hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 31 August 2012

Afghanistan: An Allotment in a Jungle

Alphen, Netherlands. 31 August, 2012.  Nothing makes my blood boil more than recently retired senior government officials suddenly changing their story once retired.  Earlier this year I was excoriated for suggesting that our troops were dying in Afghanistan for want of a meaningful political strategy and to avoid the political embarrassment of leaders.  Yesterday, Ambassador Sherard Cowper-Coles, London’s former ‘man in Kabul’, went on BBC radio to launch a stinging attack on both the American and British governments.  He said that the undoubted achievements of American, British and other coalition armed forces in denying Afghanistan to Al Qaeda had been wasted due to a lack of a meaningful political strategy built on reconciliation within Afghanistan and a regional political settlement beyond.  Cowper-Coles likened the West’s strategy to “cultivating an allotment (small vegetable garden) in a jungle” and virtually quoted me (unintentionally) when he said that the military surge had failed because it had not been matched by a political surge.
This dreadful week in which five Australian soldiers were killed, three of whom died in yet another so-called green-on-blue attack and in which eleven civilians were beheaded by the Taliban in Helmand province, has again highlighted not so much a failing political strategy as the absence of one.  Five years ago I wrote two major reports on Afghanistan following a visit to that beautiful, but broken country and in 2009 I wrote the original “Plan B for Afghanistan” for the International Institute for Strategic Studies (still online).  Plan B highlighted exactly the points that are now being presented as revealed truth by the the so-called great and good as the scramble begins to shift and avoid blame for failure. 
Former US Special Envoy the late Richard Holbrooke said that the West was fighting the wrong enemy with the wrong strategy in the wrong country.  Only a proper regional strategy with the stabilization of Pakistan at its centre would have afforded Afghans the semblance of a ‘peace’ beyond the heroin-funded, fundamentalist-driven, tribal-brokered anarchy that is likely to be their future.  Sadly, it is too late now.
It is the old quantity versus quality problem.  However large the Afghan National Army or the Afghan police unless and until there is a government in Kabul worthy of the name Western forces are simply preparing Afghanistan for the inevitable civil war that will follow 2014.
Sadly, the dishonesty is likely to continue.  Much is made by Washington and London of their continued commitment to Afghanistan post-2014 (other allies are already on their way out).  It is a sham.  I was approached to become a member of a consortium bidding for a contract to provide defence education.  Only after some time did I realise that in fact I was being suckered into a contract to go to Afghanistan post-2014 as a defence-educator simply to maintain the pretence that American and British politicians are keeping their word.  Once the bulk of Western forces withdraw anyone who goes will be little more than hostage-bait.
It is patently obvious that both American and British politicians are now more intent in putting distance between themselves and Afghanistan than supporting the troops with real political capital. Indeed, it is striking how the West’s Afghan veterans are fast becoming like those Russians who went home broken in the wake of Moscow's 1989 withdrawal.  Known as The Forgotten Division they have to fight for the most basic of support simply because by existing they remind Russia’s leaders of failure.  Thankfully our veterans are treated far better but for far too long the West’s young men and women in uniform, together with their partners from across the globe, have carried our politicians creating an alibi for appalling leadership. 
It is not Ambassador Cowper-Coles who is in my sights as he did indeed try to change things from within.  However, too often those taking the President’s buck or the Queen’s shilling do far too little to shift policy and strategy from within government and are all too quick to attack it having left, especially when there is a book to sell.  It is the mark of the cynicism of both London and Washington these days that careers matter more than honour.
It is this behaviour that prevents government from confronting truth and helps politicians avoid uncomfortable truths.  It is compounded by attempts to silence critics who are simply confirming the blindingly obvious; that in the absence of a real and sustained political strategy our young men and women are dying in Afghanistan for nothing and will continue to do so until they are withdrawn in 2014. 
Afghanistan is indeed an allotment in a jungle.  Which jungle is a good question - there or here. This blog is dedicated to the five brave Australians killed this week. 
Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Main Event

Alphen, Netherlands. 29 August.  Many people have inspired me.  Winston Churchill for refusing to compromise with evil, Ed Murrow for taking on corrupt power to protect free speech, Martin Luther King for reminding Americans that all people are born equal and Nelson Mandela for creating a nation out of forgiveness.  But there is one who this week will be rightly celebrated because he not only gave many young men their broken lives back but overcame prejudice and discrimination – Sir Dr Ludwig “Poppa” Guttmann, the founding father of the Paralympics which start today in London.
He was an unlikely British hero.  A German Jew who had been Germany’s top brain surgeon before the Nazis banned him from practising in 1933.  He had been born in what was then eastern Germany when the Kaiser was on the throne and fled with his family to Britain in 1939 to escape Nazi persecution.  What he found in Britain appalled him and he refused to accept the latent prejudice in the British medical establishment of the time that condemned many young British servicemen crippled by war to a life of unjust marginalisation or simply to die of infected bedsores or urinary infections.  Their life expectancy was six months, condemned to die by prejudice as much as injury.  When they arrived from the battlefield his patients were even shipped in coffin-like boxes in seeming anticipation of their pending demise.
Like all such pioneers he was not an easy man, as hard on his patients as the stifling officialdom that simply wanted to wish away his ‘paraplegics’.  He fought for their dignity but also demanded equal commitment from them.  At Stoke Mandeville hospital he slowly created a world-leading centre for the treatment of severe spinal injury suffered in battle.  He was possessed of that special quality that refused to accommodate the ‘old boy network’ that even today blights Britain. He did not come from the right school and he did not speak with the right accent and he had little time for those who spoke the language of integrity and dignity only to shuffle their feet when called upon to act in its name. Something I have seen all too clearly for myself of late.
His genius was to understand that quality of life was as much a battle for the spirit as the body.  And it was that insight that led him to create the Stoke Mandeville Games, which took place on 28 July, 1948 the same day as the 1948 London Olympics opened.  Indeed, he called his event the “Parallel Olympics”.  From modest beginnings the Games have grown into the Paralympics of today in which 4200 athletes from 65 countries will compete in intense completion for much-prized medals.  In so doing Guttmann reminded the world that there is no distinction at all between the able-bodied and the disabled.
His old unit was set up in the wake of the June 1944 allied invasion of France as spinal injuries soared. It survives to this day in the guise of the National Spinal Injuries Centre (surely it should be the Royal National Spinal Injuries Centre) and supports some 5000 patients.
Between 1948 and 1960 the Stoke Mandeville Games grew year on year as ever more war veterans and disabled people from across the world came together to compete.   In 1960, a week after the flame had died on the seventeenth Olympiad the first official Parallel Olympics was held in Rome. It was not just the Games that Guttmann’s genius helped to inspire but the whole treatment of people with disabilities from housing to travel, from work to leisure.What he did was to change the mind-set of official and unofficial Britain alike and in time much of the world beyond.
Guttmann became a naturalised British citizen in 1945 and in 1966 was knighted by Her Majesty the Queen for his services to Britain and disabled people.  He died in 1980.  However, his spirit lives on and there is no doubt he will be looking down from on high at the 2012 Paralympics with much pride. The 2012 London Olympics were simply the warm up.  If you want to see courage and utter determination to overcome adversity watch the main event.  It is called the London Paralympics and it starts today.
Thank you, Sir Ludwig.  You reminded us all that it is what people can do that matters, not what others think they cannot.  It is a lesson that needs to be constantly taught and re-taught, especially to those empty souls who claim to uphold fairness and freedom from discrimination but all too often do not.
Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Syria Bluff

Alphen, Netherlands. 27 August.  It is clearly intelligence-led.  President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron have said that any recourse to chemical weapons by Damascus would be “completely unacceptable” and would lead the US and UK to “revisit their approach” to the crisis.  According to Obama even moving the weapons would cross an American “red line” with “enormous consequences”.  The implication is clear; the US and UK are considering military action.  Is it a credible threat?
The threat posed by Syrian chemical weapons is certainly credible.  Damascus is believed to possess some one thousand tons of mustard gas, together with the nerve agent Sarin and possibly VX gas.  It is held in over fifty locations but focused on five main sites relatively close to the Turkish, Lebanese and Israeli borders.  Syria is also capable of producing several hundred tons of mustard gas per year.
The political implications of Anglo-American military action would be profound.  The days are now long gone when the West could seemingly act with impunity in the name of humanitarian interventionism.  That is why Cameron in separate talks with French President Hollande agreed to, “work more closely to identify how they could bolster the opposition and help a potential transitional government after the inevitable fall of Assad”. 
Moreover, a Western-led strike against Syria’s main chemical weapons sites would almost certainly take place without the support of the UN Security Council and thus further sour relations with China and Russia.  Arab support would be critical, particularly and at the very least that of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, because it is highly unlikely that Arab League support could be secured as an alternative source of political legitimacy.  Iran would inevitably see such an attack as part of a much bigger stratagem aimed at Tehran and there is even the possibility that members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard would be killed or injured. 
In Europe the prospect of British and French forces acting alongside the US, much in the way they did over Libya, would no doubt split Europeans (again).  Even at home it is hard to see the American, British or French people happy to see their forces inserted yet again into another political quagmire. 
Military action would be complicated to say the least. That is why Obama has suggested that even moving the weapons would cross an American “red line”.  If they are dispersed prior to use then the already limited chances of such a strike succeeding would be reduced to nil.  The strike would need to be overwhelmingly US-led using Special Forces acting on real, real-time intelligence probably operating from bases in Israel and Turkey, which would itself complicate matters.  Jimmy Carter’s botched April 1980 attempt to rescue American diplomats held in Tehran would no doubt gravely exercise Obama’s military and political planners in this election year. 
The French might be able to offer some air support, most likely from their aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.  The British could perhaps offer their Special Forces, which remain amongst the few units in the British armed forces that have not been significantly weakened by London’s savage defence cuts, the impact of which was all too apparent in the skies above Libya.  Indeed, it is becoming increasingly galling to hear Cameron talk big on the world stage as he cuts the very forces with which he needs to act.  ‘Talk big, act small' is rapidly becoming the mantra of this increasingly incompetent British government (and that is saying something).  The rest of Europe?  Forget it.
However, the greatest danger is that once again the West will confuse values with interests and use the threat posed by Syria’s chemical weapons to embroil its forces in a Syrian civil war in pursuit of vague humanitarian objectives.  The Syrian opposition is made up of a range of groups and beliefs some of which are implacably anti-Western.  Failure would end at a stroke the new, implicit ‘strike and punish’ strategies of all Western powers and simply lead to another failed intervention at the end of this age of failed interventions.
Ultimately, any such mission could offer no guarantee that Syria’s chemical arsenal can be either destroyed or neutralized.   Better instead to carefully identify those members of the opposition with whom the West can work.  And, uncomfortable though it may be establish contact with those with links to the regime who might be able to help form a transitional government in Syria.
Richard Schickel once wrote, “The law of unintended consequences pushes us ceaselessly through the years, permitting no pause for perspective”. 
It is time for perspective on Syria.  This is no time to bluff.
Julian Lindley-French


Sunday, 26 August 2012

Steely-Eyed Missile Man

Alphen, Netherlands. 26 August.  0356 hours UK time, 20 July, 1969 I was aged 11 sitting in front of my parent's TV as Neil Armstrong stepped from Lunar Module Eagle at Moon Base Tranquillity onto the lunar surface.  It was the BBC's first all-night live transmission and I had been allowed to stay up because history was in the making.  For the first time since man became sentient he was about to step onto another world. I recall as though yesterday the moment when Astronaut Armstrong said words that came to define a generation, "This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind".

Neil Armstrong died today aged 82.  For me and my generation he is one of the immortals.

Safe landings, Mr Armstrong.  You are one steely-eyed missile man!

Julian Lindley-French    

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Far Away Islands of Which We Know Nothing

Alphen, the Netherlands.  21 August.  It is a worrying vision of a dangerous future.  Last week Chinese ‘activists’ landed on the Japanese-controlled but disputed islands of Senkaku (Diaoyu in Chinese) followed swiftly by Japanese nationalists. On the face of it this dispute seems almost tragi-comic, a plot straight out of Gilbert and Sullivan.  Just one of those momentary summer headlines for a Europe taking breath from the Euro-disaster and a distraction for the eternally electioneering Americans.  And yet, this East China Sea dispute could in time be seen as the true beginning of a contest that will come to define the twenty-first century as much as the coming war between Iran and Israel; the struggle for power dominance in East Asia.

The prize is oil and gas.  China estimates that between one hundred to one hundred and sixty billion barrels of oil can be extracted from the East China Sea, with a possible further twenty-eight billion barrels beneath the South China Sea.  The islands form part of the so-called Xihu/Okinawa trough basin which alone hide an estimated twenty billion barrels of extractable oil beneath the waves.   
However, the conflict goes much deeper (excuse the bad pun) and is about much more than hydrocarbons.  The Chinese have claimed the islands since at least the fourteenth century, whilst Japan asserted control over them in 1895, a stepping stone on the road to Tokyo’s then imperial ambitions which eventually led to Japan’s brutal 1937 invasion of Manchuria (China), the 1940 Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, and eventually the 1941 Pacific War  The Americans took control in 1945 with the defeat of imperial Japan but handed them back to Tokyo in 1971 to ease Japanese concerns about the Nixon-Kissinger rapprochement with Mao’s China. 
Today, it is China that is exerting its regional-strategic economic and military muscle and this dispute bears all the hallmarks of a clumsy Beijing attempt to escalate.  In the shadow of its declared foreign policy goal of “strategic harmony” China has established the self-declared Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ.  The zone is entirely fungible.  Nominally it extends no more than two hundred miles off the Chinese coast, although some Chinese maps have the EEZ extending across both the South and East China Seas, from Vietnam to Japan. 
As such this China-Japan standoff is just one of several in which Beijing is involved and in which all the regional powers are involved.  China and the Philippines are in dispute over the sovereignty of the Spratly Islands, in particular the Reed Bank, on which a British company is currently surveying for oil and which is regularly harassed by the Chinese.  China is also exerting pressure on PetroVietnam as it searches for oil and gas in Hanoi’s own self-declared EEZ off the Vietnamese coast.  In October 2011 China and Vietnam signed an agreement that established principles for resolving maritime issues, but only time will demonstrate its utility.
The strategic picture is further complicated by the rapid expansion and modernization of Chinese naval and naval paramilitary forces.  It is self-evident that if some kind of accommodation is not found soon the potential for conflict grows by the day.  This is especially so as all of these disputes mask the rampant nationalism which holds the entire region in its very partisan grip, reflective itself of long-held and deeply-felt grievances.
For China the stakes could not be higher.  The rise of the People’s Republic has been built on economic nationalism, the feeding of the West’s consumer obesity and the avoidance of direct strategic confrontation.  These small specks on a maritime chart could derail what has been a highly successful strategy.  Beijing often worries publicly about other powers seeking to ‘contain’ China, in much the same way that the US ‘contained’ Soviet Russia.  China’s fear could be self-fulfilling if Beijing continues to press with a heavy hand in the East and South China Seas. 
Indeed, important though oil and gas may be to resource-starved Asian economies in which many regimes are legitimized by economic growth rather than democracy, these disputes are really about the regional-strategic pecking order in East Asia.  Much like the European pecking order did much to shape the nineteenth century world the twenty-first century world order will owe much to the power shape of East Asia.  Nothing is more likely to engender an anti-Chinese regional coalition than a China that makes a mockery of “strategic harmony”.  Any such coalition would inevitably and invariably draw in the Americans.   
And, in this security globalized world what happens ‘over there’ impacts ‘over here’.  One-time British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain once described Czechoslovakia as a “far-away country of whom we know nothing”.  The rest is history. 
Tread carefully China.
Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 10 August 2012

Romney’s Not Obama Doctrine

Alphen, the Netherlands, 10 August.  All American presidents like to establish a doctrine; a coherent set of foreign and security policy goals that underpin US leadership in the world.  What does Mitt Romney’s recent foreign tour say about a future President Romney’s foreign and security policy?  Can the beginnings of a Romney Doctrine be discerned?
From a European perspective the visit hardly instilled confidence. Indeed, after his much-heralded gaffe in London when he suggested the city was not ready for the Olympics The Sun, one of Britain’s more populist newspapers ran the headline, “Mitt the Twit”.  And yet the three venues for his visit were carefully chosen – Britain, Israel and Poland – and do suggest the stirrings of a world view. 
Romney was to some extent pushing at an open door.  One of the many and oft unfair criticisms of President Obama has been that his treatment of traditionally faithful allies has been high-handed.  Ten years of sacrifice by the British under American leadership in Afghanistan and Iraq was seemingly dismissed in the early days of the Obama administration as they attempted to build new relationships with Germany and France.  Poland was told rather brusquely to accept the Administration’s 'reset' with Russia, and Obama has yet to visit Israel, although one is planned if he is re-elected.
And yet Romney came across to Europeans as another ill-informed, plastic American politician – all mouth and no trousers as we say in Yorkshire.  Moreover, some of Romney’s foreign policy pronouncements seem ill-advised.  His aggressive comments about Russia seemed to reflect a Cold War view of superpower Moscow, rather than a state in rapid decline.  Moreover, whilst the visit to Israel clearly demonstrates that a Romney administration would be rightly concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it also suggests that attempts to find a new accommodation with political Islam as represented by the new Egyptian government would be a low priority, which would be a mistake.
Equally, the Romney world view matters.  There are those of course who suggest that given America’s huge budget deficit, cuts to US armed forces and the West’s economic turmoil any American president will have far less influence than before.  That is only very partially true.  The Americans can no longer shape the strategic environment as before, if they ever could, but talk of American decline is dangerously premature.  Chinese power is very much over-rated and regional at best with Beijing faced by a host of domestic challenges that will render China’s influence brittle at best.  There are simply no other peer competitors to the Americans and there will not be for at least a decade, probably longer.
In fact, given the need to draw down America’s enormous deficit a Romney presidency may well wish the US had less influence. The flip side of influence is responsibility and as the much-berated Obama ‘pivot’ to Asia suggests an over-stretched post-Afghanistan, post-Iraq America could do with less responsibility, not more.  And yet, the pace and cope of instable change in the world is likely to generate more not less demand for American leadership.  Indeed, whilst the strategic centre of gravity will in time shift to East Asia, many of the flashpoints will be in and around Europe – Iran, Syria, fundamentalism and the search for a new political and economic order in a Middle East for which the West still depends for much of it oil. 
It may be this strategic reality that binds Britain, Israel and Poland in the clearly embryonic Romney strategic mind.  Indeed, implicit in the trip was a reinvestment in allies who have delivered for America.  Therefore, at best the trip represented the early stirrings of a Romney Doctrine and with it a re-orientation of American foreign and security policy towards a new global American worldwide security web – a Republican grand strategy.  This state-centric world-wide web of democratic allies and partners would necessarily need to go beyond traditional institutional alliances, such as NATO, if support for an overstretched America is to be bolstered.   
Indeed, such a doctrine would involve and require real and simultaneous US political investment in two sets of traditional allies.  In the European region that would be Britain, Israel and Poland.  In Asia-Pacific Australia, Japan and South Korea would be vital.  Successful overtures would also be needed to the likes of India and South Africa, and more close to home Brazil.  Where a Romney Doctrine could be different is to link them all together with Washington acting as the hub.  
All of the above would require deft American leadership if lost confidence is to be rebuilt.  In and of itself the trip did nothing to reinforce that.  Indeed, there is no Romney Doctrine as yet, simply a Not Obama Doctrine and that is not enough by far.  Romney will need a big foreign policy idea and soon. 
Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Yorkshire Gold

Alphen, The Netherlands. 9 August.  Good news for Australia!  The Aussies have just drawn level with my native Yorkshire in the Olympic's medal table with six whole gold medals.  Team GB by the way have twenty-four golds but who's counting?  Keep trying you Aussies! As we say in Yorkshire, 'na then!  That means pay attention in Australian.    

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Vor You Tommy Ze Var Ist Ofer?

Alphen, The Netherlands. 7 August.  Those of you of a certain vintage will remember those flinty, somewhat silly British war movies of the 1950s.  The story line was always roughly the same; a plucky British soldier, invariably called Tommy, armed only with a broken toothbrush, elastic band and a piece of chewing gum would, after suffering much adversity, defeat an entire Wehrmacht division.  At some point in the storyline Tommy would invariably and temporarily be captured by some cartoon-cutout German who would invariably utter the immortal line, “Vor you Tommy ze var ist Ofer”.  As we descend into the Euro abyss reading the German Kommentariat I am tempted to say some are at it again.  Britain, the line goes, has no alternative but to accept the German view of Europe, so why can the silly British not see it? 

Part of it is understandable frustration that in the midst of the Eurozone crisis the age-old issue of Britain and Europe has again come to the fore.  Equally, in spite of my huge respect for modern Germany the Kommentariat also reflect a German tendency to believe that what is good for Germany is good for Europe.  Thus, to the Kommentariat pursuit of the German national interest is known as ‘European integration’, pursuit of the British national interest ‘blackmail’. 

Poor little Britain, the line goes, is lost in a long-dead past, and wallowing in misplaced schadenfraude at the travails of the Eurozone.  However, soon broke Britain will break up and have no alternative but to accept the German idea of ‘Europe’.   The more sophisticated members of the Kommentariat recognise that such views are rather silly but worry that moves towards political union could see Britain step inexorably towards an EU exit.  This could do immeasurable damage, not least to Germany’s leadership of Europe. The less sophisticated simply try to shame the British into acquiescence suggesting the country with the world’s fifth or sixth largest real economy and one of the most capable armed forces has no alternative but to abandon national sovereignty in the name of ‘Europe’.  Some even suggest that Britain is responsible for the Eurozone crisis for not having joined the Euro!
The Kommentariat reflect a basic political division between the two countries. The German view of ‘Europe’ is a potent mix of romanticism and realism, whilst the British view (as much as there is one) is entirely pragmatic.  Moreover, whilst the rest of Europe by and large accept the German model of Europe, mainly to get their hands on German taxpayer’s money, the British steadfastly refuse. 
For the British ‘Europe’ simply costs too much and could soon cost a lot more.  Britain ‘enjoys’ a huge trade deficit with the rest of the EU, and transfers £4 ($6) to the rest of Europe for every £1 ($1.5) it gets back.  Indeed, the only year Britain enjoyed a net benefit was 1977, at the time of the last in-out British referendum – now there’s a surprise.

The British, or to be more precise the City of London, also provide a convenient scapegoat for the Kommentariat to avoid a simple truth; the problem is the Euro itself.  By extension London must not only be tamed but the British made to pay for a crisis not of their making if the German taxpayer is to be protected.    

However, the ultimate silliness of the Kommentariat is to pretend Britain has no alternative.  It is simply madness to think that a country the size, capability and creativity of Britain could not make its own way in the world.  If the Kommentariat wants proof of that look no further than the London Olympics.  The Games demonstrate again something the Kommentariat really should have learnt by now; that the British when galvanised can be world-beaters.  If only Britain’s defeatist elite could see what the British people instinctively see.  Indeed, if there is a dangerous British malaise it is the void between Britain’s vacuous leaders and its people.

However, the Kommentariat is right about one thing; Europeans must work together at this most dangerous of moments. Certainly, Britain must do nothing to make this crisis worse than it already is.  It is a shame then that silly talk of political union so blights effective, pragmatic crisis management.  Over time London and Berlin need a new start but the perpetual belittling of Britain by the Kommentariat makes that hard.    

There is nothing that irritates the Kommentariat more than British commentators using World War Two as a political metaphor – so here goes.  During the September 1944 Battle of Arnhem surrounded and vastly out-numbered British paratroopers were offered surrender terms by the Germans.  “I am awfully sorry, old chap”, came the reply. “We simply haven’t the room to take you all.  Is there anything else?” 

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 6 August 2012

Australia Who?

Alphen, The Netherlands. 6 August.  This is getting too easy.  Whatever happened to the Dame Ednas of world sport?  Each Olympics the Australian and British Sports Ministers have a bet as to which of the two countries will gain the most medals.  This is traditionally preceded by a lot of empty Aussie talk of sporting supremacy. Don't worry, we British are tolerant of little countries with big egos.  The loser, Senator Kate Lundy of Australia, will have to don a Team GB shirt and row the Olympic course, for lost she has...again!  Last year England stuffed Australia at cricket in Australia, and now Team GB is giving the Aussies another hiding.

So, just for the record as of today Great Britain sits 3rd in the Olympic table with 37 medals of which 16 are gold, 11 bronze and 10 bronze.  Australia sits (forgive the titter) 24th in the table with 1 gold, 12 silver and 7 bronze.  A few too many tinnies, eh mate? 

Australia who?

Julian Lindley-French    

Friday, 3 August 2012

Euro-Realism 3: Defending Europe

Alphen, the Netherlands. 3 August.  In one of those deliciously Anglo-French moments this week President Hollande took a swipe at the London Olympics and David Cameron.  Stung by Bradley Wiggin’s Tour de France Champs Elysee victory Hollande said, “The British have rolled out a red carpet for French athletes to win medals. I thank them very much for that”.  It was also a calculated riposte to Cameron’s suggestion that the “red carpet” would be rolled out for French economic refugees seeking to escape Hollande’s tax hikes.  It would be easy to leave the Franco-British relationship at that – a tragi-comic little battle over whose declining influence is the greater.  In fact the London-Paris axis is Europe’s only true strategic defence relationship and thus critical to the future defence of Europe.  As Europe heads inexorably towards the coming Euro mega-crisis cross-channel defence relations will become more not less important and must be preserved at all costs. The political realism inherent to the relationship acts as strategic insurance against the woolly ideology of ‘Europe’ that has fathered the current disaster.

Therefore, the French-inspired decision to open up the 2010 Franco-British Defence and Security Co-operation Treaty to others appears all the more strange and could well mark the beginning of the end of this vital pact. Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France was not prepared to have a defence relationship with Britain that was separate from other European allies.  Strangely, Philip Hammond his British counterpart, went along with this.  The defence relationship is now at the mercy of Eurozone chaos.  The timing could not have been worse. 

Up to now London and Paris had shown both sense and restraint by keeping the two distinct.  At this most sensitive of moments the move will certainly reinforce suspicions on the British right that the pact was a French plot to weaken NATO and sucker the British into what they see as the French-inspired EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).  Indeed, Hammond’s acquiescence looks to all intents and purposes as a political sleight of hand – give the French what they think they want knowing full well that in time it will destroy it. 

The only possible practical argument for this decision is that most big, complex defence procurement projects are multi-national rather than bi-national, and that Germany and Italy have been pressing to be included.  However, not only is that wrong; Britain and France share several major projects, it also wilfully misses the point of the 2010 pact.  In any case, multilateral structures already exist and they are failing.  Consequently, the pact will now become EU defence-lite…and fail.

This is exactly what happened to the 1998 St Malo Declaration which was meant to herald a new dawn in Europe-centric defence co-operation between Britain and France.  However, St Malo was never given enough time to mature into a trusting strategic partnership.  Rather, the Germans and others sought the early transformation of St Malo into the failed European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) because inclusivity was judged more important than credible capability.  Subsequently, not only did the Franco-British strategic defence relationship falter (and then crash with the 2003 Iraq War) but European defence became mired in the EU’s political and bureaucratic morasse in which it has been stuck ever since.   

The simple fact is that Britain and France are different and neither can afford any more of the strategic political correctness that has done so much to denude Europe of a sound defence.  Britain and France together represent almost 50% of European defence expenditure.  They are Europe’s only two nuclear powers (excluding Russia).  They have by far Europe’s most experienced and capable militaries and best strategic thinkers. 

The British will now move further towards an American-led defence Anglosphere, whilst the Eurozone and European defence will slowly become one and the same pulling each other into the abyss.  The British will never join the Euro and for that reason the defence of Europe must be kept separate from it.  Indeed, the timing of this move makes it even less likely that London will focus real political energy on CSDP. 

Therefore, London and Paris need to pause and for once think together and think strategically.  With the French about to draft a new White Book on defence (Livre Blanc) and the British moving towards the 2015 Strategic Security and Defence Review the Franco-British defence relationship must be seen by both for what it is; the most strategically-dynamic of its kind in Europe that given time can emerge as the central pillar of Europe’s future defence.  Then and only then should the relationship be opened up to others. 

The Franco-British strategic defence relationship must be seen as a long-term partnership above and beyond local and short-term vicissitudes, however severe.  Only then will European security and defence be re-connected to world security and defence, whatever the downstream institutional arrangements that turn power into structure.

Perhaps President Hollande’s concluding Olympic remark may have spoken truth.  “The competition is not over,” he said.  I suspect it never will be.

It is time for Euro-realism.
Julian Lindley-French