hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Ich Bin Ein Westerner

Rome, Italy. 27 June.  The ghost of Diana’s temple stands hard by.  Rome’s Aventine Hill upon which I sit mocks the remains of Nero’s monstrous Palatine across the now desolate Circo Massimo.  Where racing chariots once thundered ageing joggers now shuffle.  Around me plump oranges contemplate their final fall as if awaiting some latter day Newton to measure their worth.  If the West was born in Ancient Greece it came of age here under the Roman azure skies of ‘i azzurri’.  “Ich bin ein Berliner”; fifty years ago this week President Kennedy made his famous defiant assertion of Western solidarity at the strategic fault line of the Berlin Wall.  What today is the state of the West?
Kennedy’s moment has passed into strategic folklore.  However, perhaps more enduring was a speech he made the next day in Frankfurt.  Responding to threats to the Atlantic Alliance by then French President de Gaulle in the name of ‘Europe’, Kennedy warned against those who would split NATO and “give aid and comfort to the enemies of the West”.  This quote came back to me as I stood last week in the Washington office of George F. Kennan, America’s great post-war strategic architect.
Kennedy continued, “The United States will risk its cities to defend yours because we need your freedom to protect our own”.  That was 1963; this is now.
Fast forward to a meeting I attended this week here in Rome.  A very senior NATO officer observed that the Alliance no longer does strategy.  Rather, NATO is today bereft of the ability to look up and out together by the deep, interminable and oft parochial political fractures at its peak.  Consequently, strategy has been trumped by bureaucracy. 
Today, the West needs three acts of strategic maturity.  First, Washington must overcome its bombastic partisanship and recognise that the rhetoric of leadership is empty if a state cannot govern itself to effect and by example.  Second, Europeans must look out of their self-dug narrow political trench and have the courage to face the world as it is, not as they would like it to be.  December’s ‘big chat’ about the almost moribund EU Common Security and Defence Policy should be about far more than declining defence budgets.  Europe’s place in the world and its collective influence over it is now very much at stake.  Third, NATO needs a new vision.  The Alliance is a, if not the, cornerstone of the Western world security order. 
A couple of nights ago I had dinner with General John E. Allen, one of America’s most distinguished and brilliant soldiers.  It was one of those evenings when conversation flowed freely across time and place in a restaurant on the Via Antica Appia down which Roman legions once marched.  What struck me about our discussion was a strategic truism that I will hold to my heart to the day I die; the world is a safer place when the West is strong.
Yes, the West has made mistakes.  Sadly (and eternally) that has always been the fate of power in complexity.  However, error is no excuse for retreat which is precisely what happens when strategy is superseded by bureaucracy.
Kennedy’s commitment to Europe cannot and must not be taken for granted.  What is needed is a reassertion of Western solidarity and nothing short of that will now do.  As in 1963 NATO will have a central but not exclusive role to play in a renovated Western strategic architecture.  The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will be at least as important.
However the new NATO (for that is what we need) must in turn be built on a new strategic contract between both members and partners.  This will include recognition that the US commitment to Europe is only as strong as European willingness to play a full security and defence role.  NATO itself must again become the focal point for the development of efficient and effective military capabilities.  Capable partners the world over must be given real access to Alliance strategy and thinking.  Above all, strategic unity and effort and purpose between four key European actors must be purposively established however hard; Britain, France, Germany and Turkey.
It is for that reason I bang on about British military capabilities.  It is not so we Brits can sing a hearty rendition of Rule Britannia once a year at the Last Night of the Proms and not feel ever-so-slightly absurd.  It is rather to underpin the Western strategic contract with sufficient hard power so as to keep America in, get Europe up so the West can again look out with confidence and purpose.
Lord Byron once wrote, “While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand; when falls the Coliseum Rome shall fall; And when Rome falls – the World”.  The Alliance is the latter day Coliseum.  If it falls or fades away then the West falls.  And the world will be a much more dangerous place for it.
Ich bin ein Westerner...and proud of it!
Julian Lindley-French

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Losing the Global Race

Alphen, Netherlands. 23 June.  British Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) George Osborne said  that Britain must win “the global race”, which is probably a political metaphor for reducing deficit spending and increasing productivity.  At the crux of his efforts to claw back a further £11.5bn of savings have been further cuts to the British armed forces.  This coming Wednesday he will confirm more defence civilians will be sacked and contracts with defence industry will be renegotiated, although sensibly more money will be invested in cyber-defence.  So, why is defence being cut further and where does the 26 June Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) – a cut on top of all the other cuts – leave the British armed forces?
Speaking openly about the impact of more cuts the Head of the British Army Sir Peter Wall said, “We have got to the point in a number of parts in our set-up where we can’t go any further without seriously damaging our professional competence and our chances of success in the battlefields of the future”.  When serving generals speak out in public there is usually something amiss.   
On the face of it these cuts are designed to further reduce British public sector borrowing which has been stuck at around £119bn ($183bn) or 8% of the economy for the past two years.  In fact, the savings Osborne seeks for 2015-16 are driven by three political factors; debt psychosis, the prime minister’s political peccadilloes and the need for a political ‘war chest’ so that Cameron can artificially stimulate the British economy prior to the 2015 general election. 
Critically, the funding of several departments of state are to be ‘ring-fenced’ (protected) which means that some departments of state (including defence) will face deeper cuts than they ideally should.  The effect of this ‘ring-fencing’ not only undermines national security and renders the CSR utterly unbalanced but leads to downright perversity. 
This morning Labour luvvie Dame Helena Kennedy said that the government must not cut aid to the world's poor people.  If only British aid went to the world’s poor people.  For example, Britain is funding a project at the University of Tilburg here at the Netherlands entitled “Innovation and Growth” which seeks to make African companies more innovative.  Some €4m ($5.2m) of British taxpayer’s money is being given to a Dutch university for a project in which there is neither British university nor institutional involvement nor indeed any direct African involvement.  Nor is this the first such Tilburg project the British have funded.  In other words, ‘ring-fencing’ is a political metaphor for waste of British money and nothing is done to stop it.
This brings me to the hard choices Britain’s armed forces will soon have to confront as a consequence of these cuts.  Britain either retains a rump conventional force that can be sent ever so slightly further than Brighton for a day or two, or invests in a dedicated nuclear deterrent that hopefully will do nothing...ever.  The British defence budget can no longer afford both.    
This political assault on the nuclear deterrent is further compounded by the way it is to be funded.  The Treasury (Finance Ministry) now insists the deterrent be funded by the defence budget whereas in the past it was paid for out of the national contingency fund.  The friction this shift generates will become all too apparent in 2015-16 when costs kick-in for the future deterrent, the successor to the UK’s Trident sea-based nuclear deterrent, which will cost an estimated £15-20bn ($23bn-$31bn) (and of course being Britain will in fact cost far higher). 
Therefore, London may have to think laterally (heaven forbid!).  That could mean one of two things.  Whilst there would be strategic and operational disadvantages the new Astute-class nuclear attack submarines could be fitted to carry supersonic nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.  The other alternative is stark; respond to Obama's Berlin speech by making virtue out of necessity and announce that Britain will set an example to the world and disarm.  That is where the logic of these cuts is leading Britain and, of course, the Liberal Eurocrats would love that. 
The 2010 Strategic Security and Defence Review (SDSR) was meant to be the definitive and defining major cut to to the British armed forces.  The simple truth is that the 2010 SDSR was an utterly un-strategic retrenchment and is still cutting a deep trench through Britain’s demoralised armed forces.  These further cuts will not only leave an already hollowed-out force hollow to its core they will have a negative impact way beyond the ‘value’ of any savings.  Critically, Britain’s already waning influence in Washington, NATO and the EU will again nose dive. 
Britain is losing the global race because the very people who talk about winning it cannot think strategically.
Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 20 June 2013


Washington DC, USA. 20 June.  Winston Churchill once famously said, We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, but only after they have exhausted all the other possibilities”.  Sadly, having just arrived in Washington I am not so sure. Dear old Johnny Yank seems to have invented an entirely new form of non-government called ’C-Castration’, or something such.  Now, I thought we British had a particular talent for electing the politically incompetent and wilfully  impotent but C-Castration is incompetence bigger and better than anything we have thought up for a while. Whatever happened to government of the people, for the people and by the people?  So, for those of you non-Yanks out there let me try and explain C-Castration.
It seems to involve a lot of American politicians of all persuasions who know they have to make budget cuts (because technically the US is broke) but who do not want to be actually caught in the Act. They are like those ‘perps’ beloved of American cop shows such as CSI who are compelled to return to the scene of their crimes and yet deny any involvement. 
The scene of the crime is Congress, hence C-Castration, which on 1 March applied a particularly sharp knife to a particularly sensitive part of the American body politic.  Known as the Budget Castration Act funding was automatically cut to most of the bits of government that made America virile.  However, as neither Democrats nor Republicans could agree just what parts of government are virile it was NOT decided to cut all of it.  Still with me? 
So, Congress created a mechanism whereby cuts would happen but for which they would not be responsible.  George Washington must be spinning in his grave.  No wonder we British had to kick Johnny Yank out of the Empire for being silly.  Old George might now understand why in 1812 we had to burn down the White House and the Capitol (and to be honest much of the rest of Washington but the lads got a bit carried away – you know the British squaddy - er, sorry). 
However, that is not the funny bit.  Apparently Congress having NOT decided to cut federal spending by $85.4bn in fiscal year 2013 and will continue to NOT decide to cut federal spending by about the same amount until 2021.  However, because of the Harry Potter politics here in Hogwarts, sorry Washington, overall federal outlays will actually INCREASE over the same period by some $238.6bn.  Cutting budgets and increasing expenditure?  It is a 'cunning plan' as Baldrick would say.  George ‘Blackadder’ Osborne, the British Finance Minister, will be over here in a shot when he gets wind of this as it is just the sort of financial alchemy he loves. 
Anyway, I digress.  The best bit is that the castration is to be shared ‘equally’ between ‘defense’ (why can’t the Yanks spell) and ‘non-defense’.  In other words for every dollar that Congress has NOT decided to cut in defence it will NOT decide to cut another dollar across the rest of government.  
This also means President Barack Obama gets to talk a lot about shared values and good ideas as he has been doing this week at British taxpayer's expense at the G-Complete Waste of Time and Money. However, because no-one in Congress has NOT cut the federal budget he cannot actually do anything because the amount of US taxpayer’s money ‘invested’ (good one that) in government is  actually going up.   Got it?  Good, because it makes no sense to me.
In fact sequestration is no joke precisely because Washington is bringing America - the most inspirational of political adventures into very deep disrepute.  Sadly, the impact on American leadership is becoming all too apparent.  As America untangles itself from Afghanistan and the fog of Afghan dust clears Washington is beginning to realise the sheer scale and complexity of the challenges this country faces – both at home and abroad.  One can argue about whether facing those challenges demands big or small government.  However, at this tipping point in international affairs, in which the world could either go east or west Washington has gone AWOL. 
Which brings me to the real tragedy of sequestration.  Americans are constantly and rightly complaining to me about the inability of Europeans to think and act strategically.  And yet what is happening in this town is the very antithesis of responsible strategy or politics.  Indeed, it is little politics at its very worst. 
At the end of the day the US cannot expect to lead the rest of us abroad when its politicians abrogate leadership and responsibility at home simply to score self-defeating, utterly narrow and strategically pointless own goals (soccer).   
Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote, “Though much is taken much abides, and though We are not now that strength which in old days Moved heaven and earth; that which we are we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will, To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield”. 
The world is changing dangerously and rapidly and we need you America…but not like this.

Get a grip Washington!  From a friend.
Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 17 June 2013

The New Prince of Persia

Alphen, Netherlands. 17 June.  Democritus wrote, “I would rather discover one true cause than gain the Kingdom of Persia”.  With the election of the maybe vaguely reform-minded Hassan Rouhani many in the West are again hoping that this new Prince of Persia will also mark a new beginning for Iran.  Much of this can by put down to the ‘anything better than Ahmadinejad’ school of international relations.  So what are the implications of Rouhani’s election?
At the geopolitical level it is likely to harden dividing lines in the short-term because it will make it easier for the likes or Russia and China to support this ‘acceptable’ face of the Islamic Revolution.  For that reason Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu warned the West yesterday against “wishful thinking”.  He is right – American ‘led’ Western policy over Iran is pretty much the same as Western policy over Syria in which meaningless red-lines are drawn in the sand by Western leaders who have as little intention of doing anything about the Iranian nuclear programme as they do about Syria’s civil war.  This was something all too painfully apparent in yesterday’s Cameron-Putin “G7+1” news conference on Syria – the impotent Cameron was rumbled by the intransigent Putin. 
At the regional-strategic level there will be little short-term shift in Iranian foreign policy.  Perhaps more important than Rouhani’s election was the news this weekend that Iran is to openly send members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to support the Assad regime in Damascus.  This is in direct response to the EU’s incompetent decision to maybe lift an arms embargo but not actually arm the opposition - the strategic equivalent of being a little bit pregnant. 
All the EU achieved was to permit Russia and Iran to up support for Assad and in the absence of any actual action by the West tip the balance further in favour of Assad, although the EU ‘action’ did force the hand of the Obama administration – sort of.  Be it Brussels or Washington the West’s foreign policy incompetence will have been noted by all Western allies in the region – not least Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.  The West should put up or shut up – it is doing neither.
However, over the medium to long-term there may be reasons to believe a carrot and stick policy towards Iran will yield fruit.  Although the real leader in the land remains Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei the Revolution is running out of steam.  Iranian society is deeply split between young urbanites in the city and ageing (and admittedly not-so-ageing) conservatives in the country.  There is still a strong pocket of implacable anti-Westernism from which the regime draws succour, but it is estimated to be no more than 10-20% of the population. 
The oil embargo has made life hard for a growing number of people who simply seek a better standard of living and an emerging young educated middle class who are keen to throw off the ideological and lifestyle shackles imposed upon them by a regime that seems ever more out of touch with this Internet age.  With Turkey now wobbling and much of the region unstable there is no reason to believe Iran is not subject to the same secular/religious tensions.  It maybe for this reason that Ayotallah Khamenei was careful not to invest his personal support in any of the seven candidates unlike the last presidential elections back in 2009. 
Rouhani the man is also interesting.  He was educated in Glasgow twice – in the 1970s and 1990s – and apparently speaks English with a faint Glaswegian accent.  This probably explains why as a nuclear negotiator although he was liked for his bonhomie no-one could understand a word he said - something from which almost all Glaswegians suffer.  Critically, he does not seem to carry any of the implacably anti-Western baggage that drove the little-lamented and soon-to-be forgotten Ahmadinejad. 
However, the sticking point will remain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  In his first statement as president-elect Rouhani cryptically-talked of Iran’s “national interests”.  This can be summed up as seeking Iran’s regional strategic dominance and a Shia ascendancy in the region.  Tehran seeks nuclear weapons not simply as an end in themselves but rather to act as a security guarantee given the friction this strategy is causing and will cause.  The regime also understands that the Obama administration’s caution is not some sophisticated new American strategy but rather the tired withdrawal of a tired superpower unsure as to its mission or its method in a changing world.  
CNN’s excellent Fareed Zakeria got it right.  “Iran is a country of 80 million people, educated and dynamic. It sits astride a crucial part of the world. It cannot be sanctioned and pressed down forever. It is the last great civilization to sit outside the global order”. Zakeria is right - for good and ill.
President Rouhani has gained the Kingdom of Persia (sort of) but his one true cause will for the moment remain as it ever was.
Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Through the PRISM of Hypocrisy

Alphen, Netherlands.  12 June.  A young British soldier is mown down in a London street and then hacked to death.  Mosques and Islamic centres across England are attacked.  The liberal elite in London mouth their concerns and trot out the usual reality-defying, free speech quenching politically correct nonsense.  And then it is alleged that the US National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) are using a new computer programme called PRISM to tap into emails and web-sites and that self-same elite go into over-drive.  Who is the problem here?
In Britain conspiracy theorists and other assorted nutters are of course having a field day with the revelation that US and UK security services are basically doing their job.  To their mind the workings of the secret state have been revealed and ancient liberties are being undermined.  At GCHQ they are apparently actively conspiring with the NSA to circumvent English law. And the left-leaning parts of the media are all too happy to give this nonsense credence.
In fact the total number of email accounts accessed by GCHQ has thus far been very small.  There are 6000 people who work at GCHQ and nothing like enough of them to deal with the exponential growth in electronic hatred that spawn some 2000 plots and potential attacks being monitored at any one time.  And, there are more than enough legal and procedural safeguards to ensure proper accountability under law.
In the frenzy of false self-righteousness the big picture has as usual been missed.  It is the failed policy of multiculturalism that has created the broken and fearful society which extremists are now exploiting.  Islamists are telling decent members of the Muslim community (the massive majority) that white Britons do not want them there.  White extremists are talking of an immigrant occupation of Britain.  The fact that this patent nonsense is gaining ground across poorer communities is a mark of the failure of governments of all persuasions to promote the integration, tolerance and mutual respect upon which any functioning liberal society must rest.  Having created the problem government has gone AWOL.
The simple truth is that there are an awful lot of very nasty people out there of all political and faith hues.  The Internet has given them the means to connect, plan and carry out their campaigns of hatred.  Rather than confront these issues and trust British society with this reality successive governments have simply retreated behind a cloak of political correctness and at times come dangerously close to appeasing extremism.  Now, Britain is facing an action-reaction cycle of violence as extremists feed off each other in an increasingly symbiotic relationship of hate.
The job of government is to protect the cohesion of society from enemies within and without.  Government must ensure and assure the conditions for reasonable people from across society, Muslim and non-Muslim, Briton and immigrant to deploy society’s greatest defence – tolerance and mutual respect.  That is why the focus should not be on GCHQ but rather on how best to bring decent people together.
The paradox is that many of the people who caused this mess and who talk of the danger to civil liberties are the very same people who have also helped to create one of the most oppressive legal regimes in any western democracy.  Britain was once famed for free-speech – not any more.  Last week a young girl was sentenced for doing something teenagers do the world over – saying something stupid.  She sent an utterly tasteless tweet that suggested people who wear Help for Heroes t-shirts should be beheaded.  It was a tasteless fashion statement by a naive young girl – nothing more, nothing less.  There was a time when the law of the land knew the difference between criminality and stupidity – not any more. 
It is a mark of how scared society has become that such a girl ends up in court.  She had been charged under yet another of those recently introduced laws placed on the statute book ostensibly to ‘prevent’ hatred when in fact they simply mask the mess that politicians have made of British society.  Britain is not yet sliding towards a police state although it shows signs of it.  The irony is that it is not PRISM or GCHQ that is pushing society in that direction but those that think that fairness and respect can be imposed by law.
Who is the enemy?  It is the extremists on both sides.  Therefore, to listen to the very people who have helped create the fearful society that GCHQ now must protect complain about civil liberties is to see them for what they are – hypocrites.
Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 10 June 2013

Baltic Spirit

Vilnius, Lithuania.  Having dinner with the Lithuanian Chief of Defence Staff Lieutenant-General Pocius was a moving experience.  Listening to the story of his family’s struggle for freedom left with me with the profound sense that every NATO and EU leader should visit the Baltic States at least once a year to remind themselves of the importance of both the Alliance and the Union.  Therefore, I am proposing two initiatives.  First, that NATO Exercise Baltic Spring, at which I had the honour to speak, should be renamed Exercise Baltic Spirit.  It is the Baltic spirit of freedom that really underpins the Alliance.  Second, that the three Baltic States join together to create an annual high-level security conference similar to the Halifax International Security Forum held in Canada that would involve heads of states and government and/or their appropriate ministers from across NATO and the EU. 
This is a great part of the world.  Now, do not get me wrong.  I am a hard-bitten analyst and advisor and I know things...lots of things both good and bad.  However, what I love about Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (and they are very different) is their enduring spirit of optimism that sustained them during many dark years.  Speaking with young people here I am particularly motivated by their self-belief, their love of country and their commitment to our shared institutions in which they play such a critical role.  As we western Europeans sink into an ever-deeper tar-laden pit of cynicism a trip to this part of the world reminds us all of a simple truism.  It is not money in the case of the EU or military capabilities in the case of NATO that is the force that binds us, but a shared sense of political mission.
Of course, the big bear in the room in this part of Europe is always Russia.  One western European officer likened Russia’s relationship with the Baltic States as similar to that of a recently divorced partner who simply cannot let go.  My visit to Moscow a couple of weeks ago left me with an enduring sense that until Russia escapes from a history purely defined by its immense sacrifice in World War Two it will continue to lurch between trying to rekindle lost relationships and then reacting aggressively when it realises that those days are gone.  Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have made their respective sovereign choices and it is the freedom implicit in those choices which is and must be the litmus test for both the EU and NATO.
For me it seems such a lost opportunity that the good people of the Baltic States still live under a pall cast by history.  In the twenty-first century Russia still regularly tests their borders and Russia short-range mobile nuclear weapons are but a short distance away.  A long, long time ago such pointless strategic posturing would have angered me and even left me a little fearful. Today, it merely saddens me.  It is just so twentieth century, so boring and frankly a truly great power such as Russia is better than that.  For that reason I am proposing that Exercise Baltic Spring be renamed Exercise Baltic Spirit so that no-one ever miscalculates as to the will of both the Alliance and the Union to help preserve the freedoms so hard won by the people of this region. 
That is why I am also re-iterating my proposal to Lieutenant-General Pocius that during its forthcoming EU presidency Lithuania host the first of a regular high-level series of security policy conferences and which I humbly asked him to convey to the Lithuanian President Madame Grybauskaite.  This will come as a surprise to Madame President as prior to the Snow Meeting in January she gave me a bit of a ticking off about my views on the Euro-mess.  My views on the Euro-mess have not changed, Madame President, but you should never doubt either my belief in or resolve to support your freedom. 
The conference could over time become a kind of security Davos to challenge Wehrkunde in Munich. Indeed, precisely because it would be held not in the now comfortable heartland of Europe but on one of the security fault-lines that still absurdly disfigure Europe’s peace landscape.  And, the EU should pay for it as for once my money would be spent on something useful.  Indeed, even though it is short notice the event would act as a precursor to the December EU summit on the future of the EU’s almost moribund Common Security and Defence Policy.  Critically, such a conference should also include partners and neighbours...most notably Russia. 
The aim of the conference would be a twenty-first century pan-European security dialogue.  The title of the new conference?  Baltic Spirit of course!  Can I come too?
Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 4 June 2013


Gilze-Rijen Air Base. Netherlands. 4 June.  Spitfire.  The hum turns into a choral roar.  Over the tree-top an iconic shape makes it entry soaring for a moment and then bearing down upon me in majesty and triumph.  She roars over my head no more than eighty metres above the unforgiving runway next to which I am standing, the symphonic scream of her Rolls Royce Merlin engine for a brief moment drowning out the twenty-first century with a sound that belongs ever so far away but which still means so much to so many. 
It is hard to believe what this eighty-year old technology can do but a Spitfire in the right hands remains a honed thoroughbred of the sky.  She pitches, rolls and climbs and swallow dives as though this is the day she first joined her RAF squadron back in 1943.  For those of us of a certain age and provenance even the sound is enough to make the hairs stand up on the back of the neck.  This is a mystical old 'bird' the wings of which beat with history. 
Today I had the very distinct privilege of attending my own exclusive Spitfire air show.  The Royal Netherlands Historical Flight are a small, well-respected and utterly committed group of heritage professionals who devote much of their time and a lot of their money to keeping this beautiful aircraft aloft.  As one of them said to me, "you can start a billionaire in this business and soon end up a millionaire".  I am lucky enough to have Air Commodore Chris Lorraine, the 'other' Spitfire pilot explain every move but in truth the old girl does all the speaking for herself.     
Spitfire may be a weapon of war and this one certainly had her fair share of 'kills', including two over the D-Day beaches.  However, not only was she a decisive weapon at a critical moment for freedom she is just one hell of an aeroplane - a joy in peacetime to behold. 
Having rolled back the years Spitfire climbs triumphantly into a victory roll and the moment is just long enough to savour before the twenty-first century rolls back upon me.
At the end of the show I thank the pilot for the experience. Lt Colonel Koos de Rooy of the Royal Netherlands Air Force pauses; "do not thank me, thank the Spitfire".  How right he is. 
Thank you for the privilege gentlemen.

Julian Lindley-French  

Monday, 3 June 2013

Chuck Hagel’s Shangri La La?

Alphen, Netherlands.  03 June.  In James Hilton’s fictional 1937 novel “Lost Horizons” Shangri-La is a heaven on earth, a happy island of peace, permanently isolated from the outside world (no, not Britain).  For the High Lama (a sort of David Cameron) harmony, “ the entire meaning and purpose of Shangri-La.  It came to me as a vision long, long ago.  I saw all the nations strengthening, not in wisdom, but in the vulgar passions and the will to destroy”.  Reading US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s 1 June speech on the “US Approach to Regional Security” at the IISS 2013 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, I am reminded of the High Lama. 
Viewed from Washington much of Asia-Pacific is fast-tracking into an arms race fuelled by nationalist tensions, competition over growth-fuelling resources and the ‘prestige’ muscle-flexing favoured by all adolescent powers.  Even the shortest survey of Asia-Pacific’s strategic horizon reveals the dangers that abound.  China’s regional-strategic and resource ambitions come up hard against Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, Malaysian, Philippines and Vietnamese interests.  Some Chinese interpretations of its Exclusive Economic Zone have the boundary bordering the territorial waters of Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.  The recent Chinese-Japanese spat over the Daioyu/Senkaku islands highlights the sensitivities of an overly sensitized region.  And then there is North Korea.
In fact Hagel’s speech is for me déja vu all over again.  Indeed, I am struck by the similarities between America’s stabilising mission in Asia-Pacific in the first decades of the twenty first century and Britain’s similar mission in the last decades of the nineteenth century.  Both America and Britain had passed the zenith of their global influence but were by no means in decline.  Both faced the emergence of a peer competitor and both faced financial shocks at home which undermined their respective capacities to project stabilising influence world-wide.
One has only to read the long shopping-list of security challenges Hagel outlines in his speech to realise the challenge America faces.  The great panda in the room is of course China.  It is clearly up to China whether the US ‘re-balancing’ to Asia-Pacific turns into a full-scale containment strategy.  What Hagel is offering is insurance.  The US will for the foreseeable future represent forty per cent of global defence expenditure.  In that light shifting sixty per cent of US naval and air forces to Asia-Pacific makes perfect strategic sense given that Asia not Europe is the world’s strategic epicentre.  In any case, as a Washington friend said to me some time ago, “we could sort out the Chinese military in an afternoon”.  He should know; he was very, very high up in the Pentagon.  For how long?
The Hagel speech is simply strategic common sense.  It is precisely that common sense that is missing in Europe.  Indeed, it is Europe not America that is retreating into a fictional Shangri-La.  Even the once sturdily imperial British have become so strategically myopic and short-termist that they are about to make another defence cut to follow the ravaging of the British armed forces that took place in 2010.  If the British have lost the strategic influence plot then the rest of Europe has become a kind of strategic Rip Van Winkel (to mix my fictional metaphors).
The danger is this; America is still the world’s pre-dominant power but it is no longer the dominant power. Equally, America’s global stabilising strategy only makes credible sense if the European allies can look beyond the pit of their own self-induced despair and develop a regional-strategic security strategy worthy of the name.  That means Europeans collectively considering in all seriousness their grand strategic role beyond cloudily pointless efforts to create Shangri-La.  That means NATO.
NATO was not mentioned by Hagel in his speech, although he did say that the, “rebalancing should not be misinterpreted.  The US has allies, interests and responsibilities across the world.  The Asia-Pacific rebalance is not a retreat from other regions of the world”.  Here I beg to differ, Mr Secretary.  If the European allies continue to avoid the big world picture (as opposed to Planet Europe) Asia-Pacific powers will progressively tip the balance of power away from the West.  Sooner or later an over-stretched America will be forced to make the most profound of strategic choices.  This is just what Britain did when it effectively abandoned its Asian empire to cope with the growing challenge of Germany.  NATO’s job is to keep America engaged in Europe by keeping America strong in Asia-Pacific. Get it?
History is full of ironies.  The USS Freedom is sitting alongside the quay at the Singapore Naval Base.  It was not the Singaporeans that built that base, but the nineteenth century British.  At some point one hundred years or so ago an HMS Freedom (or its equivalent) was doing exactly the same.  Now, whatever happened to that empire?
Julian Lindley-French