hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

2014: The Year Grand Illusions Burned Away

Alphen, Netherlands. 30 December. In December 1914 British and German troops declared an unofficial Christmas ceasefire, swapped tobacco and so the story goes played a football match together in no man’s land, which apparently the Germans won, on penalties no doubt.  With the hindsight of history that uplifting moment of humanity was but an interlude in a bitter World War One struggle that would see many of those who took part dead within the year.  In a sense the West, particularly the European West, has been enjoying just such a ceasefire with history these twenty-five years past since the end of the Cold War.  Four grand strategic shifts made 2014 the year that grand illusions finally burned away.

The Return of Realpolitik in Europe: In 2014 President Putin did something many fellow Europeans thought impossible; he used force to resolve a territorial dispute to Russia’s apparent advantage.  Putin cited the encroachment of both the EU and NATO on Russia’s borders as justification and in so doing destroyed the comforting illusion that balances of power and Realpolitik had been banished from Europe forever.  On 26 December President Putin re-issued Russia’s 2010 military doctrine albeit modified to reflect a particularly aggressive tone.  The message is clear; in spite of the sanctions and the collapse in the oil price which has so damaged the Russian economy the militarisation of the Russian state will continue in 2015, even though the policy is doomed to end in failure.  Expect 2015 to see NATO and its members probed and provoked further by Russian forces.

The Return of Geopolitics: China’s increasingly assertive stance and growing pressures across South and East Asia highlight the world’s new seismic, systemic epicentre and a new domain of warfare.  North Korea’s December 2014 cyber-attack on Sony Pictures on the eve of the release of a film satirising Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, is a sign of things to come.  The US responded to the attack by shutting down the internet in North Korea. With China and Russia engaged in industrial levels of cyber attacks the use of the ether as a domain for warfare is very much the future of geopolitics in the twenty-first century. The aim is not so much the permanent destruction of an opposing state’s centre of political gravity, √† la Clausewitz.  Rather, in the growing struggle between the liberal and the illiberal the aim is to keep open societies permanently off balance through attacks and the threat of attack on critical national infrastructure thus changing the balance of resources liberal states commit to protection at the expense of projection.  Expect this struggle to intensify in 2015.

The Struggle over “Ever Closer Union”:  In December Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in an interview that the EU should stop trying to micro-manage the lives of Europeans and focus instead on the big things.  On the face of it Juncker’s call marks a new pragmatism and a possible new balance between the EU member-state and an increasingly onerous and ponderous Brussels.  It is also a classic description of a federal state in which grand strategy, most notably foreign, security and defence policies are controlled by a federal hub, whilst the ‘states/provinces’ focus on the those issues most immediate and most pressing to the needs of the people.  In reality, and in the wake of Juncker’s illegitimate May 2014 coup, Juncker was simply drawing the federalist battle-line for 2015.  If the EU is to take on greater responsibility for the 'big issues' that means more not less Europe and ultimately the final end of state sovereignty in the EU.  Britain will never accept that and nor would it appear will Germany or France.  Expect the implicit geopolitics of the EU to worsen in 2015, especially if Greece as seems likely votes for the anti-austerity leftist Syriza movement and the Eurozone crisis re-ignites.

The Emergence of the Grand Strategic Super-Insurgency: In a December interview General John Allen, President Obama’s Special Envoy to a sixty-state anti-IS coalition, said that Islamic State was “…one of the darkest forces that any country has ever had to deal with”.  What makes IS different is its level ambition and a a bizarrely grand leadership that believes genuinely they can change the world. As such IS marks the beginning of a super-insurgency committed to the very destruction of the state first in the Middle East and then the world over.  Paradoxically, unlike the unworldly AQ leadership IS uses the means of the state against the state, funding its campaigns from the sale of state resources such as oil and gas and using force, disinformation and brutality in much the same way as many modern states.  Critically, IS is secretly backed by state and factional supporters who believe mistakenly it can be instrumentalised to their more narrow ends.  2015? Although President Obama has re-committed US forces to support Afghanistan it is likely IS will continue to seek to wreak havoc across the Middle East and through terrorism beyond.  It may also endeavour to extend its ‘brand’ into Afghanistan in conjunction with some elements of the Taliban.  Therefore, 2015 will prove the schwerpunkt in the first phase of what is going to be a long struggle with IS. 

Now that the grand illusions of the past twenty-five years have been burned away the challenge for leaders will be to confront the hard realities they masked and bring their publics with them.  This challenge will prove no harder than in Europe where leaders have for too long avoided hard realities and in which the disengagement of European security from world security has led to the grandest of all illusions – that soft power in the absence of hard power carries any influence at all.  If Europe and by extension the world is to be made more secure in 2015 then the European powers led by Britain, France and Germany must return to fundamental principles of statecraft.  That will mean in turn the sustained, collective and skillful management of state affairs in a world changing fast and not for the better through the sound and considered application of all forms of power soft and hard.

By the way, in December 2014 the British and German armies replayed that famous football match and the British won 1-0!  Well done, chaps!

Happy New Year!

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 19 December 2014

Who Rules Europe 2015?

Alphen, Netherlands. 19 December. One of America’s Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton said, “It is not tyranny we desire; it’s a just, limited, federal government”.  He could well have been speaking for 2014 Brussels.  2014 has been another bad year for the EU nation-state.  Federalism is creeping forward via the back-door at an inexorable rate and national leaders with the exception of Angela Merkel look ever more like powerless puppets trying to mask the extent of their own impotence.  The EU leadership vacuum emboldened federalists sufficiently to hijack the May 22 European Parliament elections and seize the European Commission.  The false legitimacy upon which Jean-Claude Juncker based his coup d’√©tats was both impressive and dangerous and frames the central question for this coming year; who rules Europe?

Two reports this week demonstrate just how hard it will be to answer that question. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) this week published the last seven of the so-called Balance of Competences reports.  The previous batch of reports on a whole host of issue pertaining to the impact of the EU on British governance all reflected the FCO’s assumption that more Europe is better.  However, these final reports sneaked out cynically before Christmas to avoid too much debate implied something else: an EU engaged in an existential struggle with the member-states and a Brussels that uses maximalist interpretations of treaties to interfere ever more deeply into national governance and life.  Moreover, the ‘subsidiarity’ that David Cameron keeps hopelessly banging on about as critical to EU reform is seen by the Brussels institutions as a bit of a joke and a form of lip service to increasingly irrelevant national legislatures and executives. 

The second report was scribed by Sonia Bekker, a respected, Dutch left-of-centre academic at Tilburg University.  Entitled “Revitalising Europe 2020 to strengthen the Social Dimension” the paper appeared on the web-site of the think-tank Policy Network and warned against the drift towards an ever more bureaucratic union.  

Bekker is no Euro-sceptic, far from it. She applauds the aim of the Europe 2020 strategy to ensure 20 million fewer Europeans are at risk of poverty and many more actively participate in the European labour market.  However, she highlights what she calls the growing contradictions in EU “socio-economic governance” and suggests ever more EU regulation is more a curse than a solution. 

Specifically, Bekker questions whether taken together the Stability and Growth Pact, macroeconomic imbalances procedure, budgetary co-ordination, the so-called euro-plus pact and the Europe 2020 strategy itself actually amount to coherent policy.  She points out that these initiatives emerge from a range of different treaty areas and implies that the EU is in effect trying to enmesh the member-states in a giant spider’s web of over-regulation.  She also points to the growing gap between the rules imposed on Eurozone and non-Eurozone members.

Critically, she also concurs with the FCO’s concerns about EU mission creep.  Specifically, she highlights the European Commission’s “Country-specific Recommendations”. In the past such recommendations were broad suggestions for actions that a member-state might take at the most macro-economic of macro-economic levels.  However, the Commission is now ‘instructing’ member-states in areas such as healthcare and social security and using social funds to discipline member-states.  This tendency reflects a maximalist, back-door federalist approach that was seen to good/bad effect by the judgement this week by the European Court of Justice instructing Britain over its use of visas for non-EU citizens.  The aim: not to solve Europe’s manifold problems but to extend EU competences. Bekker states, “National challenges are often far too complex to formulate feasible and effective solutions at EU level”.  She also calls for more not less subsidiarity. “The key targets are the Europe 2020 goals and countries should have enough space to find their own way towards these over-arching goals”.

Now, I am a pro-European, EU-sceptic who like Abraham Lincoln and John Locke has a profound mistrust of distant, effectively unaccountable power, which is what the EU is fast-becoming.  Equally, I am not prepared to press the Armageddon button and call for the dismantling of the EU just yet.  Indeed, it is still my firm belief that a reformed EU can play a vital role in building a stable Europe and aggregating and exerting European influence in the world.  The tragedy for Europe is that the endless back-door, functionalist power grab by federalists far from helping Europeans solve its manifold problems is causing political paralysis. 

However, for such a vision to be realised back-door federalism must be stopped.  In its place a new political settlement is needed that preserves the primacy of the nation-state, establishes clear rights and protections for those member-states not in the Eurozone, and properly embeds state power in a legitimate but subordinate institutional framework with accountability first and foremost guaranteed by national parliaments working in harness.  THAT would represent a true balance of competences.

Sensible members of the European elite know full well that a European super-state can only come with time and a profound shift in political identity.  If they try and rush it millions of us would struggle to prevent it. My grandfather did not fight for liberty and democracy in World War Two to see it emaciated and strangled by a distant, super-bureaucracy overseen by a sham parliament in which I do not believe. 

In reality what Jean-Claude Juncker and his ilk seek is a twenty-first century European realisation of Hamilton’s just, limited federal government.  Unfortunately, no-one actually knows what precisely ‘just’, ‘limited’ and ‘federal’ mean in twenty-first century Europe.  In other words the EU is a political experiment and as such it is not one that is working.  Today, the EU is political paralysed as weakening states no longer sure of their sovereignty tussle with a powerful but as yet insufficiently strong Brussels probing to extend its competences. 

It is political paralysis more than any other fissure or friction that is preventing Europeans from addressing the root causes of its many problems.  Moreover, it is political paralysis that sooner or later will trigger a social, economic and political explosion if not addressed.

Who rules Europe 2015? Who knows.

Merry Christmas!

Julian Lindley-French 

Tuesday, 16 December 2014


Alphen, Netherlands. 16 December.  Seventy years ago today not far from here deep in the depths of a bitter winter in the snows of the high Ardennes four German armies including the the 5th Panzer Army under General von Manteuffel and the 6th Panzer army under SS General Dietrich launched Operation Watch on the Rhine.  This massive attack on US forces became known as the Battle of the Bulge.  The frankly bizarre strategic aim of the offensive was to retake Antwerp from the British and Canadians with the aim of splitting the Allies.  The operation was doomed from the outset as Hitler desperately tried to rekindle his success of 1940 when he had driven tanks through the Ardennes forest against divided British and French forces.

The German offensive initially made some progress although never fast enough to achieve what by any military standards were extremely optimistic objectives, mainly due to the stout defence of relatively small US formations.  Von Manteuffel and his 5th Army employing new tactics made good use of the poor weather that prevented the tank-busting Royal Air Force Typhoons and US Army Air Force Mustangs from striking the 54000 German troops and 345 tanks committed to the offensive, including the powerful Tiger IIs.  German forces were hampered at all times by fuel shortages and the very snows that the offensive had used as cover.  Moreover, by late 1944 German forces in the West were a shadow of their former selves and the implied link to a new Blitzkrieg was illusory and although the Luftwaffe did launch attacks it was only at the cost of losing their last capable air force.

The offensive pivoted on the little Belgian town of Bastogne, the junction of 11 tarmac roads vital if German forces were to make the rapid progress upon which the entire offensive hinged.  The town was defended by the 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles) and Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division.  By 21 December German forces had surrounded Bastogne but were unable to take it due to the determined American defence. At one point, the officer commanding US forces Brigadier-General Anthony C. McAuliffe received a note from his German opposite number Lieutenant General Heinrich Freiherr von Luttwitz seeking his surrender.  McAuliffe’s written reply has passed into military folklore; “Nuts!”

German forces then attempted to bypass Bastogne but it was by then already too late as improved weather enabled air attacks to slow their progress.  And, although Bastogne faced a series of assaults by 25 December all the attacking German tanks in the vicinity of the town had been destroyed.  On 26 December elements of Patton’s 4th Armored Division broke through to relieve the 101st in Bastogne, although the Screaming Eagles famously suggested that although low on ammunition, food and medical supplies they did not in fact need relieving.

Critically, the German offensive stalled before the River Meuse halfway to Antwerp where the British XXX Corps held the bridges over the Meuse at Dinant, Givet and Namur using air power and their Tiger-killing Sherman Firefly tanks to marked effect.  With General Patton’s Third Army pushing hard up from the south it became progressively clear to German commanders that they were in danger of being trapped in a pocket not dissimilar to that which had effectively destroyed an entire German army at Falaise in Normandy the previous August. 

Initially, Hitler refused to countenance a withdrawal and in keeping with Germany Army doctrine repeated counter-attacks and infiltration raids were launched by German forces.  However, in spite of local gains all these attacks ultimately proved futile and on 7 January, 1945 Hitler finally gave the order for German forces to withdraw.  However, it was not before 25 January that the Allied line was straightened and the pocket closed.
As per usual at this time success was not achieved without a good deal of bickering between US General Patton and British Field Marshal Montgomery as Patton’s Third Army attacked north from Bastogne and Montgomery came south.  There was an interesting footnote to the Battle of the Bulge.  American commanders accused Montgomery of attempting to claim credit for what in the end was a hard fought American victory.  They had a point because for every one British soldier committed to the battle there were between 30 and 40 Americans.  However, von Manteuffel himself said of Montgomery, “The operations of the American First Army [of which Montgomery had assumed command on 20 December] developed into a series of individual holding actions.  Montgomery’s contribution to restoring the situation was that he turned a series of isolated actions into a coherent battle fought according to a clear and definite plan”.

However, the Battle of the Bulge was an overwhelmingly American victory and must be remembered as such.  Indeed, “The Bulge” was the largest and most costly battle US forces fought in World War Two.  Over 600,000 US soldiers took part in the battle of whom some 83,000 were injured and some 19,000 killed.  German forces are believed to have lost killed, wounded or captured between 67,000 and 100,000 personnel.  In effect the Battle of the Bulge marks the end of offensive operations by the Germany Army in the West.  On 12 January, 1945 the Soviets launched the massive Vistula-Oder offensive which committed over 2 million infantry and over 4000 tanks to the battle and marked the beginning of the final destruction of Nazism.

Winston Churchill said of The Bulge, “This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as a famous American victory”.

Julian Lindley-French 

Friday, 12 December 2014

Russian Spring?

Alphen, Netherlands. 12 December. Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “To go wrong in one’s own way is better than to go right in someone else’s”.  The 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine has been informally dubbed “Operation Russian Spring” by the Russian military.  Why did Russia invade Ukraine? How did Russian forces perform? What are the implications for future Russian strategy and action?  The work of my colleagues Dr Igor Sutyagin of RUSI and Dr Frank Hoffman of the National Defense University has informed this blog for which I am grateful.

Why did Russia invade Ukraine?  By the end of 2013 it was clear to Moscow that Russia would ‘lose’ Ukraine.  On 17 December last year the Russia-Ukraine Action Plan was agreed between President Putin and soon-to-be ousted Ukrainian President Yanukovych.  The plan was a clear statement of Russia’s determination to ensure Ukraine remained part of Russia’s “sphere of privileged interest”. Specifically, the plan included the abandonment of the Crimean Kerch Peninsula by Ukraine and the ceding in effect and in perpetuity of Sevastopol and the Black Seas Fleet base to Russia.  However, the Euromaidan revolution which began on the night of 21 November, rendered the plan redundant and acted as a trigger for the implementation of long-standing Russian plans to seize parts of Ukraine if deemed necessary to protect strategic Russian interests. 

These strategic interests comprised and combined military, economic and energy factors. Ukraine is central to Russian military strategy as Kiev has traditionally supplied anti-tank sights, air-to-air missiles, ICBM components, engines for cruise missiles and uranium for nuclear warheads.  Indeed, according to Dr Sutyagin there are some 259 Russian military bases that are dependent on Ukraine. 

Critically, the Russian fleet base at Sevastopol is vital as a platform for Moscow’s military influence not just in the Black Sea but beyond into the Mediterranean and across the Middle East.  Some have suggested Novorossiysk as an alternative. However, the Novorossiysk base cannot sustain a major fleet due to climatic conditions.

Economic considerations also seem to have been prominent in Moscow’s thinking.  At the time of the February 2014 invasion of Crimea Moscow was concerned about the protection of key gas export pipelines, such as the proposed South Stream project.  Last week Moscow cancelled South Stream, partly it seems because of a growing struggle with the EU which sees Russia’s attempt to use energy as a geopolitical lever as breaching energy-market rules.  This is a clear example of the culture clash between a Moscow that sees power as the essence of balance and an EU that is enshrined in a law-based concept of international relations. Indeed, implicit in the entire Ukraine crisis is the growing fear of the EU in the elite Russian mind, primarily as a form of latter day German empire.

Interestingly, the discovery of 4 trillion cubic metres of shale gas under eastern Ukraine has also concentrated the Russian mind.  Indeed, the deployment of Russian forces around Ukraine’s eastern borders suggests a posture that designed to remove that specific region from Ukrainian control if needs be.  Moscow had hoped that the invasion of Crimea would have been enough to force Kiev back into Russia’s “privileged sphere” but by late March 2014 it was apparent that was not the case.  When Ukrainian forces began to defeat the chaotically-disorganised separatists in late-2014 in the Donbass Russia acted. 

How did Russian forces perform?  “Operation Russian Spring” has demonstrated the growing ability of Russia to project military power and at the same time the force’s still many weaknesses.  Specifically, the operation has demonstrated Russia’s continuing problems with generating the kind of manoeuvre forces upon which such operations rely.

The invasion of Ukraine involved the mobilisation of some 90,000 troops from 27 separate units that were massed around Ukraine’s borders in early 2014.  Russia today has some 10 Field Armies, which are the equivalent to a US division.  Five of Russia’s field armies had to deploy all their so-called “manoeuvre units” to invade Ukraine and other such elements were drawn from across Russia to ensure the operation worked.  

However, it is the use of force in combination with 'strategic ambiguity' that has proven both novel and effective.  The use of disinformation and ambiguity worked long enough to keep European leaders off-balance for sufficient time to render the invasion a fait accompli, which is the current status.  However, the operation did not succeed in all of its aims.  For example, Russian Air Force aircraft were painted in Novorossiya colours to maintain the pretence of exclusively separatist action.  The aim had been to capture Donetsk Airport to provide a base for this ‘ghost’ air force but in the face of strong resistance by the Ukrainians in defence of the airport that plan seems now to have been abandoned.  It would appear that as of December 2014 Moscow is re-thinking its strategy and focusing on consolidating what gains it has made.

What are the implications for future Russian strategy and action? Last week in his State of Russia speech President Putin confirmed that Moscow would spend 23 trillion roubles ($700bn) by 2020 to modernise Russia’s armed forces with a specific focus on developing advanced expeditionary and deployable forces.  In spite of the current economic travails facing Russia it would be a mistake not to take the President at his word.  Indeed, it will take a cataclysm for President Putin to be dissuaded from his “Defence First” strategy.  

The 2010 Defence Modernisation Programme will be pursued to its conclusion, albeit erratically and often incompetently and it will not realise the force it promised of 1 million men under arms, 70% of whom will be equipped with most modern equipment (compared with 10% in 2010).  Equally, defence spending rose by 18.7% this year and will continue to command some 20% of all public investment in the years prior to 2020.  By 2020 Russia will have a markedly more capable and more deployable force.

Assessment: For the past five years President Putin has been centralising power on himself and his own office and ‘securitizing’ the Russian state through the increasingly influential National Security Council.  The process has itself intensified the classical Russian paranoia and prejudice about the West in which President Putin deeply believes and on which the strategy is based.  Several of his speeches have warned about foreign influence of which to his mind the so-called Colour Revolutions were proof.  

Russia’s strategy also reflects Russia's inherent weakness – size versus strength.  Russia simply faces too many challenges across too large a strategic space that stretches from the Arctic to the Far East to prevail everywhere.  Therefore, the current policy of limited aggression masks an essentially declinist and defensive strategic posture.  However, a militarily-capable but weakening Russian state could pose far more of a real danger than a strong Russian state.  Therefore, the West must expect friction, exploitation of weakness and opportunism as Russia attempts to exert its influence by occupying the space between war and peace.  Consequently, and in effect, Russia has invited through its actions the re-imposition of a containment strategy by the West.

In essence the 2014 Ukrainian crisis is a clash of strategic cultures and as such it is a struggle over strategic principle.  On the one side is a Europe that rejects spheres of influence in favour of a community model of international relations.  One the other side is a Russia determined to re-establish a classical sphere of influence in 2014 Europe and with it what Moscow sees as Russia's lost influence and authority.
Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 8 December 2014

The Hardest Cut of All

Innsworth, England. 8 December.  Two events took place here in Britain last week that place the future of the British armed forces in the gravest doubt. First, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Right Reverend Justin Welby, made a speech in the House of Lords in which he made a thinly-veiled attempt to take more money out of an already horribly over-strained defence budget to ‘reinvest’ in the bottomless never-never pit of ‘soft power’. Second, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his Autumn Statement and made it clear that if Britain’s ‘books’ are to be balanced more swingeing cuts will be needed after the May 2015 elections.  A report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) suggested that the Chancellor would need to find an additional £54.1bn of cuts.  According to IPPR with health, schools and the international aid budget ‘ring-fenced’ for narrow political reasons the defence budget would take by far the biggest hit; a further £9.3bn worth of cuts, well over twice that faced by any other department.  This would reduce the defence budget from some £34bn today to £25bn.  So, what would happen and who would lose if the British armed forces suffered such additional swingeing cuts?

NATO would be profoundly weakened and any pretence the British had to be leading NATO Europe by example would be trashed. My purpose in Innsworth is to address the Headquarters of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, a major NATO headquarters and a vestige of the once mighty British Army of the Rhine - I am just finishing off a book on NATO so I am full of it – and NATO’s history.  In September, at the NATO Wales Summit not far from here, Prime Minister David Cameron proudly announced that the money had been found to enable HMS Prince of Wales, the second of Britain’s new massive aircraft carriers to join the fleet.  Britain, he said, would be one of the few Allied powers to honour its commitment to spend 2% GDP on defence.  Both ‘commitments’ are now again in doubt.  Even maintaining the defence budget at 2%GDP will prove hard because with an economy growing at 3% per annum such a target would require significant new money.  And, as Professor Malcolm Chalmers points out on current spending the British defence budget will fall to 1.88% next year and 1.52% the year after. 

The Special Relationship with the Americans would be dead.  Assurances were given privately to the US at the time of 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) that once that round of cuts was completed the defence budget would be stabilised.  Further promises were given that thereafter the British defence budget would grow at 1% per annum in real terms to 2020.  The state of the current British military is of profound concern to the Americans.  Any further cuts would effectively end the close strategic military co-operation that has been a vital cornerstone of European and world security since Churchill and Roosevelt crafted the Atlantic Charter on the USS Augusta in 1941.

Britain’s influence would be critically diminished. Britain’s armed forces are integral to Britain’s strategic brand.  In his speech to the House of Lords Archbishop Welby called on the Government to include the funding of soft power in SDSR 2015.  Sadly, His Grace is not alone in pushing such nonsense; there is a group of people close to the top of government who agree with him and who are using austerity as a cover to reduce Britain’s armed forces to little more than yet another European peacekeeping militia.  Incredibly, Archbishop Welby suggests that soft power is the foundation of all power.  He is clearly no strategist for it is the other way round, as I prove conclusively in my latest book Little Britain: Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power.  Yes, a state in a hyper-competitive world must invest in all forms of power –diplomatic, aid and development and military - if it is to exert the influence and effect commensurate with its political and economic weight (not population size).  However, the bedrock of said influence is credible and relevant hard military power and that costs.

British soldiers would die needlessly.  Somewhere, sometime an under-equipped, over-tasked British solder would die in a foreign field that would forever be testament to political incompetence. Far from the world becoming a more peaceful place all the evidence is that big, hard power is back.  Friction abounds the world over, strategic ambiguous warfare is being used in Europe, a super-insurgency is underway in the Middle East and hard geopolitics is reflected by the rapid growth of illiberal power and their armed forces.  If such a world is to be stabilised and aggression deterred, and if needs be countered, then it needs the Western democracies to stand together and stand tall as credible military powers.  Today, European defence is a sham.  Any further cuts to the British armed forces would not only destroy their ability to act, it would wipe out the last vestige of Britain’s independent strategic brand and remove Britain as a pillar of Western defence once and for all.  Perhaps that is the aim?

A third event took place last week.  President Putin gave his State of Russia address in which he said, “We will continue to develop our general purpose forces: aviation, the navy and the land forces….the funds we are allocating for rearming the Army and the Navy…are unprecedented. They total 23 trillion roubles [more than $700 billion]”.  In the same debate at which Archbishop Welby spoke Baroness Williams supported His Grace by warning against being ‘beastly’ to the Russians. When I looked last it was not Britain that had invaded Ukraine and who is intimidating NATO and EU allies, most notably our friends in the Baltic States.  As such Williams’s statement was a close to an endorsement of appeasement any British politician has uttered since the 1930s.

Be it unbalanced defence cuts driven through simply to meet an arbitrary deficit target or Archbishop Welby’s meaningless ‘soft power’ grab both reveal the essential strategic illiteracy of Britain’s ruling clique.  Indeed, all the indications are that Britain will need more not less forces and the effective destruction (for that is what such cuts would mean) of one of the finest fighting forces would simply make the world more not less dangerous.

Sometimes I wonder if the greatest threat to Britain is not economic crises or even the rise of global armed illiberalism, but the fantasy politicians who occupy the increasingly fantasy world that is the fantasy Palace of Westminster.

Cut Britain’s armed forces anymore and it will be the hardest and most dangerous cut of all.

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Fragile World, Weak West, Future Shock

Alphen, Netherlands. 4 December.  Winston Churchill once said, “Danger: if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!”  This past week five separate but nevertheless linked events have demonstrated just what a fragile world we live in, just how prone we all are to future shock, and the lack of any coherent, sustained Western strategy to deal with any of them.

Russia: Today, President Putin will give his annual State of Russia address. Expect it to be full of bombast about the greatness of Russia and how Moscow is again teaching the world, or at least the NATO world, that Russia must be respected.  In fact, Russia is an economic basket-case.  The rouble has plunged 40% in the last year.  The price of oil upon which the Russia economy depends has fallen from $114/barrel to just $70/barrel tipping Russia into recession.  Western sanctions imposed due to Russia’s illegal occupation of Ukraine although modest are weakening an already vulnerable economy.  Much has been made of Russia’s resurgent military strength and indeed Moscow is spending 40% of all public investment on its armed forces.  However, the real danger is not Russian strength but political and economic weakness and the danger that it will tempt the Kremlin into further adventurism.

OPEC: Last week’s meeting of the Organisation of Previously Expensive Countries revealed the crisis which faces once mighty Middle East petro-states.  US shale oil and gas production is shifting the very foundations upon which big, strategic energy has been established for a century.  Add that to this week’s announcement that German energy giant Eon aims to become a producer of renewable energy only then the days when OPEC could in effect hold the West to ransom are long gone.  It is not all bad news for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.  Exxon Mobil in their 2012 report “2020 The Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040” estimate that global energy demand could be 30% higher in 2040 than 2010 with a world population will 9 billion larger.  Demand in OECD states will be flat but demand in non-OECD countries could grow by about 60%.  Fossil fuels will still meet 80% of the total energy needs whilst the demand for natural gas will increase by 60% by 2040. However, given the inherent instability of such states to political decapitation any loss of revenues makes them vulnerable to anti-state forces such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State.  Talking of which…

Islamic State: Yesterday, one of those big jamboree meeting was held at NATO HQ in Brussels with some sixty states in attendance.  If ever there was a statement that the struggle against the likes of Al Qaeda and Islamic State is a struggle between the state and the anti-state this was it.  Sadly, the meeting was also heat rather than light, the kind of event clueless Western politicians love these these days to give the appearance of action rather than the fact of it. Of course, air strikes have helped to degrade Islamic State but the wider problem of how to deal with Islamism remains unresolved.  There are three fundamental realities Western leaders refuse to grip; the need for boots on the ground if the struggle really is as important and the danger as big as they say, the need for a coherent sustained comprehensive strategy that involves all instruments of influence – diplomatic, aid and development and military over many years and in many places; and the balance to be struck between the protection of society and the projection of power. 

Afghanistan: Today another big jamboree conference will begin in London on the future of Afghanistan chaired by Prime Minister Cameron.  Alongside him will be Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and ‘Chief Executive’ Abdullah Abdullah.  However, several months on from the presidential elections there is still no government in Kabul, the Taliban insurgency is growing in strength again in the south and east of the country and attacks are becoming more common in Kabul.  Last week five British embassy workers were killed by a suicide bomb.  However, Britain left Afghanistan a month ago, Cameron has no intention of going back and neither Britain nor Europe has any influence.  Instead, President Obama has had to reverse course and sign a new “Combat Order” committing 10,000 US forces to Afghanistan until at least 2024. Today’s meeting is pure Cameronian political grandstanding

Europe: Yesterday, British Finance Minister George Osborne provided one of those acts of political theatre for which British politics is renowned.  The problem was that his Autumn Statement on the British economy was precisely that – feel-good theatre.  Even though the British economy will grow at 3% this year Britain's national debt still represents some 11% GDP, with only 40% of the cuts to public expenditure made over the past five years needed if Britain is to balance its books. Indeed, borrowing at £91bn this year is only sustainable because interest rates are at an historic low. This is driving two phenomena. First, like the rest of Europe (which is in a far worse state) Britain is raiding defence to maintain health and social welfare to serve electoral rather than strategic cycles.  Second, politicians simply refuse to tell people the truth. Taken together this approach leaves European states politically paralysed unable to deal with a now almost permanent economic crisis and forces politicians to wilfully ignore the many dangers beyond their borders. 

An old and wise friend of mine said to me this week that there is a dangerous dichotomy between “gosh, this is really serious” events and the predilection of politicians across Europe to see defence and external security as an additional extra. What is needed is leadership which is in precious short supply, political honesty which is completely absent and political balance and courage which is but a distant dream. Yes, getting debt down is a strategic must but it must not come at the expense of security and defence and the sound, credible, sustained and consistent strategic engagement that is desperately needed.  The sad reality is that contemporary politics has destroyed the strategic patience needed to face such dangers.  Instead, it has been replaced by political grandstanding to mask strategic weakness. The biggest danger of all is thus a weak West for when the West is weak as it is today all other dangers are magnified.   

“Events, dear boy, events”.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 1 December 2014

Brexit: What Would Happen if the EU Fails?

Alphen, Netherlands. 1 December.  David Cameron made his ‘big’ speech on immigration last week.  However, as with most things Cameron the speech was not what it seemed.  Indeed, it was not so much a ‘big’ speech on immigration as another ‘small’ speech on ‘Europe’.  And, because it was Cameron it was an all things to all men speech, or rather an as much as one German woman was prepared to accept speech. Consequently, the speech satisfied no-one.  The speech was also full of reality-defying contradictions.  Cameron’s claim that he can re-negotiate a significant change in Britain’s relationship with the EU that will, as he said, require treaty change and do it by the promised 2017 referendum is complete nonsense. The EU if it works at all does not work like that.  So, is a Brexit now more likely?  Would a Brexit matter?  And what would happen if the EU were to fail because of it?

Is a Brexit more likely?  Possibly.  As someone who sees free movement as a consequence of victory in the Cold War it is a principle worth upholding.  However, I am a member of a British minority on this subject.  My concerns about the EU are not so much about the fundamental principles that have enshrined ‘Europe’ since the 1957 Treaty of Rome.  Rather, they concern the emaciation of democracy and the appalling ‘governance’ now inflicted upon the European peoples because of the silent power struggle between EU institutions and the member-states.  The result is the kind of political paralysis that was so evident in Cameron’s speech. 

Equally, denying member-states even temporary controls over mass movements at times of economic extremis such as today is utterly irresponsible and creates the conditions for revolt which is apparent in England in particular.  Many EU member-states are using Britain and the British people as a gigantic pressure valve for the release of social tensions caused by Eurozone failure and that is unfair.  Current levels of immigration to England from the EU are simply unsustainable.  If a solution is not found there is a real chance that England will reject London’s pro-EU political class en masse.  That would mean a Brexit?

Would a Brexit matter?  Certainly. Last week former Commission President Romano Prodi warned about the wider implications of Britain’s virtually complete marginalisation in Brussels.  This is not a recent phenomenon but has been underway since Britain sensibly opted not to join the Euro, the root cause of Europe’s endless economic and political crises, and because no political settlement has been put in place to make the EU fairer for non-Eurozone members.  Prodi’s essential point was that the implicit balance of power at the heart of the EU between Berlin, London and Paris has been shattered by British marginalisation and French decline. 

In the past smaller EU member-states would have reinforced the implicit balance of power by siding with one or the other of the so-called ‘Big Three’ thus preventing hegemony in Europe.  Now, in the absence of such balance the smaller member-states are rushing to cluster around Berlin which is giving the EU the character of an emerging German Empire.  This is something most sensible German leaders neither seek nor want because as Prodi suggests such a concentration of power on one member-state would sooner rather than later de-legitimise the EU and it would sooner or later unravel. 

What would happen if the EU were to fail?  Disaster.  If the EU began to unravel the entire political, economic and security balance of the Continent would be threatened.  Politically and economically the smaller, weaker member-states would look to Germany for leadership she is simply unable to offer.  Economically, the inability or plain refusal of southern and eastern European member-states to reform would impose ever greater burdens on the taxpayer’s of the seven member-states left paying for the wealth-transfer mechanism that in the absence of growth is the EU.  Add to that mix unstable banks and broke governments and at some point another major economic crisis would a) happen; and b) see the whole structure collapse.  If it survived at all the Eurozone would retrench into a German zollverein focused on a few northern, western Europeans.  The great unreformed would be forced out and their citizens subjected to the full fury of panicking financial markets and social and economic meltdown.  Russia would undoubtedly see such a crisis as a golden opportunity to re-establish a sphere of influence in central and eastern Europe with profound consequences for European security.

Therefore, if David Cameron was a Winston Churchill he would have couched his ‘big’ speech in ‘big’ strategy rather than ‘small’ politics.  He would have pointed out the strategic dangers to Europe of forcing Britain out through EU intransigence because said intransigence is in fact a refusal to face up to reform.  Specifically, Cameron would have pointed out that: a) ‘ever closer union’ has failed; b) the Treaty of Lisbon has led Europe into a political dead-end; c) the Euro as structured is the cause of Europe’s endless economic crises; and d) integration and harmonisation is leading to over-regulation and a form of statism that will doom Europe to inevitable economic decline.  

Finally, Cameron would have called on EU member-states to decisively take control back from those in Brussels seeking ever more Europe.  Only if other European leaders refuse to recognise what is now blindingly obvious would Cameron move to take Britain out of the EU because then he would have no alternative.  Unfortunately, David Cameron is no Winston Churchill.  Whereas Churchill was able to see the biggest of big pictures, Cameron never sees them.  Whereas Churchill understood strategy, Cameron only understands politics.  Or, rather, he only sees big-issue strategy as part of his endemic short-term local politicking. 

The EU must reform or die.  As for David Cameron he must for say what he means and mean what he says.  Last week he did not and as such he made an eventual Brexit from a broken EU more not less likely.

Julian Lindley-French