“All the rest was merely the proper application of overwhelming force”
Winston S. Churchill
Kiev, Ukraine. 24 March. Last week I asked a blunt but tragically relevant question. How many more Europeans (and others) have to die before Europe’s political leaders get a strategic grip? Sadly, I now have my answer. As I was beginning my presentation on how to craft national strategy to the Committee of National Security and Defence of the Ukrainian Parliament news began to spread of the attacks in Brussels. A further 31 people who were alive last week when I posed that question are now dead, murdered by terrorists. A further 60 or so are fighting for their lives. Sadly, be it the rape of Ukraine by Russia, the terrorism-reinforcing migration crisis, and/or the threat posed by IS/Daesh Europe’s political leaders talk but never act.
Strategic failure #1: In the corridor outside the official meeting room in which I spoke I asked a senior Ukrainian politician his view about the multi-faceted EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. He just laughed contemptuously. “Stalled’, came his diplomatic reply, and yet his tone suggested the contempt in which he holds the EU. Then I asked how he viewed the Minsk 2 Agreement crafted by Germany and France to help bring an end to the Russian-driven conflict in eastern Ukraine. “Stalled”, came the same reply. It is a deadly stall as both Ukrainians and Russians continue to die in what is fast becoming another ‘frozen conflict’. That same day Ukraine’s only female military pilot, Nadiya Savchenko, was sentenced in a Russian court to 22 years of imprisonment. Even a cursory examination of the charges given the timing of events suggests trumped up charges for propaganda purposes.
Strategic failure #2: This morning it has also transpired that one of the Brussels attackers returned from Syria by posing as a migrant. At the same time the EU-Turkey ‘deal’ to manage the flow of migrants also appears to be stalling, whatever the official propaganda states. The EU, Greece and its supporting agencies are scrambling to find the 4000 border guards, police asylum officials and 60 judges needed to protect the EU’s external borders and process the migrants. The minimum 1000 troops needed to manage the return of failed migrants to Turkey are also proving hard to find. Worse, the very process of returning migrants under the deal is beset by a whole host of practical and legal problems. Meanwhile, across the Mediterranean in Libya it is reported that up to 500,000 migrants are waiting to cross to Europe.
Strategic failure #3: Perhaps the most damning indictment of the failure of Europe’s leaders to get a strategic grip came this morning from Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of Britain’s MI6. In an article in Prospect Magazine Sir Richard said that the EU “leaked like a colander” and that, “though the UK participates in various European and Brussels-based security bodies they are of little consequence”. Dearlove went on with his critique of the now many EU-focused agencies and ‘clubs’ that comprise badly-flawed intelligence-sharing in Europe: “With the exception of Europol, these bodies have no operational capacity and with 28 members of vastly varying levels of professionalism in intelligence and security, the convoy must accommodate the slowest and leakiest of the ships of state”.
Europeans are lions led by donkeys surrounded by lackeys. Taken together these three strategic failures when set against this week’s Brussels outrage shows all too clearly that Europe’s endemic weakness goes to the very top of power. European leaders lack a shared European strategic culture, strategic rigour, and there is little or no a transmission between words and deeds. For too long ‘solidarity’ has placed being united in appearance before being united in action. The result is the strategic disconnect between strategy, politics and security self-evident at the top of power in Europe today and which both the Kremlin and IS/Daesh are exploiting.
At a recent European Council meeting Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel was not for the first time lecturing Europe’s assembled ‘great and good’ about the need for ever closer political union. In a rare flash of humour Chancellor Merkel suggested to Michel that if he wanted ever closer union he might start with ever closer Belgium.
Sadly, one reason why Belgium is dysfunctional (and believe me it is) is because too much of its elite spend too much time lecturing the rest of us about the need to scrap our own nation-states to create their fantasy Europe rather than modernising and leading Belgium. My solidarity with the Belgian people is total. However, I am equally contemptuous of much of the Belgian political class which must bear much responsibility for what has happened this week.
In fact there is more than enough capability and capacity in Europe to face-down a weak Russia, help give Ukraine a future, manage the migration crisis, and help defeat IS/Daesh without having to rely excessively on the over-stretched US taxpayer. However, to unlock that power European leaders must first embrace strategic realism. That in turn will mean facing hard truths not avoiding them, engaging in strategic planning not strategic pretence, streamlining structures rather than their pointless proliferation, and the investing of real resources and political will over time, space and distance to prevail.
Forgive me if I sound angry, but I am angry. I am angry with the terrorists who kill my fellow Europeans and other friends. I am angry with a Russia that condemns its own people and others to unnecessary hardship and danger. And, I am angry with the entire edifice of pretence that enables Europe’s political elite to too often place their own futures before that of the security of the people who elect them. Above all, I am angry with the politicians who continue to trot out the same, old tired mantras and wring their carefully-manicured elite hands after each failure before rushing off to Brussels for yet more consultations from which little or no positive change ever seems to emerge.
When I rejected Brexit I did so for strategic reasons in the face of danger. However, in return I want a strategic Europe, founded on unity of purpose, built on close collaboration between Europe’s states, and led by its most powerful; Britain, France and Germany. For too long the European elite has fiddled whilst parts of Europe have burned. This week ‘Brussels’ fiddled whilst Brussels burned.
As Churchill said when strategy and power are properly aligned all that then matters is the proper application of overwhelming force. Until then how many more have to die, leaders?