hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Events, Dear Boy, Events - Time for Britain to Conduct a Serious Defence Review

Former British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan when asked what kept him awake at night replied; "Events, dear boy, events".  With British warplanes and warships in action against Libyan targets it is again the unexpected that has derailed Government policy.  Last year's intellectually and strategically bankrupt National Security Strategy (NSS) and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) should thus be shelved and a proper security and defence review conducted.  

The Government thought it could cut defence as though it were simply yet another bloated  remnant of Labour's profligacy.  Sadly, Britain does not live in a security vacuum.  Rather, events have proven both the NSS and SDSR misguided to the point of self-delusional.  Indeed, never has that over-used and misunderstood word 'strategic' proven so inaptly and ineptly applied to national security.

Obsessed purely by the national balance sheet the British Government sought to sacrifice defence for security and to mask retreat with meaningless management speak.  With an 8% cut to the defence budgets (which in reality is nearer a 20% cut of the actual budget) the aim was to shift Britain from being an engaged leader of the international community able and willing to uphold its international military obligations to a fortress Britain detached from the world around it.  Henceforth investment would be made in purely defensive instruments against terrorism, cyber attack and missile attack. 

This revolutionary shift in Britain's security and defence posture had been signalled in a major April 2010 speech by Foreign Secretary William Hague in which he signalled that henceforth London would place the national interest first, i.e. Britain would over time withdraw from foreign 'adventures'. Sadly, as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council and as one of the world's major economic and military actors Britain is not to be afforded such a luxury being too powerful to hide from dangerous change whatever the short-term financial imperatives.  

The sense of disconnect between security and defence was reinforced by an aside from Hague to Defence Secretary Liam Fox at last week's House of Commons Defence Select Committee hearings.  Hague urged Fox to move the debate away from defence cuts to security 'gains'.  Fox cut a forlorn figure because in his heart he knows he is being asked to sacrifice Britain's hugely respected armed forces for a vague and unquantifiable security concept that will profoundly weaken Britain's strategic influence. Put simply, the Government does not have a strategic clue.

Hague is thus essentially wrong.  The National Security Strategy is merely a shopping list of possible risks with a false set of vague priorities that profoundly undermine the ability of government to properly establish sound security and defence policy.  As such NSS for all its rhetoric generates no planning drivers because it is based on a profoundly wrong set of assumptions the most erroneous of which is the desire to recognise only as much threat as the Government believes it can afford.

Thankfully, the French came to the rescue.  The November 2010 Franco-British Security and Defence Treaty demonstrated the profound contradiction between a formal policy that was committed purely to building a cheap security fortress and the offensive political posture that a country such as Britain is forced to adopt. 

And then out of the strategic blue came Libya.  With much of the Middle East a primed powder-keg of instability and almost one year into the Coalition Government it is time for Prime Minister Cameron to put aside the foolish naivety implicit in the cost-cutting SDSR and start a proper defence review.  Only then can Britain match its military capability to its strategic responsibilities.  Grave damage has already been done. The rapid scrapping of the paid for new Nimrod MRA4 surveillance aircraft was an act of strategic Ludditism designed only to protect an appalling decision by removing the evidence.  Thankfully, it is not too late to save other vital strategic influence assets such as the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal. 

That of course will not happen because Whitehall can never be wrong.  Five years hence those responsible for the mess that is Britain's defence policy will of course appear on television to sagely justify their incompetence.  It is a cycle that is oh so British.  To paraphrase Churchill never has a great country been so ineptly led by so few at the expense of so many.       

Events, dear boy, events!

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The EU's Potemkin Village of a Foreign Policy

Russian myth has it that in 1787 Russian Minister Grigory Potyomkin erected fake villages to impress Empress Catherine II.  Known as Potemkin Villages they were merely facades designed to fool the Empress and impress her with the value of Russia's conquest of the desolate Crimea.   Three events have taken place since January which have sadly demonstrated the extent to which 'Europe's' Common Security and Foreign Policy or CFSP remains just such a facade.  One of these events was central to the ability of Europeans to influence world events critical to their interests, whilst the other two demonstrated the vulnerability of Europe to events even in its own backyard.

The first event was on the face of it good news. The agreement by the European Council for a budget of some €464 million for the EU’s External Action Service (EEAS) finally resolved an ongoing dispute over funding. Moreover, with 3360 diplomats under the leadership of Baroness Ashton the Union finally has a tool in place to begin to play the influence game. And yet, as if to remind Europeans of their decline, the other events demonstrated eloquently how far Europeans have to go to rebuild shattered influence, where Europe as Europe must exert critical influence and the essential self-defeating paradox of Europe’s foreign and security policy.

The January 19 Washington summit between President Obama and China’s Hu Jintao marked the new age of international relations into which a now decidedly multi-polar world has entered. For Europeans the message could not have been clearer; after five hundred years of being the epic-centre of world politics and deciding the fate of millions if not billions, Europeans will now be at the mercy of decisions taken elsewhere, many of them in Asia.

Above all, the popular revolts in Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya were equally reminders of change and challenge and should have provided a real wake up call for Europe’s leaders and diplomats. The upheavals were not as Neville Chamberlain once described; another fight in another place in another time as 'a quarrel in a faraway country, between people of whom we know nothing'. Rather they took place in large Muslim states on Europe’s doorstep in pursuit of European values of liberty and democracy with the uncertain outcome of which has profound consequences for Europe’s security, be it the possible emergence of states hostile to Europe or new partners in Europe’s democratizing mission. Now is the moment for Europe to exert influence over events. And yet Europe is again impotent and awaiting American policy leadership. Indeed, as the failed European Council of March 11 all too amply demonstrated European solidarity again collapsed on the point of contact with danger.  With Britain and France pushing fard for a no-fly zone, Germany and others flatly rejecting the idea.

The European Union?   The EU has again been notable for a wholesale lack of influence. The US and Saudia Arabia are driving much of the external influence campaign and will continue so to do. Doubtless, China will take an increasing interest in such places, peoples and its copious amounts of oil. However, all and any influence campaign must first and foremost be established on unity of effort and purpose and in this regard the European effort is weak bordering on pathetic.

On the face of it Europeans are superbly placed to exert influence. The EU has 135 missions world-wide, with EU member-states deploying some 40,000 diplomats world-wide. The EU provides 50% of all development aid with some €72 billion being disbursed over the 2012-2014 period.

Unfortunately, the 2009 Lisbon Treaty aim to create a more coherent foreign and security policy has only partially worked. One only has to look at the structure of the EEAS to see that its structure is more ‘organiscramble’ than organigram which is the very antithesis of crisis decision-making. Indeed, although ostensibly designed to improve European conflict prevention and early warning the ever-present demand for EEAS representation by the member-states and the byzantine relationship between the Council and Commission has created such a complex system that any implied ‘crisis management’ has more to do with internal bureaucracy than strategy.

It is weakness compounded by member-states' policies. Too many of them are in denial about the catastrophic loss of influence they have suffered over the past decade. With the partial exception of Germany, the combination of financial meltdown, strategic irresolution and political division has left even the biggest of Europe’s powers small by world standards. Sadly, as they have become weaker their attachment to outmoded concepts of sovereignty has only served to accelerate a precipitous retreat from world influence.

However, perhaps the biggest lacuna has been Baroness Ashton herself. No-one denies the challenge of her position but she has singularly failed to realize that influence at top tables is as much about personality and chemistry as power. She has become adept at excuses to justify her absence from key meetings demonstrating the extent to which however policy rich the Union may be it is a strategy desert. Strategy is the key to influence. The bottom-line is this; in this moment of change and crisis in the world Europeans must finally end the old CFSP – the crisis-ridden foreign and security policy and Baroness Ashton must show the leadership and vision hitherto lacking to seize the opportunity that has been given to her.

Fail and Europe will not only lose the influence game but it will not even be invited to play and that will be a disaster not just for Europe but the world.  Europe as Europe must move beyond the Potemkin Village of its foreign policy or be cast into the strategic wilderness - even in its own backyard.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

You Are Missing the Point, Davids

David Milliband wrote a thoughtful piece in The Times on 8 March about why the Left is losing across Europe.  It was thoughtful but wrong, especially as it concerns why Labour lost Britain. The message was essentially that old chestnut of the Labour Left - the electorate did not get it. 

As someone who until recently was a life-long Labour voter let me explain why Labour lost me.  It is all a question of discrimination and competition.  The whole point of government is that it discriminates - in favour of its own people.  That is why its first mission is to secure the interests and well-being of its own people.  Labour forgot that simple rule.  Rather, Labour in government became so obsessed with the interests of minorities that it started to actively discriminate AGAINST its own people. 

There were several reasons for this.  First, the Labour Party moved to the dogmatic Left after the disastrous Iraq War and became the play thing of minority interest groups.  By the time Gordon Brown seized power the Labour Government was an unelected and increasingly extremist tax and spend left wing government that had lost the trust of that crucial constituency; Middle England.  Second, Labour used human rights and equality legislation to quosh dissent over the disastrous impact on society of uncontrolled mass immigation.  Indeed, by 2007 even dissent over policy was met by the accusation of racism and free speech became incrasingly subject to authoritarian race laws designed to prevent an open debate over rapid changes in society that few wanted.  Consequently, the white British working class became disenfranchised, marginalised and dangerously disenchanted with too many offering their support to the extreme Right.  Hailing as I do from the back streets of central Sheffield I can only attest to the widespread anger, resentment and hopelessness among many of Labour's traditional support base. Third, the Equality Act was used to actively discriminate againt the indigenous population in the labour market...and still is.  One is used to seeing those seemingly inobstrusive little boxes on job application forms asking for nationality and ethnic origin.  I have clear proof from a friend who sat on a selection panel for a university post that far from being merely for statistical purposes they are indeed actively used as a tool of discrimination. 

The other issue is competition.  The world is becoming hyper-competitive and yet Britain has just spent the last decade or so trying to wish such competition away.  Be it in education, the media or wider society the Left tried to banish competition rather than properly prepare people for it.

Now do not get me wrong.  I am not ADVOCATING discrimination. I know a thing or two about prejudice.  We have the society we now have and rules and laws MUST be applied fairly and justly to all.  However, the twin mantras of the Left, 'social justice' and 'fairness' actually fostered the opposite - the new discrimination which today so divides British society and which has rendered Britain today such a fractured and fractious place
Minorities are of course welcome and they must be properly protected from intolerance and injustice.  However, that can never be achieved by government placing their interests above those of the majority. Sadly, David Milliband and the Labour leadership still seem incapable of accepting the consequences of their own policy actions.  Therefore, until Labour re-learns that in government its first task is to serve first the greater good of the majority, irrespective of colour or creed,  I will never vote for Labour again.  And, I suspect nor will millions like me.  Why? Because I simply lack any faith that having been sold one set of policies to get me to elect them I will not a short time later witness a left-wing government enacting misguided policy in my name. 

It is therefore, not without irony that the Coalition Government seems to be falling into the same trap.  To ring-fence aid to rich India when so much is wrong in broke Britain is simply another example of a British government that places the good of others above that of the mass of the British people for the sake of some vague and misplaced dogma.   You are missing the point, David...Cameron.    

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Globalised NATO or Fortress NATO?

For most Europeans the most important strategic event in Europe in 2010 was neither November’s NATO Strategic Concept nor the Franco-British Defence Treaty, important though they were. Rather, it was the Irish debt crisis and the threat of financial and economic contagion across the Eurozone. However, the Strategic Concept sets NATO ambitious challenges to re-orient the Alliance’s main effort from coping with enlargement to preparing for engagement which itself implies a new relationship between the protection of people’s and the projection of force. Some very difficult and clear strategic and political judgements will therefore be critical. As the ink dries on the NATO Strategic Concept one fundamental question of purpose still needs to be answered; globalised NATO or fortress NATO?

Four Strategic Posers

Equally, there are four other questions that must be answered concerning Alliance level of ambition, strategic method, Europe’s role and the way ahead if the balance between protection and projection is to be properly understood and planned for:
Question One: Is strategic ambition shared across the Alliance? To meet the twin challenges of engagement (for that is the very essence of the Strategic Concept) and austerity the Alliance will need to promote real unity of purpose and effort. The Strategic Concept is clear; NATO is in the business of organising large military (and increasingly civil) means for large political-stability ends. However, in meeting those challenges a firm grip of reality will be essential. If NATO has indeed adopted (beyond the merely rhetorical) a globalised strategic concept the Alliance by definition has immediately become weaker given its much larger context of operations and responsibilities (collective defence, crisis management, and co-operative security). Effective strategy is always more important for the more relatively weak (and relatively poor) than relatively strong. Two possible avenues are thus apparent. Either the Strategic Concept leads to a strategic Alliance built on a shared level of global ambition and girded by unity of effort and purpose. Or, the Strategic Concept is another rhetorical flourish masking weakness without strategy, i.e. risk.

Question Two: Is there a common strategic method? The title “Active Engagement” implies a new balance between protection and projection. Capability, capacity and credibility will thus underpin modernised collective defence, effective crisis management and co-operative security. However, all will demand a careful balance of investments as part of a strategically-conceived whole. “Modern defence’ implies a similar set of challenges and order of magnitude. Indeed, even contemporary Article 5 territorial defence will require both combined and joint deployable forces, with such capabilities and their supporting and associated capacities becoming the litmus test for effective Alliance engagement in a globalised world.

Question Three: What role for Europeans? For all the talk of globalised security the world is rather made up of inter-linked security regions. Indeed, the main linkage between those regions is the United States which remains and will remain the critical enabling and stabilising factor the world over, in spite of planned cuts in its 2011 defence budget. Therefore, should non-American NATO forces be organised around America’s global role or should Europeans ease the pressure on the Americans by focussing on a regional role? The implications are profound. If the Alliance is organised to support the US global role then force transformation (and in particular Allied Command Transformation), must be seen as the means to ensure European forces are part of an American-led force concept. If, on the other hand, Europeans focus on the Northern and European strategic theatres that would not only require a new force concept, organised as part of a new European pillar within the Alliance and along with it the fostering of a European strategic culture. By extension, that would also make much closer relations with the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy an essential element in an efficient and effective European defence effort. At present Europe is trapped in a no man’s land between two very different force concepts with no clear idea apparent in the Strategic Concept as to the balance to be struck between the two.

That is not to suggest that a Euro-focus would be an easy option. Indeed, one only has to look at Europe’s neighbourhood to see the challenges; the High North, North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and/or Central Asia. And, of course, the link with US forces would need to be maintained at all costs. Certainly, the continued presence of American Combat Brigade Teams (in whatever form or number) will be vital for strategic reassurance. However, for such a pillar to be fashioned the key Europeans, such as Britain, France, Germany and Italy would need to be in agreement over the purpose and structure of such a pillar. If not there are likely to be two NATO’s; one interventionist, the other purely defensive.

Question Four: What is the way ahead? Implicit in the Strategic Concept is a balance between strategy, affordability and capability that must necessarily be built on effective interoperability between militaries. This is not just to ensure interoperability with US forces, but also to close the growing intra-European gap, and to ensure that when NATO forces deploy with partners be they Australian, Japanese or whomsoever, or indeed key civilians under the Comprehensive Approach, coalition force generation and leadership does not mean reinventing the command and control wheel each every time. Indeed, if there was one strategic ‘product’ which is the unique selling point of the Alliance it is NATO interoperability standards, particularly those pertaining to command and control and all NATO strategic and deployable headquarters should be considering how best to enhance that product in light of the Strategic Concept.

Globalised NATO or Fortress NATO?

Ultimately, the 2010 NATO Strategic Concept will be about money, specifically the relationship between forces and resources. Radical new threats to security, such as cyber-terrorism, energy security and even the consequences of climate change are to some extent germane to the Alliance crisis management mission. However, they also pose a very danger to Alliance cohesion if the relationship between a globalised NATO and fortress NATO is not understood. In such circumstances new security threats could merely become the latest political alibi to retreat into unauditable security challenges either to mask and justify further cuts in defence budgets or avoid sharing burdens and danger. No alliance (or union) can survive such strategic dissonance over time. Ultimately NATO is a military organisation that must think about and prepare for the successful fighting of future wars.

Global NATO or Fortress NATO? Until that question is resolved then the 2010 Strategic Concept could well remain an ambiguous enigma and a potentially dangerous one at that.

Julian Lindley-French

This article was first published in February 2011 by Aspenia