hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

The Riga Test 2019

“We are all inclined to judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their acts”.
Sir Harold Nicholson

Alphen, Netherlands. October 16. For many years I have had the honour of attending the annual Riga Conference. It is quite simply superb. And, every year I pose the Riga Test: can the good citizens of Riga sleep more safely in their beds than last year.  Naturally, given the location of Latvia the big issue is Russia, the now constant coercion against the Baltic States, and the threat posed by Moscow’s powerful armed forces just over the border.  This year the test also concerns Russia, but not directly. Rather, it concerns the implications of the latest Kurdish-Turkish war for the people of Riga.

Two conversations struck home to me at this conference. The first was my interview with an old friend and colleague, Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, the former US Ambassador to Moscow and Deputy Secretary-General of NATO. You can see the interview on YouTube at  Sandy’s message was clear; Russia must be managed. However, managing Russia must be seen against the backdrop of a rapidly changing geopolitical environment driven by the rise of China, not least in Europe.

My second conversation took place over breakfast with the former British Foreign and Defence Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind. Malcolm reminded me of a 1939 book entitled “Diplomacy”, which had been written on the eve of war by British diplomat Sir Harold Nicholson. Nicholson warned there are three types of people that are anathema to good diplomacy – fanatics, lawyers and missionaries.

Russia’s success in the Middle East has been driven precisely by the combination of Trumpian fanaticism, European legalism and irrelevant evangelism.  It might sound strange to accuse President Trump of fanaticism, but a fanatic is someone so committed to his/her own cause that they will act at whatever cost to themselves and their cause. This latest Middle Eastern war was triggered by President Trump’s arbitrary decision to pull US forces out of North-West Syria thus ending their role as a buffer between Turks and Kurds. The consequent strategic vacuum is now being filled by the forces of Erdogan and Putin.

Now, I am not one of the European Chicken Little Brigade when it comes to President Trump. My first instinct is to respect the US Commander-in-Chief. However, it is increasingly hard to respect an increasingly capricious US president the actions of whom seem overwhelmingly driven by his need to assuage his domestic political base, and at any geopolitical cost to America’s standing.  

However, my main concern for Rigans rests not with Americans, but fellow Europeans. America’s withdrawal from Syria has revealed once and for all the complete absence of European strategic responsibility and any meaningful capability even in a region the fate of which has dire implications for all Europeans. Why? One need look no look no further than an expensive roll of toilet paper called the EU Global Strategy. Listen to the warbling of EU-funded European think-tanks one would think that the EU is about to become some proto-superpower.  In reality, the ‘Strategy’ was written by lawyers and missionaries and has just about enough reach to influence the Brussels Beltway, but little beyond.  It also says everything about the essential malaise of European external action – the gulf between values, interests, and power.

Contrast that with President Putin. For Putin the only ‘law’ is power, and whilst Europeans talk and Americans politic, Russia acts. As for President Erdogan, why are Europeans so surprised he is attacking the Kurds? Indeed, I even predicted this moment in my 2017 book The New Geopolitics of Terror. Even a cursory glance of Turkish history confirms Erdogan could never tolerate a Kurdish ‘state’ along Turkey’s southern border out of fear for Ankara’s eastern provinces. The absurdity of the Trump position is to sacrifice the Kurds (not for the first time in history) for domestic politics, but also sacrifice the US relationship with a critical Turkey. This is not US Realpolitik, this is just plain geopolitical incompetence. Nicholson, who was born in Tehran at the height of British imperial power, must be spinning in his grave, not least because Russia is now the referee of ‘rules’ in the region that it creates, and by which others will now abide.

Europe? It is hard to describe complete inaction and irrelevance as incompetence. Beyond the usual wittering the EU has said and done virtually nothing to influence a major crisis on its doorstep.  A few European powers have now moved to stop arms sales to Turkey – a NATO ally – which could well be met by Ankara re-opening the route for refugees to enter Europe en masse.  However, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, sanctions are simply the last resort of the strategically-incompetent and politically-inept.

Nicholson’s warning was a call for power and pragmatism in equal measure. Skilled diplomacy is the art of balancing the two to ensure the best outcome is not the enemy of the good outcome.  Turkey is a pivotal power for the defence of Europe, the Kurds, and the Kurdish-led Syrian Defence Force, have been loyal allies in the struggle against Daesh. Now, more than ever, Europeans as ‘Europe’ should stand up to demonstrate precisely the strategic culture and responsibility they keep banging on about by trying to broker a peace. Such a peace would ease America’s burdens, keep the Russians in check, help keep Turkey on board, and afford some level of protection to Kurds now forced into the clutches of Assad. If ever there is to be a point to ‘Europe’ and its place in the world, it is right now and in that place. As ever, Europeans will neither agree nor act, beyond the now traditionally desultory.

Can Rigans trust America, or will they too wake up one day to suffer they have also been sacrificed on the hard anvil of geopolitics? My sense is they can trust the Americans, but I am less and less sure.  Can Rigans trust their fellow Europeans? What is there to trust beyond words and a few under-equipped soldiers? Indeed, what worries me most is not a capricious President Trump, but a Europe that seems incapable of ever growing up to meet the challenges and threats its peoples face. For, as Thomas Hobbes once said, “Covenants without the sword are but words, and of use to no man”. Europe?

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

The Warsaw Uprising

“The city [Warsaw] must completely disappear from the surface of the earth and serve only as a transport station for the Wehrmacht. No stone can remain standing. Every building must be razed to its foundation”

Heinrich Himmler, October 17, 1944

Warsaw, Poland. October 2. On September 17 1944, Stanley Nosecki, of the Polish Independent Parachute Brigade, was preparing to jump into the Netherlands under the command of the redoubtable Major-General Stanislaw Sosabowski. He was to take part in the disastrous Operation Market Garden and Field Marshal Montgomery’s attempt to seize the bridge over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem. However, Nosecki’s mind was elsewhere, in Warsaw. Before Nosecki jumped he closed his eyes and dreamt of the Poniatowski Bridge, the King’s Castle, the Zygmunt Column and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”. “Are they still fighting on those famous streets of Nowy Swiat and Tamka? Is the Holy Cross Church still there, where I used to serve as an altar boy every other Sunday?” ‘They’ were his fellow patriots in the Polish Resistance, led by the Polish Home Army and the Polish First Army, who were fighting a desperate battle against battle-hardened Nazi troops. On October 2, 1944, seventy-five years ago today, these brave men and women were finally forced to lay down their arms.

Being here today at the excellent Warsaw Security Forum is an act of pilgrimage to those Warsaw fighters who stood up for Poland. It was not just the Nazis they had to face, but also the brute cynicism of Stalin. The aim of the uprising was to install a free Polish government that would affirm Polish sovereignty before the Red Army, which had pushed the retreating Nazis back to the shores of the River Vistula, installed a puppet regime loyal to Moscow. The Home Army had hoped for support from the Americans and British, but as so often their hopes were all but dashed.

Operation Tempest had begun on August 1 and was planned as a nationwide campaign. For sixty-three days the Poles fought in what was the largest resistance operation of World War Two.  There were possibly up to 49,000 Polish combatants, but only some 5000 at most had any guns. They faced up to 50,000 well-trained and well-armed German troops. By the end of the struggle over 15,000 Poles were either dead or missing.     

In the initial phase of the Uprising, the Poles seized much of central Warsaw and the surrounding forest. They tried to make contact by radio with Soviet forces, but the Red Army did not respond. Worse, they just waited on the edge of the city for the Germans to exact their bloody revenge. Over time, the Nazis divided Polish forces into six pockets, which they then systematically destroyed. Neither the Red Army, nor the Soviet Air Force, made any meaningful attempt to support the Poles.

Churchill argued at length with both President Roosevelt and Marshal Stalin, but to no avail. Frustrated, Churchill ordered the Royal Air Force, with Bomber Command’s Polish squadrons to the fore, to support the Uprising. Between August 4 and September 28 the RAF dropped some 300 tons of supplies at low level, albeit some 50% fell into Nazi hands. Roosevelt eventually relented and permitted the US Army Air Force to conduct one high-level mission, which missed the target. The Soviets? They refused the RAF use of their airfields, forcing the RAF to fly long missions, and even fired on RAF aircraft. Forty-one aircraft were lost and three hundred and sixty RAF aircrew died. The Soviets did, in the end, drop some 13 tons of supplies, but much of it was dropped from high altitude with no parachutes and destroyed. In any case, it was all too little too late. On this fateful day, seventy-five years ago, some 15,000 Polish fighters were taken prisoner, and faced a grisly fate. By then, between 150,000 and 200,000 Polish citizens had been killed, with a further 700,000 expelled from the city. Himmler kept his criminal word, and razed Warsaw to the ground.       

Fifty metres from my house there is a cemetery. Within its gates some twenty young Poles lay interred in Dutch clay. They had died, like so many Poles before and since, fighting for the liberty of others so they too might one day be free. They had died free men. The men and women of the Warsaw Uprising who laid down their arms that dark October day all those years ago were not defeated. No force, however haughty in its hubris can ever defeat the Poles, for the flame of freedom burns too brightly in them.

This blog is in honour of the brave Polish fighters who died defying two tyrants, and who laid the foundation for the free Poland of today. Poland, like Warsaw, emerged from the ashes, and should remind all Europeans that to defend freedom one must be vigilant...and strong.  

Julian Lindley-French     

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Fusion Defence

Alphen, Netherlands. 25 September. When I am at the later stage of writing a big book the only thing that I can think about is the bloody book. That is precisely where I am now with my latest book for Oxford University Press, “Future War and the Defence of Europe”. The blog has to go on the back-burner. Thankfully, my friend Anna Wieslander, Director of the Atlantic Council in Stockholm, last week invited me to attend a closed session with the leadership of Sweden’s armed forces. Thankfully, the subject was also close to that of the book, and whilst I cannot disclose what was discussed, I can share my own intellectual property.

My presentation considered a seminal question: What Europeans would need to do in order to act as effective first responders in a worst-case scenario? If one deconstructs that question there are four keywords therein all of which Europeans find challenging: European; act; first responders; and worst-case.

Given the implicit challenge of the question my core message was thus: European first responders during a major military crisis in and around Europe will need also to be fast responders at the high end of military capability. Moreover, given the changing character of warfare a first response would only be possible and credible if enabled by an array of sensitive sensors, indicators, allied to fast analysis. Critically, such a first response would also be dependent on robust critical infrastructure and civil defence. Society would undoubtedly be subject to all forms of coercion across the hybrid-cyber-hyper war spectrum.

Why?  Europeans are moving into an age of automated future war and complex strategic coercion in which warfare will be conducted both simultaneously and/or sequentially across the 5 ‘D’s of disinformation, deception, destabilisation, disruption, and implied and actual destruction. As AI, machine-learning, big data and other ‘synthetic’ forms of weaponry enter the battlespace speed of response, and proven speed, will be a critical element of both deterrence and defence.

What military capabilities would be needed? To be honest, I prefer to focus on the military effects that need to be generated, rather than capabilities per se. Too much of a focus on the latter tends to foster an input approach to defence investment, rather than vital defence outputs and outcomes.  To effect credible deterrence and defence armed forces will need to be able to demonstrably operate to effect across the hybrid-cyber-hyper war spectrum and deep into the domains of air, sea, land, space, cyber, information and knowledge.

What are the implications for readiness and reinforcements?  Europeans (and their American allies) need to re-conceive ideas of readiness and reinforcement, and even of defence. Given the aim of an adversary would be to force European states off-balance – strategically, politically, militarily, and societally much of the first response will be about doing what an adversary least expects or wants. This will involve the generation of counter-shock by exploiting the analysed weaknesses of an adversary systematically. Much of that response will be digital. At the force end of the response spectrum it is also critical that the future European defence force is deeply embedded in, and maintains interoperability with, US forces enabled by the revolution in military technology underway, most notably artificial intelligence and robotics.

Could hybrid warfare and new technology be increasingly used by smaller nations in order to deter and de-escalate? The advantages of a state such as Sweden, with its legacy of Total Defence, is that its pan-community concept of society and defence builds innovation into its strategic DNA.  In such a state radical new thinking tends not to be seen as a threat to the established order if such thinking is seeking to make a constructive contribution to the Public Good. This contrasts markedly with some other European countries, not least my own, Britain, which excludes such thinkers, or prefers ‘safe’ guidance from ‘safe’ thinkers – the ‘good chap’ of old. In future such thinking, and the people who generate it, will be vital for the credible future deterrence and defence of all Europeans.

The solution? Well, there are many (read the book when it comes out). However, one solution could be to transform the ailing European Defence Agency into a European equivalent of the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), with a specific remit to trawl for defence-applicable new technologies.  

My concern is a deep one. Europeans are in denial about the possibility of another major war in Europe. European leaders are ignorant about the nature of coming future war. One cannot respond to that about which one knows little or nothing! Indeed, Europe’s defence establishments face a profound challenge: just how open are they to real ‘red team’ new thinking and pain in the posterior people (like me) who dare challenge politically and bureaucratically-convenient assumptions?

To conclude, Europe needs a new concept of fusion defence which forges government, new people, new industries beyond the defence sector, and new thinking into a new strategic public private partnership to generate defence and deterrence across the civ-mil bandwidth. 

First response and fusion defence are thus two sides of the same Euro-strategic coin. Europe’s future defence will depend on both!

The book? It will be brilliant and very-reasonably priced.

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 17 September 2019


Seventy-five years ago today, not far from where I live, Allied airborne forces were landing in great strength. Their objective was to seize three Dutch bridges and open the road for British armoured to cross the Rhine, enter Germany, and end the war. Operation Market Garden was a bold move by General Eisenhower and Field Marshal Montgomery. It failed and gave General Bittrich and his German forces what Anthony Beevor has called Germany’s last victory. Five years ago I had the privilege of being invited to sit in the front row of the seventieth anniversary. In honour of the men of many nations who gave their youth and their lives so that the Netherlands can live in freedom, but in particular to those of my fellow Britons who fought and died at Arnhem, here is what I wrote.

Oosterbeek War Cemetery, Netherlands.  21 September.  A lone Spitfire barrel rolls over the assembled veterans, a C-3 Dakota transport aircraft rumbles overhead in splendid salute.  Russet autumn leaves float to the ground from the giant American oaks that surround this place of sanctuary as if the souls of the paratroopers who lay interred herein are making one final drop.  Amidst the browns, greens and greys of an ageing year airborne maroon on young and old runs like a proud seam between then and now, in a great jump across the seventy years that have passed since the great battle of September 1944.  This is a day of proud men, real men for whom the ranks of Portland stone are not just the names of young men but real people, real comrades, fallen friends.  It is these brave men many weighed down in old age by their own bemedalment who can tell the real story of the real battle for Arnhem, not Richard Attenborough’s “Oh What a Lovely War with Parachutes”, false ‘epic’ “A Bridge Too Far” that so ill-defines those fateful days between 17th and 25th September, 1944. 

Seventy years ago today Operation Market Garden had been underway for four days.  A massive combined airborne (‘Market’) and land (‘Garden’) operation in which British, American, Canadian, and Polish forces fought together with the Dutch Resistance and the Dutch Princess Irene Brigade to capture three vital bridges.  If successful Field Marshal Montgomery’s brilliant, but risk-laden operation would have seen Britain’s XXX Corps under the command of Lt. Gen. Brian Horrocks cross the Rhine and open the way into Nazi Germany.  The plan came close to succeeding, and no doubt would have but for the unexpected presence of the II SS Panzer Corps and the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions under the command of Lt General Wilhelm Bittrich.  The key to the battle was the bridge at Arnhem, today called Johnny Frost Bridge in honour of the British colonel commanding the 1st Parachute Brigade and who came so close to succeeding.

On 17 September, 1944 41,628 airborne troops launched the largest airborne operation in history.  The airborne force consisted of the British 1st Airborne under the command of Major-General Roy Urquhart, the US 82nd Airborne under the command of Major-General James M. Gavin, and the US 101st Airborne under the command of Major-General Maxwell D. Taylor with the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade under the command of Major-General Stanislaw Sosobowski held in reserve.

The strategic aim was for the airborne forces to to enable General Dempsey’s 2nd British Army to enter Germany quickly, capture the Ruhr industrial belt and so end the war by crossing the rivers Waal, Maas and finally the Rhine at Arnhem.   However, for Market Garden to work XXX Corps would need to reach Eindhoven in 2 to 3 hours and cover the 65 miles/104kms between its jump-off point at Lommel, Belgium and Arnhem in 2-3 days to relieve British 1st Airborne. 

To assist XXX Corps in its drive north the US 82nd Airborne would land in the Nijmegen/Grave area and take the bridge over the Waal and the US 101st Airborne would land in the Eindhoven/Son area closest to the September 1944 frontline and seize the bridge over the Maas.  Seven bridges in total had to be seized.  Simultaneously with the drops XXX Corps would punch a hole through the German frontlines from their start in Belgium and then drive quickly north to link up with the lightly-armed airborne forces.

The operation began well.  At 1435 hours on 17 September behind a creeping artillery barrage XXX Corps began its drive north with the Irish Guards in the lead under the command of Colonel J.O.E. Vandeleur.  However, the presence of Bittrich’s forces close to Arnhem placed the British 1st Airborne in a very precarious position indeed and increased the pressure on XXX Corps to make rapid progress northwards.    

However, the US 101st Airborne failed to take the bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Son before it was demolished by the Germans. This led to a delay of some thirty-six hours for XXX Corps until a temporary British Bailey bridge could be constructed.  Moreover, the narrowness of the roads and the scale of liberation celebrations slowed XXX Corps significantly.  On 20th September the US 82nd Airborne after a river-borne crossing seized the north end of the bridge at Nijmegen just as a Tiger-killing Sherman Firefly tank under the command of Sergeant Peter Robinson of the British 2nd Grenadier Guards stormed across the bridge from the south.

British tanks paused at Lent north of Nijmegen due mainly to logistical reasons and the vulnerability of tanks to German Panzerfaust anti-tank weapons, which were particularly effective given that most Dutch roads are on dykes.  The delay effectively meant that 1st Airborne in spite of an attempted reinforcement by Polish forces on 21st September into drop zones that has been overrun by the Germans.  This led to the slaughter of many of the Polish airborne troops.  On Saturday, 25th September 1st Airborne received orders to withdraw the remnant of that gallant force back across the Rhine. Some wag at headquarters gave the operation the ironic title Operation Berlin. 

Operation Market Garden had failed.  However, the Allied front-line had advanced over 65 miles/110kms and large parts of the Netherlands had been liberated.  Allied losses were probably around 17,000, of which some 13,226 were British, whilst it is believed German forces suffered up to 6,000 killed.  It is believed between 500 and 1000 Dutch citizens were killed.

This morning I had breakfast with Major-General ‘Mick’ Nicholson, commander of the US 82nd Airborne and Brigadier Giles Hill of the British Parachute Regiment.  We met to discuss ‘strategy’.  However, the meeting although important was not the main event. We were all really here for the veterans. Today is their day; a day to remember the sacrifice that has given my life the freedom I never take for granted.  There was another group of guests among us, modest in number and modest in demeanor from Germany.  This is as it should be; allies, friends and partners standing in solidarity and paying respect for the ultimate sacrifice that made liberty possible.

Today I saw a past reconciled with a present in which a new generation of children offered us all a bridge to the future.  It is a bridge of liberty that must always be defended and can never be too far - then, now and into the future.

“I was there, you know”.  One brave soldier says to me, tears in his wise eyes.  “I know”, I say.  “For it is for you I have come”. 

Thank you, Gentlemen. 

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Entropy: The Four Holes at the Heart of the Old West

Entropy: “…measure of the disintegration and disorganisation of the universe”
Oxford English Dictionary.

Alphen, Netherlands. 9/11.  Whither the West? Like most people I know exactly where I was on September 11, 2001. The middle of Dartmoor is as close to the middle of nowhere it is possible to be in England.  Beautiful, bleak, and in places foreboding, it is a place in which it is all too easy to get lost. ‘Lost’ is a word I associate with the Old West these days. Yes, one hears Western leaders talk much about shared values and interests, usually at NATO summits, and normally when there is precious little shared strategy. Niall Ferguson wrote, “The biggest threat to Western civilization is posed not by other civilizations, but by our own pusillanimity — and by the historical ignorance that feeds it.” It is that combination of pusillanimity and ignorance, albeit in different measures across the Old West, that have created four gaping holes: US foreign and security policy, the old Anglo-American core, the Berlin-Brussels Axis, and the retreat of Europeans into a fantasy Euro-world.

US foreign policy: Since Churchill and Roosevelt founded the Old West in the midst of war in 1941 on board USS Augusta, the Old West has always been organised around what could be called American internationalist doctrine. The sacking of John Bolton by President Trump is indicative of a lack of any such doctrine with a president increasingly ‘winging’ foreign policy. Bolton maybe a hawk, but he has always been a consistent hawk who believed that threats to the United States required the application of persistent American pressure. For Bolton, there were no out-of-the-blue deals to be done with the likes of Iran, North Korea or the Taliban, just pressure to be maintained leading to regime change in America’s favour, even if that involved at times the use of force. To be honest, having met Bolton, I was surprised he was appointed as the 27th National Security Advisor. His world-view always contrasted markedly with that of President Trump, which seems to oscillate between a kind of ‘bloody foreigner’ neo-isolationism to a sort of deal-making ‘real-estate with nukes’ activism. It is hardly surprising Bolton and Trump finally fell out over President Trumps desire to invite the Taliban leadership (whoever that really is) to Camp David to see if a peace deal could be struck. Without clear American leadership the Old West is reduced to little more than a set of iterative trade-offs. It should be so much more than that.

The old Anglo-American core: The Old West was founded on the back of the Anglo-American alliance of World War Two, what some call the ‘special relationship’ that endured into the Cold War. Even today, Britain does enjoy a ‘special relationship’ endures in such areas as ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing. However, Britain’s utterly inept political and bureaucratic High Establishment has made Britain anything but ‘special’ and reduced what should be a considerable regional-strategic power to little or no influence. Brexit has been an exercise in utter strategic incompetence reflected in what I see every day on my travels – Britain today neither matters, nor is it respected.  How the once mighty have fallen. Without a serious Britain, able and willing to commit still considerable talents and capacities to the institutions of the Old West, pathetic Britain is helping erode the very institutions critical to its influence. Brexit? The latest consequence of a failed London.

The Berlin-Brussels Axis: It would be somewhat comforting to think that as Britain’s elite retreats into the pathetic irrelevancies of post-power, Berlin and Brussels were stepping up to help construct a New West in which Americans and Europeans would again stand burden-sharing should-to-shoulder as cornerstones of world stability.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Never have two world capitals built on power been so apparently, uneasy, unwilling, or unable to understand the nature of power or its application. Mercantilist Berlin talks endlessly about ‘Europe’, but usually means Germany; a parochial Germany for which foreign policy is about how many cars it can sell, or how much oil and gas it can get on the cheap from Russia. Leadership? Forget it. Brussels is fast becoming a big power run by little people from small countries obsessed with their own status but who either lack a strategic culture are strategically-illiterate, or both. For them, President Trump and Brexit are God given, more interested in criticising the America who defends them, or punishing the British for daring to leave the EU, than actually preparing their Euro-world for the real world. The Brussels elite wallows in its insufferable self-satisfaction, fiddling whilst Europe’s smoulders with unease and slithers into uncompetitive decline. A town locked into self-reinforcing, self-congratulation for the ‘munificent’ and ‘magnificent’, Europe that have built, whilst millions of Europeans who live in the real Europe look on aghast.

Fantasy Euro-world: A mark of Europe’s decline is the retreat of many of its un-led citizens into an equally unworldly fantasy. It is a kind of slavery of the child in which democracy appears to continue, but there is little real relationship between voting and power. Their distant ‘betters’ know better and the really little people should not concern themselves with power, so many do not. This week the admittedly ‘ever more Europe, all the time, for absolutely everything’ European Council on Foreign Relations asked a sample of Europeans what should, “Whose side should your country take in a conflict between the United States and Russia?”  The poll suggested 45% would opt for neutrality. They clearly did not ask Europeans in the Baltic States. Indeed, it is hard to envisage ANY such conflict NOT actually being ABOUT Europe and Europeans. It would have been interesting to see the results if the question had been, “Whose side should your country take in a conflict between the United States and Russia OVER EUROPE?” my suspicion is that the answer may have been inconvenient.

The only conclusion from all of the above is that the prevailing power in both the transatlantic relationship and Europe is entropy. This is not the fault of the people, it is rather the fault of political elites who have consistently refused to treat citizens as partners in power. Opaque elites who treat their fellow citizens as children, keeping them in a state of strategic infancy, unwilling or unable to trust them with hard truths. Imagine a world in which the transatlantic relationship did not exist, in which America and Europe were adversaries rather than partners. Then you imagine a world in which America and a Europe are defeated, and all by themselves.

Maybe the Old West is dead, but Americans and Europeans have never needed each other more. My fear is that the British disease will spread. Britain’s elite have achieved something I once thought impossible and destroyed my belief in my country as a power. How long before this cancer, this entropy, spreads to the rest of Europe and beyond. How long before Americans become so self-doubting about their role in the world that the American dream becomes their and our nightmare?

For all my despair with, and at, leaders I am still not prepared to raise the white flag of surrender just yet. We must fight back against the entropists, the deniers of power, the breakers of relationships, and the ahistorical idiot ‘savants’ who lead on both sides of the Atlantic. The West today is lost in the middle of a dark nowhere. Therefore, at this tipping point in world affairs, it is time to end the entropy of the West, and build in its place a New West in which all the forces of freedom the world over stand together and turn shared values into shared action.

In memory of the many victims from many nations of all races and creeds who perished on September 11, 2001.

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

WW2 80: A Plea for the New European Realism

“We can describe as Utopian in the right sense (i.e. performing the proper function of a utopia in proclaiming an ideal to be aimed at, though not wholly attainable) the desire to eliminate the element of power and to base the bargaining process of peaceful change on a common feeling of what is just and reasonable.  But shall we also keep in mind the realist view of peaceful change as an adjustment to the changed relations of power; since the party which is able to bring power to bear normally emerges successful from operations of peaceful change, we shall do our best to make ourselves as powerful as we can. In practice, we know that peaceful change can only be achieved through a compromise between the Utopian concept of a common feeling of right and the realist conception of a mechanical adjustment to a changed equilibrium of force. That is why a successful foreign policy must oscillate between the apparently opposite poles of force and appeasement”.
Edward Hallett Carr, “The Twenty Year’s Crisis. 1919-1939”.

Alphen, Netherlands. September 3, 2019. It is time for the new European Realism. At 0445 hours on September 1, 1939 the ancient, pre-Dreadnought German battleship KM Schleswig Holstein fired the opening shots of the Battle of Westerplatte, standing off what is today the Polish port of Gdansk. It was the official start of Nazi Germany’s brutal invasion of Poland and the first shot of World War Two, although the Luftwaffe had earlier attacked Wielun. At 1100 hours, London time, on September 3, 1939, upon the expiry of an ultimatum from London to Berlin for Nazi forces to withdraw from Poland, and under the terms of the August 1939 Anglo-Polish Mutual Defence Pact, Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. It is the latter date I have chosen to post this blog in honour of my family members who served and died fighting the scourge of Hitlerism. This blog is also a plea for a new European Realism in the face of today’s threats and for Europeans to strike a new balance between the “…apparently opposite poles of force and appeasement”.  
On September 3, 1939 Britain, France and Poland enjoyed superior industrial resources, a greater population and and had more military manpower than Germany.  France had ninety divisions in the field, the British ten divisions (Britain was first and foremost a naval power), whilst Poland could field thirty infantry divisions, twelve cavalry brigades and one armoured brigade. Nazi Germany could only field one hundred divisions, of which forty-one faced the Westwall.  Critically, the Wehrmacht also had six armoured divisions, with some two thousand four hundred tanks welded to a new concept of air-land battle - Blitzkrieg. German forces were also more effectively organised, enjoyed superior training, had better equipment and were thus able to generate a critical superiority in fighting power where and when it mattered, reinforced by strong national self-belief. The Wehrmacht may have been a smaller force on paper, but it was also a far more efficient fighting machine.
Where is Europe today? Europeans today are threatened by a form of will complex strategic coercion across the 5Ds of contemporary hybrid warfare – disinformation, disruption, destabilisation, deception and threatened (or actual) destruction. The death of the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, allied to the demise of the Conventional Forces Europe Treaty, marks the end of another era of relative European peace. Perhaps, no less significant than Nazi Germany storming out of the League of Nations in October 1933. And yet, many Europeans meet such events with at best a shrug of the shoulders, even leaders.
Carr stated that “peaceful change”, reflects “…an adjustment to the changed relations of power”. And yet, Europe’s leaders refuse even to recognise the changed relations of power on the ground in Europe that are rendering Europeans ever more vulnerable to dangerous future shock. They also by and large refuse, with Germany now to the fore that the “…the party which is able to bring power to bear normally emerges successful from operations of peaceful change, and that we should do our best to make ourselves as powerful as we can”. It is a retreat from Realism that is being multiplied and magnified by Europe’s creeping atomisation.   
What must Europeans do? This is not a call for the militarisation of Europe, far from it. However, as Robert Schuman said in 1950, it is vital Europeans generate defences that are proportionate to the dangers which threaten them. Important though institutions such as the EU and NATO are to the defence of Europe the critical locus of power and legitimacy rests with the European state. The first duty of the state is to defend its citizens. However, too many European states, particularly in Western Europe, have weak, half-hearted elite Establishments trapped between the extremes of the political Left and Right. To the Left, there is the anti-patriotic, vacuous internationalism and Europeanism of the liberal Left, and its state-eroding dream of a country they call ‘Europe’. To the Right, there is a devil’s choice between a vision-less mercantilist Right, who see the state as nothing more than a balance sheet that exists only to enable business, or the ultra-nostalgic nationalists of the populist Right, who want to return each respective European state to some ‘golden age’ that never existed. Even if such an age briefly did exist, it invariably came at the deadly expense of other Europeans.  That must change.
A new European Realism would mean a return to grounded pragmatism, hard-headed strategic common sense, with Europeans seeing their world as it is; neither fantasy nor folly. Great forces of change are underway, with a lot of those forces on the dark side of history. What Europeans must mine together is a new peace-bearing equilibrium – a mother lode of peace – in which coercion is credibly resisted by assertion. Such an equilibrium will only come from European states together striking a new balance between force and appeasement.  

Europeans have a choice to make that they can no longer avoid. They were once the predators of centuries, are they now to be the prey of this one? In March 1946, in a seminal speech in Fulton, Missouri, entitled The Sinews of Peace, Winston Churchill said, “When American military men approach some serious situation they are wont to write at the head of their directive the words "over-all strategic concept." There is wisdom in this, as it leads to clarity of thought. What then is the over-all strategic concept which we should inscribe today? It is nothing less than the safety and welfare, the freedom and progress, of all the homes and families of all the men and women in all the lands”. If there is one Grand Strategic mission to which all free Europeans must commit Churchill’s call to ‘safety’ is it.

Europeans must abandon the dangerous ‘utopia’ that covenants without a sufficiency of legitimate swords are of any use to any European. It is time that Europe stops appeasing the present for fear of its past. It is time for the new European Realism.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 23 August 2019

The Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact

“For many years now we have been pouring buckets of shit on each other’s heads, and our propaganda boys could not do enough in that direction. And now, all of a sudden, are we to make our peoples believe all is forgiven? Things don’t work that fast”.

Josef Stalin, 24 August 1939

The Pact

Alphen, Netherlands, 23 August 2019. Eighty-years ago today the bloody fate of millions of Central and Eastern Europeans was sealed with the stroke of a pen. The signing of the Treaty of non-Aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics by German Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop and his Soviet counterpart Vyacheslav Molotov, came as a shock to the world. Even Germany’s Axis partner Japan, which had been in conflict with Moscow, was taken completely by surprise by the announcement. A British delegation was at sea en route to Moscow in the vain hope that Britain, France and the Soviet Union could conclude an anti-Hitlerian Tripartite Military Pact. With the signing of what became known as the Nazi-Soviet Pact, war in Europe became inevitable.

The Pact also marked the final and definitive end of the 1919 Versailles Treaty, with its provision that all secret treaties were to be banned. Indeed, Hitler stated, “Poland will never rise again in the form of the Versailles Treaty. That is guaranteed not only by Germany…but also Russia”. The secret protocol was an exercise Machtpolitik at its most cynical and enshrined the idea of great power spheres of influence in Europe. Under the protocol, which was confirmed by the September 1939 German-Soviet Frontier Treaty, the Baltic States were to be fully occupied by Soviet forces, together with parts of Finland. Poland was to be divided between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, whilst Soviet border was extended to include parts of Poland.

Why the Pact?

The Pact emerged in the aftermath of Hitler’s March 1939 occupation of Prague, and in direct contravention of the September 1938 “peace in our time” Munich Agreement with Neville Chamberlain’s Britain. With the collapse of Munich, war between Germany, Britain and France became nigh on inevitable. Britain and France sought to surround Germany and force it to confront the prospect of a renewed zweifrontenskrieg (two-front war) that it had faced in World War One. In spite of London’s profound distaste for the Soviet regime it began putting out diplomatic feelers to Moscow. The Pact destroyed any such hopes. On August 25, 1939 Britain signed a Mutual Defence Pact with Poland. This came as a shock to Hitler, who postponed his planned August 26 invasion.

Perhaps the most significant reason why Stalin supported the Pact was the state of the Red Army. In 1938 he had conducted a bloody purge of the senior ranks of the Red Army and decimated its leadership. The consequences of Stalin's actions were demonstrated by the superb fighting abilities of the Finns during the so-called Winter War of 1939-40. The Finns inflicted what later Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev claimed were up to one million casualties on a poorly-led and equipped Red Army. Stalin knew a future war between Bolshevism and Nazism was inevitable, but in 1939 the Soviet Union was in no fit state to fight it.   

Implementing the Pact

On 1 September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland and, in spite of heroic Polish resistance, made steady progress. Stalin waited until 17 September to be sure Hitler halted his forces at the agreed demarcation line stipulated by the secret protocol before ordering the Red Army to seize the Baltic States and parts of Poland. On 22 September 1939, the Red Army and the Wehrmacht even held a joint victory parade in the seized Polish fortress town of Brest-Litovsk.

The consequences for Poles and the peoples of the Baltic States was terrifying.  Hitler had secured what he regarded as Lebensraum (living space) and began the forced removal of people he regarded as untermenschen (under-people) and the resettlement of Germans. It also led to the deportation and murder of millions of Jews. After a series of conferences between the Nazi secret police, the Gestapo, and their Soviet counterparts, the NKVD, hard interrogations began of some 300,000 Polish prisoners of war. On March 5 1940, at Katyn, the Soviets executed 22,000 Polish military officers and intellectuals in an effort to decapitate any opposition to their rule on the grounds that they were ‘counter-revolutionaries’. It was not until the 1980s that then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev admitted the massacre and apologised. President Putin has called Katyn a ‘necessary evil’.

The Pact today

The Pact still leaves its bloody fingerprint on Europe. Parts of Poland (and even Romania) seized under the terms of the Pact now form parts of Belarus and Ukraine. Moreover, it was not just World War Two that began on 23 August, 1939, it also led to the Soviet occupation of much of Central and Eastern Europe and the Cold War. It was not until 1991 that the ugly blanket of oppression laid down by the Pact was finally thrown off by the heroic actions of Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles and others.    

To hear contemporary Russian leaders talk again of ‘spheres of influence’ and ‘buffer zones’ is to hear the language of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. It is also the language of secret protocols to treaties, of a Europe governed by power, diktat and fear. It was to stop that ever happening again that both the EU and NATO were created. The mission is not yet done.

The Pact collapsed on June 22 1941, with the commencement of Operation Barbarossa and the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, which actually took Stalin by surprise. Stalin immediately switched sides and sought the support of the Western Allies. Churchill described the 1941 Anglo-Soviet Agreement as a necessary ‘deal with the devil’. He went on, “If Hitler invaded Hell I would make at least a favourable mention of the devil in the House of Commons”.   

Julian Lindley-French   

Monday, 12 August 2019

Boris Tiberius Johnson?

"Then the poor, who had been ejected from their land, no longer showed themselves eager for military service, and neglected the bringing up of children, so that soon all Italy was conscious of a dearth of freemen, and was filled with gangs of foreign slaves, by whose aid the rich cultivated their estates, from which they had driven away the free citizens”.

Alphen, Netherlands. 12 August. Britain stands on the precipice of perhaps its greatest constitutional crisis since the 1688 Glorious Revolution, which is quite an ‘achievement’ for Britain’s appalling political class given Britain does actually have a written constitution.  Its new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is not the idle dolt some suggest he is. As an Oxford historian, anyone who survived an Oxford Classics course has my grudging respect. Still, Prime Minister ‘Boris’, as he seems now to be universally known, may well pause and consider one story from the classics he so loves, that of Tiberius. Like Tiberius, Boris is a patrician siding with the populace against his own class on an issue of utmost gravity for Brexit is not just about Britain’s membership of the EU, it is ultimately about who runs Britain.

In 133 BC, Rome was in tumult as it stood on the verge of bankruptcy due to expensive wars, with its people threatened with starvation. Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, son of Gracchus, and grandson of Scipio Africanus, conqueror of Carthage, and an aristocratic tribune of the people, proposed a land bill that attacked Patrician corruption and promised the re-distribution of resources away from the aristocracy in favour of the plebians, particularly those in rural areas. Critically, Tiberius chose to ignore Patrician privilege and convention by seeking the support of the ‘people’ and against his peers in the Senate, which in the Roman Republic had long held the right to approve all proposed legislation before it went before the plebs.

The simple, but dangerous question Tiberius posed was who should the Roman Empire benefit – Patricians or people? To be fair, Tiberius’s bill was not asking for much, simply that the great landowners make the state-owned public land they held on trust available to the plebs.  Tiberius believed such a move would not only improve food production but by enfranchising more plebs re-establish the link between farm ownership and military service which had long been the essential ‘contract’ for service in Rome’s legion.

The Patricians would have none of it and Rome descended into anarchy over Tiberius’s ‘New Deal’. In spite of their undoubted power, as exercised through the Senate, it was nominally the Roman people who were ultimately sovereign – Senatus Populusque Romanus!  And, only the people, or rather their tribunes, could vote on laws in the Assembly. Rome faced the prospect of a New Deal land deal or a no deal, which would have automatically removed large swathes of land long held by the aristocracy.

On the day of the critical vote Tiberius had not reckoned for his erstwhile friend, and fellow tribune, Marcus Octavius. When the presiding magistrate called for voting to begin, Octavius, shouted ‘veto’, effectively halting the vote. Desperate to be seen as one of the aristocracy, and himself a landowner, Octavius’s loyalty had been bought by aristocrats in the Senate. What ensued thereafter was political stalemate as Tiberius repeatedly tried to introduce his bill and Octavius repeatedly vetoed it. Worse, Octavius simply refused to budge, even though Tiberius offered to compensate him for any land lost under the bill. When that failed Tiberius simply blocked all state business from being enacted until Octavius lifted his veto and the land bill was passed.

Matters came to a head at a meeting of the Plebeian Assembly when Tiberius moved to strip Octavius of his office, something which had never before been done in the history of the Republic. Such was the tension that civil strife beckoned, which forced Tiberius to suspend the vote and make one final plea to Octavius to lift his veto. He refused, and only escaped alive from a vengeful mob because of the protection afforded him by Tiberius’s own bodyguard. Octavius was deposed and Tiberius’s New Deal land bill entered into Roman law.

From the outset, the Patricians stymied the law by using the Senate to refuse the necessary funding to enact it. They also mounted a smear campaign against Tiberius, suggesting his only interest was power, not the people. That he was a would-be Dictator, determined to overthrow the Republic and declare himself king. Thereafter, Tiberius tried to remove the Senate’s traditional control over foreign and economic affairs, and directly usurped its authority when he seized a major bequest to Rome to fund the Lex Sempronia Agraria. Tiberius knew he would face a criminal case once his tenure as a tribune expired, so he sought to stand again, which was also unconstitutional, and simply fuelled the rumour that he was power-crazed.

For Tiberius to be re-elected he would need to rely on the rural voters who supported him. He would also have to return to Rome, which he had fled for fear of Patrician assassins. Unfortunately for Tiberius it was harvest time and most of his rural base had returned to tend their crops. Faced with no other option but to return to Rome he approached the Forum and began to climb the Capitol. As he did so Nasica rose in the Senate to denounce Tiberius as a Dictator and declared an emergency, and left with his followers and slaves to ‘save’ the Republic.  Upon finding Tiberius they clubbed him to death. His brother, Gaius, requested the return of Tiberius’s body so he could be buried as befitted his rank. The aristocratic Senate refused and the bloody corpse of Tiberius was, instead, tossed into the Tiber.         

The tragedy of Tiberius revealed the extent of decay within the Roman Republic. The tragedy of Brexit has revealed the decay within Britain. For me, one of the many heart-breaking causes of such decay in my once great country is the nature of the divide that separates its people. Too many of those who believe, as I do, that it is not in the British interest to walk away from institutions vital to Britain’s national interest, also no longer believe in Britain as a power. Too many of those who believe Britain should leave the EU do so because of an entirely misplaced notion of patriotism, allied a complete misunderstanding of the workings of twenty-first century geopolitics works. For me, Britain can both be a major power and remain inside the EU, to leverage greater strategic influence, for the well-being of its people, and to stop the Patricians in Brussels who do seek barely-accountable power in the name of ‘Europe’.

There is, of course, a big ‘if’ to my thinking, which Boris Johnson’s rambunctious premiership has outed, the supine nature of London’s elite establishment.  Too many of those who no longer believe in Britain as a power also hold positions of power and responsibility in London.

Senatus Populusque Britannicus?

Julian Lindley-French  

Saturday, 20 July 2019

One Small Step…

“Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has Landed”.
Neil Armstrong

Alphen, Netherlands. 20 July. This is a very personal recollection of the Apollo 11 mission, the first lunar landing fifty years ago today, and the story of my disastrous contribution to it.

Like most Britons of a certain age I can remember precisely where I was at 2117 British Summer Time on Sunday, 20 July 1969. Along with millions of British children I was transfixed by the BBC coverage of Apollo 11’s Lunar Excursion Module, or LEM, successfully landing on the surface of the moon. The tension was such I can still feel it today, fifty years later. With Cliff Michelmore in the lead, ably supported by James Burke and Patrick Moore, and with Michael Charlton at Cape Kennedy in Florida, the BBC covered the entire mission pretty much from launch to ‘splashdown’ eight days later in the Pacific. The BBC coverage was but a part of what was one of the first truly global television events, with some half-a-billion people estimated to have watched world-wide.

The entire US space programme, which a then patriotic BBC told us on a daily basis could not have been possible without British engineers, was an inspiration. In fact, the chief architect of the lunar programme was a German, Werner von Braun, who had designed the V1 and V2 missiles which had rained terror on London in 1944. And, whilst I did not want to be an astronaut like so many of my generation, for me what the Americans achieved that day was nothing short of out-of-this-world.

The moon landing is also a bitter-sweet memory. In the run-up to the Apollo mission our science teacher, Mr Taylor, a war ace who had flown RAF Mosquitoes in World War Two and whom we all revered, commissioned me to build a model moonscape out of papier-maché, complete with balsa wood LEM. It took me weeks to get the model right and I was proud of the outcome. It had to be kept in the store-room at the back of the classroom because it was simply too big to take home. Come the morning of the exhibition we were all asked to present our work. Disaster! As I entered the little room to my horror a big footprint sat staring back from slap bang in the middle of my Sea of Tranquillity.  It would have been some twenty miles long on the real moon. Someone had stepped on my moon!

At least Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did not have the same problems, although in completing a successful landing they overcame a whole host of others, including a computer overload that forced Armstrong to fly the LEM manually. Even before that triumphant moment the National Aeronautic and Space Agency’s (NASA) Gemini and Apollo programmes had overcome a host of other challenges. The sheer cost was a constant problem, even for the mighty United States.  President John F. Kennedy had set out his famous astronomical goal at Rice University, Texas on 12 September 1962 to put an American on the moon before the end of that decade. Almost as soon as the President had made that commitment he began to worry about the cost. He was right to be concerned. At one point, the Apollo programme was consuming some 4% of the entire US GDP. In 1962, Kennedy even asked then Soviet premier Nikita Kruschev if the Soviets would consider pooling their efforts. Kruschev declined.

The space programme also took place against the difficult backdrop of the Cold War.  Indeed, there would probably have been no such programme without the Cold War. On 4 October 1957, the Soviet Union had shocked the Americans by placing the Sputnik 1 satellite in low-Earth orbit. This proved to the Americans the Soviets had the capability to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile rendering the continental United States vulnerable to a strike for the first time in its history. The so-called ‘missile gap’ frenzy was further compounded on 12 April 1961, when Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin completed one and half earth orbits. It seemed the Russians were ahead in what became known as the space race, even though much Soviet ‘superiority’ was but an illusion.

The space programme also experienced tragedy. On the 27 January 1967, Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee were burned to death by a flash fire aboard the ground-testing capsule of their Apollo 1 spacecraft. The tapes of their last moments are truly chilling and testify to the enormous risk associated with a programme that tested the boundaries of science, engineering and people, at times to extremes and beyond.        

By the time of Apollo 11’s launch from launchpad 39A on July 16 1969 political and popular enthusiasm was already waning with NASA’s admittedly enormous budget falling.  President Richard M. Nixon lacked the fervour of President Kennedy for space exploration, even if Vice-President Spiro Agnew wanted to press ahead to Mars by the end of the century. America was changing and increasingly-mired in a losing Vietnam War, whilst at home protests against the war and the growing power and influence of the civil rights movement captured many of the headlines. With the 1968 assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King America was not a happy place.  

And yet, come that moment when Neil Armstrong set his foot upon the lunar surface, the first time humans had stepped on a celestial body other than their own, the world was captivated. My model? My Taylor was so angry he made the entire class line up so he could inspect which of us had the guilty signature of wasted paper-maché on our school shoes.  Having inspected the entire class and found no felon Mr Taylor then insisted on inspecting mine. Sure enough, the souls of my shoes were caked in moonscape.

Fifty years on and Apollo 11 continues to amaze and inspire. As for my contribution, it was one small step for me, one giant (beep - profanity deleted) for my kind.

Julian Lindley-French