hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 29 January 2016

NATO: Montenegro Matters

“The Open Door Policy under Article 10 of the Washington Treaty is one of the Alliance's great successes. Successive rounds of NATO enlargement have enhanced the security and stability of all our nations. The steady progress of Euro-Atlantic integration fosters reform, strengthens collective security, and ensures the stability necessary for prosperity. NATO's door will remain open to all European democracies which share the values of our Alliance, which are willing and able to assume the responsibilities and obligations of membership, which are in a position to further the principles of the Treaty, and whose inclusion will contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area”.
Article 92, Wales Summit Declaration, September 2014.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, 29 January. Nestled deep in the cradling embrace of the Bavarian Alps Garmisch is the very embodiment of German solidity and certainty. Stout houses of alpine wood line affluent streets themselves adorned by stout BMWs and Mercedes. And yet that certainty and solidity has also been visibly shaken this past year by the arrival of over a million refugees many of them entering Germany via Bavaria. It is a stark reminder that not only is change inevitable, but the need for constant engagement, management and adaptation. For once it is the peaceful management of change which brought me here this week. For the past two days I have been working with senior colleagues from Podgorica and the excellent George C. Marshall Center preparing for Montenegro’s planned accession to NATO membership, hopefully in the first quarter of 2017.  It is a timely reminder that amidst the doom and gloom of Europe’s strategic retreat and political incompetence important progress is still being made towards what US President George H. W. Bush once called “a Europe whole, free, and at peace”.

Faced with threats to NATO’s east and south the accession of Montenegro is also a reminder that the Alliance exists in a world in which the confrontation between fundamental ideas and principles of governance and even existence is leading to hyper-competition over contested spaces. Many in Europe tend to see Russia and the Middle East as the cauldron for such competition. In fact, the contest is right here on Europe’s extended strategic patio and throughout the Western Balkans.

The Western Balkans is the crux of two critical challenges; Russia is seeking to expand its zero sum, West-excluding influence, most noticeably in Serbia, whilst Islamic State (IS) is seeking a presence that would threaten Europeans directly. Indeed, Director of Europol Rob Wainwright this week warned that IS has established training camps in the Balkans in preparation for attacks on the EU. It is therefore vital, be it in the form of NATO or EU enlargement, such spaces are not ceded to adversaries and enemies simply because Europe in particular has lost the will, the patience, and indeed, the money, to invest in a Europe whole, free, and at peace.

In that challenging strategic context Montenegro’s accession to NATO provides proof positive that the West remains committed to its historic mission and understands that enlargement is not just an adjunct to strategic engagement, but a vital part of it. Indeed, Montenegro must become a showcase for the future adaptation of the Alliance to challenges, risks, and threats near and far. Given the many challenges of governance Podgorica faces that goal will not be easy to achieve, but that is the essential challenge the Alliance now faces.

To that distinctly strategic end it is vital Montenegro shows the way forward to other aspirant states in the region and beyond by immediately establishing a reputation as a small but well-prepared and well-briefed NATO member.  Therefore, my guidance to senior Montenegrins in Garmisch was to spend the next year mastering the strategy, the detail and the process of NATO so that their delegation can really hit the ground running in Brussels.

To my mind that means Podgorica takes a series of well-crafted and supported steps. First, write a national security strategy and a strategic defence review set firmly within the context of the NATO Strategic Concept. Second, present a first draft at the NATO Warsaw Summit in July. Third, undertake simulations of key NATO fora, such as the North Atlantic Council and the Nuclear Planning Group. Fourth, engage in crisis management simulations to better prepare Montenegrin colleagues for the coming challenge of membership. The NATO Defense College in Rome could host much of the effort which in turn could lead to the creation of a template to help other NATO partners’ transition to NATO members.

Such simulations will be vital because the transition from being a NATO partner to being a NATO member will come as a shock to Podgorica. Indeed, there is always the danger that given the long and complicated process involved in gaining accession to the Alliance membership is seen as an end in itself. It is not. Indeed, whilst much good diplomacy takes place in NATO’s excellent cafeteria and restaurants there is certainly no such thing as a free NATO lunch and the contract Montenegro has just signed is certainly a tough one. Montenegrins will soon enjoy the security of NATO strongest and most powerful states, but only in return for the sharing of their very onerous responsibilities.

Welcome to NATO, Montenegro!

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 25 January 2016

Europe Needs Dutch Pragmatism

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle…In general one is only right when either wish or fear coincides with reality”.
George Orwell

Alphen, Netherlands. 25 January. Thank God for Dutch pragmatism! Today, two events will take place in the Netherlands under the Dutch presidency of the EU which suggest a way out of the mess into which Europe’s elite have led Europe. The first is what Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte calls “Plan B” for containing the crisis caused by the implosion of EU structures in the face of a clearly-organised avalanche of people entering Europe from beyond its borders. The ‘temporary’ suspension of Schengen and thus uncontrolled free movement is in reality the end of Schengen. The other event is the launch today in Amsterdam of Europol’s new European Counter-Terrorism Centre. What is significant about both initiatives is they reflect the return to Earth of Europe’s elite and the fantasy politics of political union in favour of deeper pragmatism and the realignment in Europe of power, politics and pragmatism.    

On my desk there sits a Christmas card sent to me by a senior French diplomat. The card is a photograph of Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Charles de Gaulle walking together down the Champs Elysée on Armistice Day, 11 November, 1944. In the background some American senior officers are also visible. The irony of the photo is that Churchill and de Gaulle really did not like each at other when it was taken. However, they were faced with the need to complete the defeat of Hitler, and increasingly aware of the threat posed by Stalin’s USSR. Critically, the two leaders understood all too well that Britain and France needed the power of each other, and moreover both needed the power of the United States. Seventy years on nothing much has changed on that front.

However, since that photo was taken Europe’s self-obsessed, unworldly elite has spent much of the intervening seventy years trying to expel power from Europe and replace it instead with an institutional straitjacket designed to deny power. Now dominated by a liberal Germany still too traumatised by World War Two to really face up to the real burdens of its self-comforting EU leadership, and a European Commission dominated by small town, small country politicians, the EU remains far too-focused on preventing war BETWEEN Europeans, rather than war in all of its many forms ON Europeans. This obsession with non-power has rendered Europeans incapable of preventing, stopping, or fighting wars that threaten Europe, and instead is fast turning Europeans into victims of dangerous change.

Recently, one former prime minister and foreign minister of a significant EU state told an audience of which I was a part that “Europe is in a mess”. He is right. If Europeans are to successfully face the many dangers that now confront them the EU will need to be fundamentally reformed…or die. David Cameron’s Brexit adventure is such a massive missed opportunity for Britain and Europe. Indeed, Winston Churchill would have despised the theatre d’absurde that is David Cameron’s non-renegotiation of a titbit ‘reform’ package to con the British to remain in a structurally unreformed EU.  Germany has wrapped itself in the mantle of EU leadership but is incapable of leading. Worse, Europe is now suffering from the consequences of Chancellor Merkel’s increasingly ‘what is good for Germany is good for Europe’ alternative to leadership. The disastrous consequences of her disastrous open door to hyper-migration demonstrates all too clearly that when she sneezes Europe catches a cold. Incredibly, in another example of “I’m alright, Jack” politics, and in spite of Russia’s attempts to destabilise Europe, Berlin is still pushing ahead with construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. Although sold as a ‘European’ project it is in reality a Russo-German project.  

However, for all that Europe must still find some way to stand together as ‘Europe’. What is needed is a new EU that supports its member-states rather than seeks to replace them. If such transformation can be achieved the EU will be transformed into a form of super-alliance that secures the citizens that live within its borders. If the Dutch can nudge Europeans down that road then they will help deepen the strategic unity of effort and purpose vital to securing Europe against twenty-first century threats. Moreover, they will also stop in its tracks the mighty glacier of a glacial EU super-bureaucracy creeping ever forward across the green landscape of European democracy, preventing effective and efficient crisis management. In other words, Europeans need an effective, inter-governmental European External Action Service. They do not need a common foreign and security policy.  

Frederick the Great once said, “Diplomacy without armies is like music without instruments”. Pragmatism is the key to resolving THE fundamental strategic challenge Europeans today face; how to generate together a critical and credible level of diplomatic, economic, and military power to not only influence the dangerous world in which Europe resides, but change it for the better.  THAT is why the EU must be reformed, THAT is why it is vital to keep major power Britain in a really-reformed EU, THAT is why Europeans (and Canadians) must share burdens with the US in a reformed NATO, and above all THAT is why Europeans need credible armed forces, fit in terms of both capacity and capability to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.

The idea of ‘Europe’ is an important one and must be preserved. However, to be grounded in reality ‘Europe’ must reflect power, politics and pragmatism.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 22 January 2016

Litvinenko: Action or Appeasement?

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last”
Winston Spencer Churchill

Alphen, Netherlands. 22 January. Yesterday, a British judge at the formal publication of a formal report at the conclusion of a formal and legal public inquiry cited a foreign head of state for complicity in murder on British soil of a British and EU citizen. Such an occurrence is unheard of and should be a matter of the gravest international import. And yet within twenty-four hours of the publication by Sir Robert Owen of “The Litvinenko Inquiry: Report into the Death of Alexander Litvinenko”, the British Government is attempting to bury it, and the EU has said nothing. Instead, the British Government has frozen the assets of two Russian citizens accused of carrying out the murder of Mr Litvinenko even though they have no assets in the UK, and called in the Russian Ambassador to Britain for a severe dressing down. In a crass attempt to deflect British public attention away from London’s cravenness Defence Secretary Michael Fallon took the opportunity to make a speech reinforcing the continued need for Britain’s nuclear deterrent. It was less news management more Monty Python. So, why did the report conclude Russia committed this murder and why has Britain’s and the EU’s response thus far been so supine as to smack of appeasement?

Here are the facts. On 1 November, 2006 Mr Litvinenko met two former KGB officers Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun at the Millennium Hotel in central London. Several hours after drinking green tea Mr Litvinenko became ill and was subsequently diagnosed as suffering from acute radiation syndrome. It later transpired that Mr Litvinenko had been poisoned with radionuclide polonium-210 at a level some 200 times greater than the median lethal dose. Mr Litvinenko died on 23 November, 2006 at 2121 hours.

The polonium was traced back to the tea pot from which Mr Litvinenko’s tea had been poured, to the hotel room of one of the two accused, and then to a British Airways aircraft upon which the accused had travelled from Moscow to London. Indeed, the report identifies a trail of polonium across London that closely matched the movements of Mr Lugovoy and Mr Kovtun and which British authorities believe exposed over 100 Londoners to direct contamination and put several thousand at risk. Yesterday, in the House of Commons the Shadow Home Secretary (Interior Minister) Mr Andy Burnham called the act “state-sponsored terrorism”.

The reasons for Russia’s actions against Mr Litvinenko are complex and revealing.  On 13 November, 1998. shortly after Vladimir Putin’s appointment as Director of the FSB (Russian Federal Security Service and successor of the KGB),  Mr Boris Berezovsky, with whom Mr Litvinenko was close, published an open letter in Kommersant. The letter stated; “Vladimir Vladimirovich you have inherited a difficult legacy from your predecessors. Criminal elements and officials at various levels, whom they have corrupted, including officials in your own agency, are striking at our people who are unwilling to back to being cattle. Criminal terror is on the rise in Russia”.

On 17 November, 1998 Mr Litvinenko took part in a press conference alongside five other FSB agents at which he accused his own FSB organised crime unit of criminal acts. Mr Litvinenko began the press conference stating; “We do not seek to compromise the Federal Security Service, but to purify and strengthen it”. Subsequently, Mr Litvinenko met with Director Putin and tried to present him with a dossier detailing his allegations. The dossier was rebuffed. Instead Mr Putin prepared his own dossier against Mr Litvinenko and on 19 November, 1998 went on state television network Rossiya to ridicule the Litvinenko press conference as, “a spectacle with characters from a children’s story”.

Subsequently, Mr Litvinenko moved to Britain in 2000. In July 2006 Mr Litvinenko accused President Putin of being a paedophile. On 27 July, 2006 President Putin approved amendments to a 2002 Russian law entitled, “On Counteracting Extremist Activity”. The new law appeared to support attacks on anyone who defamed holders of high office in the Russian state.

The reasons for Britain’s weak response and the EU’s non-response thus far are equally complex and revealing. The City of London is awash with dodgy Russian money and London has ‘specialised’ in not asking too many questions as to the provenance of said moneys. Indeed, in the wake of the 2008 financial crash the current British Government adopted a mercantilist foreign policy which included moving closer to illiberal regimes such as Russia and China. Indeed, it was only with Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine that the Owen public inquiry was allowed to proceed. Critically, London claims that Moscow’s help is needed to end the war in Syria. However, Moscow’s aim is to keep President Assad in power and thus perpetuate the war in Syria.

The reasons for the EU’s non-response reflect deep divisions within the EU over how best to deal with an aggressive Russia. France, Germany and Italy in particular are cautious about taking any further action against Russia beyond the sanctions already in place following the invasion of Ukraine and the July 2014 downing of MH-17. Reasons for this lack of solidarity are in part due to narrow national economic considerations, and in part out of fear that a clearly instable Russia could become even more aggressive. However, the EU’s lack of solidarity with Britain over the murder of one of its own citizens does beg a very serious question; part of the rationale for Britain remaining within the EU is that membership strengthens Britain’s influence on the world stage. Thus far the EU has done all it can to kill the issue doing little or nothing to take this extremely serious matter to the Russians.

What should happen now? At the very least all EU member-states should withdraw henceforth from the 2018 World Cup which is due to be held in Russia. Given the report clearly cites the role of the FSB in the murder one other step would be to identify and remove all Russian agents from EU member-states.

What will happen now? Next to nothing. That said, the Dutch investigation into criminal responsibility for the downing of MH 17 is due to report and also likely to cite Russia. Further inaction will simply confirm that Britain and the EU far from crafting a sophisticated, long-term policy response are merely repeating the mistakes of history and appeasing an aggressive Russian regime.

There is one other finding in the report that bears strategic consideration. The report alleges that the actual order to murder Mr Litvinenko was given by Mr Nikolai Petrushev in his 2006 capacity as FSB director. The virulently anti-Western Mr Petrushev is currently Secretary (Head) of the Security Council of the Russian Federation. That is exactly the same route President Putin took to power. Mr Berezovsky? He was found dead in suspicious circumstances at his English home on 23 March, 2013.  Mr Lugovoy? He is currently preparing a documentary for Russian state television. Its title? “Traitors”.

Winston Churchill said of appeasement, “…do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year-by-year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time”.

Have you heard that Sir Humphrey?

Julian Lindley-French       


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Europe: Unsafe Haven

Massive irregular migration into Europe is the confluence of globalisation, conflict, aspiration, supranationalism and terrorism. It is that confluence which makes the current migration crisis so dangerous. As such Europe’s migration crisis represents a clear and present danger to European security. However, effective pan-European crisis management is snared in a fundamental debate over the future governance of the EU and who decides what, where, and when. If the migration crisis is to be brought under control action must be taken and quickly and this wretched and seemingly eternal debate prevents that. Rather than empty rhetoric the considered application of strategy is needed to manage what by any standards is a structural shift in international relations with profound implications for Europe.

Time is pressing. Yesterday European Council President Donald Tusk warned that the EU has two months to establish control over the migration crisis before the Schengen Area collapses. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, at a desperate Berlin’s behest, said proposals would be brought forward to scrap the Dublin Convention whereby a refugee must seek asylum in the first EU member-state in which they arrive, and for a sovereignty-busting EU external border force.  As Juncker was speaking Doctors without Frontiers released a report that stated the blindingly obvious; the EU’s cack-handed response to the migration crisis in 2015 had made matters worse not better.  Indeed, the case for Europeans abandoning substantive national democracy in return for Brussels-based effectiveness and efficiency was blown away by the migrants last year as Europe wallows in a huge sovereignty swamp trapped between national and EU policy.

Therefore, read behind the headlines and the message is clear; the migration crisis is about to trigger an almighty political showdown between Germany and the Euro-federalists on one side, who seek empire/political union, and those in the EU who want to preserve a modicum of state sovereignty. Clearly something needs to be done. A complacent Europe elite suffered the shock of mass uncontrolled, irregular migration in 2015. It is a crisis that was compounded by the existing Eurozone crisis and Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine.

In the absence of leadership the response of ordinary Europeans has too often been extreme. On the one hand, the political Left has demanded that the humanitarian imperative must trump all security concerns. This is a response typified by the shamefully unbalanced reporting of BBC TV News (amongst many other broadcasters) which nightly presented the migrants as cute families all headed by neurosurgeons on their way to rescue Europe’s ailing public health services.  Moderates who question the wisdom of permitting such uncontrolled numbers into Europe and with them fellow-travelling criminals and terrorists have been routinely branded as racists or fascists. On the other hand, the political Right have warned that European civilisation is under threat from what they imply are the latter day descendants of the Mongol Hordes. As ever, the truth lies well to the centre of both positions.

The figures speak for themselves.  According to the International Office of Migration (IoM) 2015 some 60 million irregular migrants were on the move world-wide, which is not far short of the population of the United Kingdom. Turkey is accommodating some 2.2 million Syrian refugees, whilst Germany ‘welcomed’ some 1.1m migrants in 2015, thus adding over 1% to its 80 million population. Moreover, the impact of the criminal fellow-travellers on ordinary Europeans is now apparent. In January 2016 there were over 650 complaints of sexual harassment in Cologne alone following attacks on New Year’s Eve 2015, purportedly carried out by men of mainly North African and Middle Eastern ‘appearance’.  Indeed, police in North-Rhine Westphalia have reported that 40% of North African men commit a crime within the first year of arrival, often to pay-off people traffickers, compared with 0.5% of Syrians, 0.6% of Afghans, 2.4% of Iraqis and 3.6% of Iranians.

Furthermore, Professor Valerie Hudson of Texas A&M University has warned that Sweden is now facing what some newspapers describe as a ‘demographic time-bomb’. With sex ratios at 123 men to every 100 women the imbalance is more acute than that of China, which is regarded as a dangerous ‘gold’ standard. Over the past ten years Sweden which has welcomed more migrants per head of population but has also seen a tenfold increase in rape attacks compared with other European states. Indeed, one of the most notable absences during this crisis has been the unwillingness of many Western European leaders to admit the increased level of risk to which their failure to control migration is exposing its citizens. For example, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has simply said that the Netherlands has laws in place to deal with such transgressions, quite deliberately avoiding the clear security risk posed to Dutch citizens.

Critically, according to IoM 66.26% of adult migrants registered in Italy and Greece in 2015 were young men under the age of 25, whilst 90% of unaccompanied minors under the age of 18 are male. These figures tally with those of the Swedish Government which reports that 71% of those entering Sweden in 2015 were male. The apparent reason for the gender imbalance is that young men are often sent ahead to gain residency so that their families will follow thereafter. However, it is precisely this group of young men that poses the greatest threat to Europeans from introduced crime and Islamist terrorism.

Chancellor Merkel in defending her ‘open door’ policy has sought to justify her encouragement of the influx by suggesting that migrants once integrated will help offset Germany’s profound imbalance between its contributory working population and its ageing ‘non-contributory’ population. However, Professor Ludger Woessmann of the University of Munich has estimated that some 65% of all new arrivals into Germany are functionally illiterate in their own languages, making it very hard to integrate them into Germany society. Professor Harrie Verbon of the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands goes further suggesting that Europeans are being lied to routinely by their leaders about the negative economic impacts of the migration, particularly at the lower end of the European labour market. According to Verbon even highly-educated migrants end up at the low-end of the labour market because their qualifications are often not recognised.

The political consequences of the elite failure to deal with this crisis in Europe are already profound. The EU is now regarded by many Europeans as dysfunctional and its policy of free movement under the Schengen is now seen by many as part of the problem not the solution. A profound split has emerged between Western European EU member-states with a tradition of liberalism and multiculturalism, and those in Central and Eastern Europe who reject such ideas. The result is the burden of migration has fallen disproportionately on a few Western European states whilst attempts to spread the burden more evenly have led to accusations of German bullying, Commission other-worldliness or worse.

However, perhaps the worst damage has been done to the relationship between European leaders and European led. For years Western European leaders have painted an exceptionally rosy picture of the impact of mass immigration and the benefits of ‘multiculturalism’. The latest shock seems to have broken what was an already tenuous link between distant elites who do not live with the consequences of such immigration, and those that do. Worse, the elite’s refusal to look at the worst-case consequences of mass irregular immigration was revealed as folly by the November 2015 terror attack in Paris. Something snapped that terrible day in Europe and leaders are now scrambling to regain some level of trust. Most notably Chancellor Merkel of Germany.

But, here’s the twist. Much though many in Europe would like to wish this crisis away they cannot. The Middle East is on the verge of a collapse that goes way beyond Syria and could well extend into North Africa and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and into Asia.

So, what is to be done? If a balance is to be restored between European security and Europe’s humanitarian obligations it is vital a strategic approach is adopted. Such a strategy would need the following facets: a proper big picture understanding of the scale of the problem; a coherent and consistent strategy to disrupt criminal networks facilitating mass irregular migration; a thoroughgoing re-evaluation of how to better support displaced persons in war zones and neighbouring countries that bear the brunt of consequence; sustained efforts to  better integrate those with a right to stay, with existing asylum rules robustly applied, including humane deportation of those who do not qualify. Above all, it will require European leaders to move beyond the platitudes that mark their collective failure like pot-holes on the road to disaster, even if that means tough calls have to be made. 

There is one other idea that must now be considered. It is now clear that the twenty-first century is going to witness mass disruption and thus mass irregular migration on an enormous scale probably almost continuously. Thus far the ‘international community’ has been reactive and divided in its response. Perhaps it is time to re-visit the entire displaced persons architecture much of which dates back to the 1951 to the UN Refugee Convention. Given the sheer scale of migration flows perhaps a new systems of governance and management is needed that would exert control, guarantee justice, and protect recipient societies of the harmful effect of excessively rapid migrations. Such management will take a level of strategic unity of effort and purpose hitherto unknown between nation-states.

The EU? Such is the scale of the crisis that the battle between Germany, the Euro-federalists and the states must be put to one side. This is a pan-European crisis that can only be resolved with pan-European solutions. Such solutions must necessarily include a collective (not necessarily common) effort to secure the EU’s external borders, some sharing of the refugee burden, and support for those ‘front-line’ member-states bearing the brunt of the crisis.  The alternative is a continuation of the ‘beggar thy neighbour’ policies that are so damaging Europe, and which in 2016 could bring the EU to its knees.

The bottom-line is this; If during 2016 European leaders cannot demonstrate to European citizens that control is being re-exerted and soon trust will collapse and the migrant crisis will merge with the threat posed by ISIS and others to create a clear and present danger to Europe. In such circumstances Britain would almost certainly leave the EU possibly triggering a wave of defections from EU structures which for all their excessive over-regulation and self-centralising and aggrandising tendencies remain a bulwark against a return to extremism in all of its forms in Europe, much though they need to be reformed.       
However, perhaps the most startling figure is this; there are 1.3 billion people living in states that are either at risk of collapse or in extreme poverty (or both) who are within people-smuggling range of Europe. If even a small percentage of that group begin to move north and west the current migration flows could look like a trickle and the current crisis will turn into a full-scale disaster.    

Indeed, if uncontrolled migration flows into Europe continue on the scale experienced in 2015 Western Europe in particular will be changed forever. Indeed, the very intolerances and hatreds from which the Middle East is suffering and which are now being imported daily into Europe will inevitably lead to an increase in cultural friction and the growing threat of Islamist terrorism. Worse, if unchecked the very liberalism Western Europeans rightly pride themselves on and which is already under pressure from radical Islamism and right-wing populism could well be destroyed. Those are the stakes leaders. Face them.

Europe: unsafe haven

Julian Lindley-French        

Monday, 18 January 2016

NATO Warsaw: Peace through Strength

Trakai, Lithuania. 18 January. The snow folds and flows down to a small lake deep in the Lithuanian forest. With the sky an azure blue it is a truly beautiful scene and a wonderful backdrop to the ninth Snowmeeting which I had the pleasure to attend these few days past. One of the great annual conferences the Snowmeeting brings together ministers, experts, opinion-leaders from across the West…and me. Given the close proximity of the meeting to the Russian border the main subject for discussion was, of course, Russia. Specifically, the vital need for the July NATO Warsaw Summit to communicate not just cohesion, but strength.

Just after Christmas President Putin signed into Russian law a new decree establishing five new ‘regional maritime counter-terrorist headquarters’. Although not directly aimed at the Baltic States the location and leadership of the centres speak to Russian strategy. Located in Dagestan, Murmansk, Kamchatka, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and Simferopol in Crime these isolated centres cover Russia’s borders from the Arctic, through the Black Sea, along the southern border and into Russia’s far-east. Crucially, they will be under the control of the successor to the KGB, the Federal Security Service or FSB.

The centres are all evidence of Moscow’s determination to extend its influence into the maritime domain as a means of strengthening Russia’s ability to contest ‘sovereignty’ at sea, as well as on land and in the air. Critically, the new centres also strengthen the so-called ‘vertikal’ through the FSB by reinforcing direct presidential control over all aspects of strategy and action.  Indeed, the centres further consolidate presidential power over Russia’s sprawling security and defence services. As such they fit into a pattern of such consolidations, led most notably by the creation of the Centre for National Defence Management, at 22 Frunze Embankment in Moscow.

However, the much bigger picture which President Putin is painting is one in which confrontation with the West is central to the very existence of the state he leads. In that context the new centres are key pieces of an emerging architecture for the waging of what the Russians call ‘new generation warfare’; hybrid warfare in the parlance of the West. Indeed, the reason why the centres are under the control of the FSB is precisely because the heirs of Felix Dzerzinsky are the masters of the disinformation and destabilisation strategies which are central to the conduct of hybrid warfare – war at the seams of open societies.  

Some suggest that the collapse of the oil price will force Russia into a period of entrenchment. And, in the past week Russia has indeed cut its public investment budgets. However, even the most cursory study of President Putin reveals a man that is not easily diverted from his strategy of rebuilding Russian influence via intimidation. 

The one word which drives President Putin is ‘respect’. From his earliest days in Leningrad and the stories of Russia’s immense sacrifice during the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War with which he grew up President Putin has been driven by a vision of Russia as a great power. This ‘vision’ was reinforced by his first-hand witnessing of the collapse of Soviet power as a KGB Lieutenant-Colonel in Dresden, and his front row seat as a senior official during the crises, corruption and chaos of the Sobchak and Yeltsin years during the 1990s.

President Putin is thus a man firm in his determination never again to see Russia humiliated with by itself or others. His aim is the preservation of the Russian state which he believes to be surrounded by enemies. To that end his beliefs can be thus summarised: the acquisitive West is not to be trusted (he has a latent vaguely Leninist belief that Western capitalism is both inherently corrupt and imperialist); that the West talks about a rules-based system but only understand and listens to power; only a powerful Russian state can stop corrupt politicians and officials from destroying the Russian state from within.          

The Kremlin as so often has chosen its timing carefully. The West will be distracted in 2016 with US presidential elections, the ongoing migration crisis and the Brexit referendum. How and to what extent President Putin decides to use his new architecture of confrontation will depend on the extent to which the Russian state is affected by the collapsing oil price. The very fact of it may be enough for a divided West to give Russia more influence over its ‘near abroad’ than should be the case.  Indeed, perhaps Russia’s greatest ‘ally’ is denial in key European states such as France and Germany, allied to Britain’s unprincipled ‘you can have any British policy you like as long as you pay for it’ mercantilism.

Back in September 2014 at the NATO Wales Summit the assembled heads of state and government agreed to some increase in defence expenditure and other measures designed to deter Russia. However, the language of the Wales Declaration is full of ambiguity in the hope that Russia could still be persuaded to deviate from its course of confrontation. Indeed, the very use of the word ‘reassurance’ as opposed to ‘deterrence’ was proof of strategic ambiguity.  In 2016 such ambiguity must be dismissed. Confrontation with NATO and the EU is now central to the very narrative the Kremlin is using to justify an onerous investment in security structures (including defence) that this year could top 10% of Russia’s GDP.

Therefore, the NATO Warsaw Summit must accelerate the increases in defence expenditure agreed at Wales, properly establish counter-hybrid strategies, including cyber defence, and unequivocally restore the link between NATO’s nuclear and conventional deterrence and defence postures. Critically, the Spearhead Force and the enhanced NATO Response Force must be reinforced by the creation of a much heavier force that would look something like the old Allied Command Europe Mobile Force. Such a force would raise significantly the cost for President Putin of any adventurism, demonstrate NATO Europe’s willingness to share US burdens, ease pressure on an over-stretched American military, and create a fire brigade, first responder force that could credibly look east and south with power. Having taken these steps the allies must then talk to Russia. Indeed, peace can only be guaranteed through strength.          

Over the years I have developed not just a political affinity with Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, but a deep personal attachment. They are by no means perfect states, which state is perfect, apart from Britain, of course, which is perfect in all ways…not. However, for me these three re-freed peoples are the very embodiment of what the liberal West should stand for – the sovereign right of peoples to make their own sovereign choices as expressed through freely-elected representatives. However, such freedom cannot be defended by words alone, and aggressors cannot be deterred by well-intentions alone, however well-intentioned.

Therefore, at Warsaw we must all put aside our many petty differences so that our Alliance can stand firm and stand tall. One thing is clear; President Putin will do whatever it takes to remain in power as he has come to see himself as the only true guardian of Russia, Russians, and the Russian state.
As for the Snowmeeting…let it snow!

Julian Lindley-French  

Thursday, 14 January 2016

The Strategic Implications of Low Oil

Alphen, Netherlands. 14 January. My VW is so old it does not know how to cheat. However, it knows how to drink. Yesterday, I went to my local petrol station to fill up. Here in the Netherlands this normally involves disbursing the GDP of a small South Pacific economy  to sate my car's petrololism. Not any more. For the moment Western consumers are gorging on relatively low petrol prices as Brent Crude this week went below the previously unheard of $30 per barrel. Last year alone Americans spent some 17% less than 2014 on energy, whilst many Europeans benefitted by a 10% reduction. However, not everyone is a winner. So, what are the strategic implications of low oil?

It would be easy to suggest that low oil has shifted the balance in a world that since 1973 has essentially been divided between oil producers and oil consumers. However, OPEC, or rather its dominant member Saudi Arabia, plus the five other oil-producing states of the Gulf Co-operation Council, have prevented such a neat and dangerous division by managing oil production so as not to damage the economies of their main Western customers too much during economic downturns. Indeed, that is why the West turns a blind eye to some of the more 'conservative' views and actions of Riyadh in particular.

Furthermore, with China emerging to drive much of world economic growth since the 2008 crash Beijing's insatiable need for oil for a time sustained the kind of oil prices that made President Putin believe that Russia could again become a nauseating world power. Some people who live on a well-known rock stuck on the end of England even fantasised about independence and a new sovereign wealth fund based on an artificially high oil price.

However, those days are for the moment well and truly over. The massive rise in US shale oil exploitation and China's economic downturn, the increase in production of states like Iraq, and the pending return of Iranian oil onto the official oil market, all suggest more supply than demand for some time to come.

Good news? Not entirely. Several of the world's most precarious states are one-shot petro-economies that rely on the oil price hovering around the $60 per barrel mark simply to survive. They range from a dangerously hydro-carbon dependent and increasingly nationalistic Russia, to a Middle East in which many of the states are built around super-rich but unaccountable elites that use oil wealth to buy off opposition, but who have singularly failed to reform archaic governance practices, or invest in future societal balance.

Beyond the Middle East there are populous, poor and often corrupt states such as Venezuela, Nigeria, and Yemen for which the loss of oil income exacerbates existing profound tensions between rulers and ruled, and between the rich and the millions of poor who live therein. Worse, relatively high oil wealth has fuelled a worst of all worlds imbalance between economies and societies. Whilst there has been enough oil wealth to fund basic health systems that have helped, for example, to reduce infant mortality rates (a good thing), the insecure poor have continued to have large families to hedge against a return to deep poverty.

Critically, if low oil persists precarious states will become fragile states, and in time some may well fail. Indeed, several already have failed, most notably Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Whilst the list of precarious states will also grow and may begin to embrace some of the major Asia-Pacific producers.

In such circumstances the tensions between rulers and ruled will grow and, as none of the states mentioned above can be in any way described as liberal democracies, instability would inevitably lead to conflict. Indeed, an already fragile state structure across the Middle East and North Africa is already in danger of collapse, war, or both. History is all too eloquent about such moments. Prolonged economic downturns generate nationalism, sectarianism, poverty, and of course mass uncontrolled, irregular migrations.

There is another factor to throw into the mix; technology.  Past downturns have been tolerated because oil producers were safe in the assumption that come the good times the petro-dollars would once again flow. To manage boom and bust they would use extensive sovereign wealth funds to ease peaks and troughs in income and/or lived on the returns on the huge investments made in places like London. However, current low oil is also likely to see an historic and pivotal twenty-first century shift towards a low-hydrocarbon global economy. Paradoxically, low oil might see the shift slow but it will remain a future trend.

Therefore, if the danger of state collapse across much of the world's midriff is to be avoided it is vital major producers and consumers come together to consider how petro-economies can be better future proofed against the very different world that is coming. If not, and as usual leaders sacrifice long-term strategy for short-term politics and economics, the shock of a coming collapse in key regions will be rendered even more dangerous than it is now.

Power as always is about the interaction between those with wealth and those not, between winners and losers. Still, it is hard to see any real winners if low oil persists indefinitely.

Julian Lindley-French


Monday, 11 January 2016

Brexitwatch: Brexit Will Make No Difference

“When a man says he agrees to something in principle, it means he has not the slightest intention of carrying it out”.
Otto von Bismarck on David Cameron

Alphen, Netherlands. 11 January. Europe is at the epicentre of a world on the cusp of massive and dangerous structural and strategic change. The EU is in deep crisis and in desperate need of real, structural reform. Over the next decade Europe could lose up to 30% of its current slice of world trade. Power, influence and wealth is fast moving away from Europe. Ageing populations, over-regulation, incompetent governance, a lack of competitiveness, obsolete and weak armed forces, a crisis of democratic legitimacy, the retreat from political realism into fantasy idealism, and a profound split over the very idea of ‘Europe’ between those in the Eurozone and those without have all been laid bare by both the Eurozone and immigration crises. And then there is little David Cameron and his paltry little list of meaningless Brexit ‘non- reforms’. Yesterday in an interview he gave to the BBC the tragic irony of the entire Brexit kerfuffle was revealed. Brexit will not make a scrap of difference to Britain’s place in the EU, nor indeed help Europeans realise a reformed EU. Here is why.

First, Cameron is being completely disingenuous. Indeed, even before he has completed his renegotiation of Britain’s membership of the EU Cameron is already campaigning to keep Britain in. This is because there is no substantive re-negotiation. Rather, like the Grand Old Duke of York. Cameron is leading Britain up a hill to nowhere and once he has declared ‘victory’ he will lead Britain down again. In other words the entire process is a political fraud, and not all all untypical of this most consummate of political gamblers.

Second, Brexit has become a dangerous distraction. Europe is facing very dangerous challenges from security catastrophes to its south and an aggressive Russia to its east, with uncontrolled immigration allowing criminals and terrorists to enter Europe effectively unhindered. And yet Cameron is helping to destroy the very strategic unity of effort and purpose which is vital to ensuring a cohesive European response.

Third, the EU will change with or without Britain. The most bizarre aspect of the entire Brexit fiasco is that in fact the EU is in any case about to undertake a massive reform process that will fundamentally change the relationship between those in the Eurozone and those not. In his September 2015 State of the Union speech European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker laid out plans for a 2017 White Paper on ever closer union. Specifically, the White Paper will call on the 19 Eurozone members to achieve full political and economic union by 2025. In other words, 2025 will see the creation of some form of European super-state in all but, but quite probably with, a name. Those states that reject ever closer union will become ‘Associate Members’ and thus join the likes of Norway and Switzerland in a new grouping on the margins of Europe.

Fourth, any treaty changes to the EU will trigger another British referendum. Britain has a so-called constitutional lock on EU treaty change which means the need for another referendum is enshrined in law should any treaty amendments be agreed by the European Council. And, as Britain has no intention of accepting either the Euro or ever closer union the British will by definition need another referendum. Ironically, given Britain’s relative strategic and economic weight within Europe London will emerge as the leader of such a grouping which will in turn create a new balance within Europe.

Fifth, even if Britain leaves the EU it will still end up in the same place. If Britain votes to stay in the EU Britain will end up as an Associate Member – i.e. with full access to the Single Market but not at the power core of a new German-centric ‘federal Europe’. If Britain votes to leave the EU Britain will end up as an Associate Member – i.e. with full access to the Single Market because Britain is too important a trading partner to Germany for Berlin to countenance restricted access to the British market.

David Cameron? What struck me listening to Cameron on the BBC yesterday is what a little man he is in a very big world. Sadly, a little man leading a big country in an even bigger world renders the country he leads little. That is Britain’s contemporary tragedy. Rather, Cameron seems to treat politics like some form of upper class parlour game, surrounding himself with a ‘chumocracy’ of old Etonians and assorted hangers-on, and more intent on dodging political bullets most of which he has himself fired, than leading a great country.

David Cameron say he wants Britain to stay in a reformed EU, and yet his ‘negotiations’ are really about keeping Britain in an unreformed EU. Yesterday on the BBC Cameron demonstrated yet again both his lack of real influence in Europe, and by extension Britain’s. Worse, Cameron has reduced Brexit to a dangerous nonsense at a time when Europeans should be pulling together to face what is fast becoming a very dangerous world, that in turn is making Europe an ever more dangerous place.

Julian Lindley-French           

Friday, 8 January 2016

The Right to Bear Arms

Alphen, Netherlands. 8 January. The Second Amendment of the US Constitution states; “A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed” (NB: one comma). Last night I watched President Obama make the case on CNN for what are by European standards very modest extensions of background checks in an attempt to reduce the 30,000 or so gun killings each year in the US. As I watched the President make his case to a carefully selected audience I could almost hear Europeans scoffing. Indeed, to most European minds and after several mass killings by gunmen of innocents in America what passes for gun control in the US seems lax in the extreme. However, do Europeans really have the right to scoff so?

The irony with the Second Amendment is that it is in fact an extension of English common law. The 1689 English Bill of Rights came into law shortly after catholic James II was replaced during the Glorious Revolution by the invited (please note that Dutch friends and relatives - invited) protestant William of Orange, who became King William III.  The Bill of Rights suffuses the Second Amendment and in so doing justifies the link between a ‘well-regulated Militia’, and the right of the individual citizen to bear arms. Indeed, the Bill was seen as a safeguard against what the English of 1689 regarded as the danger posed by distant, executive tyranny (???). For that reason the English deliberately established the principle that the right to bear arms was a “natural right to self-defence”, “resistance to oppression”, and a “civic duty to act in concert in the defence of the state”.

In America the right to bear arms was enshrined with the ratification of the US Constitution by eleven states at the Continental Congress of 13 September, 1788. The reason that it was so central to the Constitution was that the young United States had a profound distrust of standing armies. Indeed, so shortly after the defeat of the British and their Hessian allies during the American Revolutionary Wars such armies were seen as tools of tyranny and inimical to the idea of a legitimate force of the citizenry.

Furthermore, for much of its history the United States saw itself as a pioneer country, a frontier state, expansion of which was partly legitimised by the idea that such expansion was the act of legitimate citizens who needed to bear arms to survive. For those who support minimal gun control in the US, led by that most notable of ‘Militias’ the National Rifle Association, this romantic idea of America’s past together with its concept of the responsible citizen goes to the very heart of their idea of being American. Even if, that is, opinion polls suggest a strong swathe of support for Obama’s planned amendment to the Second Amendment.

So, what has all the above got to do with Europe? The American culture of gun ownership is deeply rooted in the mistrust of distant power and big government. As Europeans are subject ever more to distant power and big government an innate mistrust is developing between the governing and the governed. Moreover, as the ‘state’, in whatever form it takes in Europe these days, is seen to fail to provide for the security of the citizen there is a growing perception that Europeans might need to self-organise to protect themselves and their families.

The need to self-organise would be a dangerous shift towards some form of vigilantism. However, it is something I have already heard mentioned in my own Dutch village. The appalling assaults on women by mainly Syrian migrants (yes, Syrian migrants) in Cologne, Hamburg and elsewhere in Germany on New Year’s Eve, compounded by the attempts of the German authorities to first cover up the attacks is compounding a growing sense amongst many non-extreme Europeans that ‘government’ in Europe has lost control and can no longer be trusted to act in their interests.

Another European conceit is that America is awash with guns and Europe not. In fact, small arms flooded into Western Europe in the wake of the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and the Balkans Wars of the 1990s. Indeed, I could travel a few hours from my Dutch home to the area around Brussels Midi railway station and after a little digging could probably buy a gun.

If Europe is not to go down the same road as the United States and see the emergence of unregulated militias more gun control in and of itself will be insufficient. By failing to regulate the massive influx of mainly young male migrants from societies which through their attitude to women reflect very different cultural assumptions Western Europe in particular will progressively become a frontier ‘state’.

Therefore, it is vital Western European leaders are seen to get a grip of the migrant flows and quickly and modify their collective narrative that somehow all these new arrivals are good for Europe. If they fail to do this and quickly vigilantism will spread quickly. Sadly, history suggests that right-wing thuggery will follow quickly in the vigilantes’ footsteps. That would be disaster for all.

There is one rejoinder to all of the above. Some time ago I was lecturing in the US. At one point a student, who was clearly not the shiniest silver bullet in the magazine, told me in all seriousness that Britain would not have been invaded by the Nazis in 1940 if the British people had had the right to bear arms. Endeavouring to suppress a smile I pointed out that Britain had not been invaded in 1940 precisely because Britain had at the time a very well-regulated and powerful ‘Militia’ – the Royal Air Force!

Julian Lindley-French                 

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Rhodesgate: The Judgement of History

“…the judgement of history will…be that he did more than any other Englishman of his time to lower their reputation and to impair the strength and compromise the future of the Empire”.

The Manchester Guardian on the death of Cecil Rhodes, 27 March, 1902

Alphen, Netherlands. 6 January. Just before Christmas I was wandering around the colleges of my alma mater Oxford University as a very typically British university scandal broke. A group of students led by a South African Rhodes scholar demanded that the statue of Cecil Rhodes be taken down from its lofty perch looking down on the learned folk of Oriel College. Rhodes was the arch-imperialist and even archer-capitalist of the late nineteenth century, and founder of said elite scholarship.  By any stretch of the historical imagination Rhodes was not a nice man. Indeed, as his 1902 obituary in the Manchester Guardian implied Rhodes’s lust for ever greater imperial power as an extension of his own imposed misery and exploitation on millions of black Africans and Boer settlers across much of southern Africa.

As I wandered with what I would hope is the educated eye of the Oxford historian I also wondered why Rhodes and why now? In an attempt to answer that question I found myself looking at many of the statues that drip from Oxford like baubles on a Christmas tree. By my estimate at least half of the statues were either of exceptional people who were exceptional precisely because they had either offended or imposed their views on large numbers of others, or been the victims of such views.  

Now, I suppose I could take a very narrow view and suggest that the South African Rhodes scholar in question has much to gain if he seeks a political career back in his native land (as do many Rhodes scholars) by attacking the memory of Cecil Rhodes. However, for the sake of argument I will be generous and accept that the #RhodesMustFall campaign is principled.

Even if it is principled it reflects a very narrow view of history and with the best will in the world must be seen more as an attack on contemporary Britain as much as an attack on nineteenth century British imperialism. What is galling for me and indeed many is how quickly the leadership of Oriel College simply caved in. A plaque honouring Rhodes was almost immediately removed and in February Oriel will start a six month ‘consultation’ in February to decide whether or not Rhodes must indeed fall. My fear is that said consultation will be about as genuine and indeed as effective as David Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ of Britain’s membership of the EU!

There is however a further question that this storm in an Oxford teapot raises; to what extent can and indeed should one impose contemporary values on past historical figures? History happened, or at least the history from the viewpoint of the victor at any point in history happened. Therefore, the mistake perhaps was not that of Oriel’s current High Table but that of a century ago which raised the statue of a man controversial even at the time, no doubt in return for oodles of his money. Still, look around Oxford today and one will find new centres a-sprouting named after Saudi power-brokers and their ilk, with one that even bears the name of a Ukrainian arms dealer. In other words, British universities have long prostrated themselves before dodgy money.

However, for me the ‘why now’ question is the key to understanding Rhodesgate. There is a strange phenomenon sweeping across and through British universitydom at present of which Rhodesgate is but a very mild variant. It can best be called the intolerant tolerance. The basic premise upon which tolerant intolerance is established is actually quite simple; British is bad, non-British is better, however bad. The most obvious examples of this are the so-called ‘safe havens’ which have been established in certain British universities for those with extreme views, but only if those views conform to a certain brand of extremism. Indeed, to conform such views must normally be of a leftist or Islamist persuasion, which lead on occasions to strange alliances between hard socialists and those with views that by any standards are closer to fascism than socialism.

Thus, the attack on Rhodes is in fact but the latest attack on Britain, or rather the narrative that is Britain, by those with an axe to grind against Britain. Often under the name of ‘restorative justice’ it is an axe that is only sharpened on one side. The aim is to establish a new empire of thought within British universities that is often more about the politics of race than the politics of ideas.

If not confronted by persons of good will à la Burke I fear for the future of British universities. No longer will they be empires of experimentation where intellects freely consider desired future by freely considering the complex past. A place where debate is not shaped by narrow factionalism but rather enlightenment and illumination emerge from open debate between smart good people irrespective or race, gender, nationality and/or orientation.  A place where again the tolerance of informed difference is regarded as sacrosanct. If not, then I fear ‘debate’, or what passes for debate, will only take places be between those of one particular view of power and history. The tragedy of irony is that such ‘debate’ is little more than intellectual fascism. Those who do not adhere to the permitted view-set? They will be either marginalised or keep quiet for fear of being pilloried, or worse.

Walk down Broad Street and just outside Balliol you will find a strange stone cross in the centre of the road.  It is Martyr’s Cross where in 1555 Queen Mary had Bishops Latimer and Ridley burned at the stake for heresy. Perhaps the worse outcome of Rhodesgate would be to turn a ghastly old man into a latter day Oxford Martyr for the silent many who resent the growing attacks on Britain dressed up as pompous PC piety. 
So, let me finish by paraphrasing the Guardian’s obituary of Rhodes. The judgement of history is that he is doing as much as any Englishman of his time to impair the strength and compromise the future of his country even over a century after his death.

Let history be the judge of Rhodes, not the mob, however ‘intelligent’.  Let his statue stand as a warning from history.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 4 January 2016

2016: Power, Weakness & Realism

Alphen, Netherlands. 4 January. The task of the strategist is not to predict but rather to consider how best to achieve desired outcomes given a range of load-bearing assumptions about relevant circumstances. However, for the sake of argument I will take a punt on 2016. One thing is clear; 2016 will as ever be about power, weakness and political realism.

Headlines: According to the World Bank the global economy will grow by about 3% in 2016. However, it is a fragile economy subject to shock, the most notable of which could be a war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two of the leading oil producers which would particularly impact China and Europe. For 2016 at least the new systemic fault-line between the state and the anti-state will mitigate but not stop the growing hyper-competition between liberal and illiberal great powers. There will be no decisive action or policy undertaken by the West in 2016 primarily because the US will be on hold for much of 2016, even as friction and tensions continues to grow in the international system. However, 2016 will again see political realism re-emerge in a new West that will be more idea than place.  With America otherwise engaged the key political figures in 2016 will be President Xi of China, Chancellor Merkel of Germany and the leaders of Europe’s outlier powers – Britain, Russia and Turkey – all three of whom in their own very distinctive ways are finding it hard to respond to liberal Germany’s liberal dominance of Central and Eastern Europe. With the International Organisation of Migration estimating some 60 million people to be on the move in 2015 mass uncontrolled migration will again be focussed on Europe, but by no means exclusive to it.

China and Russia: At the grand strategic level the economic weakening of the world’s two leading illiberal powers, China and Russia, will see both regimes resort to more nationalism and militarism to maintain control. In spite of the World Bank’s suggestion that China grew by 7% in 2016 the true figure would appear closer to 3%. This marks a distinct contraction in China’s economy which was reflected in the 4 January suspension of the Shanghai Stock exchange which fell by over 7% in one day.

China will continue efforts to exclude the US from East Asia and by so doing continue its attempts to force all the states in the region to recognise Beijing’s regional hegemony. To that end Beijing announced that China had increased its defence budget by over 10% in 2015 and on 4 January said its aim was to surpass the US as the world’s pre-eminent military power, with military power projection at the centre of a new military-strategic concept.  Such ambitions will inevitably lead to deepening tensions across Asia-Pacific and intensify the military over-stretch of a United States that remains for the moment the only truly global power. In 2016 growing tensions between China and the US will also begin to define a new global bipolar power order focussed on Asia-Pacific, but which in time will force all states to make a strategic choice. To ease the pressure on the US and to counter China, Japan and South Korea will further boost their own defence forces.

China and Taiwan: Beijing will be particularly focused on Taiwan in 2016 given the 16 January elections for the 14th president of the Republic of China (ROC). Indeed, the People’s Republic of China sees the ‘reunification’ of the ROC with the mainland as an historic duty the securing of which will also demonstrate to the region and the world China’s ability to influence events at the expense of the United States and its regional allies. 

Russia: According to the World Bank the collapse of the oil price will see Russia lose between 1% and 2% of its economy in 2016 making Moscow’s unpredictability predictably unpredictable. Although defence expenditure has declined President Putin’s drive to re-militarise the Russian state will continue as a ‘strong Russia’ is defined in military terms and remains central to the narrative of the Kremlin. To reinforce that narrative Putin will seek to maintain domestic political momentum through the politics of nationalism and by consolidating his own power-personality cult. Specifically, President Putin will continue in his efforts to exclude the US from Europe and to keep the major European powers politically off-balance.  The Machiavellian but strictly limited strategic alignment with China will also continue in 2016.  

Russia will consolidate its hold over Ukraine-Crimea and seek to detach much of Eastern Ukraine from Kiev as part of his stated aim to recreate a buffer zone between Russia ‘proper’, NATO and the EU. Putin will continue to warn Finland about joining NATO, and will continue to employ ‘new generation warfare’ (destabilisation, disinformation and intimidation) against Estonia, Latvia, and Estonia, with a particular emphasis on cyber-destabilisation. Expect some move to further militarise Kaliningrad and the High North.      

Strategic Bipolarism: The new strategic bipolarism will also influence the choices available to regional actors. India and Pakistan will again face off in Jammu-Kashmir, as well as in Afghanistan where they will compete for influence over a failing Ghani regime in Kabul. However, the peace agreement between the two is likely to hold. That said, as China builds an exclusive zone of power in and around the South and East China Seas India will further strengthen its armed forces and continue to emerge in its own right as a major regional power. New Delhi will also move to again lead what might be best termed as the strategically non-aligned states, even as India implicitly but not explicitly moves towards the West.

NATO: NATO will hold the Warsaw Summit in July 2016 faced with an aggressive, instable Russia, a strategically dysfunctional Europe, an America yet to decide its new political direction, and against the backdrop of world-wide rearmament. At the Summit there will be much talk of Spearhead forces, strategic reassurance, and the need to build on the ‘commitments’ made at the 2014 Wales Summit to militarily strengthen NATO’s European pillar. However, in the absence of strong US leadership, and indeed another strategic shock, much will be talked about, but little decided. 

United States: President Hillary Clinton will take office in January 2017 having been elected the 45th President of the United States on 8 November after a tight, divisive and disruptive general election in which she narrowly defeats Republican nominee Marco Rubio. With this return to dynastic succession in the US the British will understandably ask what all the fuss was about back in 1776. In 2016 Donald Trump will say one dumb thing too many exciting his right-wing base but alienating the centrist voter he will need to win both the Republican nomination and the general election. A lame duck President Obama will seek and fail to impose gun control and dogmatically stick to his ‘avoiding dumb wars’ legacy, exacerbating the sense of an America withdrawing from leadership.

Nuclear Cheating: The 2015 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will begin to look like one of those 1920s treaties that foreshadowed appeasement, so far were they from strategic and political reality. Indeed, with President Obama determined to protect his ‘legacy’ the White House will ignore Iran’s cheating on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the July 2015 nuclear agreement forbidding Tehran nuclear weapons. Tehran will continue to test a three-stage intercontinental missile and become bolder regionally as oil sanctions are removed and its relationship with China deepens. In response Saudi Arabia will further invest in the Pakistani nuclear programme as a short cut to its own future nuclear capability.  North Korea? Kim Jong-Un will continue to descend into dangerous fantasy and Pyongyang will continue efforts to weaponise its existing nuclear programme.  Russia will also continue to test new short and intermediate range missiles that breach the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.

Syria & the Levant: In the Middle East whilst there will be much talk of peace agreements the Syrian civil war will continue unabated. Indeed, the Syrian conflict will be further complicated in the collapse of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia which could well scupper the Vienna process in 2016. Worse, the Syrian conflict will continue to suck in and affect actors both in the region and beyond. The anti-Assad ‘moderate’ opposition will continue to be split along ethnic and tribal lines. Russia and Iran will ensure that any agreement that suggests Assad goes will falter, and the Syrian conflict will continue to destabilise Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan, exacerbate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and push huge numbers of migrants towards Europe, aided and abetted by criminal smuggling gangs.

Sunni v Shia: There will be growing tensions between Sunni and Shia as the fourteen century old dispute over observance intensifies between powerful Middle Eastern states with contending strategic agendas. The January 2016 execution by Saudi Arabia of prominent Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr and Riyadh’s expulsion of Iranian diplomats will deepen the tensions between Shia Iran and the emerging Saudi-led coalition of mainly Sunni Arab states.  Indeed, a regional bipolar power contest will emerge across the Middle East organised by and around Saudi Arabia and Iran, with Israel an unlikely but de facto partner of the former.  

Islamic State: Islamic State will continue to be pushed back in both northern Iraq and Syria as a better understanding of how IS functions will lead to more effective action against it. Indeed, the insertion on Western Special Forces as ‘trainers’ into the Iraqi Army, Kurdish Peshmerga and other groups will help their military effectiveness. However, it will be a hard fight and there are several major rejoinders: first, that a growing Shia-Sunni split does not fracture the anti-IS coalition; second, that Turkey does not see a stronger Kurdish force as a greater threat than IS; and, third, that powerful Sunni tribes in Iraq can be persuaded to withdraw their support. Even if IS is pushed back Islamism will continue to spread across the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, and into parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. However, as IS falters in Syria and Iraq many of its fighters will move across North Africa towards Tunisia and Libya and back to Europe as part of the uncontrolled migration flows which will continue unabated.

European Union: Two crises and two issues will be at the core of what is now an endless EU mega-crisis will dominate Europe in 2016; Brexit, mass uncontrolled migration, and the relationship between ever-closer-union and German power. Indeed, the 2016 Dutch and Slovakian presidencies of the EU will be dominated by both crises, and will reflect the search for a new political balance between political union, state sovereignty, Eurocracy, German leadership, and democracy.

Prime Minister David Cameron, ever the political gambler, will fail in his efforts to reform the EU even as he suggests he has succeeded in the wake of the February 2016 special European Council meeting. However, the British people will still likely vote to remain within an unreformed EU having been subjected to what can only be described as the propaganda of exaggerated fear by an ‘in’ campaign that will be allowed to massively outspend the ‘outers’.

However, the Brexit referendum will be a close run thing as it will likely take place in summer 2016 just at the height of renewed migration chaos in Europe. Given Cameron’s self-imposed deadline to hold the presidency before the end of 2017 the vote will need to take place before the April 2017 French presidential elections, the September 2017 German federal elections, and Britain’s EU presidency in the second-half of 2017. Indeed, it would be a tad embarrassing for the British to quit the EU in the middle of Britain’s EU presidency. However, Brexit is not without strategic irony; given current projections by the World Bank, IMF and others if the British can survive their poor quality leaders (a big if) Britain is likely to re-emerge over the next decade or so to challenge Germany as Europe’s leading economic and military power. Can Britain best influence Europe from within the EU or without – that will be the simple question the referendum will decide.  Whatever happens Cameron will be a political lame duck by the end of 2016.

Over the next year liberal, northern, western European states will bear much of the brunt of the ongoing mass influx. This will increase popular unease and frustration with political leaders as the fear of terrorism grows and the link between uncontrolled migration and terrorism becomes entrenched in the popular mind. Sadly, terrorist attacks will take place in 2016 that will see possibly hundreds of Europeans die and which will further undermine trust between leaders and led.

In 2016 an unchallenged Chancellor Merkel will continue to exorcise German history on the rest of Europe. Indeed, her leadership will demonstrate the dangers of grand coalitions in democracies. “Wir schaffen das” (“we can do this”) will remain her mantra as she justifies her open door policy to mass uncontrolled immigration in an attempt to assuage Germany’s Nazi past. However, another million plus people move towards Northern and Western Europe. According to a professor at the University of Munich some 70% are young men, of whom 63% are functionally illiterate in Arabic, and thus extremely hard to integrate into German society. Consequently, Berlin will face growing popular unrest in Germany and political opposition from states around Germany.

Critically, Merkel will seek to begin to ease the political impact on Germany of the migrant crisis prior to the 2017 federal elections. She will do this by threatening to withdraw EU structural funds from Central and Eastern European states (whereby ‘richer’ Western European taxpayers subsidise poorer Eastern and Southern European taxpayers) if they continue to refuse to accept more migrants. For a time she will likely have some limited success before those migrants sent to less wealthy European states simply up sticks again and move back west.

Turkey: Turkey, or more precisely that other European President-for-Life Reccep Tayyip Erdogan, will emerge as a pivotal strategic player, due to Istanbul’s proximity to Islamic State and Syria and its control over ingress and egress from the Black Sea. 2016 will see Erdogan drive a particularly hard bargain with Chancellor Merkel; free movement for all Turks within the EU, or free movement of uncontrolled migrants to Greece. Turkey will also demonstrate to Russia that the use of its Black Seas Fleet in Sevastopol is entirely at the discretion of Istanbul. The fleet is the key to Russian military influence in South-Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.         

The New West: The good news? Out of the many, multiple crises now facing the West a new political realism will emerge. With the November 2016 election of a new US president an American-centric new West will slowly form that is more idea than place and which contains and engages China and Russia in equal measure.  The new West will express itself first via mercantilist structures such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership which will slowly morph into a kind of global New Deal. TTIP and TTP will counter Chinese-led constructs such as the BRIC. Japan will emerge as America’s strongest strategic partner in Asia-Pacific, and London will again slowly emerge as America’s strongest strategic partner in Europe. In Europe a new political settlement will be found to again balance power within the EU. This will see Europeans finally begin to awake from the torpor of institutionalism to once again to consider their collective place in the world and the role of power, influence and realism in their security and defence.

Hold on to yer hats!

Julian Lindley-French