is this enough? What we see around us, rather, is hopelessness. Many Europeans do not see a light at the end of the tunnel. Who will bear a message of hope, if our leaders and institutions do not?"  Hope springs infernal - there is no life after debt but the Onion.   

British Prime Minister William Pitt once described Belgium as a “pistol pointed at the heart of England”.  It is about to be fired, if they can find the bullet.  Belgium - coming soon to a town near you. 

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Can the Franco-British Strategic Defence Relationship Survive?

Alphen, the Netherlands.  11 July.  Can the Franco-British strategic defence relationship survive? Yesterday, at the close of a modest lunch in Downing Street, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had, “found much common ground” with French President Francois Hollande.  Following discussions ranging from the Eurozone debt crisis to Syria and Iran Cameron talked of a “strong relationship” and that both agreed the planned increase of the EU’s budget to €14 billion ($25 bn) by 2020 was “unacceptable”.  Clearly, the many issues of contention, such as France’s call for a financial services transaction tax, were either avoided or kept secret.  Cameron only hinted at the fundamental issue dividing the two countries; “We are clearly better off within the European Union…but I don’t think Britain is happy with the current relationship”. 

The Franco-British strategic defence relationship matters. First, it is a key European-European state relationship beyond EU competence.  Second, it is perhaps the only European relationship willing to think big about military matters in a very big military world.  Founded on two landmark defence agreements the relationship has long been a strategic cornerstone.  The 1998 St Malo Declaration seemed for a time to have resolved tension between NATO and the EU’s defence ambitions and paved the way for the now moribund Common Security and Defence Policy. 
On 2 November, 2010 the Franco-British Defence and Security Treaty was signed and heralded a new dawn in the two countries’ strategic defence relationship.  The treaty called for “mutual interdependence” and the sharing and pooling of defence materials and equipment, the building of joint facilities and “mutual access” to each other’s defence industries.  In addition there were agreements over nuclear stockpile stewardship, a new framework agreement for exchanges on operational matters and a proposal for a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force.  At the time there was also agreement that Britain and France should work together on the next generation of aircraft carriers.  However, the British decision to revert to the use solely of carrier-based short and vertical take-off aircraft effectively scrapped that line of co-operation.
Two other developments have undermined the relationship. First, the Eurozone crisis has pitched Anglo-French relations into uncharted waters inevitably affecting the strategic defence relationship. France is not only at the heart of the crisis whilst Britain is fast becoming a full-paying third-class member of the EU, Paris has always seen such agreements as a step on the road to a full-blown European defence construct to which Britain is implacably opposed.  Economic union will in time make that more likely not less.  Second, the 2010 treaty came at a time when Cameron was still early in his premiership and was hoping to ‘rebalance’ Britain’s relationship between Europe and the US.  However, such a rebalancing pre-supposed a Britain that would not be forced to choose between its economic relationship with Europe and its strategic defence relationship with the US.  The January 2012 shift in US defence posture towards East Asia will indeed over time force Britain to choose. And, given the Great European Defence Depression the British are rightly going with the Americans, even though that will have its own problems.   
Given those pressures it will be a miracle if the Franco-British strategic relationship survives…but survive it must for the good of all.  In the short-term some sensitivity will be needed.  The British must not under-estimate the attachment of the French to the Euro as a symbol of the French view of Europe.  The French must stop lecturing the British about said view of ‘Europe’, and stop attempting to subordinate Britain to French ambitions and the bill that goes along with them.
Sadly, the toxic chemistry between the two countries makes trust a rare commodity.  Sometime ago I had a chat with a French four-star general whom I like and respect.  The conversation was not easy.  He told me a story of a recent deployment by the French aircraft-carrier Charles de Gaulle, which had been escorted by a British frigate.  He claimed that Paris learnt later that the frigate only had orders to protect itself.  He even called the British “perfidious”.  I checked.  Not only was mon general wrong, but London found working with the French proved difficult because agreed operational schedules were never maintained.  What is clear is that Paris does feel let down by London at times and has a point.  Britain and France need to rise above this kind of thing.
The road ahead will be rocky.  Cameron’s contradictory argument that more European integration is needed, but that non-integrating Britain is better off in the European Union is patent nonsense.  Something is going to have to give and unless the two countries can demonstrate a genius for statecraft both have lacked for many years then it is hard to see the Franco-British strategic defence relationship surviving.  That would be a shame given the world in which these two middling powers are moving.
Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 9 July 2012

All at Sea

Alphen, the Netherlands, 09 July. Admiral, the Lord Nelson, one-time senior naval super-person, once said that, “Desperate affairs require desperate measures”.  Had he attended the Royal United Services Institute Future Maritime Operations Conference 2012 in London he might have amended that to read, “Desperate affairs require desperate measures…and some new, radical, but above all strategic thinking”.  I came away from two days of debate with senior naval persons from many lands with a profound sense of ‘gap’ between the big, strategic role navies will and must play in the twenty-first century and the small, tactical thinking of those charged with making the case for future navies, particularly the British. 

Most telling for me was a breakfast meeting I attended to consider ‘sea-basing’.  I had prepared a major report for the head of the Royal Netherlands Navy to develop creative thinking in this area.  My intervention to that effect was met with the resounding thump of a good idea hitting the deck and being ignored.  It left me with a profound sense of senior military officers being simply unable or unwilling to think radically, unable to make a compelling case for expensive navies, and only really willing to listen to each other.  The rest of us were…tolerated.
This big futures twenty-first century will place Western navies right at the heart of strategy; influence, deterrence, dissuasion and defence.  However, we talked about almost everything but that – peacekeeping, supporting civil-military relations, counter-piracy, counter-drugs, supporting Afghanistan from the sea etc.  They are all important but they are not core business and we really must look beyond Afghanistan.  We only just touched on AirSea Battle and the access denial/area denial debate.

At times I thought I was attending a kind of floating politically-correct hell.  One academic offered a ridiculous, cartoon vision of modern Britain.  However, being of an ethnic minority Whitehall political correctness demanded all and sundry celebrate such nonsense.  It explained a lot.

Without a clear strategic ‘narrative’, and a means to sell it, strategically-inept politicians faced with ever more strident demands from the pressure groups and single-issue lobbyists who now infect democracy will cut navies to the point of strategic irrelevance.  In that event the world-wide strategic brand that is still the United States Navy, and to some extent the Royal Navy will be finally laid to rest and with them a key tool of strategic influence will be lost.  As I was speaking the British Defence Minister, Phillip Hammond was on his feet in the House of Commons announcing the Army 2020 plan by which the British Army will be cut from 102,000 to 82,000 over five years.

The conference at least offered a glimpse of the future.  This was the Anglosphere at sea.  In addition to the UK, senior naval speakers came from Australia, Canada, Ghana, New Zealand and the US.  There were no French, German, or Dutch speakers, although an impressive Italian Rear Admiral spoke.  Having been in Rome the previous week it is clear the Italians do not wish a) to be left alone in the European Onion without the British; or b) let go of the coat-tails of the Anglosphere.

Tellingly, I was upbraided for my suggestion that all was not well either between the three British services nor inside NATO.   That response demonstrated to me the kind of ‘steady as you go’ thinking that bears no relation to the mess in which we all find ourselves.

What is needed is a new concept of naval power which combines global reach with a shared warfighting ethos that in turn reflects a new balance between manpower and technology.  This concept requires in turn all the serious navies represented at that conference to learn far more effectively from each other and that means first and foremost learning how to learn.  That was not at all apparent and yet, ironically, that can be found in Army 2020.

Gentlemen, the bottom-line is this; the economic depression in which we are mired will likely get worse before it gets better.  Countries such as Britain will not be afforded the chance simply to get off the world for a bit to fix it.  Therefore, if the future navy that will be needed is to be afforded in sufficient numbers over a sufficiently reasonable timeframe at a cost that I can bear then you will need to build a much more coherent case with the Army and Air Force to forge the kind of organic jointness implicit in the Army 2020 plan, and across government. 

Given that reality my sense is that the leadership of Western navies (especially European navies) are being nothing like radical enough neither in their thinking about ways, ends or means nor in the building of all-important partnerships – both civil and military.
If we can get politicians thinking about navies they might just begin to think strategically. It is time to think radically about OUR navies otherwise they really will be all at sea.
Julian Lindley-French  

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Bomber Boys

London, Bomber Command Memorial, 5 July. It is sixty-seven years too late.  The Bomber Boys gaze over me looking exhaustedly and exhaustively for comrades who will never return.  Seven RAF Bomber Command aircrew cast in bronze probably just off a Lancaster that has somehow miraculously survived a World War Two ‘trip’ over Nazi Germany.  Etched into the sombre Portland stone of London’s beautiful new monument to the men of Bomber Command are Churchill’s famous words of September 1940, “The fighters are our salvation, but the bombers alone provide the means of our victory”.

RAF Bomber Command flew 364,514 sorties during ‘the war’.  Of the 125,000 who clambered almost daily into Wellingtons, Halifaxes, Stirlings and, of course, the iconic Lancaster, 55,573 lost their lives.  Only the German U-Boat crews suffered greater losses of any service in any force anywhere.  Men had a 30% chance of surviving their first tour. As for the rest life was a lottery and they knew it.
Two weeks ago I had the honour to take breakfast in the mess at RAF Leeming sitting at a table where many young Britons and Canadians had eaten their final meal before being consumed by a fiery death over Germany.  Last week Her Majesty the Queen unveiled this simple memorial to very brave men in front of thinning ranks of veterans from many nations as a lone Lancaster dropped a field of poppies over London’s Green Park.
For five years with growing accuracy and intensity RAF heavy bombers pulverised German cities and killed large numbers of German civilians night after terrifying night.  One has only to visit a German city or read Max Hasting’s harrowing account of 5 Group’s 1944 attack on Darmstadt to get some understanding of the suffering that Bomber Command inflicted. 
However, whilst I regret the suffering I have long-learned not to judge a past age by the values of the current age.  This was total war that had to be fought and won totally against a regime that was seeking to subjugate Europe with its appalling mix of nationalism, racism and militarism. This was a regime that was sending millions to the gas chamber.  In 1940-1941 Luftwaffe attacks on British cities such as Coventry, London, my own Sheffield and many others led to tragic loss of civilian life.  Air Chief Marshal Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris made Britain’s position terrifyingly simple; “The Germans have sown the wind.  They will now reap the whirlwind”.  In August 1943 that whirlwind hit Hamburg which over two nights was virtually obliterated by the RAF.  The damage was so great that Goebbels told Hitler that a few more raids like that and the war would be lost. Cologne, Kassel, Berlin and of course Dresden suffered raids of up to one thousand aircraft, as did much of the Ruhr industrial basin.
The debate over the strategic value and morality of the bomber offensive will continue on for many years to come, as will the debate over the value of Britain putting so much of its wartime industrial effort into producing large bombers.  However, I will always recall the words of my Dutch wife’s great aunt who died two years ago at the age of 102.  She told me that in the four years before D-Day the sound of the ever-increasing bomber streams passing overhead night after night to strike the Nazis hard gave real hope to the Dutch people that so long as Britain was fighting hard deliverance would one day come from brutal occupation as indeed it did.
Perhaps the greatest tribute we can offer these young men is not just this stunning memorial but the fact that Coventry and Dresden are today twinned in reconciliation.  That atop the rebuilt Frauenkirche in Dresden sits a golden orb from Coventry.  It also places today’s contentions in stark perspective.  Whatever the tensions and irritations of the latest European crisis this is not a war; far from it.  Britain and democratic Germany are today friends and it must always be thus.  Indeed, even if Britain is forced to leave the EU, as I believe in time it will, we will leave as friends.  L.P. Hartley’s famous reminder that the past is another country is nowhere as eloquent as Europe. 
At the base of the memorial I found a note left by a relative.  It commemorates New Zealand brothers John and George Mee who perished on sorties a few months apart.  “As with their comrades they did not seek glory, they asked for no collateral for their lives, they demanded no privileges, no power or influence as they flew steadily into the valley of death”. 
Strike hard, strike sure, Gentlemen.
Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 2 July 2012

Stop Playing Games over Europe, Mr Cameron

Alphen, the Netherlands. 2 July.  In an article yesterday in London's Sunday Telegraph, British Prime Minister David Cameron hinted at a possible in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.  “Let us start to spell out in more detail the parts of our European engagement we want and those we want to end”, Cameron urged.  Sadly, this is PR Meister Cameron at his smoke and mirrors worst.  Cameron has no intention of putting the question that in recent opinion polls up to 90% of the British people want to answer; should Britain leave the EU?

There was a time when EU membership made strategic sense for Britain.  Not any more; the Eurozone crisis is a tipping point.  EU membership costs Britain £55 million per day ($86m) or £20 billion per year ($31bn), which is over half the UK defence budget, making Britain the second net contributor after Germany for far, far less benefit.  Those politicians who want to lock Britain into an unfavourable relationship with a debt-crushed, economically-sclerotic, growth-free Eurozone (the only EU that matters) claim that should Britain leave the EU the country would lose some 40-50% of its global output.  This is scaremongering.  Britain has an enormous trade deficit with the Eurozone and some 50-60% of Britain’s trade is with the wider more dynamic world.  One only has to visit the UK to see there are few of those beguiling EU signs that one finds all over France and elsewhere celebrating ‘Brussels-funded’ projects; the British are paying for them.
Like much of Britain’s political class David Cameron’s strength is that he is a master political tactician at home, but a hopeless strategist abroad.  Indeed, PR-Meister Cameron’s performance at recent EU summits has been utterly lamentable.  The Sunday Express article reflects this.  It is negotiating madness to say one is going to wait until the Eurozone has decided its future before Britain re-negotiates its membership or indeed its exit.  At the very least Cameron needs to re-negotiate the cost of Britain’s EU membership now.  This is something former Defence Minister Liam Fox has today rightly pointed out. 

There are now only two likely outcomes for this crisis.  There will be either a German-French dominated EU that will use some elements of political union to lock the current balance of power into European law, which is not in Britain's favour.  Or, a move towards genuine political union will take place via fiscal and banking union of the sort favoured by the EU President, Herman van Rompuy.  Both options are utterly irreconcilable with Britain’s political culture. 
In his efforts to dance on the head of a political pin Cameron tries to make the distinction between the Euro-EU and the single-market EU.  That distinction simply does not exist.  Last week’s Van Rompuy plan for banking union shot Cameron’s one remaining fox.  In effect, a two-tier single market in banking is being created; one for the Eurozone and the other for the non-Eurozone.  For Britain a true single market in banking and financial services has been the holy grail for many years.  However, even before the current crisis Germany did everything to block such a market because Berlin and Frankfurt feared the power of the City of London.  Under current plans London would be shut out in favour of Frankfurt, not least because it is the Germans who are going to write the rules of banking union. 
One can only hope that behind the scenes there is some method in Cameron's madness.  By calling on the British people to “show tactical and strategic patience” he is maybe hoping to make the case for exit irresistible or at the very least creating negotiating space.  He claims after all to be a “pragmatic euro-sceptic”.  He may also be right.  Indeed, as power shifts away from most (not all) EU member-states to Brussels, and the European people become ever more subject to distant, technocratic unelected fiat, the dangers of political union will become obvious.   
Sadly, my bet is that Cameron is mortaging Britain’s strategic future for his own political neck.  By calling for “patience” Cameron’s real concern is to stop votes leaking from his political base to the UK Independence Party and to kick this particular can down the road until after the next election when he hopes that will not have to co-habit with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, the European Commission’s point man in London.  And, by then the referendum over Scottish independence will have been settled. 

There may be a way for sensible people in London, Berlin and Paris to find a way to make EU membership work again for Britain but it is now very hard to see.  Today the British people pay far too much for far too little in an unbalanced relationship.  That relationship will become set in European political concrete unless Prime Minister Cameron ups his game and begins to exert demonstrable influence over a Brussels run by people who are not natural supporters of the British view of Europe.

Stop playing games over Europe, Mr Cameron.  It is far too serious and your position indefensible.
Julian Lindley-French