hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Future Force 2013

Amsterdam, Netherlands. 28 November.  Future Force 2013 – Joint Operations in the Land Environment.  These past two days I have had the honour of chairing a superb conference here in Amsterdam on behalf of the Commander, Royal Netherlands Army, Lieutenant-General Mart de Kruijf.  Two key messages came out of this conference. First, if we Europeans want to keep Americans engaged in NATO and by extension engaged in Europe’s security European armed forces will need to achieve a much deeper degree of co-operation and even integration.  Second, in talking about the future force Europeans must stop talking so much about the past. 

One of the mantra-ed nonsenses that one so often hears bandied around European militaries these days is that the absence of threat means there is nothing to plan for and more importantly nothing to plan together for.  Rubbish!  It was sobering to hear a Japanese colleague provide an assessment of insecurity in Asia-Pacific.  Add that to the collapse of the Middle East state, energy insecurity and a whole host of other frictions the problems is not the lack of things to plan together for…but too many.

And therein rests the problem.  European militaries and their political masters spend too much time looking in and down rather than up and out.  Europe’s armed forces have become another political pawn in the interminable story of Europe’s flawed integration and thus Europe’s interminable and much of it self-inflicted strategic shrinkage.

That said, whether the European Union existed or not one would still need to see bigger European states co-operating more closely on matters defence and many smaller Europeans integrating their armed forces.  Indeed, that is the only way Europeans are going to generate the credible military mass and manoeuvre, capability and capacity to underpin all other forms of power and influence – political, diplomatic and economic.

What struck me at the conference is the extent to which there is no longer a transatlantic divide but rather a trans-Channel divide.  The Netherlands is clearly no longer part of the Anglo-American strategic community but rather part of the German-led ‘European’ community.  That is both a shame and a contradiction because the one big country that is not thinking defence-strategically is Germany…and for good reason.

The essential take-away from this conference was that European armed forces will need to do more as one, more together and more with others.  More as ‘one’ means real ‘jointness’, i.e. all a state’s military forces thinking, experimenting, and acting as a single military organic entity on land, at sea, in the air and within cyber and space.  More together means Europeans across the Channel divide generating and deploying force far beyond Europe’s borders.  And, as the Dutch contemplate sending a force to Mali at French request (and unacknowledged British support) it will mean acting more with others.  That also means acting with other non-traditional allies and partners and critically the civilian agencies vital to mission success.

If we Europeans can together retain focus on the strategic by looking at the world together and having the courage to face up to its many challenges and frictions honestly then there is a chance that the vision implicit in this conference will be realised.  If, on the other hand, strategy continues to be polluted by the politics of a Europe that not only sees ‘strategy’ as alien, but also the utility and purpose of armed force then Europeans will remain utterly divided and their collective strategic voice will decline into nothing more than the murmurings of the strategically-deranged.

Europeans are part of world security however much many seem to wish to deny it and it is no good Europeans playing tactical chess whilst the rest of the world plays strategic poker.  Surely that was this week’s message from the two B-52s flying over disputed islands in the South China Sea.  Of course, a European strategic culture can be fashioned of a sort from the more cuddly parts of international engagement but it would be utterly without balance.  Europe’s armed forces must not become lightly-armed fig-leaves for European neo-pacifism.  Europe must have teeth and those teeth must be sharp. 

We British may not be flavour of the month in Europe (and we really do not care) but it is worth quoting the motto of the Royal Navy which within the next decade will again become Europe’s only truly strategic navy:  “Si vis pacem, para bellum” (if you wish for peace, prepare for war).  Europeans thankfully are not facing war at home but many around the world are.  Europeans must at least be thinking about that.

Faced with an ever-expanding military task-list and yet ever-shrinking military forces and resources for Europeans strategic unity of effort and purpose will be the critical politico-military ‘commodity’.  That in turn will demand European politicians and military leaders stop confusing politics with strategy. In other words, the future force must be a real force! 
As Plato once said, “Only the dead have seen the end of war”.
Julian Lindley-French

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Iranian Nukes: Breakthrough or Cave-in?

Alphen, Netherlands. 24 November.  On the face of it the agreement between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia and US plus Germany) group of nations is one of those moments in geopolitics which could re-order security both regionally and globally.  Iran has agreed to slow efforts to enrich uranium to weapons-grade in return for the relief of some $7bn worth of sanctions.  With inflation running at around 40% per annum in Iran and the regime under growing domestic pressure Tehran clearly has a need to end its domestic isolation.  However, if this interim agreement is in six months hence to be confirmed as a permanent agreement it will need to pass two verifiable tests.  Does the agreement reflect a fundamental shift in Iran’s foreign and security policy posture?  Is the Middle East made safer (and by extension the world) by this agreement?
First the deal. In return for the easing of sanctions Iran has agreed to give International Atomic Energy Authority inspectors daily access to the Natanz and Fordo nuclear sites.  Sunday Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif tweeted (a sign of the times?) that under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Iran has an “inalienable” right to enrich uranium.  Technically he is correct as a state may indeed enrich uranium up to 5% beyond which weapons research can commence. 
Does the agreement reflect a fundamental shift in Iran’s foreign and security policy posture?  Critically, the test of Iran’s bona fides will not simply be adherence to this agreement but whether Tehran’s regional strategy also shifts.  That would mean a markedly less hostile posture towards Israel, including less support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, less interference in the Syrian civil war (and other neighbouring states) and less interference in the Gulf.  As yet there are no signs of such a shift.  Rather, President Obama seems to be gambling that this agreement could bolster President Rouhani and the ‘moderates’ in the Tehran regime and might in time build sufficient confidence to engender a shift in Tehran’s strategy.
Is the Middle East made safer (and by extension the world) by this agreement?  That depends.  Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have condemned this agreement.  Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has called it an “historic mistake” and that Israel reserves the right to defend itself.  Sunday morning the leaders of several Gulf States flew to Riyadh for talks with the Saudi leadership which has also privately condemned this agreement. 
Critically, if Iran is not seen to observe and more importantly held to observe this agreement then Saudi Arabia could well take forward already advanced talks with Pakistan for the development of a nuclear capability.  If that happened then the nuclear genie would be well and truly out of the bottle and the NPT would finally be seen the world over as a busted arms control flush. 
So, is this agreement worth the risk?  Yes but.  Yes, in that any attempt to break the deadlock with Iran could if successful help eventually (and I stress eventually) lead to an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians which is the cornerstone conflict in the Middle East.  However, France was absolutely right to insist on as tough a verification regime as possible.  Indeed, my own sources have told me that the talks three weeks ago came close to agreeing a very soft accord that would only have encouraged those in Tehran who believe that in the wake of Syria debacle Obama is so politically weak at home and so desperate for any foreign policy success that he would agree to anything.  It is in such ignorance that Tehran could make a dangerous miscalculation.
For the Europeans at the table there is also serious food for thought.  Let me for once pay tribute to Baroness Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy sort-of-supremo.  I have in the past been very critical of the Lady from Lancashire helped I might add by comments made to me by some of those close to her.  However, she has proven to be an able chair supported ably by diplomats from Britain, France and Germany.  If this is a way Europeans can begin to exert real influence then it could help end Europe’s interminable strategic shrinkage.
However, one of Ashton’s weaknesses is that she hails from the old CND (anti-nuclear) left of the old British Labour Party.  She has singularly failed to understand that Europe’s much-talked about soft power only makes sense if there is credible hard military power that underpins it.  If she and others in the Euro-elite believe this accord is proof that Europe can exert influence thought soft power alone then she and the rest of Europe are at some time in for a rude awakening.
As I wrote in a previous blog – Europe must together speak softly but work out how to carry a bigger stick!
Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 22 November 2013

Sea-ing Strategic Sense

London, England. 22 November.  Sea Sense 2013.  Fifty years on from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the ending of what Jackie Kennedy called the Camelot presidency I was asked to consider “NATO in the Future Maritime Domain” at the NATO Maritime Commanders conference here in London.  The link is important because in the wake of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the moment the world came closest to nuclear annihilation, NATO politics were by no means easy.  Indeed, the tension between the Americans and British one the one side and President de Gaulle’s France on the other would lead France in 1966 to quit the Alliance’s military core.  Back then NATO took the idea of strategy seriously.  Today I really wonder.
Entitled Sea Sense 2013 this fleet commander’s conference should really have been called (finally) Sea-ing-Strategic Sense.  I carefully noted down the issues discussed: high north, Gulf security, Asia-Pacific power shift and the US pivot, friction in the East China Sea, Baltic security, the Middle East and the end of Sykes-Picot, the Horn of Africa, piracy, drugs, terrorism, trade security, the littoralisation of world populations etc. etc.  However, instead of seeing them as part of an emerging strategic picture many of the admirals present chose instead to break them into short-term ‘manageable’ events. If navies do not think strategically who will?
This management approach to world security is killing NATO.  It is a failing that was brought home to me when someone suggested that as there were no clear threats there was little or nothing to plan for.  Nonsense!  By the time a threat is apparent it is too late for sound defence strategy.  It is friction that one must consider if one is to successfully set strategic priorities and use sound strategic judgement thereafter to make the necessary decisions.
And that is what struck me about yesterday’s debate when one sets it alongside a strategic giant such as John F. Kennedy.  Kennedy made mistakes – the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and Vietnam to name but two.  However, they were mistakes of ambition.  The cycle of strategic retreat that is killing NATO is established first and foremost on a denial of ambition.
When I rose to speak I wanted to achieve two things.  First, place NATO navies in their true twenty-first strategic context.  Second, establish a new set of principles of for how navies, armies and air forces work together to maximise peace-building and affordable strategic influence. 
As I spoke I could feel the resistance to what I was saying and I knew why.  Fleet commanders, like their counterparts in armies and air forces, have been utterly bruised by a political class that really no longer wants to hear uncomfortable strategic reality.  Indeed, one does not build a career pointing out such truths unless that is you are me…and I have no career.  This culture of strategic denial is reinforced by the legions of civilian advisors around leaders who wilfully confuse politics with strategy.  The maritime domain will be critical to a strategically-renovated NATO but that in turn will means a non-US NATO that has sufficient ‘high-end’ naval and amphibious assets to be credible in what is going to be a new age of power. 
Back in 1963 NATO’s maritime strength was built on what was then a very genuine special relationship between President Kennedy and Britain’s Prime Minister of the day Harold MacMillan.  Indeed, the two had last met at MacMillan’s Birch Grove estate back in July 1963 not knowing it would be the last time they would meet.  Today the special relationship is not-so-special, hollowed out by a disinterested Obama and a Britain that has devalued its all important strategic currency – its armed forces. 
That is about to change.  With the launch next June of HMS Queen Elizabeth, one of two giant aircraft carriers, and with a new Royal Navy under construction, Britain is finally making a statement of real strategic intent that will force both an over-stretched US and an utterly un-strategic Europe to take note.  Britain should use the occasion of next year’s launch in Portsmouth to bring political and military leaders together from across the Alliance and beyond to consider NATO’s (and the EU's) real strategic role in the world’s maritime domain. 
There is a profound irony that stalked this conference.  NATO has an immense strategic opportunity if only its leaders can seize it.  The West is no longer a place it is an idea as evinced by the presence of so many partners from the world over.  And, much of that global idea is at sea.
As a citizen and tax-payer I call upon NATO leaders to end this appalling cycle of short-termist, strategic retreat and finally Sea Strategic Sense.  You can start by reading my January book – Little Britain: Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power…for that is what it is about.
Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Euro-Realism: Julian's Europe Dilemma

Schiphol Airport. Netherlands, 20 November. The traffic here in the Netherlands is always a problem which is why I have to leave at sparrow's fart to get here to Schiphol Airport. I am on my way to London to engage with NATO admirals and talk strategy.  The good news is that yesterday I finally finished my long-awaited book (at least it is long-awaited by me and my long-suffering wife).  Little Britain considers British and European strategy in a changing world.  You will soon be able to download it for a very reasonable price.  Stop pushing at the back there! 
Sitting here reading various reports I suddenly felt the chill-wind of politics on the back of my ageing neck.  What got me going is a new report by an old French colleague Francois Heisbourg which nearly made me fall of my chair.  He is now advocating what I have been banging on about for two years - the European elite project/experiment has got too far ahead of the will of the European people - at least those who have to pay for it - and must be re-considered.  Specifically, Francois is calling for the careful dismantling of the Euro so that the EU can be re-established on firmer political ground.  Amen to that!
However, the growing body of leaders, people and 'experts' who are now calling for a re-think and an end to the 'any Europe at any cost' nonsense also creates a dilemma.  As political parties across Europe begin their campaign's for next May's European parliamentary elections in the hope that Europe's citizens might this time notice the politics of Europe has become utterly polarised.  The fanatics are by and large those in receipt of other people's money and the sceptics are by and large those who have to pay. Who do I vote for?
At the Euro-fanatic end of the spectrum there is the likes of Britain's Nick Clegg - former denizen of the College of Europe and former Eurocrat - who now says it is "unpatriotic" for any British citizen (me) to even consider Britain's place in the EU.  This is in spite of the self-evident fact that the EU has become an anti-competitive, over-regulated, increasingly intolerant mutual impoverishment pact. At the extreme Euro-sceptic end of the spectrum there are the likes of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Martine Le Pen in France who see the EU as a "monster" that needs to be put back in a box.  Whilst I have some sympathy with that thought I have no sympathy whatsoever with many of their other views on race etc.     
Here's the problem.  I believe in the idea of a mechanism that enables European nation-states to work together effectively in a hyper-competitive world for the good of all Europeans.  However, I utterly reject the European super-state nonsense that oozes from every cracked joint of Brussels mortice.  I believe in the free movement of European poeples but I utterly reject the blind mass-immigration of cheap labour it has generated which has so disfigured European labour markets.  Borders must be controlled.  I am also a social progressive who believes society must evolve and change and that opportunity should be afforded to all irrespective of class, race, gender, orientation etc.  However, I also believe in national identity and patriotism as the fuindamental creeds for vital socal cohesion.  I am also a firm believer in a European defence that is compatible with the transatlantic relationship and an EU that is compatible with NATO.
And yet none of the mainstream political parties offer that.  One either has to be a Euro-fanatic in which case any criticism is a form of heresy and one is subjected to the latter day equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition.  It is not without irony that yesterday Monty Python announced they are re-forming = "bring on the comfy chair" (you have to be old to understand that joke).Or, one has to be a 'get out at all costs' Euro-sceptic of the UKIP variety, which by the way is now a mainstream political party as far as most people are concerned even if the elite try to paint them as extremists.
What is needed is a centrist, gronded political party across Europe that is really committed to real EU reform.  This is not the pretend reform British PR-Meister David Cameron is talking about just to get himself out of a self-dug political hole.  This the kind of reform that will see structural changes in the cost of the EU and its governance and which will mean the end to constant bale-outs and the addiction of some members to European Regional Development Funding.
That is why I created Euro-Realism to challenge the thinking of extremes.  In particular the stupid orthodoxy that if Europe does not constantly deepen (elite euro-speak for more power for them) it will collapse and Europe will trigger the Third World War or that by constantly transferring money east and south without reform Europeans will somehow become prosperous.  It is utter and dangerous nonsense that in and of itself will doom Europe to failure over time.
My suspicions are that there are millions out there like me who like me believe in their nation-state, are not against co-operation but who utterly reject the doctrinaire and dogmatic nonsense of the Brussels elite and their fellow travellers.
Perhaps I should start my own political party.  Any followers?
Julian Lindley-French 


Monday, 18 November 2013

Sheffield Disunited

Alphen, Netherlands. 16 November.  Historians will look back on this past decade as perhaps the most irresponsible in British politics since the appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s.  Former Home Secretary Jack Straw now talks of a "spectacular mistake" for which he takes partial responsibility.  The decision the Blair/Brown Government took back in 2004 to allow uncontrolled immigration from Eastern Europe has only been compounded by the obsession with the ghettoising multiculturalism which has all but ended Britain's once famed social cohesion.  As ever Britain's out-of-touch political elite do not have to live with the consequences of their irresponsibility as tensions are played out daily in Britain's tinderbox inner cities.  Nowhere is this dangerous situation more apparent than in parts of my own home town Sheffield. 
In the Page Hall district real tensions are developing between groups of recently-arrived Roma and local residents.  The Roma are said to be trying to impose their culture through intimidation on the local population. Even Euro-fanatic Nick Clegg has called for the Roma to make more effort to integrate, but then again he has a Sheffield constituency to defend.   
It is of course vital not to simply blanket all immigration as bad - which is the mantra of the Right.  One only has to see the legions of bright, young people from Eastern Europe and beyond who bring so much energy and dynamism to London.  However, the way EU immigration is meant to work is that so-called free movement is part of the single European labour market.  All well and good.  Many fellow Europeans do indeed come to Britain to work and do indeed add real value. 

However, what the British Government masks from its people is that in addition to the talented and hard-working there are large numbers of uneducated and unemployable people arriving in Britain.   The tension starts when having arrived lawyers representing these communities ensure that human rights legislation prevents their removal and gives them full access to a Welfare State that was never designed for such an influx of poor immigrants.
Sadly, such is the loss of faith in the British state of ordinary Britons that fellow Sheffielders of all ethnic backgrounds are now forming vigilante groups to "protect themselves".  And yet London does nothing about it other than to suppress information that points to the social disaster that is unfolding as a result of Westminster's political irresponsibility.  Indeed, I am aware of at least two Home Office (Interior Ministry) reports that cite the damage done to British (mainly English) society by uncontrolled immigration from Eastern Europe and which if government has its way will never enter the public domain.  One report points to the particular damage that has been caused to social cohesion and other to the impact of Eastern European organised crime gangs on British society.   

The people of Sheffield and many other cities have been subjected to a failed political and social experiment.  My once proud city shows all too clearly what happens when a poor, foreign, traumatised community with markedly different values is suddenly and wilfully injected into the heart of a community already struggling with poverty and other tensions.  In the past decade Sheffield's foreign-born population has gone from 10% of the city to 20%.  Sheffield and many other British cities simply cannot cope with any more.     
The government says it is addressing these so-called 'pull factors'  in the forthcoming Immigration Act.  It is as usual smoke and mirrors as London cannot and will not change the most fundamental of 'pull factors'; European legislation which London has signed up to and human rights legislation which then gold plates European law.  It is an appalling mess and all Britain's out-of-touch mainstream politicians are doing is hunkering down, hoping the coming wave of immigration is not too big and that somehow they can ride out the political storm it will inevitably create. They also pass laws that suppress dissent under the banner of equality and preventing race hate. What a price to pay.     
The Economist last week made the silly suggestion that Britain's only problem communities were poor and British.  Not only is that factually wrong the newspaper failed to point out that the despair felt by such communities is driven by the belief that they have been abandoned by the British Government.  It is not entirely true but neither is it wrong.  What people witness daily is the kind of immigration that turns a once rich country into a poor society.  It is for me depressing and utterly frustrating to watch the more so given it is my home town that is being broken by the irresponsibility of Britain's leaders.
It will take many years to overcome this disaster. Only if British politicians re-establish a proper grip on borders and immigration, abandon multiculturalism and start the long road to assimilation and integration through education will British society begin to rediscover social cohesion.  It is by no means impossible.  Indeed, I have just been listening on the radio to a leader of the Roma Gypsy community in Britain who is a fellow Sheffield United FC fan - good lad. He is a classic example of successful integration in which people can have multiple identities and still be loyal to the state and contributing members of society.

As a Sheffielder I do not care if people are black, white, yellow or whatever as long as they are part of a society that functions as a society. The British Government must do more to ensure newcomers integrate and in Sheffield the Roma really must do more to be part of my great city.  Fail and far from uniting Europe the belief will grow that all the EU is for is to transfer Eastern Europe's legion problems to Britain (and elsewhere).  
Sheffield's sorry tale also raises that most fundamental of questions - when are British politicians going to put the interests of the British people before those of everybody else?  Until politicians answer that question with real action all they are doing is creating the breeding ground for the far Left and far Right to exploit.  Indeed, the most pressing security challenge facing Britain is the social disintegration of its inner cities. 
Why does this matter?  The story of my home town is being repeated across Western Europe, although nothing like as acutely as in Sheffield.  Come 1 January a new wave of poor immigrants will arrive from Bulgaria and Romania.

As for the apology Jack - it is a bit late and a bit rich.  For me this is personal - I was born less than a mile (1km) from Page Hall.  I really am a local Sheffield lad.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 15 November 2013

Transatlantic Heaven and Hell

Alphen, Netherlands. 15 November.  There is an old Brussels joke about European heaven and hell.  Heaven is a place where the cooks are French, the lovers Italian, the police British and it is all organised by the Germans.  Hell is a place where the cooks are British, the lovers are German, the police are French and it is all organised by the Italians.  This week at a Brussels event organised by the Egmont Institute visions of transatlantic heaven and hell competed.
The subject of the discussion was the US ‘pivot’ to Asia and by implication away from Europe.  The trouble with this kind of event is that too often we get the wrong type of senior Americans.  Now, the Americans in question are good friends of mine for whom I have great respect.  However, they are simply far too damned reasonable to Europeans. 
I knew the day was going to be rough when my American friends described EU foreign and security efforts as a “glass half full” and “work in progress”.  Sometimes I think I could be Dutch EU Ambassador Rip van Winkle who dozes off for a century only to awake in 2113 to nice, senior Americans telling the Brussels elite that European ‘external engagement’ is a “glass half full” and “work in progress”.  How long is it going to take to fill this bloody glass? 
What Europeans need to see is more of those nasty, growling, utterly unreasonable Americans that I meet in DC and who permit me to growl back.  I do a good growl.  They are the Americans who think we Europeans are a complete waste of strategic space and that even if late they won all and every war that was ever worth fighting even if they were not actually in it. 

A bit like “Pearl Harbor”, that awful and badly spelt film a few years back in which some farm boy from Ohio looking awfully like Ben Affleck single-handedly won the Battle of Britain from an airfield in front of a stately home complete with its own thatched pub called “Ye Olde Bullshit”.  It was utterly wrong – the Poles did that.
Sadly, these house-trained Americans allow EU officials to bang on endlessly about Europe’s ‘successful’ approach to soft security and talk ‘strategic’, Europe’s most over-used and utterly meaningless word (except that is for ‘solidarity’).  Take the European External Action Service (the EU’s foreign and security policy executive and not an office cleaning company).  It is still designed more to manage crises in Brussels over which member-state is represented where and by whom than to actually manage real crises.  Add never-ending attempts by the European Commission, European Parliament and other assorted super-statists to encroach and the result is a Europe that punches below not above its weight.
To paraphrase a certain American president, “It is about power, stupid”.  Europe must generate real power – soft and hard - if Europeans (however organised) are to generate that most precious of ‘strategic’ (that word again) commodities; influence.  That will mean a Europe prepared to compete and properly engage in the real world rather than talking endlessly about almost empty glasses in the Brussels virtual world. 
Sadly, the Americans are their own worst enemies because they are still not at all clear about what Europe they want; strong, weak or simply irrelevant.  Washington seems to veer between the ‘Europe is a waste of space’ school of thought, the ‘USE is a putative USA’ school of thought and the current fashion for a ‘German empire is a good thing’ school of thought’.  The latter view is killing Britain, leavened by a healthy dose of strategic incompetence from Britain’s useless leaders.  Indeed, as far as the Americans are concerned the British now rank somewhere between Luxembourg which has money and Iceland which has volcanoes.  Britain has neither.   
The trouble is that the American world view and the German world view are just about as far apart as two democracies can be and still call themselves allies.  Trade apart whilst Americans and the rest of the world play global poker the Germans (and ‘friends’) want to play a quiet game of strategic chess…with themselves and forever.  By encouraging Germany to lead the US is contributing to European pacifism.
So, transatlantic heaven and hell.  Transatlantic heaven would be a place where Americans and Europeans together look at the world in a largely similar fashion, invest in largely similar diplomatic efforts with roughly but by no means completely similar armed forces prepared to share the same risks in crises confident in the strength of their mutual support. 
Transatlantic hell would a place where Americans take a very hard-nosed politically realist world view whilst Europeans retreat onto an isolationist/pacifist ‘moral’ upland in which process rather than strategy reigns supreme occasionally launching hysterical tirades accusing the Americans (and British) of dastardly doings whilst demanding self-same Americans (and British) defend them.
Ho hum…
Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 11 November 2013

The Dismal Economist

Alphen, Netherlands. 11 November.  On this day of remembrance when a few miles from here many tens of thousands perished in the 1914-1918 war thoughts of country are particularly poignant, except that is for the few who regard ‘country’ as an anachronism.  On 25 October The Economist’s Daniel Knowles appeared on the BBC’s flagship political programme, The Daily Politics to argue that northern England cities be allowed to die.  Thankfully veteran Labour politician John Prescott was on hand to shred him.  Sadly, Mr Knowles typified everything that is now wrong with a once great newspaper; a detached from reality, ivory tower, elite other-worldliness in which analysis has been replaced with dogma verging on propaganda. 
Take propaganda.  This week The Economist suggested that if Scotland left the UK; “At a stroke, the kingdom would become one third smaller. Its influence in the world…greatly reduced”.  This is Scottish elite hubris.  Scotland might comprise 30% of Britain’s landmass but it has only 9% of the population, and whilst more than 60% of its economy is dependent on the British state its 2012 GDP at $216bn was less than 10% of Britain’s.
The Economist’s retreat from the real world of real people has been on-going for some time.  This week Joel Budd argues for Britain to stay in the EU and to open its doors to unfettered immigration.  That saddest thing about the piece is the use of blatant scaremongering and insults to cull proper debate.  Those of us with legitimate concerns about power, democracy and governance in the EU and the undoubted social and cultural impact of rapid hyper-immigration are accused of being “Little Englanders”.  Instead the entire piece relies on a series of prejudices that in the past would never have made it past the reality test for which The Economist was once renowned. 
The Economist also states, “Continental Europeans are coming around to the long-held British view that the EU should be smaller, less bureaucratic and lighter on business”.  If that were true and the EU could be pulled back from its super-state fantasy and replaced with a deeper single market that preserved state independence then it would have my full support.  However, living in Continental Europe and from my travels around Europe and to Brussels I see no evidence of elite Europeans “coming around” to the British way of thinking.  Quite the reverse.
Rather, I see a German-led Europe that in a desperate bid to save the single currency will soon launch a fresh wave of political integration.  Far from The Economist’s idea of a less regulated, more open Europe Europeans are about to be engulfed by a new wave of regulation.  This is because European integration IS regulation.  Indeed, for The Economist’s view to prevail the EU’s entire political culture would have to move decisively away from its statist origins and that is not going to happen.
However, it is immigration where The Economist reveals itself most unworldly.  Whilst I agree that Britain should always be open to the world’s talented the entire point about the EU is that Britain should only be open to Europe – both the talented and the not-so-talented.  Indeed, the essential point The Economist misses is that for the EU Britain can either be open to the world or the EU but not both.  Essentially, the EU remains a protectionist block designed to enable Germans to sell things to a closed market and prevent the excesses of globalisation ‘damaging’ what many European see as their cultural and social patrimony.
Last week The Economist even suggested that EU hyper-immigration was a good thing because “Britain gains from their skills without having to invest in schools”.  What about the one million unemployed British youth?  What such nonsense reveals is that for The Economist Britain’s social and cultural identity count for nothing.  Rather, any level of immigration should be allowed irrespective of the impact on national identity and social cohesion if it adds an extra quarter percentage point on GDP. 
The essential problem is that The Economist today combines two truly dismal perspectives.  First, the paper is a true scion of the ‘dismal science’ of economics which reduces everything to mammon and thus so often misses the very things that make society and strategy tick.  Second, The Economist has become locked into a London liberal elite bubble which sneers at the very idea of national identity and the loyalty which is today celebrated and commemorated.  The paper even goes as far as to call on Britain to “abandon its separatist dreams” as though the world’s 5th or 6th largest economy and 4th defence spender was already a mere province of the EU super-state. 
The Economist is championing an essential nonsense; that Britain can stay in the EU and be open to the world. 
I am a proud Briton and a proud, thinking European.  The Economist?  I wonder…  Expect more of this propaganda.
Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 8 November 2013

Euro-Realism: Germany a la Carte

Alphen, Netherlands. 8 November.  Otto von Bismarck once said, “I have always found the word ‘Europe’ in the mouths of those politicians who wanted something from other powers they did not dare to demand in their own name”.  So often when Germany talks ‘Europe’ Germany means Germany.
Imagine one of those posh Paris restaurants.  You sit down ever so slightly nervously because the Maitre D. has given you the strongest possible impression that he will tolerate you only in return for a substantial relieving of the weight in your tattered wallet.  Eventually a supercilious waiter waddles over with a menu the size of the Versailles Treaty.  You open it.  On the left side of the menu is the ‘menu fixe’.  This is for those of you (usually) foreign peasantry ‘doing’ Paris who can just about afford a visit but only just about understand the menu – or at least pretend to.  On the right hand side page after page of delicacy unfolds for the true gourmand...and that is before you have seen the ‘Carte des Vins’.  These pages remind you, the aforesaid foreign peasant, just how far you are from truly deserving of a seat in this palace of cordon bleu. 
Now, I stand out against anti-Germanism which is substantial in Europe these days.  In particular I avoid references to past wars unless they are relevant to  history or today’s politics.  However, it can also be hard to be Germany’s friend these days.    
Take the EU Services ‘menu’.  One thing I regularly hear in Berlin is a complaint that the British seek ‘l’Europe a la carte’ – a European Union in which the British get to choose only the tastiest cuts (and I mean cuts) and discard the rest.  To Berlin’s political mind the British should now take the ‘menu fixe’ like all the other EU peasants because only ‘virtuous’ Germany has earned the right to choose from ‘menu Euro-gourmand’ and thus taste the juiciest morsels of European regulatory cuisine.
The most obvious example of Germany’s preference for ‘l’Europe a la carte’ is Berlin’s continued and determined effort to block the Services Directive essential to Britain’s future membership of the EU and the proper functioning of the Single Market.  Berlin blatantly protects a sector of its economy in which Germany is weak whilst insisting on unfettered access for German goods and services in sectors where Germany is strong.
Germany’s a la carte preferences are also beginning to upset others.  Last week the US Treasury Department attacked Germany’s export-led economic model for preventing the rest of the Eurozone from growing their respective economies out of crisis.  According to the Americans a Germany all too happy to export but none too happy to import is distorting not just Europe’s economy but much of the world beyond. 
German hypocrisy is also apparent in the lengths Berlin will go to instrumentalise the European Commission for its own narrow interests.  Indeed, Berlin has ‘placed’ key officials in the European Commission to act as the Maitre Ds of Europe. 
Earlier this year Berlin leant heavily on the European Commission to prevent a directive on carbon emissions that would have damaged the export of expensive German cars to China and other parts of Asia  It was a crude example of ‘Germany first’ that revealed all too clearly the shallowness of Germany’s Europeanness; yes to Europe but only on German terms.  Most notably Germany’s surplus breaks the Eurozone’s economic governance rules, although as per usual the European Commission will do nothing.  Indeed, there is one set of rules for Germany and another German-written set of rules for the rest. 
The Eurozone crisis is only at half-time no more.  Southern (and some Eastern) European countries must implement painful structural reforms to their societies and economies over many years if the German-centred Eurozone has any chance of long-term health.  These reforms will place the fragile democratic and governance structures of these countries under the most intense strain.  If Germany continues to preach only discipline but refuses to use its surplus to stimulate growth the Eurozone will in time fail as populations lose patience in their mounting desperation.
Germany has a choice. It can join Britain in pursuit of a Europe-lite which will mean taking the ‘menu fixe’ and radically reducing ever more onerous EU regulations that prevent European businesses competing in a hyper-competitive world and thus growing Europe out of depression.  Or, Germany can lead by example to deepen Eurozone and by extension EU integration.  To simply go on dining from a menu that whilst tasty leaves Germany and Europe fat and bloated in a lean, mean world will in time destroy the very Europe Berlin pretends to champion.
Is Germany really willing to pay the price of supping at the leader’s table?  For too many German politicians ‘Europe’ still in fact means Germany.
Germany a la carte; time for die rechnung!
Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 4 November 2013

Euro-Realism: For a Better Life?

Ledbury, England. 4 November.  “Britain is a shining apple…with a rotten core”, the damning verdict of a cousin of a bright, decent Sri Lankan IT student murdered last week in my home town Sheffield.  In the Saharan desert almost one hundred migrants died of thirst and hunger making their desperate but illegal way from Niger to Europe.  To what extent can society cope with large numbers of people from very different cultures and with very different values before that host society is profoundly damaged?  And, what can be done to stop human trafficking that is doing so much damage to both immigrants and target communities?
Like most Europeans the sight of bodies floating in the Mediterranean or wasting in the Sahara Desert fills me with horror.  My innate humanity wants to reach out and help.  Indeed, like many Europeans I face a daily battle between my humanity and my intellect over immigration.  These sad people are just a tragic few of the 80,000 or so that the EU borders agency Frontex claim are trying or have tried to enter Europe illegally this year. 
In Rome last week I saw the impact of illegal immigration on Italian society – crime, misery, poverty and exploitation.  80,000 over ten years becomes 800,000 very close to the 860,000 illegal immigrants the British Government admitted last week were living in the UK, a complete collapse of border controls.  The Economist also suggested this week that the foreign born population of England will be 25% by 2015.  Moreover, the self-same European societies that are mired in debt and youth unemployment are struggling to cope with inner-EU migration from Europe’s poor to Europe’s formerly rich.  Another wave is predicated in January as Bulgarians and Romanians have the right to move west. 
One of the most pervasive false mantras of the liberal left is the idea that diversity increases societal strength.  It is utter nonsense.  Yes, at some level societies are enriched by a controlled level of immigration and the diversity it generates.  However, the sheer scale of immigration over the past decade, the importation of intolerance and traumatised peoples from the world’s most damaged societies, allied to society destroying, ghetto-building multiculturalism has left too many British and other European cities too often microcosms of the broken places that surround Europe – including my beloved Sheffield. 
For many years dissent has been crushed by suggesting any criticism was racism.  Slowly reasoned voices are emerging that suggests popular concern about the impact of hyper-immigration on social cohesion must now be confronted.  This argument is even backed up by several reports from the Left - the main sponsors of hyper-immigration.  Sadly it may all be too little, too late.
How has this happened and what must be done?  Take Sheffield.  When I was a kid Sheffield’s permanently-embedded Labour politicians were part of Sheffield’s common sense, working class community.  That is very much my own heritage and was informed by a pragmatic sense of politics and its application.  Today too many politicians come from the theoretical university-educated left and right for whom politics is simply an extension of the unworldly politics of the campus.  For them society is simply a never-ending social experiment rather than real people trying to cope with the real world. 
During the Blair/Brown years such ‘experimentation’ led to a series of dangerous nonsenses such as the sending of British troops to Afghanistan to keep Islamism at “strategic distance” whilst simultaneously importing Islamism into Britain in significant numbers.  Just yesterday another Islamist on a terror watch-list absconded. Today, Washington regards Britain as one of the main source of Islamist threat to the US.  The EU and its ivory tower demand for uncontrolled borders has only made matters worse.
Consequently, the breakdown between what are now euphemistically called ‘traditional communities’ and politicians who do not have to live with the consequences of their social and political experiments has proved disastrous across Europe.  It is a gap that is widening as the space between the European elite and the European street yawns. 
Hard though it may seem there is simply no way Europe can afford to lessen controls over immigration.  These brave, sad, tragic people are simply the harbinger of many millions who would seek to move to Europe from its fractured and broken periphery if the door was truly opened.  Therefore the most compassionate act would be for Europe to re-exert control over such migrations. 
First and foremost that means reducing the false pull factors that make people believe they will have a better life in Europe.  It also means rolling back the pipelines of misery that lead to such tragedies by breaking up the criminal networks that traffic people and investing in properly secure borders.  Above all it means trying to alleviate the suffering around Europe’s borders that move people to make such dangerous journeys.  That means applied aid and development.
Given the scale of disorder and disaster around Europe’s borders and beyond to expose already vulnerable European societies further to the population flows of misery would to be to destroy the very societies migrants seek to enter.
For a better life?  Britain like much of the rest of Europe is indeed a shining apple with a rotten core as too many decent, desperate people are discovering to their cost.

For a better life?
Julian Lindley-French