hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 31 January 2014

Warm Beer Surrender Monkeys

Alphen, Netherlands. 31 January.  On Wednesday evening I was sitting in the Sky Team business class lounge at Washington’s Dulles Airport with a senior French colleague and friend waiting for my KLM flight back to Amsterdam.  We had chewed the cud about a range of matters strategic pertinent to our respective countries.  It was a discussion that was just about as Franco-British as one can get during which he made a comment which for me sums up the Paris view of their London counterparts.
The specific issue at hand was Franco-British nuclear co-operation.  My point was that as I could not envisage a scenario in which one country would use nuclear weapons and the other not London and Paris should find a way to co-operate more deeply.  Surely, I opined, we could at least alternate patrols of French and British ballistic missile submarines at times of peace to reduce wear and tear?  British and French nuclear submarines patrol just about the same bits of sea and have almost identical targets. 
His response was to say that whenever France had proposed deeper co-operation the British had backed away.  Nothing too French you might assume in that apart from precisely that – the assumption.  To Paris Franco-British co-operation starts from an assumption that France sets the agenda and it is up to the British to respond.
For Paris that is how it should be. It is the job of French negotiators to get as much for France as is possible in any negotiation.  And, they are very good at it.  The real tragedy is that London lets Paris get away with it.  Indeed, during my years living and working in Paris I saw repeated examples of supine British officials apologising privately for London’s inability to give France all and everything it wants.
Now, I know some senior British officials will read this and say that if I was in the room I would realise how hard they fight for this position or that.  That is not my point and in any case I tend to know what goes on in the room.  British negotiators are master tacticians able and willing to gain or squeeze advantage from the hopeless positions bequeathed to them by hopeless political masters.  London’s political culture is now so defensive that London invariably surrenders the strategic high ground to France from the outset.
Since Britain retreated from the world in the 1960s British ‘strategy’ has been the search for common ground between the US, French and German position on all and anything.  This has been compounded by Planet Whitehall which believes Britain should be in the Euro and at the heart of the EU whatever price Germany and France demand.  The result is that London no longer thinks strategically for itself and is constantly on the negotiating defensive.
This game will be played out today at the Franco-British pub lunch.  Downing Street spin has it that PR-Meister Cameron is going to forcefully try to convince President Hollande of the need for EU reform.  However, Cameron has already said he will support Britain’s EU membership even if France (and more importantly Germany) says ‘non’, as the Élysee has also already said it will.  The warm beer conversation will thus be short.  Dave: “I want to reform the EU so that it becomes more competitive, more democratic and power is handed back to capitals”.  Francois, “Non!”  Dave, “OK then”. 
After the meeting the Downing Street Press Machine will talk of “substantive discussions” and “real progress”.  Strategy-free Dave, who has clearly been captured by his euro-friendly officials, will be told by the Mandarins present that by preventing summit failure he conducted a master-class in diplomacy.  The confusion of strategy, politics and diplomacy is the very essence of Britain’s contemporary weakness. 
In fact, the French position is also as weak today as at any time since the founding of the EU.  The Franco-German axis is hollow to the point of empty, France is far more broke than Britain, Merkel and Hollande do not get on and the prospect of Britain leaving the EU should give London negotiating leverage if only the people do the negotiating believed in the possibility.  Not only do they not believe in Britain leaving the EU but behind the scenes they are telling the French and others that they will do all they can to prevent it.
London should seize what is an historic moment and tell Paris that whilst the future Franco-British strategic relationship is vital - and it is - Paris must work with London if France really wants Britain to stay in the EU and help balance Germany.  Right now, there is not the slightest incentive for Paris to do anything other than say ‘non’!  Indeed, as far as the French are concerned Cameron will either cave in (likely) or Labour will win in 2015 (quite possible) and offer to hand over even more sovereignty to Brussels.
London: home of the warm beer drinking surrender monkeys.
Julian Lindley-French

Little Britain Book Extract 3: The Franco-British Pub Lunch

Alphen, Netherlands. 31 January.  Today is the Franco-British pub lunch, sorry, summit at which defence, energy, space and of course Europe will be discussed.  Therefore, in honour of Prime Minister David Cameron’s infliction of an English pub lunch and a pint of that most venerable of beers Hook Norton on an unsuspecting French President Hollande today’s blog is devoted to an extract from my new book Little Britain: Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power ( 
“The November 2010 Franco-British Defence and Security Co-operation Treaty and air operations over Libya in 2011 confirmed the importance of the Franco-British strategic relationship.  London and Paris share a classical state-to-state strategic defence relationship.  However, Britain’s strategic relationship with France is important and complex in equal measure.  That said it must be of concern to London that Paris was less than complementary about the support it received from Britain for their Mali intervention, even though France seems to have conveniently forgotten France’s unwillingness to support the British where it mattered in Afghanistan. 
For all those irritations it is hard to over-state the importance of the relationship.  Indeed, if the strategic utility of NATO depends to a very great extent on Britain’s strategic relationship with the Americans the future of European defence is dependent on the Franco-British relationship. A close strategic partnership with France is clearly in the interest of both countries because of the quality of their respective armed forces.  Recent French operations in 2013 have confirmed that.  The challenge Paris faced when four thousand French troops arrived in Mali in February was complicated to say the least.  Tuaregs had taken control of northern Mali and sought separation.  They were supported by a a particularly nasty bunch of Islamists (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Mujao) who had profited (literally) from the chaos in neighbouring Libya.  To make things worse the Malian Army, or what was left of it, was in meltdown and the country’s political system with it…. 
With the conclusion of the first phase of the crisis the political battle for Mali is still to be won.  And, of course, Serval has not stabilised the Sahel as a whole, partly because the West thinks states, Islamists think peoples and not too many strategic implications should be read into Serval.  However, the French military success in Mali should not be under-estimated.  Mali is a big and desolate place and as an example of statecraft France has every right to be proud of Serval whatever happens next, wherever it happens.
The lesson for Britain is clear.  Britain and France must together work to build on the putative Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) concept and collaborate to being real military substance to both NATO 2020 and the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The need is pressing.  As the failed December 2013 EU defence summit demonstrated the European defence effort is woefully inadequate and can only resolved by either structural increases in defence expenditure (unlikely) and/or much greater unity of strategic effort and purpose leading to deep defence synergy (necessary).  For some of the smaller NATO and EU members that will mean defence integration that begins in the tail but reaches towards the teeth end of armed forces (desperate).  Fifteen years on from the St Malo Declaration Britain again must seek common strategic cause with France.
The relationship with France will also be vital in rendering NATO fit for purpose.  However, for France to overcome its latent suspicions of NATO, Paris will expect deeper British political investment in CSDP.  One aspect of that relationship will be British support for the strengthening of the EU as a homeland security hub across the European security space.  Indeed, if NATO is once again to become the strategic military sword and shield of the Euro-Atlantic Community, the EU should transform itself into a security hub better able to provide civilian protection of the European homeland through improved and enhanced resiliency.  The EU must also provide a credible political option for leaders so that European forces can be used effectively under a European flag.  This would better enable political leaders to feel confident in taking pro-active offensive action together when deemed necessary.  The flag a force operates under is almost as important as the force deployed in a complex place where politics and insecurity are one and the same”.
As for the pub lunch it is perhaps reflective of the political problems the relationship faces that today’s summit is the first time that such an event has taken place in two years.  The strategic logic for co-operation is overwhelming.  However, a political gulf still exists between the two countries over the future orientation and direction of the European Union.  Nothing that takes place today in an Oxfordshire pub is likely to change that.
Plus ça change, plus la meme chose?
Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The State of the Alliance 2014

Washington DC, 29 January. “Our alliance with Europe is the strongest the world has ever known”.  As President Obama delivered his fifth State of the Union address the failing snow gave Washington a sense of unusual calm.  As the President spoke I was at a private dinner with General Jean-Paul Paloméros, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation just a few hundred metres/yards from the Capitol.   Yesterday I discussed NATO with senior Americans and Europeans in preparation for the September NATO summit in Britain.  What is the state of the Alliance?
In September 2012 in a speech in Latvia I established for NATO the Riga Test which sets a benchmark for the Alliance; how safe do Rigans feel?  In his address President Obama said, “Our security cannot depend on our military alone”.  He is of course right.  However, security in the twenty-first century will be equally reliant on strong and credible North American and European militaries backed by political and strategic unity of purpose generated by a strong Alliance.
There was the now usual nonsense from the European elitist Left.  Europeans no longer trust or need America.  NATO will not die but will fade away.  The future of Europe is the EU.  In fact, with EU Europeans now spending an average of 1.36% of GDP per annum on defence (and doing it very badly) Europe is more not less reliant on an over-pressed America.  Too often too many in Europe’s elite act like security junkies who are in denial about their addiction to free-riding.   
Back in the real world one senior American called NATO’s September summit “a genuflection moment”.  Yes, we can continue down the path of cynicism and allow our collective war fatigue and depression to set what passes for ‘strategy’.  Yes, President Obama is right; a whole range of influence tools will indeed be needed to manage global security and America will need alliances with partners the world over.  Yes, there are a range of issues which NATO should not seek to engage, such as climate change.  And yes a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership will be equally important.
For all that Alliance leaders must seize the moment and the opportunity September offers at what will be NATO’s first truly strategic summit of the century unfettered by operational pressures.  If our leaders rise to the occasion and set the course towards a future transformative Alliance then the summit will succeed.  If instead they tick the box of pretend success in Afghanistan then the summit will fail the people of the Alliance and indeed their future.
For that to happen the leaders of my own battered old country who will host the summit must rise above their obsession with the politics of the moment and as US Secretary of State Dean Rusk once said, “For God’s sake act like Britain”.  I have been struck on this visit by the lack of respect senior Americans have for Britain and the sacrifice of my own men and women under arms in support of America.  I have also been struck by the failure of British diplomacy to convince Washington of Britain’s determination to be a serious ally in a dangerous world.
Why does this matter?  Seventy years after D-Day the Alliance is still founded on the US-UK strategic relationship and that in turn needs a strong Britain.  Yes, France, Germany and other Europeans are vital US allies but without a strong Britain the very cornerstone of the Alliance is weak.  Equally, NATO itself must understand its position in the West, no longer a place but an idea, and in Washington which leads a changing America.  To do that the Alliance must aspire again to be essential to Americans in an American-centred world-wide security web. 
However, America must also change tack.  The most moving moment in the State of the Union address was the rightful tribute President Obama paid to disabled Veteran and US Ranger Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg.  There are Sergeant Remsburgs across the Alliance and beyond struggling to build a life beyond sacrifice.  Make no mistake these young men and women left their homes from Riga to the Rhondda to go and fight in support of America.  Americans need to understand that and make a much greater effort to acknowledge their sacrifice too.
“Nothing worth achieving in life is easy”, President Obama opined.  As in life so in strategy.  With a world getting more military not less, a world with dangerous frictions many on Europe’s doorstep the need for a strong Alliance is again strategically self-evident.  Call me old-fashioned, and I know some of you will, but the world is a safer place when the West is strong and at the centre of a strong West is a strong Alliance.    
Getting NATO through strategic rehab will not be easy but it starts in Wales where leaders must openly and publicly retake their vows to each other, our Alliance and of course the good people of Riga.
Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 27 January 2014

NATO: The Future of Western Military Power

Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam. 27 January.  I am sitting in the lounge at Schiphol Airport en route to Washington to speak at the CSIS-NATO Transatlantic Forum on the future of the Alliance.  This is fortuitous…for NATO and the Americans.  It is about time Washington was again subjected to the Yorkshire world view. In the way these things are done in London the Ministry of Defence last week ‘leaked’ a report.  It is not clear if this was an official or not-so-official leak but the message was interesting and speaks volumes about Britain and the wider West’s future military posture.
The report suggests that Britain’s ever-expanding kaleidoscope of ethnic minorities have a problem with British troops tromping around their former/current homelands in the way British troops tromp.  Therefore, the report suggests, future British operations will no longer be based on the kind of big footprint one saw in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

To be frank this is one British change that cannot be pinned on immigration.  The massive bulk of the population, most senior officers and even strategy wonks like your faithful Blogonaut find it difficult to see how sending a small force a long way for a long time into a hopelessly complex political space makes strategic sense.  This is simply another of those moments when the common sense of the British people regardless of ethnicity trumps the tortured policy logic of Planet Whitehall.

In my new book Little Britain ( my chapter on Britain’s Future Force calls for a radical rethink about the role and nature of force and its relationship with a changing world and changing society.  It also informs much of what I am going to say in Washington about NATO.

By 2050 most serious analysts (Exxon Mobil, CSIS, International Energy Authority, Goldman Sachs and Citibank) foresee a major shift in power from west to east.  To my mind it is exaggerated but it does at least point to a hyper-competitive and instable 21st century.  It is a future that will not only see the littoralisation and urbanisation of the world population but also the emergence of peer military power competitors.  Indeed, the military expenditures of China, Russia and other powers are burgeoning.   

For military planners this implies a radical assumption check. First, the use of force to change societies will become almost impossible even if the friction generated by societal change will increase.  Strategic security and human security will be clearly one and the same.  Second, good old-fashioned geopolitics will make a stunning comeback and with it Machtpolitik and Realpolitik. Third, technology will mass-multiply force.  However, given the nature of future operations it will need to be intelligent force.  Fourth, political will and global stability will inseparable.  Europeans will not assure security by sticking their heads in the Brussels sand and hoping change beyond Europe ignores change in Europe.

Small Western militaries in a huge cross-dimensional strategic space will need a single strategic mind-set overseeing strategic operating practice via connectivity and interoperability.  Given that assumption the West’s future force will need to be organically-joint and able to reach and dominate across air, sea, land, cyber and space.  And, given the balance to be struck between strategy, technology, manpower and affordability the core force will need to be small, intelligent and demonstrably lethal.  Equally, the force will need to be strategically and intellectually interoperable across government, with allies and partners and much more deeply embedded within society.

Forces that can simply operate to a very limited extent at the lower end of the conflict spectrum to the effective exclusion of all else will soon be obsolete – much like the Dutch military today.  Indeed, by sacrificing both capacity and capability even that limited low-end aim is now unachievable for the Dutch and many European forces.  Rather, the West’s future force must be built around a tight high-end military capability that can credibly engage to prevent conflict, to stop conflict and if needs be act as a strategic conventional deterrent.

By hook or by crook that is where the British are going – and partly why I wrote the book.  The British Future Force will be constructed around two large aircraft carriers.  They will be central to future task groups that can offer power projection and political discretion at one and the same time.  They will be platforms run by the Royal Navy but from which both the Royal Air Force and the British Army will operate.  They will also act as force hubs for colaitions. Critically, if the radical new concept of the Reserve Army can be made to work the Future Force will be plugged into wider society enabling a rapid surge of capacity if a high-end crisis develops…as it could.

NATO should look hard at the British experiment.  NATO is not the EU.  It is a politically-realist, hard-edged politico-military alliance built around worse-case scenario planning.  Future NATO must therefore be considering how best to generate and command the West’s future force via a hard-nosed analysis of the post-2014 world. 

Many think the withdrawal from Afghanistan is the end of NATO’s test.  In fact it is just the beginning.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 24 January 2014

Little Britain Book Extract 2: (Introduction) Wilful Decline

Britain faces profound strategic choices all of which will demand the generation of real diplomatic and military power and influence and its intelligent application in Washington, Europe and the world beyond.  Britain’s armed forces will necessarily be at the core of strategy but will need a sufficiency of high-end military capabilities to establish Britain’s soft power influence on a hard power foundation.  That is the essential message of this book.
In August 2013 General Sir Nick Houghton, the Chief of the British Defence Staff warned that because of defence cuts Britain needed to “re-calibrate our expectations” of the global role and capacity of British armed forces.  He might well have suggested that Britain as a whole needed to recalibrate its expectations.  It would be almost comforting to think that any such ‘recalibration’ would simply be a short-term reflection of the financial challenges of this age.  Certainly, for the foreseeable future British governments will have precious little money to spend.
However, attend any meeting in Whitehall or Westminster and a profound divide becomes apparent.  The bureaucratic elite believes its task is to manage inevitable decline and a political elite that seems to revel in a false strategic consciousness that Britain is far more powerful than it actually is.  There is even a term invented to offer a chimera of strategic respectability – managing decline.  In fact, ‘managing decline’ too often simply masks a lack of imagination of a political class and a bureaucratic elite who have for so long seen strategy made elsewhere that they now take decline for granted.  In short, British strategy has for too long been the fruitless search for common ground between the American world-view, the French and German European view and the search thereafter for a political and bureaucratic consensus about which bits of both to support. 
The retreat from big thinking at the top of Britain’s government is reinforced by an inability by Britain’s civil service to implement big thinking.  Three failures are apparent: an inability of the civil service to manage big, complex projects successfully; a refusal by ministers to permit the civil service to think long-term or about big policy issues; and the politicisation of the civil service.  All three contribute to a culture of denial and a refusal to tell ministers hard facts even when giving guidance.
Such failings are apparent across government.  A September 2013 report by the National Audit Office (NAO) highlighted the failure of management for an IT programme to support the new system of so-called Universal Credit. The report highlighted a recurring theme of failure in the civil service.  Problems are suppressed or denied by a culture that always seeks to protect ministers from hard truths.  When a problem is finally too great to suppress both ministers and the civil service claim the problem has been solved only for failure to be admitted long after those responsible have moved on.  Be it IT programmes or building aircraft carriers a culture of incompetence exists at the heart of government that has also helped to cripple British national strategy.  For a long time Britain’s relative power in the world could mask such failure but no longer.  Indeed, as Britain declines strategy will become more important not less, but as yet government – both political and bureaucratic – has proved itself incapable.
The motivation for writing this book emerged from the cold realisation that the two essential ‘truisms’ upon which post-war British national strategy is established are in fact myth.  The first myth concerns the so-called special relationship with the United States.  After over ten years of painful sacrifice in Afghanistan and Iraq my many visits to Washington have demonstrated to me all-too-clearly that Britain’s relationship with the American is ‘special’ only in the minds of fifty per cent of London’s elite Establishment, mainly those responsible for Britain’s defence.  One senior American said to me recently that the relationship is only special if Britain does not test it.  The August 2013 decision by Parliament to block Prime Minister Cameron’s use of British military forces to punish Syria’s President Assad over the use of chemical weapons demonstrates this new reality; the special relationship is not what it used to be.
The second myth adhered to by the other half of the London elite Establishment is that Britain can be a leader of what European federalists dub the European Project.  The Eurozone and the existential crisis it has created, demonstrates once and for all the utter impracticality and impossibility of Britain playing such a role.  Indeed, to do so would in effect mean the abandonment of Britain’s vital and enduring role in Europe – to balance power.  Not only will neither Germany nor France ever allow Britain to play such a role as the EU and the Eurozone become one, over time Britain will be further marginalised.  Britain is today in the worst of all Euro-worlds – paying an exorbitant cost for little or no influence.
Julian Lindley-French
The book can be downloaded at

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Grand Strategy for Dummies (and Economists) in Davos

Alphen, Netherlands. 23 January. This is Grand Strategy for Dummies (and Economists).  No wonder it is called the dismal science.  I have just been listening to a leading economist being interviewed in Davos by the BBC - nice work if you can get it.  His line was that conflict between China and Japan is impossible because they are economically-interdependent.  Let's face it most economists cannot even get predictions right in their own field let alone in mine.
The 'war is impossible between the economically-dependent' argument was shot dead - literally - a century ago in 1914.  Much of continental Europe was economically-interdependent at the time but war still broke out.  This is because international relations is about so much more than economics.  The drivers of systemic change include structural political shift, identity, nationalism and, of course, the domestic political and personal interests and imperatives of hard-pressed elites.  This potent and potentially parlous mix is particularly powerful and persuasive in emerging, illiberal states that seek to challenge the world status quo.
During this interview one of the BBC's many strategically-illiterate, air-brain interviewers said she could not understand why China and Japan could possibly have a shooting match over a few small islands (Diaoyu/Senkaku).  Der! The conflict between the two great East Asian powers is about for more than the islands.  At one level it is about the potentially massive amount of hydrocarbons that lie beneath the islands and at the grand strategic other level it is about the strategic pecking order in what will be the twenty-first century's global security crucible.  Where do the BBC find these people?
There is one other question I must pose this morning.  Does anyone know what Davos is for and what value if any it adds to anything or anybody?
Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

From Kiev to Damascus: The Retreat of International Community

Alphen, Netherlands. 22 January.  From Kiev to Damascus and beyond liberal ideas of international community are in retreat.  In what is the last remnant of a once-ancient sea that separated Europe from Africa Lac Leman sits below a soaring Alp known as the Devil’s Teeth.  This rocky statement provides the dramatic backdrop for the Syrian peace talks which start today in the Swiss lakeside resort of Montreux.  The omens are not good.  The Syrian opposition had its arm twisted to attend, those attending seem to have little real influence and a new report suggests the Syrian regime has murdered at least 11000 detainees.  And yet what is at stake in Montreux and Geneva is not simply the alleviating of the suffering of a wretched people but the very future of global governance.  Is the twenty-first century going to be some ghastly repeat of the nineteenth century balance of power or can some semblance of international community be properly created? 
The idea of international community has been around a long-time.  In the modern era it can be traced back to the origins of public international law, the Justinian legal tradition and Catholic canon law.  However, the idea of international community really gained ground in the immediate aftermath of Europe’s twentieth century struggles. 
The idea of a rules-based international order reached its zenith with the UN adoption of “Responsibility to Protect” in the wake of the tragedies in the western Balkans and Rwanda.  This flagship of liberal humanitarianism and human security placed the duty of states to protect the rights of citizens above state sovereignty.  As such ‘R2P’ chimed with a brief moment of optimism and determination when it seemed the American-led mighty West and its values would rule supreme.  Today, in the wake of two disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a self-generated economic disaster and the re-emergence of two illiberal great powers – China and Russia- the West, its strategy and values and are in open retreat.  Worse, the world is steadily slipping back into a twenty-first century version of Machtpolitik where might and only might is right. 
In Europe Ukraine’s President Yanukovich snubs overtures by the EU and this morning a pro-EU, anti-government protester was shot by police.  In Minsk Soviet relic Lukashenko clings tenaciously onto power.  Three years ago last month Mohammed Bouazizi consumed his Tunisian life in flame and by so doing started the turmoil that boils across the Middle East and North Africa.  Today, much of the region teeters dangerously between autocracy and chaos as weak intolerant regimes cling to power whilst around them and under them people die in their tens of thousands in the face of oppression and sectarian hatred.
Syria’s suffering and Ukraine’s freedom is unlikely to be assured until the geopolitics of both the region and the wider world are resolved. Sadly, the suffering of millions and the deaths of even hundreds of thousands is in and of itself no longer sufficient motive for concerted action, precisely because such action could disturb the new, sensitive regional and global power balances.   
Consequently, a geopolitical fault-line runs from Kiev to Damascus and beyond.  On one side of the line Chinese, Russian, Iranian and the leaders of other illiberal, less-than-democratic and often corrupt states that see themselves as new power albeit suffused by a very traditional concept of power and influence.  On the other side of the line they see hand-wringing, flabby, decadent European liberals who talk the talk of freedom and liberty but who have no intention of walking the walk overseen by an uncertain America retreating from the world with its tail between its legs.
If international community is to be restored and through it the entire edifice of United Nations re-energised the West must rediscover its strategic mojo.  That means political leaders who look up and out from the trenches of austerity and together demonstrate the necessary vision, will and means vital to twenty-first century influence. 
The new balance to be struck between Realpolitik and community is perhaps the last strategic choice the West as the West can make.  In Kiev it is the Kremlin not Brussels that is dictating events.  In Syria even the removal of Syrian chemical weapons is a Russian plan dictated by Russian interests.  In East Asia China takes the view that the US is a has-been power lacking the will and soon the means to challenge Beijing’s nascent hegemony.  Privately Japanese leaders share the same concerns.
Winston Churchill once said that “jaw-jaw is better than war-war” and the Geneva II talks in and of themselves must be welcomed.  However, such suffering will not be ended if the West retreats into gesture politics.  The paradox for Europe and indeed the wider West is that for ‘international community’ to exist Europeans must rediscover at least a modicum of Machtpolitik and Americans must rediscover the West.   
Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 20 January 2014

Strategy, Politics, Privacy and Intelligence

Alphen, Netherlands. 20 January.  President Obama said Friday that, “People around the world should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security”.  The reforms Obama has ordered of the National Security Agency and its practices come as Edward Snowden released details of the Dishfire programme and the collection by the US of some 200 million text messages daily.  Civil rights groups say that Obama’s reforms go nothing like far enough to protect privacy.  Any yet full disclosure would effectively wreck the national security strategies not just of the US but the UK and other Western democracies.  Is a new balance possible between strategy, politics, privacy and intelligence?
The essential dilemma that Snowden has highlighted is the enormous gulf in the world views of those responsible for national security and those not.  Just before Christmas I had a conversation with a senior British officer with responsibility for signals intelligence.  He told me that Britain was under daily “massive and rapacious” cyber-attack from Chinese, Russian and other intelligence agencies in addition to the very real terrorist threat. 
Contrast that perspective with the world-view of Snowden and his supporters such as Julian Assange and Glenn Greenwald.  They appear to live in a virtual world of perfect civil liberties and much like 1960s hippies and ‘free love’ they want information to be unbounded.  They are part of Generation X that was spawned by the borderless-ness of the Internet and information idealism and any power that constrains information anarchy is an enemy.
That is not to say Western-states do not have a very real duty of care for the privacy of citizens both their own and others.  And, it could well be that the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ crossed privacy thresholds in pursuit of security.  911, the pressing intelligence needs of the Afghan and Iraq wars and the march of technology brought motive, opportunity and capability together. Proper and legitimate oversight of such power is what distinguishes between democracies and non-democracies. 
The politics of Obama’s speech reflect transatlantic tensions over strategy and politics.  To hear the likes of German Chancellor Angela Merkel say on Friday that Germans were “rightfully concerned” by American and British intelligence practices is a bit rich to say the least.  First, German intelligence and its French and other European counterparts benefit hugely from the data gathering of the NSA and GCHQ.  Second, German and French intelligence in particular are excellent practitioners of what the information anarchists regard as dark arts. 
The smell of hypocrisy is emerging from Berlin and not for the first time.  It was particularly irritating recently to see German politicians affecting mock outrage that Britain was trying to discover Berlin’s policy intentions.  As a British citizen I would be outraged if Britain was not trying to discern German intentions by all possible means.  Germany is Europe’s most powerful state and the decisions it takes on the future of the EU have the most profound strategic implications for Britain.  Even this weekend the new German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned David Cameron that some of his views on the EU were beginning to “affect German interests”.
There is a very real danger that British Intelligence will be most damaged.  London is trapped between an America engaged in a dark real world and a European political elite obsessed only with the European order.
At root the cause of this seemingly endless controversy is the refusal of elites in many Western democracies to be honest about the dangerous nature of the twenty-first century world.  The West failure in Afghanistan and Iraq has much to do with strategic dissonance between the US and its European allies.  Whilst the US was on a war-footing much of Europe was determinedly not.  Transatlantic strategic dissonance is reinforced by a European elite culture particularly that tries to lock the citizen into a false sense of security.  This state is most apparent in relation to the Eurozone crisis but it extends across the security spectrum. 
Therefore, by creating false security the individual citizen is left in a child-like state led to believe that his or her freedoms are like the air that they breathe.  The thousands of men and women working in intelligence across the West walk daily past their fellow citizens to and fro work but might as well be on a different planet.  The world they engage on behalf of their citizens is massively different from that perceived by ordinary people and dangerously and ideologically different from the world of information anarchists such as Assange, Greenwald and Snowden.
The greatest immediate threat to the cohesion of the West is breakdown in the balance between strategy, politics, privacy and intelligence.  Indeed, without agreement over a new balance and soon the West as security actor will cease to exist.
Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 17 January 2014

Little Britain? Book Extract 1: Foreword by General (Retd.) Sir David Richards

General (Retd.) Sir David Richards, late Chief of the British Defence Staff

The British armed forces have been engaged the world over for centuries.  In recent years I have had the honour to lead those armed forces in places as challenging and diverse as East Timor, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.  As a soldier leading the army of one of Europe’s and the world’s leading democracies the importance of national strategy is paramount.  In democracies, whilst we may be of influence, it is not soldiers that decide the role of a state in world affairs and rightly so.  From my own experience, in spite of the many challenges the British armed forces have faced over the past years trying to bring peace and stability to troubled places, it is Britain’s political and strategic standing which is the vital and yet unquantifiable quality that is so often vital to mission success.  Britain is no longer a global power but it remains a country held in high regard the world over for the length of its international experience and the strategic wisdom it has gained.

Britain’s strategic role has not been without controversy, as evidenced by Prime Minister Cameron expressing deep regret for the massacre of Indian protesters at Amritsar in 1919.  However, overall the world can be said to be a better place because of Britain and the role it has played and continues to play.
For the British, national strategy is not something that historically has been designed by committee.  Strategy has rather emerged as an evolution of debate between all those charged with great responsibilities, both within the departments of state engaged daily in Britain’s foreign and security policy and those without.  In the past the ability to make sound strategic judgements seemed to be part of Whitehall’s DNA and thus not in need of formulation or categorisation.  This was partly a reflection of Britain’s genuine power in the world and London’s ability to influence events.  After all, the truly powerful are less in need of strategy.

However, as Britain has become more modest in terms of both power and ambition it has had to begin properly considering its vital, essential and general interests and values in a more systematic and dispassionate light.  This has meant some tough decisions that when seen in the light of history may seem prematurely to signal retreat rather than reflect the strategic realities of an unstable era and the latent influence of a still powerful state.  That was certainly the case with the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review which had to address difficult questions in an especially testing period.

However, the spirit of Britain’s greatness both past and present was apparent even in this the toughest of times.  All those charged with considering Britain’s future strategy do so and did so not in the belief that Britain is about to withdraw from the world but firm in the belief that with the right use of national resources and the immense network of influence Britain enjoys the country can, and should, continue to play a positive and constructive role the world over.

How Britain plays that role is the purpose of Professor Lindley-French’s book.  He examines the balance to be struck between the civilian and the military applications of power; how process, diplomacy, force and resource are blended in order to decide appropriate strategies.  In reading it I was particularly struck by the centrality he places on Britain’s role as a champion of international institutions and the legitimate use of force such memberships confer.

As with most such books I do not agree with all the good professor’s prescriptions. Equally, as a valued adviser and loyal friend I know his views always to be worth taking into account.  They are born or years of exacting scholarship reinforced by remorseless logic and a rare intuition.  I commend this book.  It will be of great assistance to those charged with considering the next chapter in Britain’s great strategic story.

 General (Retd.) Sir David Richards GCB, CBE, DSO
Late Chief of the British Defence Staff, London

Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Retreat of Free Thinking

Alphen, Netherlands. 16 January. You know the parable about the emperor's new clothes.  Yesterday, a very senior academic warned me that I was challenging power and that it is dangerous.  That comment in a nutshell explains why Europe and European academia is in such a mess and how political leaders so easily avoid reality. 
The job of academia is to challenge prescription with analysis and political orthodoxy with rigour.  Today there are too many academics examining the irrelevant, too many leaders of think tanks who prevent independent thought to ingratiate themselves with power.  The result of the great kow-tow are endless statements of the obvious dressed up as research and think-tank reports that deliberately miss the real point to tell power what it wants to hear.  "Do not cut off our funding", the research masses cry.  "Tell us what we want to hear then", came the power reply.  
At this time of truly momentous change in the world and in Europe the thinking citizen must become the loyal opposition.  Indeed, as power shifts inexorably away from Europe to the wider world and away from the citizen to the unelected this is precisely the moment for thinkers to become doers.  If not the short-term will trump the long-term, the political will trump the strategic and the power expedient will in time trump liberty.
So sir, I demur from your assertion that I must desist from challenging power.  Instead I call on you to break out of the means by which thought is controlled - be it project funding or research assessment frameworks - and return independent thought to its purpose; to challenge orthodoxy.
To mix my parables it is not the job of academia to sup from the table of power but to question the very existence of that table.  As T.S. Eliot once wrote, "Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind, Cannot bear too much reality.  Time past and time future, What might have been and what has been, Point to one end, which is always present". 
If ever there was a time for elite human kind to be forced to face reality it is now.  If ever there was a place it is Europe.  And, if neither academia nor think-tanks take risk then power is merely rubber-stamped. And, if institutes of inquisition retreat into the little questions then who is answering the big ones?
Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

European Federalism, European Defence and Britain: Open Response to a Senior French Friend

Dear Friend,

You sought my view on the politics of European security and defence and how they relate to Britain and European federalism.  As you know my main concern with a future Federal Europe is that it would concentrate too much power in the hands of an unaccountable few and thus makes the distance between me the citizen and the elite intolerably wide for any entity that could reasonably call itself democratic. It is also my firm belief that we are far closer than most people realise to crossing a political Rubicon towards some form of federalism.  In reality the British are faced with a simple reality if they stay within the EU; they must sooner or later join the Eurozone.  Here is why.

The Federalist Danger: Britain’s future EU membership dominates the air waves in the UK. And yet precisely because of that London wilfully refuses to recognise the federalist danger and focuses instead on the importance of preserving the single market and Britain’s access to it.  This conceit pretends that somehow the market can be kept distinct from the EU’s wider or rather deeper political development. 

What Comes Next:  The critical issue in the coming crisis will be one of timing.  Britain will not join the euro in the next decade or so which is precisely the critical period for Eurozone deepening.  It would be political suicide for a British prime minister to even suggest membership.  And yet for the Eurozone to survive and to eventually have any chance of enriching its citizens (and not punish us as is currently the case) then further integration must place.   

Alternatives to Deeper Integration: The only alternative to a neo-federal system would be a form of zollverein built around a German neo-empire administered by Brussels.  There are some in Berlin who find that attractive.  Or, rather they want such a neo-empire to take on the appearance of Union.  There is of course a third option.  The Eurozone collapses and the EU eventually picks itself up from the wreckage and goes back to the British view of Europe as a single market.  That to say the least is highly unlikely given the political capital invested in project euro.

The Current British Position:  The "Balance of Competences" review purports to assess the cost and benefits of Britain’s EU membership.  It is at best a snapshot of today (and a biased one at that) designed solely to ease the here-and-now political dilemma of a weak prime minister. As such the study is indicative of a London that routinely confuses strategy with politics because it makes no effort to consider the implications of the coming structural changes in the EU for the future politics, society, governance AND economy of Britain.

British ‘Strategy’: You suggest that London is seeking to divide Europe. Sadly, London today is so politically split and so strategically myopic that it is incapable of such vision.  One critique of London in my new book, Little Britain? Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power is the inability of the elite Establishment to see the big picture and think grand strategically. As such London is in denial about what is happening here on the Continent.

Britain’s Options: Whether the EU is empire or union it is hard to see a place for Britain in it unless the British effectively surrender their view of the EU as market.  This would at a stroke render their position outside the defining Eurozone ridiculous.  To my mind in such circumstances Britain should leave the EU particularly as the only alternative would be the permanent marginalisation and minority-status of Britain within the EU and a 'balance' between costs of membership and benefits that would become politically untenable.  These pressures will increase not decrease by the time of any planned 2017 referendum. 

The Twist: What I am already detecting in the parliamentary debate over the EU Referendum Bill is preparation for surrender dressed up as reform.  The simple truth is that much of the London Establishment is prepared to keep Britain in the EU at any cost even if that means the effective abandonment of British sovereignty.  Consequently a great manipulation has been underway in London for some time and which is supported by government and their fellow travellers in big business who simply want to keen to head off the coming political crisis.   Pro-EU big business does not care about democracy at all and simply wants access to large markets via large pools of cheap labour.  The essential conceit of this group is to pretend that Britain’s EU membership is solely about economic interests and that such interests are served by Britain's continued membership.   A race is thus underway to maintain the manipulation before the reality of deeper EU integration becomes apparent to an instinctively Euro-sceptic British people. 

Implications for Europe’s Future Security and Defence:  The question for Europe's future security and defence then becomes existential.  Should Europe's future security and defence be organised exclusively around and within the EU (and by extension France and Germany) or should another mechanism/framework (NATO?) be created which is more reflective of political realism rather than EU idealism?  France faces a paradox.  France’s partner of choice Germany has concluded that if its leadership of Europe is to be legitimate Berlin cannot be a military power.  Indeed, the more economic and political influence Berlin enjoys the less military influence Berlin is likely to seek.

France and Britain:  France needs Britain and Britain needs France.  However, for a new pragmatic settlement to be reached Britain and France must be...pragmatic. However, (and I say this as a genuine friend of France) for that to happen France must recognise Britain’s legitimate concerns about a quasi-federal Europe, at least until the British cave in.  That might appear to contradict what I have said above but the politics of today mean that no British leader can any more afford to be seen to equate Britain’s future defence with a European Army than call for Britain’s membership of the euro.  These tensions existed in the 1998 St Malo Declaration and have never gone away.  Indeed, unless London and Paris put aside issues of federalism in defence and consider together Europe's politically realist interests in the global security context then I fear that however important on paper strategic, security and defence co-operation between Britain and France it will be limited and iterative.

Next Steps: Four things will soon happen: a) The current phoney war over inevitably treaty change will end.  This will probably happen after this year’s European elections because many in the elite still seem to believe the way to ‘Europe’ is to deceive Europeans about the objective, particularly in Germany; b) Eurozone states will finally have to face up to the consequences of integration for their sovereignty and peoples and confront these issues honestly; c) As this change will necessarily happen before any substantive political shift in the UK and because we British are forced into a permanent minority in the EU by those states dependent on German largesse London will no longer be able to fudge this issue with the British people; and d) London will then be faced with a simple choice - surrender or leave. 

Conclusion: Further Eurozone political integration is inevitable and will inevitably lead to critical loss of national sovereignty, more federalism and in time an EU and Eurozone that are to all intent and purpose one and the same thing.  We could (and I stress could) then be on the road to the kind of bureaucratic dictatorship of the kind Tocqueville warned against with few if any meaningful checks and balances on an over-mighty bureaucracy.  This slide towards a form of bureaucratic autocracy would be accelerated and confirmed by a fig-leaf European Parliament made up of MEPs who enjoy either power or substantive legitimacy.   Whilst such an idea might be attractive to some born of the Colbertian tradition it is utter anathema to those of us who descend from Locke and Mill.

Therefore, the current political situation in the EU is unsustainable and some form of federalism is on the way because the EU and its most committed backers cannot help themselves.  But here's the rub; without root and branch reform such federalism will lock in political aspic an uncompetitive Europe in a hyper-competitive world.  A federal Europe will thus mean a decadent and in time doomed Europe and as such will be self-defeating.
We will all soon have choices to make.

En toutes amities,


Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Oxford Handbook of War 2014

Alphen, Netherlands, 15 January.  My books are a bit like London buses. One waits a year or so for one and then two come along at once. Last week I published my book Little Britain?  Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power. This week the paperback edition of my enormous Oxford Handbook of War has been published by Oxford University Press.
The Oxford Handbook of War is unique.  My fourth book (of five) and my second for Oxford University, my alma mater, it took five years to research, plan, structure, prepare, write and edit.  It is certainly no pot boiler being almost 600 pages in length and some 45 chapters the Handbook considers war in all its forms – strategic, historical, political, military, social and economic.  Indeed the Handbook is a helicopter study of war as a phenomenon.
The Handbook was a joint collaboration with my old friend and co-conspirator Professor Yves Boyer of the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris.  Who says the English and French never get on?  ‘Research’ of course occasioned many hours sipping excellent French wine in Yves’s wonderful home overlooking the Loire Valley.  Yes, I suffer for my art.  Vive, l’entente intellectuelle!
In preparing the Handbook Yves and I were supported by over forty leading thinkers, policy-makers and leading civilian and military practitioners from across the globe - Brazil, China, Europe, India and the United States.  Indeed, the Handbook is graced by chapters Chiefs of Defence Staff, as well as a former US Ambassador to NATO and NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.  The Handbook was nominated for the prestigious Duke of Westminster’s Medal for Military Literature, my second book to be so honoured. 
So that’s the plug.  Now, let me offer those of you contemplating the writing of a book a few words of advice, particularly as I have just enjoyed the delicious pain of writing yet another.  One does not write a book, one lives it.   One endures every comma, every word, every scintilla of a book – a word here or is it there?  A book is a solitary affair and yet it is a movie, an epic involving a cast of thousands.  And, like a movie one needs to believe, to put one’s heart and soul into ‘the project’ for many years before one sees the final cut...and one rarely becomes a millionaire. 
The active support of an excellent publisher is vital as is the commitment of a lot of very busy senior people.  The support of my publisher Oxford University Press was invaluable, particularly Dominic Byatt, Elizabeth Suffling and Sarah Parker.  Thanks guys!
So, if you want to understand war then I humbly recommend a copy of the paperback Handbook because as Plato once so poignantly put it, “only the dead have seen the end of war”.  Sadly, there is nothing I can see of this world that convinces me that war has been cast as a purely academic pursuit now the sole preserve of dusty historians with big titles.  Nor is there glory in war.  Yes, individual stories of daring-do shine through because war creates extreme experiences in otherwise ordinary lives.  Perhaps that is why so many (including me) are obsessive sports fans. 
War is dark, cold, and often boring, rent by sudden moments of terrifying, terrible terror which test for the instant but scar for life, leaving nightmares in many who then 'live'  life unsure of where a mind’s day ends and night begins.  Warriors of modern democracies walk amongst the society they fight to protect  often made distant from society by the very act of protection they offered.  The soldier pays an enormous price for the duty s/he owes. Indeed, as anyone beyond the moronic who has ever had any experience of war will tell you, there is no glory in war simply suffering for a purpose. 
Equally, it is utterly naïve to believe wars need not be fought nor will be fought again.  Be it the human condition, the shaky distinction between power and pauperism that humans create or simply that what is to come cannot be tolerated then war will continue to lurk amongst us all.
That is why Yves and I set out on this ambitious project; because war is important.  Yes, the book seeks to prevent war through the better understanding of it.  However, piety is for theologians; if war is to be fought it must be won and hopefully by those on the side of good.  Only then will war be seen as an exception to the human rule not a tombstone on it. 
The Oxford Handbook of War 2014; in all good bookshops now at a very reasonable price! 
Julian Lindley-French