hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 29 February 2016

Disarming Appeasers

Alphen, Netherlands. 29 February. Last Saturday was ‘déjà vu all over again’. Indeed, I was cast in a trice back to my 1970s youth as London saw the largest gathering of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) since the 1980s. The “Stop Trident” rally attracted the usual array of colourful political characters from the loony increasingly green left present in strength to ‘raise awareness’ of a whole raft of nuclear-related (and not-so-related) issues, to the considered, knowledgeable and principled activists who have always populated Britain’s anti-nuclear weapons movement. Saturday’s principle aim was to stop the British Government committing to a so-called ‘Main Gate’ decision to replace Britain’s four Vanguard-class nuclear-powered ballistic missiles submarines with four more by the late 2020s via the so-called ‘Successor’ programme.  In fact, the rally was about so much more…  

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not one of those commentators who dismiss such events or the people who attend them as a bunch of ‘disarming’ naïfs. By dint of its very secrecy the British nuclear establishment is far too comfortable in its self-reinforcing ‘certainties’.  Indeed, as someone who has studied both nuclear deterrence theory and strategy in depth (excuse the pun) and written about it, there are serious questions to be answered by London as to the cost, utility, and long-term viability of four state-of-the-art nuclear ballistic missile submarines.

As with most British ‘big ticket’ defence projects cost is spiralling out of control with over £40 billion of public money likely to be spent on ‘Successor’. Moreover, my November 2015 evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee (HCDC) demonstrated to effect that the 2010 decision to move the cost of paying for the nuclear deterrent within an already over-stretched defence budget left Britain with the strategic Hobson’s choice it faces today. On current levels of defence investment Britain can either afford a strategic nuclear deterrent, or a global reach conventional expeditionary force. It cannot afford both. Indeed, Britain’s continually-at-sea-deterrent (CASD) is already vulnerable due to the lunatic 2010 decision to cut up brand new maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), a gap will only be plugged in the early 2020s with the purchase of eight Boeing P8 MPA at great cost.

Furthermore, concerns about the credibility of the Successor system over the fifty years of its planned in-service life are both real and reasonable. This week a report will be presented to HCDC by the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) that will suggest advances in drone technology, in particular so-called ‘gliders’, could render Britain’s future submarine fleet vulnerable to detection and attack. The threat to the force is more than the ‘old science fiction’ ascribed to this threat by one commentator.

However, few if any of these arguments of strategy and capability seemed to resonate at the CND rally. Even less so with grand attendees Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party Nicola Sturgeon. However, it was Lianne Woods, leader of Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalists, who really gave the game away. For her the ‘Stop Trident’ rally was merely a political metaphor and should really have been entitled; “Stop the world we want to get off”.

In a spectacular misunderstanding of history Woods claimed that the Cold War had been a narrow self-interested fight between the US and the USSR, and suggested that Britain should never have had any part of it. In fact, the Americans were persuaded by the Western Europeans with Britain to the fore, to return in strength to Europe in the late 1940s to defend a broken and broke Europe from over 300 of Stalin’s Soviet divisions which were sitting just across the River Elbe on the then inner-German border. Read my Oxford book on the subject!

Worse, to suggest some level of moral equivalency between the United States and the Soviet Union insults not just the Americans, but my own intelligence. It also insults the millions of American servicemen and women who defended Europe from Soviet aggression and writes off the huge investment the Americans continue to make in the defence of Europe today. It is a commitment made all the more remarkable by the unwillingness of Europeans to pay for their own defence. Woods reinforced her strategic illiteracy by suggesting that Britain’s nuclear weapons did nothing to deter terrorists. Derr!

And herein lies the ultimate irony of Saturday’s CND rally. The refusal of Europeans to make a reasoned link between the strategic dangers Europeans face from other states and conventional defence investment INCREASES the importance of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons exist to force the cost of any state aggression over a threshold that is so unacceptable that said aggression is deterred. In the absence of sufficient investment in conventional defences the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons actually falls. In the dangerous world of today there is every reason to believe that nuclear deterrence will continue to function for Europeans as an alternative to conventional defence investment. A Europe that cannot defend itself nor deter threats is appeasing reality.   

Which brings me to the real point of Corbyn, Sturgeon, Woods and their like; to disarm completely and remove Britain a top five world military power from the collective defence of Europe. Scrap Trident and ‘Successor’ and CND and their supporters will soon call for the scrapping of NATO. This must be music to the Kremlin’s ears. Indeed, it is the late 1970s and the Euromissile saga all over again. And, like the late 1970s I have no doubt Moscow, which is increasing its European nuclear strike forces, is doing all it can to encourage such well-meaning, but utterly strategically-misguided dissent.

Unilateral nuclear disarmament is appeasement – pure and simple. Saturday’s rally was not about Trident, Successor, or even British unilateral nuclear disarmament. It was pure strategic denial. The only way to rid the world of ‘nukes’ is multilateral disarmament. Any other approach makes the world less, not more safe.

For the sake of peace in freedom these disarming appeasers must be resisted.

Julian Lindley-French    

Thursday, 25 February 2016

War and Change in Asia-Pacific

“Kings are the slaves of history”.
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

Alphen, Netherlands. 25 February. War is coming. Big war. It will start not in Europe, but Asia-Pacific. Several events this past two weeks have convinced me that to think otherwise is simply denial, and thus makes the probable inevitable. What and why?

What? China is fast militarising the South China Sea. Last week China confirmed that it had deployed highly-advanced surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island in the South China Sea and had also installed a highly-advanced radar system on Cuarteron Reef in the Spratly Islands to the south.  This week the Pentagon confirmed that China had deployed fast jets to one of its reclaimed ‘string of pearl’ man-made islands that now ring the South China Sea. Reports by Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) also suggest China is installing advanced defence radars on three other islands.

Another Washington report by the Center for a New American Century (CNAS) warned that China is also developing advanced anti-ship missile technology which poses a direct threat to the ten US nuclear-powered super aircraft carriers. Whilst not the sole purveyors of US expeditionary might these ten ‘carriers’ are the very beating heart of American strategic power projection. Indeed, at least four carrier groups are normally at sea at any one time.

Taken together China’s new bases and its burgeoning anti-ship technology all suggest at some point in the none-too-distant future China will seek to force the US out of the South China Sea, and possibly East Asia. Senior American officers with whom I have spoken seem strangely complacent about the threat.  

However, it is not just Sino-American relations that are entering a new and more dangerous phase. It was also announced this week that India’s first nuclear ballistic missile submarine is about to join the Indian Navy. The INS Arihant is the first of five 6000 ton submarines that will join the Indian fleet in a move designed to counter both China and Pakistan. Pakistan is being helped by China to develop its own sea-borne counter-force in an attempt to force New Delhi to look both north and east at one and the same time, and thus prevent India from being able to concentrate force.

This week the Australian Defence White Paper will be published. It will state Canberra’s determination to increase Australian defence spending to some 2% GDP by 2023, with some $710 billion being injected into the country’s defence force by 2027. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said this week that, "It [the investment] will set out how we will give our defence forces the resources they need, the capabilities they need, to keep us safe and to ensure that we play our part in delivering and ensuring regional security."

Why? The reasons for what is fast turning into a strategic arms race are manifold. First, states across Asia-pacific are locked into hyper-competition as the region’s states struggle to cope with the rapid emergence of an over-mighty and illiberal China. The Asia-Pacific strategic arms race bears striking similarities to that which took place in Europe between 1898 and 1914 as Austria-Hungary, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia slid towards the First World War. Add Japan, South Korea and other regional states and the similarities become even more alarming.

Second, China is the main force behind the hyper-competition. Although China and the US agreed limited sanctions on North Korea this week in the wake of its recent intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test, it is the emerging Sino-American strategic stand-off which is at the centre of China’s concept of ‘security and defence’. Beijing’s hard-line political realism is also driven by the nature of the Xi regime. President Xi Jingping emerged from the military apparatus of the Communist Party. Moreover, he is determined to consolidate his power and that of the Party over China and extend China’s military influence far beyond China’s borders and is investing huge sums in the People’s Liberation Army to that end.

Third, such hyper-competition is simply the age-old pattern of international relations. One of my embarrassingly many degrees is a Masters in International Relations (with distinction of course). In “War and Change in World Politics” Robert Gilpin identified four stages between peace and war which liberal elites in the West today either reject, deny, or both. An international ‘system’ starts off in a state of relative equilibrium, which is where the world was briefly in the wake of the Cold War. Over time a redistribution of power takes place as revisionist powers seek to challenge the authority of status quo powers grown comfortable on their own victory. This is exactly what is happening today as the likes of China and Russia, and to a lesser extent Iran, challenge a West that has become strategically decadent. The system gradually falls into a state of disequilibrium as the rules of the status quo powers are challenged by the growing power of the revisionists. If not resolved peacefully at some point the system collapses into tension and crisis which is then ‘resolved’ by major war.

Today, the liberal West is trying to break this age-old cycle and the challenge of the illiberal realist powers in the same way it has done ever since 1919 and the Treaty of Versailles, and with the same old ‘tools’. Disarmament, in the form of low defence investment, or by destroying its own long-term defence planning as the Americans are doing via sequestration. Trade, in the form of ever-more-desperate invitations for the realist powers to ‘buy’ into the West, most notably Britain’s current self-auction to China. Indeed, trade was the ‘principle’ that underpinned appeasement in the 1930s. Institutionalism, in the form of ever more regimes membership of which is designed to constrain extreme state action. Mutual constraint was the founding principle of the League of Nations, the United Nations, and indeed the European Union. The one thing the West is not doing is investing in the one thing that deters the illiberal; power.

So, why war? To this old Oxford historian and analyst China, Iran, and Russia (partly) are doing exactly the same as revisionist powers over the ages; taking the blandishments on offer, helping the status quo powers retreat into denial and self-induced relative weakness, remorselessly building up their military might even at the expense of economic and social development, and waiting until they are sufficiently strong to prevail in a showdown that Beijing for one probably believes is inevitable.

So, let me conclude by qualifying my opening statement. War is coming, unless the world-wide West wakes up collectively and smells the strategic coffee. After all, for the illiberal power does as power will.

Julian Lindley-French                 

Monday, 22 February 2016

Britain lost an Empire, but never found a Union

“Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role”
Former US Secretary of State Dean G. Acheson,
West Point, 5 December 1962

Alphen, Netherlands. 22 February. Dean Acheson’s famous quote about a Britain strategically adrift seems particularly apposite on this wet, grey Dutch February morning. With the weekend decisions of the heavy-hitting Justice Secretary Michael Gove and London Mayor Boris Johnson to join the swelling ranks of the Brexiteers there is now a very real chance that David Cameron’s EU gamble will fail spectacularly on 23 June. If Britain does vote to leave the EU it will not simply be withdrawal from an institution to which it acceded in 1973. It will be the first time Britain has ever withdrawn from an international institution, and the first time its political and bureaucratic elite have had to THINK for Britain as a strategically-independent power since 1815.

Hold on a minute, professor, I hear you say. 1815? Really? Yes, really. My point is this; for much of the nineteenth century Britain was simply too powerful to have to think strategically. It kept an eye on matters European, and after the 1815 Congress of Vienna occasionally got ‘involved’ to maintain the power balance in Europe. Most notably, and not without irony, during the 1853-1856 Crimean War when Russia was (again) being uppity. However, for the most part Britain withdrew into splendid isolation and got on with ‘managing’ its enormous empire.    

Furthermore, with the principle of effective self-government established by the Australian colonies in the mid-1850s the later British Empire gradually began to take on the appearance of an international institution. Imperial Conferences were held regularly at which the Mother Country consulted the Dominions, and indeed some of the larger colonies on matters of ‘strategic’ import. That is why when the British Empire effectively ended from India’s seizure of independence in 1947 thereafter, much of the Empire morphed with relative ease into the Commonwealth of today.

Thinking strategically is the preserve of the relatively weak. As the balance of power shifted in the late nineteenth century with the 1871 emergence of a unified Germany and the later appearance of Teddy Roosevelt’s America as world powers, Britain’s elite had to begin to think about relative decline and the crafting of strategy. It never came easily to them.

The solution the British sought was to return to the principles of coalition or grand alliance which London had so successfully used against the French in the eighteenth century, and thereafter to extend the concept of imperial conferences to all states. The anti-German Dual and Triple Ententes would have been approved of by both Pitt the Elder and Pitt the Younger as coalition mechanisms for the balancing of power in Europe. The League of Nations and its successor United Nations would have been recognised by the likes of Gladstone and Disraeli as extensions of the concept of imperial conference.

The problem with the early European institutions for the British elite was that by the very principle of their founding they were neither an imperial conference nor a coalition. In particular, the very idea of ‘ever closer union’ ran counter to the idea of a British-controlled or inspired assembly. Worse, they were not invented by the British. The British can very reasonably claim that the League of Nations, the United Nations, and even NATO were all British ideas. The European institutions were patently not.

Therefore, from the very outset the EU, and its now many forebears, presented a dilemma, and indeed represented a contradiction, for the British. On the one hand, a ‘not invented here’ institution had been created on the Continent that by the very nature of its Franco-German leadership side-lined the British. Indeed, the early EU (ECSC and then EEC) did unto Britain what Britain had done to continental powers since 1815. On the other hand, the European institutions were institutions.  By the 1950s whilst Britain maintained totems of great power Britain's foreign policy Establishment only really ‘did’ institutions, which became ends in and of themselves for British foreign policy.

Peer beyond the typically-astrategic Cameronian smokescreen of last week’s failed ‘renegotiation’, most of the tenets of which will be swept away by the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice, and two abiding British problems become clear. First, the EU has never been a British institution, and as such far from magnifying Britain’s power and influence it has diminished it by subordinating London to Berlin and Paris. Second, as an institution the EU does not really work.

Indeed, it is now clear that the process of partial-supranationalism that began with the 1991 Treaty of Maastricht and reached its zenith/nadir with the 1997 Treaty of Lisbon has failed. Moreover, the very process of big-Brussels building has at one and the same time eroded democracy in Europe, and by preventing the creation of flexible coalitions of any strength, also destroyed effective crisis management.

Equally, if Britain gives up on the EU now that too will have profound consequences. Indeed, if Britain leaves the EU in 2016 it will be the first time since, say, 1588, that England/Britain has withdrawn from the shaping of strategic political events at the heart of Europe at a critical moment. Indeed, the very real prospect now beckons that by sending troops to defend the Baltic States, and ships and aircraft into the Mediterranean to attack Islamic State and people smugglers under a NATO banner, Britain will be instrumental in creating a ‘safe’ space for others to decide the future of Europe, and thus Britain.  

2016 Europe stands at the most strategic of strategic crossroads – more elitist European institutionalism or more national coalitions of the willing and able? Come 2023 and a new Treaty of European Union will need to be ratified which will address such issues. That is after all what Jean-Claude Juncker himself has said. If the draft treaty proposes ever more power to Brussels Britain’s ‘constitutional lock’, which is now enshrined in law, would automatically trigger another referendum. Therefore, if Britain is indeed to leave the EU surely it would make more sense when the future strategic direction of travel of the EU has been established, and the scale of the threat posed by the likes of Russia and IS is clearer? After all, good strategy is not just about good thinking, it is also about good timing.

In other words, were the British thinking strategically they would realise what an opportunity is now afforded them for influencing the profound re-adjustment the EU and its member-states must make in the midst of the Eurozone, Russia, migration, and terrorism crises. Britain’s EU moment is thus NOW as Britain’s concerns are now shared by a majority of people on this side of the Channel. However, Britain can and will only influence Europe’s coming re-adjustment if it engages in the institutional process and injects strategic thinking.

So, why does Britain NOT think strategically? Institutionalism and short-termism. In my 2015 book Little Britain ( I emphasise the extraordinarily lamentable quality of what passes for strategic thought at the heart of government in London. One reason is that the Establishment is so enmeshed in the incrementalism of institutions that they have lost the ability to think big and think strategically which on paper should come naturally to the leaders of a top five world economic and military power. Another reason is that 'strategy' has been remorselessly reduced to what is politically feasible on any given day.  The fact that the British Establishment produces strategically-lightweight political spin gurus such as David Cameron as 'PMs' is testament to these problems. Indeed, perhaps the biggest danger Britain faces comes not from Brussels at all, but rather the poor quality of its political leadership. Indeed, would the British Establishment be up to the challenge of leading a strategically-independent Britain?

Like all decent strategic analysts I have shifted my position on Brexit in light of events. To that end, Dean Acheson said one other thing about the British that is worth recalling. “The qualities which produce the dogged, unbeatable courage of the British, personified…by Winston Churchill, can appear on other occasions as stubbornness bordering on stupidity”.  I am no fan of the EU and I share many of the concerns of reasoned Brexiteers. Indeed, the time may well come when the EU is so inimical to Britain’s interests, so costly, and so crisis incompetent that Britain will be forced leave for the sake of all.  2016 is, I fear, not that moment.  

Julian Lindley-French  


Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Russia Plays Dirty

Alphen, Netherlands. 17 February. Seventy year ago today the US Chargé d’Affaires at the Moscow Embassy was putting the final touches to a diplomatic despatch that would change the world. Known as the ‘Long Telegram’ George Kennan’s 8000 word missive to Washington warned that Stalin’s Soviet Union rejected the idea of “permanent peaceful coexistence” with the West, that Moscow would seek to “expand its sphere of influence”, and that all possible means would be used to destabilise not just Western powers, but other states vital to the Soviet interest. If George Kennan were around today he would probably write a very similar telegram back to Washington.  Indeed, President Putin’s use of hybrid warfare bears a ghostly resemblance to the tactics of Stalin’s Russia.

The conventional wisdom of the Western Kommentariat is that, through its applied use for strategic ends of destabilisation, disinformation, and deception, Moscow has pioneered a new form of warfare. War that falls short of war, and which was applied to effect to seize Crimea from Ukraine. There is also a fear that Russia might be contemplating the use of such tactics against the Baltic States. What is not commonly understood is that Moscow is already engaged in such ‘warfare’ against major European Powers. 

Moscow is clearly endeavouring to influence the Brexit debate in favour of Britain quitting the EU. Whilst there is no suggestion leading Brexiteers are subject to Russian influence, there is some serious suspicion that some extremist groups in both Britain are receiving funds from Moscow. Moreover, one has only to watch the coverage of the Brexit debate on RT and Sputnik, Russia’s main external media channels, to see a clear bias to influence the debate in favour of Britain’s leaving the EU. For example, the coverage of the Tusk proposals on Britain’s ‘reformed’ membership of the EU was uniformly negative. One could argue that RT and Sputnik’s coverage had much in common with most of Britain’s print media. And, whilst Sputnik is clearly pushing a pro-Brexit line, RT’s coverage has been more sophisticated in that it simply gives more air time to Euro-sceptic views. Equally, the editorial bias is clear.

However, it is Chancellor Merkel’s Germany that has been most targeted by Russian disinformation.  On January 16, Russia’s state-run Channel One reported an alleged abduction and assault by a migrant of a thirteen year-old member of Germany’s sizeable Russian-speaking minority who holds both German and Russian citizenship.  Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov even referred to “our girl Lisa” at the time of the story. The story has since turned out to be a patent fabrication, leading Chancellor Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert to warn against the “political instrumentalisation” of the case. Even pro-Russian German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said that the use of a vulnerable thirteen year-old girl for “political propaganda” cannot be justified. 

What is Moscow’s strategic objective? The ‘Lisa case’ fits into a now well-established pattern of Russian propaganda. Indeed, warning Ukraine’s Russia-speakers about ‘fascist’ gangs, stoking fear amongst Russia’s diaspora, reinforcing the cynicism large numbers of Western Europeans feel about their leaders, or simply trying to divide Europeans further are all part of Moscow’s hybrid war strategy. The aim is clear; to exploit and widen seams in Western Europe’s complex multicultural societies to undermine the capacity of leaders to act in concert against Russian expansionism.  

What is Moscow’s strategic method? There are two strands to Russia’s strategy. George Kennan wrote in the “Long Telegram” that whilst Moscow was impervious to the logic of reason it was highly sensitive to the fact of force. In effect, Russia is using Kennan’s own insight against contemporary Europe. Moscow employs a barrage of false ‘facts’ to suggest to an already mistrustful public that their leaders are either utterly incompetent, engaged in an almighty conspiracy, or both; and then using force to change facts on the ground around Europe and imply that Russia’s message is backed by might. Both strands are false in fact. 
What is Moscow’s next gambit? Last weekend, Western diplomats warned that one reason for Russia’s savage bombing of Aleppo in northern Syria was to push another wave of wretched people towards Europe. Moscow clearly believes that the migration crisis is not only de-stabilising and dividing Europeans, it is also cleaving a wedge between leaders and led and, in effect, rendering European powers strategically incapable. In Moscow’s zero sum culture about which Kennan warned, and in which Putin clearly believes, if ‘Europe’ loses, Russia wins.

George Kennan’s Long Telegram mattered because it awoke a resistant Washington establishment to the nature and indeed the ambitions of Stalin’s Moscow. The Soviet Union of February 1946 was in a far stronger strategic position than Putin’s Russia of 2016. However, unless Europeans begin together to contest the information space in which Russia is waging a relentless war then it might well be that Moscow succeeds. Russia is playing dirty…and will get dirtier still.

Julian Lindley-French


Monday, 15 February 2016

The Middle Eastern Turkey Shoot

“My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep”.
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, 30 September, 1938

Alphen, Netherlands. 15 February. War is coming to the Middle East. Russia, Iran and Assad have ‘won’ the Syrian civil war. Islamic State has shot its bolt but remains undefeated in its ungoverned space. The West is strategically and morally bankrupt. The liberal idea of a rules-based international order has failed. Kurds in Iraq, Syria and Turkey are about to make a significant move towards the creation of Kurdistan. That is clearly the conclusion that Turkey’s President Erdogan has arrived at this past week and why Turkish forces are shelling Peshmerga positions inside Syria.

Turkey is not alone in coming to that conclusion. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and a host of Sunni Arab states, alarmed by the growing influence of Shia Iran in Syria, have also reached a similar conclusion. Indeed, both Ankara and Riyadh are threatening to intervene on the ground against the Russian-Iranian-Assad axis. Israel is quietly mobilising its forces too with Premier Netanyahu making it abundantly clear behind closed doors that Tel Aviv will not sit idly by if Syria and Assad re-merge as a direct threat to the Jewish State’s security.

Why did the West ignore the first principle of international relations; always negotiate from strength? The three main Western figures at the Munich talks were US Secretary Kerry, British Foreign Secretary Hammond, and German Foreign Minister Steinmeier. First, good intentions; the road to hell paved and all that. The humanitarian situation is indeed appalling and easing it rightly matters to Western powers. Second, politics is at play. The Obama Administration is in its dying throes and the Administration is focussed on its ‘legacy’; Cameron wants a diplomatic ‘triumph’ the week prior to this week’s EU Brexit retreat, and Steinmeier is desperate to stop another massive wave of asylum seekers from heading to Germany threatening the survival of the Merkel regime. 

What are the implications of failure? The ‘agreement to cease hostilities’ reached in Munich last week by the seventeen nation Syrian Contact Group was a tipping point in a war that is now much bigger than Syria. Indeed, the accord revealed just how weak the US and its European allies have become.  Indeed, by crafting a politically-convenient but strategically irrelevant piece of paper the West again gave Russia equal superpower billing to the US, thus strengthening in one go the respective positions of both Putin and Assad. Consequently, far from communicating resolve the Americans, British and other Europeans simply confirmed in the minds of Erdogan et al the retreat of the West into strategic denial and self-deception.

Interestingly, Washington was not unaware of this danger and rapidly distanced itself from the accord. Indeed, from the moment the Munich Accord was signed the Americans were putting it about that it was a ‘triumph’ for patient British diplomacy, and the hard behind the scenes work the British had done to seal agreement. The British, desperate as ever to be appear more influential than they actually are were only too keen to let this rumour circulate.

What are the options? Option one is in effect to do nothing. In which case Russia will help Assad carve out an enclave in Western Syria, Russia’s prestige will be enhanced, much of Northern Syria and Iraq will remain in an IS-friendly anarchy, and the chances of major war downstream in the Middle East will be increased.

Option two is to help establish protected refugee camps in neighbouring lands, reinforce states such as Jordan and Lebanon, hold Turkey close to prevent escalation of the conflict between Ankara and the Kurds, and begin to contest the space that the Russia-Assad-Iran axis is carving out by arming some rebel groups and supporting them with Special Forces where needs be to increase the cost of the Putin-Assad strategy.  

Option three is for the West to overtly choose sides in the war. The current strategy is failing because the West is on one side but pretending to be all sides accept that of Assad and IS. Russia is on Assad’s side and for the moment in tacit league with Islamic State, but most clearly not on the West’s ‘side’. Such an overt commitment would also mean overtly backing ‘our bastards’ against ‘their bastards’. Specifically, the West would support the Saudi-led, Sunni coalition, with Turkey, to intervene of the ground against Russia-Assad and Shia-Iran. Such a strategy would also mean putting Western boots on the ground in significant numbers and probably turn a lot of the people the West currently supports into enemies.

Every available option involves risk and consequence. However, the most risky course of action would be to do nothing or pretend to not do next to nothing. At some point the Russians and their doctrine of using force to change the political situation on the ground will need to be confronted. Indeed, force Russia to back down and its surrogates and partners will also back down. Indeed, only through a real show of Western strategic, political. and if needs be military resolve is there now any chance that the war in Syria can be de-escalated. It is the absence of such resolve that is threatening to turn a civil war at the eastern end of the Mediterranean into something far, far worse.

The strategic bottom-line is this; the West together will not relieve the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the wider Levant, nor indeed the duress under which Europe now labours, until it has confronted the strategic crisis of which Syria is as much symptom as consequence. Any demarche that is not built on that simple premise will not only fail, but it will make major war in the region more likely.
The Turkey shoot is just the beginning…all we need do now is await the next US president.

Julian Lindley-French     

Friday, 12 February 2016

Leverage and Statecraft

“We've been sitting here since Christmas 1914, during which time millions of men have died, and we've advanced no further than an asthmatic ant with some heavy shopping”.
Edmund Blackadder in Blackadder Goes Forth

Alphen, Netherlands. 12 February. The West is in headlong strategic retreat because it’s ‘leaders’ have abandoned the first rule of successful statecraft; leverage. Three events this week reveal the extent of this retreat into strategic pretence; the Munich Syria agreement, NATO's counter-trafficking mission to the Aegean; and David Cameron's Brexit speech in Hamburg. All three events share a common problem; the West's lack of strategic leverage.

Strategic Pretence 1 – Syria: There was a chilling symmetry that yesterday’s ‘peace in our time’ meeting of the seventeen-state Syrian Contact Group took place in Munich. Indeed, the agreement to 'cease hostilities' (not a ceasefire agreement) even sounds like Neville Chamberlain’s ill-fated 1938 ‘accord’ with Adolf Hitler. The ceasefire will begin to begin in a week (or so), before that humanitarian aid will begin to flow (how???), but Russia will still get to decide if groups are ‘terrorists’ under its own interpretation of the agreement. Munich not for the first time witnessed Realpolitik meeting the League of Nations meeting Neville Chamberlain all over again. Indeed, whilst the divided West seeks peace without power, Vladimir Putin will exert his ‘peace’ through power. Worse, as the tragedy of Aleppo demonstrates Russia is ‘winning’ the Syria War on its own Chechen-style terms and does not give a hoot if 250,000 people have been killed if that means Russian influence enhanced and the West eclipsed.

Strategic Pretence 2 – Migration: NATO this week agreed to send ships to the Aegean Sea to monitor the activities of human traffickers in an attempt to curb the flow of asylum seekers and migrants crossing from Turkey to Greece. However, far from stopping the traffickers the ships will simply pass information to the Turkish and Greek coastguards. Within twenty-four hours of the decision, and shortly after the Munich agreement, Turkey’s President Erdogan suddenly threatened to “open the gates” to Europe for some 600,000 more migrants. Clearly, if Turkey wanted to stop the traffickers it could but it does not. Indeed, even Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte described the NATO mission as ‘symbolic’.

Strategic Pretence 3 – Brexit: In Hamburg this evening British Prime Minister, sorry second-hand Rolls Royce salesman David Cameron will give a speech in which he will lay out his ‘vision’ for a reformed EU in the presence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. No doubt Merkel will pretend to agree with Cameron and laud him for his leadership, and no doubt Cameron will pretend he has achieved a negotiating breakthrough and thank Merkel for her support. In fact, Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ of Britain’s membership of the EU is pure piffle and has been from the beginning of this sorry exercise in political chicanery. There is no question that had Cameron really been prepared to walk Europe’s second biggest economy and leading military power away from the EU (and meant it) he would have achieved far more than what one British Conservative MP rightly called “very thin gruel”. Gruel which at next week’s EU Summit will be further watered down, or to use British diplo-speak, will ‘benefit’ from some minor technical adjustments.  Never has a British prime minister promised so much reform, and delivered so little at a moment when much reform is so patently needed.

Why has the West become so supine even in dealing with issues that threaten its own security? Two words; Afghanistan and Iraq. The disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq and the failure in Afghanistan (and Libya) have left Western leaders scarred to such an extent they no longer believe they can prevail. This failure of will is generating three dangerous strategic paradoxes; the triumph of the short-term over the long-term, the abandonment of hard power for soft power; and a determined focus on low politics at the expense of high politics.

The result is a West that is locked into ever-decreasing circles of self-reinforcing failure. One reason for strategic pretence is that leaders such as Obama, Cameron, and Merkel simply do not want to confront their respective publics with uncomfortable truths.  However, because of that refusal they are unable to manage crises effectively. Such failure has led a broad cross-section of said to conclude that mainstream leaders are incompetent, even if publics would be equally uncomfortable with the actions that needed to resolve said crises. Not surprisingly, political insurgents and populists have exploited well-placed cynicism to advantage thus making said crises far more difficult to resolve.

The prospects are not good. Even though the world is about to enter a very dangerous period indeed demanding of the West unity, sophistication and determination in equal measure the free world could conceivably end up being led by either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders.  Indeed, imagine a world in which the three most powerful figures are Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Xi Jingping.

Behind the nightly misery, mayhem and manipulation profound strategic tensions lurk that could very rapidly become very dangerous indeed. In such a world strategic effect can only be realised by sound statecraft backed up with the power to exert real leverage, and the backbone to apply it. Any candidates?

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 8 February 2016

Nuclear Pyongyang: China MUST Act

Alphen, Netherlands. 8 February. If North Korea is not stopped Pyongyang will develop a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile. US Secretary of State John Kerry warned North Korea that the 7 February launch of a ‘communications satellite’ would have “serious consequences”. His remarks were echoed by the foreign ministers of two of the other permanent members of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Britain and France, and even Russia condemned the launch. In diplo-speak ‘serious consequences’ normally means an increased ‘pressure strategy’, which in turn normally means more economic and other targeted sanctions. However, just after Kerry spoke Beijing simply expressed ‘regret’ at the launch. What are the facts, the strategic implications of the launch, what can be done, and why must if fall to China to act?

First, the facts. In recent years Pyongyang has tested a new generation of short, intermediate, and sea-based missiles. Yesterday, at 0939 hours Japanese time, the North Koreans went one step further and according to US Strategic Command successfully launched a long-range, three-stage rocket into space. According to the US Pyongyang appears to have successfully put a satellite into earth orbit, whilst the main body of the rocket crashed into the South China Sea having travelled some 2000kms down range. The launch represents a significant advance on the part of Pyongyang in its efforts to develop the ‘KN-series’ intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a design range in excess of 6000kms.

North Korea is following two development tracks. Track one is designed to develop, test, and eventually deploy a uranium-based fission atomic warhead, similar to the devices dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War Two. If North Korea is to be believed (a big ‘if’ indeed) Pyongyang is also trying to develop a far more destructive plutonium-based fusion device. Track two was evident yesterday with in effect the test of an ICBM that could in time carry a nuclear warhead with the potential to strike anywhere in Asia-Pacific, including the West Coast of the United States.

However, North Korea also has some way to go before it can demonstrably claim to possess such a capability. Indeed, Pyongyang has yet to resolve two major technical difficulties. One difficulty concerns the miniaturisation of the fission-device to enable it to fit atop a missile payload in the form of a nuclear warhead. The North Koreans have now it would appear mastered the the technology that would enable a warhead to successfully separate from the missile ‘bus’ at the appropriate point on a ballistic trajectory. However, it would also appear they have yet to master the technology needed to enable a warhead to successfully re-enter the earth’s upper atmosphere. Equally, North Korea has clearly developed an indigenous programme capable of getting the programme this far.  It is thus reasonable to assume that unless halted Pyongyang will indeed at some point in the not-too-distant future overcome the remaining difficulties.

What would be the strategic implications? Last month President Obama said that North Korea would eventually collapse. Since the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) the underlying assumption of all states, be they a party to the treaty or not, has been that all states share a degree of rationality. Indeed, different though they might be all states are all or in some form rational state actors, even if they are implacable enemies such as Iran and Israel. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is most decidedly not a rational state actor.  And, if President Obama is right the combination of a state about to collapse, an irrational leadership indifferent to the suffering it creates, and armed with a range of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles poses perhaps the gravest threat to the international order.

Multilateral action has consistently been too little, too late. The so-called Six Party Talks created to deal with Pyongyang following the latter’s 2003 with withdrawal from the NPT are completely stymied. One need only look at the membership to understand why; the US, China, Japan, Russian Federation, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the Republic of Korea. Indeed, Pyongyang has successfully driven an ICBM-sized wedge between the already fractious members of the Group, even if Moscow condemned Sunday’s launch.

Why must China act? If Beijing fails to take action a nuclear arms race in China’s backyard beckons. Japan could become a nuclear power relatively quickly, and South Korea has long hinted it would also do so.  Given that both India and Pakistan are already nuclear powers the prospect of a nuclear-armed twenty-first century Asia-Pacific, that would look much nineteenth century Europe, simply does not bear thinking about.

Pyongyang also threatens to destroy China’s carefully-crafted strategic calculations. Beijing has stated that China is in some form of strategic competition with the United States. However, it is also reasonable to assume that China still sees that competition from the viewpoint of a rational actor seeking to exert its power and influence over its region by striking a balance between economic, diplomatic and military power in pursuit of what it sees as its own essentially rational interests.

Indeed, if successful North Korea could trigger an arms race in East Asia of which both China and the US would rapidly lose control. Indeed, if there is a ‘strategy’ behind Pyongyang’s thinking beyond regime-survival nuclear blackmail chaos might well be it. Such an arms race would threaten global peace and not just the regional tinderbox that is East Asia. Moreover, if the nuclear genie escapes from the NPT bottle then there is no telling the extent or pace of subsequent nuclear proliferation. The technology is after all at least fifty years old.    

Secretary Kerry also said yesterday that the US would uphold its, “…ironclad commitment to the security and defence of its allies,” primarily Japan and South Korea, but also other states in the region. There is every reason to take Kerry at his word. However, reading between the lines of diplo-speak implicit in Kerry’s statement is also a call on China to stop Pyongyang. China certainly is the only power with any real influence over North Korea. Seventy percent of what income Pyongyang generates comes from China and it is fair to say Kim Jung Un’s regime is in effect propped up by China.

Therefore, China must demonstrate its strategic bone fides. Specifically, President Xi Jingping must prove to the world that Beijing will be a responsible world leader in the twenty-first century and move quickly to stop Kim Jung-Un and his nuclear ambitions, or face the terrifying consequences of a failure to act.

Julian Lindley-French        

Friday, 5 February 2016

Syria: Is Russia in League with Islamic State?

Alphen, Netherlands. 5 February. Two events took place yesterday that revealed the tragedy, the hopelessness, and the sheer cynicism that is the war in Syria. In London donors pledged some $10 million of further humanitarian support for the 4m Syrians displaced beyond Syria’s borders. Whether or not wretched Syrians will ever see that money is a moot point. Indeed, previous experience suggests there is every likelihood that having pledged funds many of the states represented in London yesterday will simply not cough up. Indeed, the whole event had the feeling of the League of Nations revisited, a council of despair, a grand side-show to the reality that Western powers simply have no real idea how to bring about a political end to a war that threatens to propel over 2m more asylum seekers and migrants towards Europe.

The second event revealed the sheer cynicism of President Putin’s Moscow and his clear order of strategic priorities. As the London conference met the putative ‘peace’ talks taking place very tentatively at the UN in Geneva had to be ‘suspended’. The suspension took place because even as the delegate were sitting down in the old League of Nations building the Russians and their Syrian allies were launching a punishing attack on Syria’s largest and once most beautiful city, Aleppo. It is now clear that both Putin and Assad had used the preparations for the peace talks as cover to build-up the Syrian Army, and to get the Russian Air Force in position to unleash the latest and continuing barrage on Aleppo.

When the report came out in London last month into the role the Russian state had played in the 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko one of the arguments the British Government put forward to justify its pusillanimous response was that Russia was a vital partner in resolving the war in Syria. Surely, finally, hopefully, after yesterday’s events, London and other European capitals must finally have woken up to the stark reality; Russia is not is Syria to partner the West, but to confound it. Sadly, don’t bet on it.

Russia is in Syria to bolster the Assad regime at any cost and to ensure Moscow’s influence and prestige in the region is bolstered as part of a new illiberal axis.  Russia is in Syria to preserve both its air and naval base to ensure Moscow can extend its diplomatic and military influence across the Middle East and far across the Mediterranean. Russia is in Syria to humiliate the West and by so doing demonstrate that it is better for states in the region to be a friend of Russia and its satellites than the weak, vacillating, incompetent West. Russia is in Syria to heap more pressure on a Europe that is unable to take even the most basic action to defend its own borders. 

Taken together yesterday’s two events reveal the contemporary strategic character of European and Russian leaders. Strangled by their own strategic political correctness, incapable of decisive leadership, with a United States otherwise engaged in its presidential elections, 'Europe' wrings its hands by holding big conferences that do little to move Syria towards peace. Yesterday’s London conference whilst worthy smacked of impotent leaders talking impotently about matters that whilst important simply avoid the real question; what must be done not just to defeat IS but to stop the war in Syria which now threatens to engulf the region? 

Meanwhile, utterly cynical and determined to use every event however tragic, and every device however deadly, President Putin’s Russia appears to know no depths to which it will sink in its efforts to divide, distract, destabilise, and damage the West, Europe in particular. Moreover, Russia's actions also suggest a further cynical Moscow gambit; for a time at least Russia is prepared to be in implicit league with Islamic State. 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines being ‘in league’, as “an agreement made for mutual protection or assistance or prosecution of common interests, parties (whether states or individuals) to such compact”. Russia is clearly in 'compact' with President Assad against non-Islamist Syrian rebels. However, at least until Moscow has successfully confounded Western plans to remove Assad from power it looks to all intents and purposes that Russia may well also be in a tacit compact with IS. By its actions alone Moscow clearly believes confounding the West, and the forced driving of more desperate people towards Europe, as being of more importance to the Russian national interest than defeating IS.    

There was one other event that took place yesterday which should concentrate Western minds. The CIA announced that it now estimates there are some 6500 IS fighters in Libya. Indeed, the growing power of IS in North Africa could well prevent the stabilisation of Libya and thus help propel yet more migrants towards Europe. Clearly, Russia sees such instability on Europe’s southern flank as also being favourable to Moscow’s zero sum view of international politics. Why? Because so long as European leaders are mired in the chaos of mass irregular migration from Europe's southern flank they will be sufficiently distracted to miss and/or ignore Moscow’s real strategy; to re-establish a Russian sphere of influence over Europe’s eastern flank.

It is a tragic irony that the putative Syrian peace talks are taking place in Geneva’s old League of Nations building. It was in that very building that Western powers back in the 1920s and 1930s tried and failed to assuage Tojo’s Japan, Mussolini’s Italy, and of course, Hitler’s Nazis. And we all know what happened next… 

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Why I Reject Brexit

Alphen, Netherlands. 3 February. This is not an easy blog to write but written it must be. Indeed, my decision may well surprise some. In fact, it has come as somewhat of a surprise to me. However, after much careful consideration and a year of travelling and talking with friends and colleagues across Europe I have decided I will not be voting for Brexit.

It has nothing to do with the political chicanery of yesterday. Donald Tusk’s long letter to members of the European Council is blandly entitled: “a new settlement for the United Kingdom within the European Union”.  Read it and three things immediately become apparent. First, there will be no reform of the EU per se under the plan. Second, with a few window dressing minor adjustments most of the so-called ‘new’ arrangements actually exist under existing treaty provisions. Third, the agreement confirms that Britain will not at any point be part of EU structures of which it is already not a part, most notably the Euro, Schengen, and ever closer political union. In other words, this agreement is a least possible of offer agreement to get a line of least resistance politician out of a domestic political corner entirely of his own making. Not only has David Cameron missed a very real opportunity to show real leadership and push a real EU reform agenda, history will now judge him as one of Britain’s lesser prime ministers.   

There will certainly be days when I will regret this decision as there is much about the EU I really do not like at all, most notably the threat to democracy posed by Brussels and ever closer union. However, while I remain a confirmed EU-sceptic I am not nor have I ever been a Euro-sceptic. Indeed, I have long been firm in my belief that it is vital Europeans work closely together in a dangerous world that is getting more dangerous by the day. Nor am I particularly bothered by some of the issues that excite many of the ‘outers’. For example, I see freedom of movement within the EU migration as one of the very freedoms for which Britain fought the Soviets during the Cold War. 

As a strategist, analyst and historian, some say a good one, I simply believe that this is not the moment for Britain to leave the EU. Moreover, even though I am only an individual British and EU citizen, which means I count for very little in today’s EU, I still believe that all of us must at times show leadership in the interest not only of my country, but of the community of which it is a part – be it within the EU or without. 

The simple truth is that I am confronted by a complex set of interacting realities from which no clear course of action is apparent, in a strategic environment which is markedly more dangerous than back in 2010 when I called for Britain to leave the EU.  At such moments the good strategist weighs up the factors, considers them over the medium to longer-term, and then relies on strategic judgement to reach a decision.

The critical strategic judgements supporting my decision are based on the following factors:

The integrity of the United Kingdom: It is clear that the UK remains a fragile political edifice in the wake of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. If England voted to leave the EU on what now looks likely to be a 23 June Brexit referendum and Scotland did not, the separatists in the Scottish Nationalist Party would be again call for Scottish independence. For those of us who believe it vital the UK endure for both strategic and political reasons the SNP regime in Edinburgh now empowered with full devolution must be given both time and opportunity to fail politically. 

The shifting balance of power within Europe: In December 2013 the Centre for Economic and Business Research suggested that by 2030 Britain could emerge as Europe’s strongest economic power. Britain is already on track to regain its position as Europe’s strongest and most capable military power. The CEBR position may well be over-stated and maybe ever-so-slightly hubristic.  However, it is clear that fears of German hegemony have been over-stated. Germany’s poor leadership of Europe’s now many crises and the eclipsing of Chancellor Merkel’s political star, allied to the inevitable decline of an unreformable France that simply wants more ‘Europe’ to save itself from itself, clearly point to a shift of power within the EU. If correct the critical future power relationship within the EU will be between London and Berlin.  

Pressure for EU reform will grow:  In his September 2015 “State of the Union” address Jean-Claude Juncker said that in 2017 the EU will begin the long-process towards a new treaty. Juncker clearly thinks a crisis hit EU will automatically lead to Europeans wanting for more ‘Europe’ and thus less democracy. In fact, a new treaty is more likely lead to a balancing of powers within the EU between common and inter-governmental structures in favour of the latter. The irony for the British is that whether they vote for or against Brexit Britain will probably end up in the same political place.

The end of political union: The dream of euro-federalists such as Juncker have been dealt a real blow by the Eurozone, Russia, and migration crises. His efforts to find ‘common’ solutions, i.e. more power for Brussels, have repeatedly founded on two simple facts of European life: a) there is growing EU-scepticism across Europe; and b) a majority of Europeans and their leaders still remain firmly wedded to their nation-states. There are now clearly limits to just how much power Europe’s states are willing to hand over to Brussels. 

The Eurozone v non-Eurozone: When I called for Britain to leave the EU back in 2010 it was because I believed at the time that the only way to save the Euro was for the Eurozone to deepen economic, political and fiscal union. Those outside the Eurozone I feared would be forced to pay without having any say in which the EU and the Eurozone were effectively one and the same. In fact, efforts to deepen the Eurozone have proven to be extremely complex and difficult causing much resentment amongst the taxpayers of the six western European states who in effect have to pay. Six years on and it is clear that the EU is dividing into a Eurozone and non-Eurozone bloc. Britain’s relative power if used properly (a big ‘if’ given the poor quality of Britain’s leaders) should ensure London emerges to lead the non-Eurozone bloc. Power far more than any empty language in a hollow agreement will afford the City of London the protections the British seek from the ‘ambitions’ of the Eurozone bloc.   
Democracy, sovereignty & subsidiarity: The Dutch have a saying, “Europe where necessary, the states where possible”. English political culture has always rightly distrusted distant political power. Born of the likes of Burke, Locke and Mill the English (and dare I say Scottish – Hume &Smith?) have traditionally mistrusted continental Colbertian grands dessins which always afford excessive power to distant executives at the expense of local legislatures. In alliance with partners Britain’s power and influence could help protect all Europeans from the unwarranted ambitions of ‘we know best’ politicised Eurocrats, euro-judges, and officials at the European Central Bank.

Political distraction: The run-up to the September 2014 Scottish referendum effectively took Britain strategically off-line for two full years. Had the Scots voted to quit the UK London would still today be mired in squabbles about the minutiae of disengagement and independence that would still be distracting London from big strategy. These squabbles would also have created deep mistrust between the English and Scots that no amount of political blandishments could have hidden. If Britain votes for Brexit not only will London and Brussels also become mired in an extremely complex set of negotiations it will caused rancour between Britain and others at a time when Europeans must together face major crises.

Solidarity: The other day I was standing in the snow not far from the Russian border in Lithuania. I had already begun to shift my position on Brexit in the wake of the November 2015 Paris massacre and in the face of the challenges posed by Russia, Islamic State, and the migration crisis, none of which existed in 2010. Today, I simply think it inconceivable for Britain to be distracted or indeed to distract others from dealing with a set of challenges that could all too easily become existential. Indeed, in the final analysis my need to stand firmly with my Baltic and French friends, and indeed my Greek, Italian and other under pressure European friends, outweighs my concerns about the future governance of Europe and Britain’s place therein.  My fear is that Brexit could critically undermine all-important strategic unity of effort and purpose and in turn damage NATO and wider transatlantic security relationship at a critical moment.

There is one final reason why I will not be voting for Brexit. Britain does not quit. Throughout Britain’s history London has never run away from a fight over who controls Europe. It is simply of too great importance to Britain. Phillip II of Spain, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Kaiser Bill and Hitler were all seen off because England and then Britain stood firm.  Therefore, precisely because Europeans today face serious dangers from without Europe and serious question within Europe I believe it vital Britain stand firm and stand tall to deal with them. As Britain has always done and I hope always will.

To sum up, I am rejecting Brexit precisely because Europe is in crisis. The decision I have made is a big one and a part of me really dislikes the decision I have made. Moreover, I have absolutely no doubt that once over the stress of break-up my old, great country possessed of the world’s fifth biggest economy, and a top five military, could and would flourish. Equally, I am also fully aware that I am gambling on Britain’s future. It may well be that the moment the British people vote to remain in the EU Brussels will seek to tear up the agreement and behave as if nothing had happened to challenge their cherished goal of a European super-state. However, I am also willing to bet for all the reasons I have outlined above that is not going to happen.

What really matters is that my important decision is a decision arrived at freely by a free-born Englishman. Henceforth, I will fight in all and any way I can to ensure the EU is properly reformed so that my birth right is protected. No-one has got to me, I have not lost my political nerve, nor am I seeking to assuage political masters as I have none, nor do I seek to gain opportunistically from this decision. However, on balance (and it is on balance) I am now of the opinion that if Britain really wants to reform the EU it must stay within it and fight for it.  

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 1 February 2016

Why Britain Stop Being a Poodle and Became a Whore

Donald, “Prime Minister, would you keep the UK in the EU for five billion euros?” David, “My goodness, Mr Tusk…we would have to discuss terms of course”. Donald, “Would you keep the UK in the EU for five euros?” David: “Mr Tusk, what kind of politician do you think I am?” Donald, “Prime Minister, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price”.  
Dinner in Downing Street between David Cameron and Donald Tusk, 31 January, 2016 after the story about Winston Churchill and a particularly flexible socialite.

Alphen, Netherlands.1 February. Londonistan, Londongrad, Lonjing. With David Cameron and Donald Tusk now negotiating a form of words to mask London’s Great EU Climb-down it is reasonable to ask when and why Britain stopped being a poodle and became a whore? Now, I do not want to tar the world’s oldest profession with the untrustworthy brush of the world’s second oldest, so a precise definition here is vital. A whore is a man or woman who sells their body to the highest bidder in return for immediate sexual gratification. A whore state is one in which its leaders sell the body politic to the highest bidder for immediate financial and/or political gratification at the expense of the long-term interests of the country, its friends, and its allies.

In January 1942 the Americans effectively established de facto control over British foreign and security policy. Over the following sixty-five years the British became so dependent on American leadership, and indeed money, that London became little more than a gilded, collared bouffant poodle that the Americans occasionally took out for walks. It was called the ‘special relationship’. Still, at least Washington for the most part treated London with respect, more respect than on many occasions the British deserved. No more. Britain has to a significant extent abandoned that relationship in favour of a new set of financial relationships with illiberal powers that can only be described as a form of strategic whoredom. Indeed, under David Cameron London has effectively abandoned any pretence to foreign policy principle in favour of short-term cynicism, manipulation of public opinion, and narrow mercantilism. Three recent events testify to Britain’s loss of virtue.

Londonistan: Parliament will soon have to vacate Gilbert Scott’s magnificent 1839 Palace of Westminster as a massive programme of refurbishment begins that could last up to six years and cost £4bn.  One of the buildings ear-marked to host Parliament during this ‘interregnum’ is Richmond House, some 100 metres from Westminster and slap-bang in the middle of Whitehall.  The problem for traditionally boozy MPs is that alcohol is to be banned in Richmond House. This is because in 2014 Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne quietly handed the building over to Middle Eastern investors under the terms of an Islamic bond, otherwise known as a sukkuk. One of the terms of the lease is that the building must operate under sharia law. Consequently, the presence and consumption of alcohol will be banned to MPs should Richmond House be used as an alternative Parliament. Just how many other British institutions now operate under such a ridiculous regime?

Londongrad: The publication of the report of a full public inquiry into the 2006 murder of Russian émigré Alexander Litvinenko by Russian agents should have been a landmark moment in British foreign policy.  At the very least Cameron should have immediately moved to expel the Russian ambassador, many of the now Cold War level of Russian spies operating in London, and sought to increase sanctions against the Putin regime. Instead, apart from a risible statement by Home Secretary Therese May in Parliament, Cameron did all he could to kill the story and quickly. Why? Simple. Russian oligarchs have invested billions in the City of London over the past twenty years. President Putin controls the oligarchs, ergo President Putin controls the City of London. Even though the Russian economy slid by some 8% last year Putin increased defence spending by some 28% safe in the belief that for all the rhetoric to the contrary he has Britain by the financial balls. Will Britain ever stand up to Russian bullying?

Lonjing:  The culmination of President Xi Jingping’s October 2015 state visit to Britain was some £40bn worth of trade deals.  Known as the Grand Kowtow under the deal a Chinese state-owned company is to be allowed to build and control three nuclear power plants across England. MI5 was so concerned that Britain’s spies went public and warned that London could never be sure what software would be inserted by the Chinese. During the visit China’s daily industrial levels of cyber-attack on Britain subsided for a few days. However, even as President Xi stepped onto British soil an American warship was undertaking a freedom of navigation cruise to uphold the right of free movement under international law in the South China Sea, which Beijing is determined to establish as an exclusive economic and security zone. In a confrontation between Britain’s main liberal ally and a main illiberal investor what side would Britain choose?

One of the many paradoxes of David Cameron’s very paradoxical premiership is the extent to which a powerful Britain behaves like a weak Britain. Some commentators have put this down to post-crash economic fragility and post-Scottish independence referendum political fragility. Both factors can go some way to exploring Cameron’s retreat from influence, the strategic pretence which has marked his premiership, and the often massive gap between what he says and what he means.

However, Britain’s strategic malaise also reaches deep into the culture of contemporary British government. Mix the Cameron/Osborne policy of narrow mercantilism with a Whitehall bureaucracy that champions management over strategy, and in particular the management and culture of decline, and the reason why Britain continues to retreat and decline beyond the necessary becomes sadly apparent. 

Indeed, Britain has become like Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus with David Cameron selling Britain’s body politic to an array of devils in return for short-term political gratification and foreign policy destroying financial investment. If there is no such thing as a free lunch in politics, there is certainly no such thing as a free nuclear power station. If this is a foretaste of Britain’s brave new globalised world outside of the EU then I am not at all sure I want it.

David Cameron and George Osborne are far too interested in, and close to, big illiberal money, and are far too willing to pay whatever price to kowtow to it. The result is a country that might appear to be one of the world’s strongest, but in fact is most decidedly not. This sad truth was reinforced last week by a laughable tax deal for Britain with technology giant Google whereby the latter would pay the former some £130m for over £24 billion of earnings in the UK. San Lonfrisco?  

So, when David Cameron eventually steps down in 2018 or 2019 he will leave Britain a toxic and cynical foreign policy legacy which will not only make Britain more insecure, but undermine both NATO and the EU. Sooner or later there is going to be a real reckoning between American-led liberal power and Chinese and Russian-inspired illiberal power. When that moment comes, as it must, the very real danger exists that Britain will be hors de combat because Cameron and Osborne abandoned foreign policy principle having sold the British body politic down the wadi, as well as the Moscow and Yangtze Rivers.

In Faustus’s final hour as he prepares to complete the contract he signed in blood when he sold his soul to the devil he watches with creeping despair as the minute hand of a clock ticks slowly by. “Oh lente, lente, currite noctis equis”, he pleads. Oh slowly, slowly run the horse of the night. At one point over dinner Donald Tusk, sorry Mephistopheles, pleads with David Cameron, sorry Faustus, “Oh David, forget these frivolous demands which strike a terror to my fainting soul”.

Oh dear…

Julian Lindley-French