hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 28 February 2011

Securitisation or Just Plain Common Sense?

The aid community call it 'securitisation', the rather narrow and deliberately derogatory suggestion that if British taxpayer's hard earned money is spent in the British interest then the moral uplands which many of them rather vacuously occupy will have been sullied.

The Coalition Government, as in all things, has tried to find the middle ground between the Left's view (rather prevalent in the aid community) that money spent on the world's poor must come first and those of us who believe that whilst nice in principle eradicating global poverty should be put on the back burner whilst so many in Britain face poverty. 

Andrew Mitchell, the Secretary of State for International Development, will this week announce the results of a major review into British aid and development.  Some of it makes perfect sense. Gone will be the aid to Russia, which regularly sends submarines and bombers into British air and water space to try and embarrass Britain.  Gone will be the aid to China which is at present trying to slow its inflation-stoking annual growth upwards of 9% per annum and which recently became the world's second largest economy.

However, three gaping holes in the review will be glossed over.  First, there will be no proper and much needed reform of the bloated Department for International Development (DfID).  Some 3500 strong and with several senior officials earning more than 90000 pounds a year it is to me gratuitously offensive for them to lecture the rest of us about alleviating poverty.  Indeed, in a sea of departmental cuts DfID stands out as an island of wealth and largesse, being the only department of state to enjoy an increase in its 2011 budget.  Second, will be the lack of any move to reform the Overseas Development Act (ODA).  The brainchild of the Labour Left, and beloved of Claire Short and Harriet Harman, the ODA effectively permits DfID to act as a state within a state placing them under no responsibility whatsoever to demonstrate a link between the use of British taxpayer's money and the British public good.

However, it is perhaps the third lacuna which will perhaps be the most gratuitously obscene.  India is set to receive some 1.2 billion pounds from the British in aid over the next four years.  And yet, whilst the British economy actually shrank in the last quarter of 2010 by some 0.6% the Indian economy is humming along at 9% per annum.  The obscenity comes from the fact that India is pouring billions into a space programme that Britain could only dream of and last month the latest, brand new guided missile warship went down the slips in an Indian shipyard straining to cope with orders for such ships from the Indian Government. 

And yet, one of the two Royal Navy ships that rescued so many from Libya over the past few days is now on its way home to be scrapped.  This is not because the ship is outdated, but rather because under Britain's recent Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) London can no longer afford such a ship.

But perhaps worst of all the Indians do not even want the money.  Two weeks ago an editorial in the influential Hindustani Times suggested that "cash-strapped" Britain was more in need of the money than India, the economy of which was "humming along".  That very week I spoke to a senior Indian ambassador at an important security conference. He was succinct; New Dehli fully understood that Indian poverty was an issue for a rich India to resolve.  Moreover, when the Indian Government had suggested to DfID that such aid might be ceased they were rebuffed with the accusation that they were being "arrogant".  The only arrogance in this sorry affair can be found in an official aid community that has become unbalanced by the 'power' of its own political correctness. 

Just before that meeting I was in Portsmouth Naval Base standing before the now defunct aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, until recently the pride of the fleet.  Ironically, that 1.2 billion pounds we are giving to India is just about the money that would have kept Ark Royal in service or would have preserved the brand new but now scrapped critical airborne surveillance aircraft the MRA4. What a mess!

Britain is not alleviating poverty in India.  Rather, the British taxpayer is subsidising one of the fastest military expansions in Asia at the expense of Britain's security and defence.  Indeed, the only effective defence apparent in London is that of a bloated DfId and its myriad of civil servants and assorted hangers on.

Thankfully, Secretary of State Mitchell was floored by Jon Sopel on the BBC's Politics Show.  When faced with this obscenity all he could do was trot out the tired mantra that many Indians lived below the poverty line. 

If the plight of the Indian poor was so important to New Delhi why not scrap a space programme or a guided-missile ship or two?

Securitisation or just plain common sense?

Julian Lindley-French                 

Britain and France: Bringing Europe Back to Strategic Sanity?

‘Il n’y a pas de liberté, il n’y a pas d’égalité, il n’y a pas de fraternité sans securité.’ – President Nicolas Sarkozy, 2008


The one hundredth anniversary of the 1911 Agadir Crisis in which Britain and France together faced down a challenge by Wilhelmine Germany also marks a century of complex but by and large consistent strategic co-operation between Europe’s only true world powers. On November 2, 2010 London and Paris agreed the Defence and Security Cooperation Treaty. On the face of it the accord is by and large military-technical: to develop co-operation between British and French Armed Forces, to promote the sharing and pooling of materials and equipment including through mutual interdependence, leading to the building of joint facilities, together with mutual access to each other’s defence markets, through the promotion of industrial and technological co-operation. However, as with all things Franco-British the devil is in the strategy. This accord, like so many that has gone before, is really about the need to lead Europe back to strategy sanity.

It will not be easy. Almost all the anchor points of traditional European strategy have failed. For the first time in half a millennium Europe is neither the centre of power or conflict in the world; American leadership which for so long provided an alibi for European strategic indolence is uncertain and focused elsewhere; Russia is a critical energy partner rather than critically dangerous and most Europeans do not know where the state ends and Europe’s institutions begin. Furthermore, after a decade of Asian growth the strengths of oriental competitors are routinely and wildly exaggerated, whilst Europe’s own weaknesses and introspection are equally ‘fashionable’. With much of North Africa and the Middle East on fire and after twenty years of identity-sapping mass immigration Europe’s contemporary ‘security’ appears on the face of it to have little to do with military firepower. Indeed, the apparent inability of America’s hyper-military to secure Afghanistan or Iraq has reinforced the sense that for Europe much of its security is as ‘soft’ as the form of power Europeans contemporaneously champion.

Europe’s Woolly Power

The retreat into what might be perhaps called “woolly power” is supported by the facts. NATO Europe nations have a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of €12.5tr compared with the US GDP of €10tr or some 124% of the US total. However, the combined 2009 defence budgets of NATO Europe totalled €188bn compared with the 2009 US defence budget of €503bn. NATO Europe thus spends some 37% of the US expenditure on defence. Sixteen of the twenty-six NATO Europe members spend less than €4bn per annum and much of it inefficiently with the ratios between personnel and equipment budgets particularly perverse, with too many bloated headquarters, top-heavy command chains and outdated formations. Between 2001 and 2008 NATO Europe spending on defence fell from €255bn to €223bn (not adjusted for defence cost inflation).

However, of that €188bn France and the UK together represent 43% or €80.6bn, whilst France, Germany and the UK represent 61% or €114.2bn and the so-called ‘big three’ spend 88% of all defence research and development in NATO Europe. And here’s the rub; over roughly the same period the US has increased its defence expenditure by 109%, China by 247%, Russia by 67% and Australia by 56%. In other words, Europeans might have been trying to talk themselves out of the more dangerous trade in power but the rest of the world seems to have missed the point. Therefore, one defining feature of the hyper-competitive contemporary multi-polar, globalised world of the twenty-first century is the belief on the part of non-Europeans that credible and capable militaries remain a fundamental currency for power and influence.

Placed in that context the Franco-British treaty begins to make European strategic sense. There is of course an added twist; Britain and France, like so many Europeans (although with the notable exception of Germany) are facing severe financial pressures. Strategy and affordability are thus the twin mantras of co-operation between London and Paris and must be seen as such. There are two further factors driving London and Paris together. First, after ten years of following American leadership slavishly Britain today is a less secure place than it was on 10 September, 2011. It is a loss of faith reinforced by an Obama administration that is as unfriendly and uncommitted to the Special Relationship as any post-war American administration. Second, after twenty post Cold War years trying to build a strategic defence partnership with Germany at the heart of European union Paris is now profoundly concerned at both the pacifism and increasingly self-interested nature of Berlin’s foreign and security policy.

Back to the Future

Britain and France are this going back to state-centric power basics. Gone are the theological debates over NATO or EU first. Rather, London and Paris want to re-establish a foundation for a new European military capability that in time will be able to operate where it will really matter – in the seams between land and sea and in and around the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Oceans which will be the epicentres of global power competition and European stability. It is military capability that will be designed to operate in a range of formats – EU, NATO, UN or simply under Franco-British coalition leadership. To that end, the 2010 British Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) calls for “Greater sharing of military capabilities, technology and programmes and potentially more specialisation, working with key allies, including France, and based on appropriate formal guarantees where necessary” Put simply, given the global context of Europe’s contemporary security the security challenges faced by all Europeans are becoming ever more complex, while the forces and resources that can be devoted to security are increasingly squeezed as defence expenditure becomes discretionary in an age of austerity.

Therefore, only a true strategic partnership between the world’s fifth and sixth largest economies and the second and third biggest cash spenders on defence stands any chance of finally creating a European pole of security and defence power. This could in turn help reinvigorate and rebalance a tired transatlantic relationship. The Franco-British Treaty thus represents a revolutionary departure from traditional strategic norms for both London and Paris.

Equally, there is little nostalgic attachment (nor can there be) to past structures and relationships in the pursuit of influence in a world that is changing fast. Here those driving Britain and France to closer co-operation will meet institutional and political barriers. While the financial case for a renewed and intensified partnership is clear, the political and strategic imperatives on both sides of the Channel are less so. There are those in London who are so wedded to the unconditional ‘followership’ of America that accords with the never-to-be trusted French smack of heresy. In Paris the Gaullist wing of the French right baulk at any structural co-operation with l’albion perfide. Furthermore, whilst the West (and Europe) is suffering from a crisis of solidarity any Franco-British defence partnership must still necessarily accommodate Germany and avoid any suggestion that it seeks to exclude the United States. Moreover, institutions remain important levers of influence for both countries be it the EU, NATO, OSCE or the UN. However, what is clear from the accord is that such institutions are no longer ends in themselves and must be judged by their competence and utility as levers of influence. Lord Ismay’s crisp objectives for NATO in the 1950s still resonate; NATO’s purpose was to keep the Americans in, the Germans down and the Russians out.

Today Ismay would confirm the need to keep the United States constructively engaged with Europeans, to encourage the Germans to act and engage responsibly across the security spectrum, and to ensure that an apparatus is in place to deal with major rising and revisionist powers, such as India, China, Russia, and Brazil. Therefore, in an age of austerity whilst the affordability of defence will necessarily be at the heart of Anglo-French defence co-operation such a relationship must reflect a realignment of respective national strategies.

Creating Leadership Hubs

Certainly the treaty takes at best tentative steps towards meaningful defence co-operation with much of the emphasis on the military tail rather than military teeth. However, it is noticeable that the treaty focusses not only on areas vital to the respective national influence of both countries, but also on those areas likely to create Franco-British leadership hubs. These include easing the cost of strategic nuclear sovereignty, promoting naval strike cooperation as a step on the road to a European carrier battle group, creating a combined joint expeditionary force, better sharing of strategic intelligence, as well as defence-industrial convergence, specific project cooperation over ‘big ticket’ items such as strategic air lift and air-to-air refuelling and joint training.

Britain and France – Bringing Strategic Sanity Back to Europe?

Clearly, both countries have invested significant strategic ambition in an audacious political demarche. Why? Because ultimately both Britain and France understand fully that they are in relative and parallel decline, just as they implicitly recognised such decline back in 1911 and showed a radical willingness to combat such decline. Thus only through strong partnerships can both London and Paris re-establish the prerequisite for influence vital to security. Franco-British defence cooperation is thus not just vital for London and Paris but for a Europe that is dangerously and strategically adrift. Indeed, joint purpose and effectiveness must be reflected in the contemporary strategy of two old powers that, together and apart, have shaped Europe and the modern world for over 300 years. The alternative is stark. To paraphrase Neville Chamberlain, Britain and France are in danger of becoming small countries far away from the centre of power about which they know little, locked as they are too often in a parochial struggle for the leadership of a Europe that has declared itself to be dangerously irrelevant.

Julian Lindley-French

This article was first published in the February 2011 edition of Atlantic Perspectives of the Netherlands Atlantic Commission

The King's Speech and the President's Visit

“The task will be hard. There may be dark days ahead, and war can no longer be confined to the battlefield, but we can only do the right as we see the right, and reverently commit our cause to God. If one and all we keep resolutely faithful to it, ready for whatever service or sacrifice it may demand, then with God's help, we shall prevail”. The King’s Speech, 3 September, 1939

I loved The King’s Speech, mainly because it said so much about Britain today. In 1939 Britain was emerging from a period of dreadful financial and economic turbulence which had been marked by deep social divisions and profound uncertainty over its future role in the world, which was apparent even before World War Two. And yet, with absolutely no illusions what sacrifice a second war with Germany would demand and with that sense of dramatic theatre the British have of themselves at such moments the country stirred for action in defence of the very values which became the bedrock of the Atlantic Alliance. We were plucky. Indeed, two years later in 1941 the Atlantic Charter was signed between the UK and US which laid the foundation for victory in both World War Two and the Cold War.

It is therefore ironic that President Obama should visit Britain at such an iconic moment and in the midst of celebrations of such an iconic film for the pluck the film implicitly celebrates has all but vanished. Indeed, the President had better realise the scale of the challenge he faces in restoring some semblance of British pride. Why? Because for all its self-doubt and the self-imposed decline championed by the terminally politically correct Britain still plays a critical role in US grand strategy. Put simply, if Britain becomes simply another declinist European power then any hope that Europe will stand alongside the US in America’s global stabilising mission will be lost.

I am firmly of the belief that the cornerstone of world stability will necessarily remain the transatlantic relationship and the English-speaking peoples in conjunction with fellow democrats. It is precisely such a vision of which the British today seem incapable and which dangerously is being lost this side of the pond.

Britain today is a sullen place with a government exaggerating decline for political purposes. No-one under-estimates the economic challenges, least of all your correspondent, but it is also being exaggerated in historic terms, something that I proved in my recent evidence to Parliament. Moreover, there is a belief across society that after a decade of being the good ally the US does not appreciate the efforts and sacrifice we British have made to support Washington. Indeed, when President Obama said recently that the US had no better ally than the French a British nerve was struck. Britain today is less secure precisely because it has been a loyal friend of America and the proxy target of choice for your many enemies. It is hard to justify our sons (and daughters) dying in large numbers when an American Congress distressingly turned the BP disaster into an anti-British rant. I am not of that opinion but believe me it goes to the heart of the Establishment and society and can be found in some surprising places.

My guidance to the President is not to trot out the same old Special Relationship jargon. The British (unfairly) feel used and are tired of American presidents who pat us patronisingly on the head and expect us to re-double our efforts. No, what is needed is a NEW relationship in which Britain and its efforts are celebrated and in which the president reminds the British people and leadership that Britain still matters; for Europe, an insecure world and TO America.

What is therefore needed in his forthcoming address to Parliament is thus (and not without irony) a King's Speech in which Mr President reminds all we British that we have a right to be proud, that America cannot succeed without the support of an engaged Britain and any suggestion that he harbours post-Imperial distrust of we British could not be farther from the truth.

70 years on the signing of the Atlantic Charter which won both World War Two and the Cold War the President is coming the Britain to renew the vows of mutual trust that shaped the world for the better and will continue to do so. In the spirit of Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt, President Obama should thus bring with him a new Atlantic Charter to relaunch Anglo-American relations in a new phase of world history which will prove no less challenging than that of the past.

Julian Lindley-French