hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 30 August 2013

"I Have a Dream"

Washington, USA. August 1963 

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. 
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
 
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.  I have a dream...
 
I have a dream that one day in Alabama with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

"I have a dream even today...I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low.  The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight.  And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.  This is our hope.  This is the faith that I go back to the South with.  With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. 
 
With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.  With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning.  “My country, ‘tis of thee sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.  Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountain side, let freedom ring”.  And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. 
So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.  Let freedom ring from the mountains of New York.  Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.  Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.  Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that.  Let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia.  Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.  Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi, from every mountain side.  Let freedom ring...
When we allow freedom to ring – when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last”. 
The Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Syria: A Shot in the Dark

Alphen, Netherlands.  27 August.  There are times when a punitive military strike can be justified, legitimate, proportionate and effective.  US Secretary of State John Kerry has described last week’s use of chemical weapons against the population of a Damascus suburb as a “moral obscenity”.  He is of course right – the use of such weapons against civilians is a disgusting act and illegal under the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).  In response US, as well as allied aircraft and ships, are now being moved to the Eastern Mediterranean in preparation for a strike with a British air-base on Cyprus likely to be at the centre of operations. 
 
Would a punitive strike be justified?  If clear evidence can be established that the Assad regime was responsible for the attack then there would be some grounds for a punitive strike.  However, the UN Chemical Weapons Inspectors have as yet to conclude their investigation and British Foreign Secretary William Hague has suggested that the ‘crime scene’ will have been tampered with.  US officials suggest that there is “little doubt” the Assad regime is behind the attack.  Is that the case?
 
A friend of mine commanded a group charged with countering nuclear, biological and chemical attack.  He told me, “There are worrying anomalies, though it’s difficult to assess the occurrences from the limited amount of data that is coming through. There are some Sarin-like symptoms but survivors talking about burning eyes and feelings of suffocation do not square with Sarin. The classic symptoms of Sarin (GB) and other nerve agents are, at low doses, the mother of all headaches”.  He goes on, “The argument for this is reinforced by the evidence as far as I can see it that there wasn’t a lot of chemical released. Professionals would have achieved tighter concentrations and a higher death rate”.   In other words the jury is still out as to just who is responsible.
 
Would a strike be legitimate?  There is a difference in international law between legal and legitimate.  However, given Russian and Chinese opposition it is clear that such a strike would not receive a UN mandate and in that event could therefore be deemed an illegal act under international law even if its proponents claimed it was legitimate given a breach of the CWC.  The consequences would be profound.  First, it would reinforce the belief in Beijing and Moscow that the West is a law unto itself.  The UN would be further weakened making any co-ordinated action in future virtually impossible when the time comes (as it eventually will) to negotiate a settlement.  Critically, it would allow the Assad regime to present itself as the victim.
 
Would such a strike be proportionate?  If one assumes that a strike would use cruise missiles then the targets are likely to be the defence ministry, air defence command centres and other military facilities, including the three sites close to Damascus at which Syria's chemical weapons are now concentrated.  The Assad regime will know this and quite possibly start using human shields to protect such sites.  If a Western punitive strike ended up killing Syrian civilians then it could not be said to be proportionate.  Such a strike may soften Syria’s air defences up in preparation for a ‘no fly zone’ but almost certainly the Russians would move to offset Assad’s losses.
 
Would such a strike be effective?  To be effective such a strike would need to change the balance of power in the Syrian struggle.  Even if Assad is responsible for the chemical weapons attacks the limited use of a few cruise missiles is unlikely to deter a clearly desperate regime.  Indeed, it may make it harder to establish contact with those in the regime open to a possible dialogue.  In other words making the rubble bounce – which would in effect be the consequence of such an action – would take Syria no closer to peace. 

In such a conflict clarity of objective and method is vital.  Tony Blair has called for "intervention" which is very different to a punitive strike and would require a sustained air campaign and boots on the ground.  After Iraq and Afghanistan that is not going to happen.
 
Respected former US diplomat Ryan Crocker has said the US and its allies should instead “contain the fire”.  He is right.  It is not punitive strikes that are needed but the re-establishment of credible US and allied influence in both the conflict and the wider Middle East region.  Only then can the US and its allies hope to bring together those on both sides that a) might offer a possible political way forward; and b) ensure extremists do not gain power.  That means support for the states that border Syria, particularly Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey to both prevent spill-over and to alleviate the humanitarian suffering of Syrian refugees.  Above all a new political strategy is needed.
 
Therefore, it is hard to see analytically how a punitive strike right now could be demonstrably justifiable, proportionate, legitimate but above all effective.  Indeed, there is little evidence that a punitive strike now would further policy, strategy or the well-being of the Syrian people. 
 
Sadly, Washington is fast backing itself into a corner with any retreat from action a humiliating climb-down which could further undermine America’s already brittle Middle East strategy.  However, venting political frustration would be little more than a shot in the dark and that does not constitute sound leadership.
 
Julian Lindley-French
 

Friday, 23 August 2013

The Parody of Democracy

Alphen, Netherlands.  23 August.  Aung San Suu Kyi said recently, “Sometimes I think that a parody of democracy could be more dangerous than a blatant dictatorship because that gives people an opportunity to avoid doing anything about it”.  Some reports suggest 1700 people were murdered by a Sarin gas attack this week in a Damascus suburb.  The Assad regime or some elements of it are being blamed for the attack but it is impossible to verify.  In Egypt deposed President Mubarak has been placed under ‘palace arrest’ by a politically-savvy Army.  Indeed, the Egyptian Army leadership has so completely out-manoeuvred the opposition that at least half of those who in 2011 opposed their rule now support them, albeit conditionally.  So what can the West do?
 
In Syria the Assad regime now has a grip on power that seemed unthinkable a year ago.  The Syrian opposition is divided and out-gunned.  In Egypt the Army is clearly determined to force the Muslim Brotherhood underground.  Indeed, many in the ‘liberal’ opposition seemed to have concluded that after sampling ‘democracy’ under President Morsi they may prefer an Orwellian ‘stability’ after all.  Clearly without cohesion, direction, structure and leadership the oppositions in both Egypt and Syria are faltering whatever the Facebook or Twitter fed activism of its followers or the fanaticism of opposition fighters. 
French Foreign Minister Fabius warns of a no-fly zone if the UN confirms the use of chemical weapons by the Damascus regime, the EU warns Egypt that European aid could be cut.  Meanwhile the people of both Egypt and Syria are steadily being crushed in a meat-grinder of geopolitics, competing ideologies and plain old political cynicism.  Sadly, beyond the wringing of hands there is little the West will do to influence events in either Egypt or Syria. 
At the geopolitical level the profound split in the UN Security Council between the Western powers and China and Russia is crippling efforts at conflict resolution in both countries.   At the regional level the Saudis and their Gulf allies are all too happy to see the eclipse of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Moreover, as Baroness Ashton and the EU foreign ministers this week sat in grand deliberation about what aid to cut to Egypt’s Army-backed interim government they did so full in the knowledge that the Saudis would more than make up any shortfall in EU aid. 
However, the real cause of inaction is the West itself.  There has always been something vaguely absurd about those in the West who demand democracy as the solution to political instability.  However, as President Morsi demonstrated all too clearly in his brief time in power his view of democracy is that it legitimizes an illiberal Islamic state.  As for what the Syrian opposition would offer - who knows.
Democracies require strong and legitimate state institutions which can only develop within the framework of relatively stable domestic politics and a benign international environment neither of which are the lot of Syrians or Egyptians.  Rather, when the West talks about democracy it really means liberalism and neither incumbents nor insurgents are offering that.  Egyptians it seems now have the choice between one man one vote once.  Syrians have no choice at all.   
Instead the West is (sort of) pursuing an ‘anyone but’ strategy - anyone but Assad and anyone but Mubarak or Morsi.  Sadly, the latest tragedy in Syria simply reveals such strategy for what it is – hollow.  President Obama might be reviewing his infamous ‘red lines’ but they were cast in dust and have simply been blown away by Assad.  Efforts by the British and French to lead the EU to arm the Syrian rebels only triggered a further flow of Iranian and Russian weapons to the Damascus regime.  Trapped as it is between values and interests the collective West has in fact not got a clue what to do about the tragedies in either Egypt or Syria.
Consequently, the creed of liberal democracy as a political future for the Middle East is slowly being suffocated in the dust of Egypt and Syria.  Ironically, it is the illiberal secularist regimes that have for so long fought Islamism that is killing any hope of liberal democracy far more than Al Qaeda.  And. sooner or later the West may well have to take sides between political Islam and authoritarianism. 
Naturally, it is a choice the West will put off as long as possible.  This has nothing to do with the Middle East.  Unlike in the old days when the calculation of foreign policy was a matter for elites every Western foreign policy choice today is in fact a reflection of the West’s own internal battles over power and representation.  
Perhaps a parody of democracy in the Middle East is the best the West can hope for.  Perhaps a parody of democracy is today the West itself.
Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 19 August 2013

Labour Migration: Just Close the Curtains

Alphen, Netherlands.  19 August.  There is an old joke about the state of the then Soviet economy.  Stalin, Kruschev and Brezhnev are sitting in a train.  Suddenly the train judders to a halt the locomotive having failed.  Stalin shouts, “shoot the engineers.  They are enemies of the Soviet Union”.  Kruschev demurs, “No!” he exclaims, “we need a new five year plan for the railways”.  Brezhnev has a better idea. “Tovarish, there is a much better solution.  Simply close the curtains and pretend the train is moving”.  Much the same can be said about the non-policies of Western European governments faced with the next wave of EU labour migration. 
  
With the ending of transitional controls on 1 January 2014 a large number of low income Bulgarian and Romanian workers will likely move to Western Europe under the terms of the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon.  For example Migration Watch, a well-respected London think tank, suggests some 50,000 will come to Britain each year for at least five years.  Add dependents and it is quite reasonable to assume that at least 500,000 Bulgarians and Romanians will move to Britain between 2014 and 2019. 
Many years ago I stood on the old inner-German border not far from the Gudow/Zarrentin crossing.  Anyone who witnessed the Iron Curtain that divided Europe will understand that the free movement of European people’s is one of Europe’s great achievements.  Indeed, as a principle free movement defines modern Europe.  However, should free movement of peoples mean unfettered free movement of labour at a time of profound austerity? 
This weekend the Dutch Labour Party Social Affairs Minister Lodewijk Asscher warned that further migration was a threat to ‘vulnerable’ low-paid workers in Western Europe and that the EU’s leadership was failing to recognise the danger.  Asscher’s message is clear; allowing a major influx of poor, migrant workers to Western Europe at a time of economic stress is foolhardy.  For many poorer communities already reeling from the last wave of immigration it will be like pouring oil on fire.
Boston, a small market town in Eastern England with a largely agricultural workforce, is a case in point.  Since 2001 Boston has seen an increase in the non-English population of 467%.  In 2001 Boston had a population of 1727 migrants in a total population of 55,800.  By 2011 the foreign population had risen to 9790 out of a population of 64600 or 15.8%.  By all accounts Boston is a social tinderbox and will not cope with another influx of low-paid foreign workers.
Across Britain the evidence is fast growing that another tidal wave of migrants is about to cross the Channel.  Last week government announced that between March and June 2013 the number of Bulgarians and Romanians coming to Britain had soared by 25% from 109,000 to 141,000 compared with the same time last year some nine months BEFORE the ending of transitional controls.  813,000 or 60% of all the jobs advertised on COMRES, the European Commission funded website, are for jobs in Britain with money offered to cover the cost of moving country.  Keith Vaz, the Labour Party Chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, has rightly chided government for not getting over to Bulgaria and Romania to get some idea of just how many workers are planning to travel to Britain. 
Plain common sense suggests mass immigration and austerity do not mix.  For immigration to be successfully assimilated by a society healthcare, housing and education must be provided.  Earlier this year the Accident and Emergency (A&E) wards in National Health Service hospitals came close to failing.  Much of the crisis was caused by rapid inward migration.  One respected economist has said that at least 250,000 new homes needed to be built each year for the next 25 years (compared with the current 110,000) simply to meet the needs of Britain’s current 63.5 million population.  And, at least 250000 new school places will be needed in England by 2015 to educate the young of that same population.  None of the above targets will be achieved.  An already creaking infrastructure is about to suffer another shock.
The issue of immigration is destroying trust between peoples and politicians because leaders are failing to address the causes and consequences of mass-immigration – labour exploitation and the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon.  Low-income salaries are at least four times greater in Britain than in Bulgaria and Romania.  Evidence from the post-2004 mass migration to Britain highlights the role of agencies set up to recruit Eastern European workers.  They systemically exploit migrant workers and distort the labour market. 
The Treaty of Lisbon belongs to another age signed as it was before the sovereign debt and banking crisis crippled Europe.  Sadly, Brussels will never accept that reality.  Therefore, action must be taken at the national level.  At the very least prudence would suggest that the provisions allowing for unfettered labour migration should either be temporarily suspended until after the financial crisis or a strict system of work permits introduced.  If that means breaching the treaty then so be it – either suspend the treaty or abandon common sense.
To increase mass low income migration and cut public services at one and the same time is a recipe for social, cultural and political frictions.  And yet that is precisely what is about to happen.  Sadly, the collective failure of mainstream Western European politicians to confront this most strategic of issues is simply fuelling popular frustration and the politics of hate.  It is the blind madness of European elites.
Labour migration: just close the curtains and pretend nothing is happening.  
Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Gibraltar: Rock of Rages

Alphen, Netherlands. 14 August.  Signed just up the road from here three hundred years ago Article X of the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht is pretty unequivocal.  “The Catholic King does hereby, for himself, his heirs and successors, yield to the Crown of Great Britain the full and entire propriety of the town and castle of Gibraltar, together with the port, fortifications, and forts thereunto belonging; and he gives up the said propriety to be held and enjoyed absolutely with all manner of right for ever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever”.  That was the “Rock” then, this is now.  Whilst the majority of Britons and Spaniards look on in a sense of bemusement this latest Gibraltar ‘crisis’ raises some interesting questions as to the validity of the old treaties that continue to shape Europe’s political space. 

First, let’s call this manufactured crisis for what it is; a blatant attempt by Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy to distract attention away from the corruption scandal that is engulfing his political party and Spain’s economic crisis. Politics like this have no place in 2013 Europe, especially between fellow EU members and close NATO allies.  The only thing that comes close to Senor Rajoy’s silly game-playing are those in UK press trying to imply a link between a departing aircraft-less British aircraft carrier and this latest Anglo-Spanish spat over Gibraltar. For the record Exercise Cougar 2013 to which the Royal Navy’s ships are sailing has been in the planning for years.  

Spain claims Britain’s occupation of the Rock is illegal.  However, until adjusted or brought to a formal end by mutual agreement the Treaty of Utrecht remains valid under international law.  Therefore, if the Treaty was unilaterally declared illegal and Spain’s action supported by, say, the EU it would bring into question every other treaty and agreement made ever since.  That would include the Final Act of the 1815 Congress of Vienna, the 1919 Treaty of Versailles and all the various treaties and agreements signed thereafter.  In other words the Treaty of Utrecht is not only legal it remains in force.

Now, one way around this would be to say that the EU’s 2007 Treaty of Lisbon effectively nullifies all other previous treaties.  However, my sense is that such a move would set a precedent that would effectively guarantee Britain’s exit from the EU because at a stroke the EU’s treaty powers would have been greatly expanded.  At the very least a new Congress of Vienna would be needed to tie up all the treaty legal anomalies that would emerge across Europe from the Treaty of Utrecht’s arbitrary legalisation.  That of course is not going to happen.

The more serious point concerns the relationship between the parties to old treaties and the rights of self-determination of the inhabitants of disputed lands and territories.  This is a serious issue as self-determination is a not a treaty legal concept per se and the very concept post-dates most of the treaties still in force. 

Is Spain’s position good politics?  Spain is threatening to make common cause with Argentina at the United Nations in its dispute with Britain over the Falkland Islands.  By so doing Madrid is implying that the views and wishes of the Gibraltarians matter not, just as they imply that Gibraltarians are neither British nor EU citizens.  Recent polls in both the Falklands and Gibraltar show clearly an overwhelming desire to remain British.  Argentina may have little regard for self-determination but for Spain and Europe it remains the cornerstone of democratic legitimacy.

Furthermore, Spain is ill-advised even to open the issue of the status of treaties.  If Spain pushes too hard Morocco may wish to re-open a debate about Spain’s two so-called “Plazas de Soberania” (Places of Sovereignty) or enclaves embedded in Moroccan territory – Ceuta and Melilla.  Ceuta was ceded to Spain by Portugal through (coincidentally) the 1668 Treaty of Lisbon whereby Melilla was conquered by Spain in 1497.  Both cities have populations of around 75,000 people determined to remain both Spanish and EU citizens.  Gibraltar is a Plaza de Soberania that just happens to be British populated by people just as determined to remain British. Sorry, but if Spain wants Gibraltar Madrid must first hand back Ceuta and Melilla.  Do that and Spain might just have a moral leg upon which to stand, even if no legal leg. 

This crisis started because the Gibraltarian authorities dropped concrete blocks in its waters to create an artificial reef which impacted upon one Spanish fisherman.  Spain reacted by blocking access to and from the Rock.  Like all such Gilbert and Sullivanesque crises they blow in and blow out like the summer rain.  Therefore, both Britain and Spain would be best advised to put the issue back in the box and quietly get on with working together to solve the many more serious issues facing Europe. 

In other words, more quiet diplomacy less silly megaphone diplomacy please.

Gibraltar – Rock of Rages.

Julian Lindley-French   

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Grazie signor Letta!

Alphen, the Netherlands. 7 August.  There is a hoary old Irish joke that gets quoted far too often at conferences I attend.  An American tourist is lost in the Irish countryside (the lost Yank is always in Ireland) and asks a farmer directions to Dublin.  “Well”, says the farmer. “I would not start from here”.  Much the same can be said for the EU which must soon face its uncomfortable reality; to work the Union must either properly integrate and become a real federal state or retreat back into a loose club of nation-states.  Lost as it is in a never-never land between power and weakness the only thing today’s EU will generate will be more crises.
 
This reality was implicit in Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta remarks warning that European leaders have underestimated the likelihood of a British exit from the EU.  Indeed, he said, “It’s a huge risk...we have to prepare a discussion on trying to prevent this risk”.  What Mr Letta has bravely done is in fact to confirm that the British Question is in fact THE European Question.  With that admission maybe just maybe we can move towards an equitable political settlement that re-injects fairness and legitimacy into the EU and at the same time protects the democratic rights of all Europeans.

However, the problem as usual is dogma of the Brussels elite.  After my last blog, The Balance of Incompetents, I was harangued by a Brussels insider who told me that, “the job of the analyst is surely to dig deeper rather than hold up a flattering mirror to the rabble”.  Rabble?  Is that how much of the Brussels-elite see Europe’s people? 

The central tenet of this dogma is that in the twenty-first century the European nation-state is too small to make its way in the world. Critically, the argument does not define what is meant by ‘small’.  If power is a combination of economic and military might then according to the CIA World Factbook (it must be right then) four European states are in the world’s top ten power states.  Indeed, the arguments’ proponents seem to allude to size being defined by the extent of territory and/or population size.  If that is the case then it is not an argument that can be made.  Behind the fa├žade large parts of China, India and Russia are virtually ungovernable.  Indeed, it is precisely the ungovernability of the EU that created the Eurozone disaster. 

Implicit in Sgr Letta’s remarks are two immediate fundamental questions that urgently need resolution; who or what is in charge of the Eurozone and can an equitable political relationship exist between those in the Eurozone and those not?  This is particularly important if this divide is to become permanent.  If the British were not so self-obsessed they would make their argument on that issue of principle rather than simply one of cost.  Indeed, whilst Sgr Letta, who is an EU-believer, calls for more Europe he is honest enough to admit that there is a “legitimacy crisis” in the EU today as typified by my Brussels ‘friend’.

There is something else that is fascinating about Sgr Letta’s remarks.  When he talks of more Europe, i.e. deeper European integration, he really means a strange hybrid form of governance that somehow combines both more power to Brussels and a balance of power between EU member-states.  One sees that in Chancellor Merkel’s remarks; embed German power within a Berlin-friendly EU and enshrine German power at the top of it.  This is a perfectly legitimate political aim for any country but it also mask THE most fundamental question Europeans must confront – who decides, what, when and how?

Clearly, the blind drive towards ‘ever closer union’ seems to have reached its zenith.  Sgr Letta implies that, as does Dutch Foreign Minister Timmermans.  Even Chancellor Merkel is cautious given that Germans have no stomach to endlessly pay for the socialising costs of European integration.  However, if that is indeed the case then the EU of today is in the worst of all political worlds.  Far from their being a federal centre subject to checks and balances imposed by the states it comprises there is instead a sovereignty black hole at the EU’s core.  Member-states may have transferred very large amounts of state sovereignty to Brussels but the exercise of such power is weak and uncertain.  This renders the EU a crisis-generator rather than a crisis manager. 

Therefore, even a modest dose of political realism would suggest the need for a new EU treaty.  However, rather than handing more power to Brussels the treaty would take power away from it.  At least such a treaty would end the competition for power between Brussels and the very member-states that created it.  
Clearly, the EU cannot stay where it is, but as to the future I would not start from here.

Grazie signor Letta!

Julian Lindley-French