hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 21 June 2010

Why America Needs NATO

Winston Churchill once famously said that one could normally rely upon the US to find to right solution but only after every other option had been exhausted. The same can be said of NATO, except that the Alliance rarely seems to find the right solution. Indeed, the steady retreat from strategic reality has now become a pot-marked rutted bye-way of grand statements and small efforts. As the Alliance considers its new grand plan for the next ten years (Strategic Concept in NATO-speak) a simple question needs to be answered by and for Americans; does America still need NATO?

NATO is certainly in crisis. The Alliance has consistently failed to deal effectively with the many challenges it has faced since the end of the Cold War and in Afghanistan NATO is increasingly a side-show in an American war. Even today the US is masking the extent of NATO’s failure in Afghanistan by presenting their effective takeover of the Alliance effort as the re-invigoration of the NATO mission. Given the constant failure of the Allies over many years to meet even the most basic of modernization targets it would be easy (if not just) for Americans to wash their hands of the Atlantic Alliance.

However, the US would pay a price. For all its power the US is today less able to influence and shape events critical to its security than ten years ago. This trend will doubtless continue. And here’s the rub; for all its many failings NATO and the wider transatlantic relationship still matters to Americans because it is the legitimate bonding of democracy and power, a commodity that remains priceless and vital in a world awash with instable and narrow power. If America is again to make the world safe for democracy as the indispensable power, Europeans for all their many failings are the indispensable partners.

However, partnership without power is pretence and as Secretary-General Rasmussen begins to draft the new Strategic Concept the US must insist upon three things: the re-connection of NATO strategy to world security; investment by the European allies in effective but not necessarily the most expensive military capabilities, but above all a new transatlantic contract in which strategic reassurance is offered to the smallest NATO powers in return for the sharing of equitable responsibilities.

US strategy has been frankly poor since 911 with Washington too often intent on generating heat rather than light leaving the Allies confused about just who the US intends to fight, why, with what and for how long. Of course, the US is an exceptional power and must remain the pre-eminent fighting democracy but the Strategic Concept will first need to demonstrate to Europeans the soundness and justness of American strategic priorities and the role of allies therein. Equally, after twenty years of by and large vacuous European talk of Europe’s role in the world inside both NATO and the European Union the next ten years will truly demonstrate Europe’s strategic renewal or final eclipse after a four hundred year global adventure that has done much to shape the world in which Americans live – for better and worse. The US needs to be frank and honest about Europe’s situation and stress the vital role of the Alliance in strategic renewal.

In the 1990s the US got defence transformation wrong. Consequently, when the 1999 Strategic Concept called upon the European allies to develop armed forces that were lighter and more agile but above all networked with the US super-warrior the result was ever smaller, ever more broke Europeans. However, both Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated that this is the age of the latter day Imperial Policeman, not Rambo. Therefore, the US should admit it was wrong (not least to the British) and seek a new set of force goals in the Strategic Concept that strike a better balance between boots on the ground which are vital and technology.

The political role of the Alliance is vital as a transatlantic security forum. Indeed, legitimacy and effectiveness are the Romulus and Remus of contemporary strategy. The Strategic Concept must thus re-establish the transatlantic contract through modernizing the defence of Europe through missile defence, cyber-protection and arms control. In return Europeans must commit to deploy with Americans in pursuit of strategic stability. In reality the most Americans can realistically expect is a Europe able to ensure stability in and around Europe’s neighbourhood (some neighbourhood, some challenge) in return for keeping America strong elsewhere.

So, why does America still need NATO? To slow America’s decline from global pre-eminence which is the abiding interest of Americans, Europeans and much of the world beyond.

The world is a safer place when the West is strong and Americans and Europeans must together ensure it stays that way.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

A Little Oil on Troubled Waters, Mr President?

Dear Mr President,

Do not lose Britain, Mr President. You have been rightly critical of BP given their failure to stem the flood of oil that is now disfiguring your southern coast, even though no American company could have done any better. However, BP is not Britain and sadly the rhetoric that is emerging from the White House, in particular, and Washington, in general, is giving the impression to a large swathe of moderate British opinion that an angry America is being assuaged by an attack on a loyal friend and ally. Britain is at a very delicate and vulnerable moment in its history as it seeks a balance between global influence and financial recovery. Whilst no-one would suggest that you are anti-British the perception that you are could result in a Britain that becomes little different from the host of other European allies who offer America rhetorical support, but little more. If that were to happen that would be a loss to America, to Europe and the wider world.

Certainly, these tensions come at a moment when the British are wondering why we should stand shoulder to shoulder with a country that many believe shows us less and less respect and seems ever less willing to listen to us. You know from your history that we are loyal and consistent but when roused we are dogged and determined.

You also know that we the British have stood by you Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan in spite of your country’s poor strategy and frankly appalling leadership these nine years past. We have allowed our sons and daughters to die alongside your own out of solidarity. It is a solidarity rightly founded on the belief that when a friend is in trouble we must and should be there. Of course, politicians in London have tried to present the struggles of the past nine years as posing an equal threat to the United Kingdom and the United States.

To some extent that is true because the monstrous marriage of fundamentalism, illicit capital, destructive technology and ungoverned spaces do pose a threat to us all. However, the perception amongst the mass of British people is that such threats pose a much greater threat to the US than to we British. Indeed, it is your very power that makes you much more a target, and it is our very closeness to you that makes us a target. Indeed, for many Britons the very presence of such large numbers of British troops in Afghanistan probably renders Britain more insecure given the anger it creates amongst our large Islamic community. As you know, we have already paid a very real price at home for our solidarity. The 2007 loss of fifty-two Britons to suicide bombers on the streets of London is eloquent and tragic testimony to that.

Furthermore, there is a widespread sense that we have pluckily stretched our much smaller military to virtual breaking point to support you whilst all the other allies have offered you little but shadow solidarity. In spite of such efforts all too often official Washington has been patronizing in the extreme about such efforts, too often unjustly dismissing our armed forces as inadequate and incompetent. Many Britons feel rightly aggrieved believing that says more about your inability to listen to a friend’s sage advice and the failure of your armed forces to respect others than our own military failings. The simple fact is that Britain is no longer a superpower, the British people know that but many also feel that it was the United States that did so much to end our world role after World War Two and resent the way in which America continues to need to write we British out of good history.

Thus, the Special Relationship is at a tipping point, Mr President and you had better realize that and fast. Why? Because you will pay a heavy price if you lose Britain and you could. We are still a power to be reckoned with but we face crippling financial challenges, partly as a result of the appalling behaviour of your banks. How you treat Britain over the next two to three years will do much to decide if Britain remains a European power willing to play a global role alongside you, or becomes another European strategic pretender.

The outcome of Britain’s inner debate matters, Mr President. Put simply, the world is a safer place when the West is strong and even today the bedrock upon which the transatlantic security relationship is built remains the Anglo-American relationship. Without it NATO for all its many flaws would be simply inconceivable. You lose Britain, you lose NATO. Do you really want that?

We British deeply regret what has happened in the Gulf of Mexico. That said, Mr President please understand the sensitivities and perceptions of millions of decent Britons whose instincts are always to stand alongside the United States. If not, physical pollution could well create political pollution in what remains the world’s most important strategic relationship.

With sincere respects,

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 7 June 2010

Britain: The End of the Adventure?

In 1610 Lord de la Warr was named the first Governor-General of Virginia marking an initial step that took Britain to the largest empire the world has ever seen. Indeed, the state of Delaware is named after him. In 2010 the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said that whilst Britain was still close to the United States the Special Relationship was dead. Buried within the gloom of Britain’s almost-depression is a much deeper phenomenon. The decisions that the new coalition government takes over the next six months could finally mark the definitive end of a four hundred year global British adventure that for better and worse has done much to shape the world. What then of Britain?

Britain has of course been in relative decline since the late nineteenth century with two world wars in the twentieth accelerating that decline into political and strategic free-fall. However, through the retreat from Empire a constant narrative has sustained the British. Britain it was said was Athens to America’s Rome, standing alone to hold back fascism in its finest hour or famously punching above its weight. Stunning political and military victories enabled the myth to sustain much of contemporary Britain, at least that part of it that Labour now euphemistically calls ‘traditional communities’. Conversely, the many political and occasional military defeat have been glossed over as tactical adjustments to the story of Britain’s greatness.

As retreat and decline have accelerated social cohesion has fractured and the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, first Ireland and now Scotland and Wales have sought to re-establish ancient freedoms as the gloss on England’s greatness has tarnished. Founded in 1707 with the Act of Union between England and Scotland and bound together through the mutual benefit of expansion the United Kingdom itself is now under threat.

Some would say it is honourable for such a once great country to seek retirement from the world stage and in any case modern Britain is such a rich cultural hub precisely because it has become a microcosm of the world it helped to create. However, to mask decline British leaders of all persuasions have sort to perpetuate the myth without funding it and this sorry deceipt of the British people is now reaching criticality. The consequences are apparent for all engaged on British foreign and security policy. Whitehall is clogged with meaningless directives, spin and management-speak. The once-superb diplomatic machine that was the Foreign Office is now serially underfunded, under-staffed and depressed. The armed forces that once bestrode the world are engaged on missions in support of an ungrateful American ally and duplicitous European partners that are sucking the lifeblood out of men and machines over-stretched, under-funded and ill-protected even as political leaders pretend otherwise often at the cost of lives.

So, where next for Britain? Here the next government has a choice for the impending cuts that so many in Britain seem determined to wish away. Greatness is forged in moments such as this when great leaders understand that leadership and ambition provide an inspirational alchemy that drives peoples out of adversity. For Britain that alchemy has always been found beyond its shores be it a force for Empire or a force for good or both. The next government therefore must make clear to Americans, Europeans and the emerging world and regional powers in the Commonwealth that whatever the financial challenges Britain is determined to afford greatness. That will require a grand strategy – the effective organization of large means in pursuit of large ends.

However, to do this will require an entirely new approach to foreign and security policy. Forty years ago the British led the way towards a fully professional military which stole the lead on the world and gave Britain a new form of power. Today, Britain must forge all its instruments of state into a new force under a truly National Foreign and Security Policy that is whole of government from top to bottom both in ethos and fact.

The goal? Strategic influence over the events that will doubtless impact upon Britain. Influence over Europeans who so often complain about Britain but who too often expect the British to bear too much of the pain for their security. Influence over new partners who share a particular bond and history with the British and who are now emerging onto the world stage. Above all, influence over an America that demands ever more of Britain but offers ever less.

Amidst the economic debris of Britain today is thus the making of a new greatness. Is Britain up to it? The alternative is a stark one. For it may be that Britain’s greatness which started in America is today ended by America. That would indeed be a tragic irony for such a great people…and so many Americans would agree.