hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 31 March 2014

Europe: Faust or Whore?

Alphen, Netherlands. 31 March.  “Forget these frivolous demands which strike a terror to my fainting soul”. So pleads the Devil’s agent Mephostophilis to Doctor Faustus in Christopher Marlowe’s Goethe-inspired play.  Faustus has just agreed twenty-four years of power and luxury in return for the eternal damnation thereafter of his soul.  The opportunity Moscow seized to annex Ukraine-Crimea was made possible by three factors; Europe’s energy dependency, Russian investments in European financial centres most notably London and European unilateral disarmament. 
 
Today, Russia supplies EU member-states with 25% of their oil and gas.  The Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland import between 70% and 100% of their gas from Russia.  Russia has also created a very strategic cartel called the Gas Exporting Countries Forum which holds up to 70% of the world’s reserves.  Russia is playing hard poker as Europe as ever plays bad chess.
The other day at a conference a senior British politician called me “sweet, naïve and young”.  As insults go it was a pretty mild attack and I have known worse, although I did object to him calling me “young”.  My naivété to his mind was to rebuke British politicians for their enduring ability to sacrifice the long-term strategic well-being of Britain for the short-term political fixes that have and continue to exaggerate and accelerate the UK’s precipitous decline.  In his utter cynicism he revealed why politics in Europe has become the enemy of strategy. 
The defence figures alone speak for themselves.  The US invests roughly $100k per soldier in 2014 compared with an average European investment of $24k with the interoperability gap between US and European forces growing daily.  And, whilst the US can deploy some 12.5% of its force many Europeans can only deploy on average 3.5% . Moreover, whilst the US spends only 36% of its defence budget on personnel some Europeans are spending between 70% and 75%.  Russia is investing some $700bn in a new military by 2020.
Now, I am no nostalgist about defence.  States should only have the minimum military power commensurate with the achievement of legitimate foreign and security policy goals.  However, not only are Europeans selling themselves body and soul for energy and dodgy money they are fast abandoning the very means to assure their collective defence. The farcical sanctions the EU imposed on Russian officials simply reinforced the sense of dangerous impotence which today characterises Europe in the world and for which Europeans will pay a dear price.
London is a case in point and has become dangerously unbalanced in its strategic prescriptions.  Although the British are investing some $250bn in new defence equipment over the next decade if one listens to British officials it is very hard to understand why.  Indeed, they reject the very idea that the world is returning to Realpolitik even though it is plan to see.  At a meeting in London last week the London Establishment’s obsession with soft power was all too illuminating.  British officials were dismissive of Ukraine-Crimea.  They inferred it was a minor event and that Britain should remain focussed almost exclusively on counter-terrorism and aid and development.  If one fills a government with counter-terrorism specialists then every problem becomes counter-terrorism. 
All of this makes President Obama’s speech in Brussels last week sound not a little desperate. “Going forward, every NATO member state must step up and carry its share of the burden by showing the political will to invest in our collective defence and by developing the capabilities to serve as a source of international peace and security”.  Not a chance!  As he was speaking I was talking to a high-ranking NATO officer who told me bluntly the Alliance can no longer carry out the very collective defence President Obama referred to.  Another senior NATO officer mused with me about how far the new Russian Army would make it across Europe before it was stopped. Capability, will and intent are the stuff of power not wishful thinking.  Now, I do not expect Russia to roll across Europe but the Baltic States are rightfully concerned. 
 
To my British politician friend I say this.  If I am ‘naïve’ to demand leaders confront the world as it is not as they would like it to be then so be it; if I am ‘sweet’ for calling upon leaders to face reality then I am so condemned; and if I am ‘young’ for requiring principles of power and influence are adhered to then guilty as charged. 
There are two kinds of state in today’s world; those shaping reality and those denying it.  Unless Europe’s hopeless leaders begin to take a long view about the emerging big global picture then something very nasty is going to happen to Europeans…again!
In his dying hour Faustus faces up to the consequence of his hubris as he watches the hand of a clock move inexorably towards his damnation.  “O lente, lente currite noctis ecquis”, he pleads - “Oh slowly, slowly run the horses of the night”. 
Europe: Faust or Whore?
Julian Lindley-French 

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