hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Thursday, 28 April 2011

The HMS Highly Unlikelys - Is Britain a Pocket Superpower or Super-Belgium?

Oh no, not again! The BBC’s Robert Peston yesterday discovered that the two currently under construction and now infamous British aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will cost more than originally envisaged. One outlier estimate has the cost as high as £10bn, rather than the £3.9bn budgeted for. This is apparently news.

There are two truisms about Royal Navy capital ships. First, they always cost at least twice the original quoted amount. Second, that almost all British ships with the name Invincible will be sunk.

I got myself into some trouble (nothing new there then) in Washington last year when at a high-level meeting I called the two carriers, HMS Highly Unlikely and HMS Very Improbable. That was before the Strategic Pretence and Impecunity Review during which the government discovered that it would cost more to scrap the two monsters than to complete them.

I have thus far been an agnostic on the carriers, especially as I believe the first order challenge is to extricate ourselves from Afghanistan with a semblance of strategic credibility. However, I have come round to them – and in time both of them. Why? Future defence strategy will be built around the ability to strike and punish rather than stay and stabilise.  The carriers will be critical to that.

Furthermore, they are not just aircraft carriers and will perform a range of useful maritime/amphibious tasks. They will also fly a very important flag – the White Ensign - which still implies a vestige of influence. Thus far we have seen everything through the lens of Afghanistan and it has understandably coloured strategy. There is endless debate in London about how to do future Afghanistans better. Unfortunately, the political appetite is such that there is about as much chance of Britain doing a future Afghanistan (at least on that scale) as there is of Sheffield United (a ‘soccer’ club to those uninitiated Americans amongst you) winning the Champions League. I could of course be proved wrong – Sheffield United may indeed win the Champions League. 

Rather, post Afghanistan Britain is going to need sufficient military power to a) influence Americans; b) lead European coalitions alongside the French; and c) lead ‘Commonwealth’ coalitions with Australian, Canadian and other partners. Why? Because the epicentre of global competition will be the Indian Ocean and the main focal point of activity will be the so-called Littoral (coastal bits to you and me) where 75% of the world’s population live within 100kms of the coast.

Britain is a maritime power. We have transitioned out of the Cold War focus on the defence of Northern Europe through Iraq and Afghanistan to an extra-European global role – albeit a modest one, as Libya attests. Today, Britain is in the worst of all worlds – too powerful to hide, too weak to effectively influence. Therefore, these floating airfields will serve several useful roles. First, they will act as platforms for the projection of critical air and supporting land power to critical places. Second, they will offer a command leadership role for Britain which is part of influence. Third, they will tell Washington (and others) that Britain is still in the power game.

Furthermore, the two ships are likely to have a life expectancy of over fifty years and will serve as the core of a new Royal Navy which Britain will desperately need, and one which is currently deeply depressed. That navy will in turn be needed as part of a balanced, joint and mutually reinforcing defence strategy in which no one service owns air, land or sea. That is also why we need both carriers. Current plans to sell one of them upon completion completely negate the point of the other one. Even if we have to mothball the Prince of Wales (now to be called Ark Royal) for a time upon completion it will be needed in the 2020s and beyond.

There is a problem. Years ago I wrote a piece called “The Hood Trap” in which I likened the carrier designs to HMS Hood, an un-modernised British battlecruiser that blew up in May 1941 with the loss of almost two thousand souls engaging the German battleship Bismarck. She was the wrong ship in the wrong place at the wrong time. Part of her weakness was her lack of armoured protection. The two British super-carriers will be 65,000 tons each because that is the minimum size needed to effectively operate the F-35 Lightning IIs they are being built for. However, to save costs they will have nothing like the protection of their American equivalents – a typically British compromise. Will a future British Prime Minister risk such valuable pieces of floating British real estate off some foreign shore given the nature of emerging anti-ship missile technology? It is a moot point.

It was Mr Peston who broke the news of the banker’s balls-up which has so blighted all our lives and so damaged British national strategy. Mr Peston is of course the BBC’s Business Editor so it is not surprising that he sees everything in terms of cost and nothing in terms of value, particularly strategic value.  However, it is now time to look to the future beyond the mess created by the terminally selfish. Moreover, at least somebody needs a job in Britain and building such carriers offers just that. 

Above all, Britain needs a navy worthy of the name.  The carriers are about the coming age and will be paid for as such. They may indeed look today like floating versions of the Millennium Dome – Tony Blair’s London folly - but in twenty years time they will be emblematic of a new Royal Navy.

Every now and then even the Brits must take the long view. Now that would be a nice change. The carriers are about the future; Britain’s level of strategic ambition in it, influence over it and for such a goal the branding of power matters.

Pocket superpower or super-Belgium? That is the choice implicit for Britain in the carrier-debate.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Appeasing and Fighting Al Qaeda: Lessons from Fantasy Island?

This is a difficult piece to write for it takes me into very troubled waters. And yet it is the duty of the analyst to sail such waters. I am ashamed. Wikileaks confirmed yesterday that my country was the strongest recruiting ground for Al Qaeda outside the Middle East. Britain is also the main source of funding for the Taliban. No wonder French Intelligence call my country’s capital – Londonistan. How has this been allowed to happen and what must be done about it?

I am also angry. I am angry that over the past decade we have sent thousands of British troops to the foothills of the Hindu Kush to keep Islamism at ‘strategic distance’ and yet at the same time radical Imams have been allowed into Britain behind the backs of our soldiers to radicalise Muslim youth – both British and immigrant. It is self-evident that there has been a profound disconnect between security policy and immigration and asylum policy that is verging on the insane. As a result Britain has been simultaneously fighting and appeasing Al Qaeda.

One only has to visit official Britain to understand how this happens. Shot through with political correctness, poorly led by politicians too weak and lame to deal with this reality, with complacent security services and a Human Rights Act that seemingly places the well-being of aggressive minorities above the well-being of law-abiding majorities such contradictions have been allowed to flourish. The result; this refusal to face facts has left Britain today a far more divided and insecure place than it was in 2001. It is an insecurity that is now threatening key allies – such as the United States and France.

It would be easy for me to blame the Labour Government that ‘served’ for some thirteen years but these failings go back a long time. Indeed, one of the profound ironies of the past years has been the implicit alliance between right-wing businessmen in search of cheap labour and left-wing ideologues in search of a ‘new’ Britain. Dissent over policy has been suppressed by accusations of racism with the result that only the lunatic right have ventured into this dangerous swamp. The result; the mainstream has been forced to look the other way as cities have deteriorated into ethnic ghettoes and the white middle class has fled to the hills.

Former Labour Home Secretary (Interior Minister) David Blunkett said last night that he was still not sure that official Britain really understands the nature of the threat posed by Al Qaeda in Britain – either to the British people or partners. He should know. Look at the provenance of the various shoe-bombers, look at the 7/7 bombing of London.

Government is beginning to take this threat seriously but riven by ideological divisions between Conservative and Liberal Democrats it is too little, too late. Indeed, too often ‘action’ has meant simply trying to mask the nature of the threat from the British people for the sake of virtually non-existent ‘social cohesion’.

So, what is to be done? First, the debate over the security impact of mass immigration and asylum must be confronted. To that end, the debate must be taken back from the far right and much greater efforts made to properly understand how so-called ‘preachers of hate’, such as Abu Hamsa and Abu Qatada, exploit vulnerable members of British society.

Second, the Human Rights Act must be urgently reviewed. The HRA has been used time and again by extremists and criminals in a way that was never envisaged. It is now nigh on impossible to deport such people once they are in Britain with the result that my country is too often a safe haven for enemies of our very existence. The Government promised a new British Bill of Rights and then kicked it into the long grass of a commission. Another bullet dodged.

Third, properly confront the failings of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is lazy government. As I have seen in my own home town Sheffield, communities live parallel lives with completely separate belief systems. Ten years on from the race riots in Lancashire little progress has been made to break down barriers and this has only served to deepen the pools of hopelessness and despair that Al Qaeda exploits. Over the same period large numbers of immigrants have arrived from the Punjab and Bangladesh which are some of the poorest and most conservative regions in south Asia. Any yet very little has been done to integrate them into what must be a bewildering Western society. It goes without saying that the vast majority are decent people, seeking a better life. As an immigrant myself I know how difficult life can be and I live in an advanced Western society. However, pretending that the importation of large numbers of people from such places at a time of radical unrest has no impact on security is precisely the kind of delusional behaviour that has brought Britain to this sorry place. Prime Minister Cameron promised action. He often promises action – before elections.

Fourth, we have the society we have and we must make it work better. Discrimination is rife in Britain. Large numbers of second and third generation Britons are routinely discriminated against and not accorded the respect that is their due. I do not believe that diversity is strength, but I do believe that if one invests in people they can feel comfortable with a whole range of identities. Respect people and they respond. That is the future. To that end, Government must seek real partnership with communities to de-radicalise youth with a much more systematic approach than was offered through the PREVENT programme. The great institutions of state have a critical role to play in this regard. At the same time, the Government must take much firmer steps (and openly so) to insist that institutions vulnerable to extremist infiltration act, not least the terminally politically correct British universities.

Finally, aggressively educate society as to the essential contribution of Muslims to Britain. The massive majority of British Muslims want what is best for Britain. That is why they or their forebears came to Britain. The current climate of fear and mistrust at community level simply starves decent people of the chance to communicate across communities. Mosques are unfairly and routinely seen by the rest of the population as recruiting grounds for terrorists. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For too long the British elite have lectured others on how to deal with the challenges posed by radical Islam and yet at home they have hoped the problem would simply disappear. By engaging Islamism abroad but doing far too little at home Britain has become a threat to itself and to others. This is all the more galling as successive British leaders have told a disbelieving British public that Britain is an example to the world, as others have laughed at us.

One cannot both appease and fight Al Qaeda at one and the same time.  Surely, that is a lesson from Fantasy Island that is all too clear.
Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 25 April 2011

The Libyan Job - Ultimately, It is All a Question of Prestige

Some of you of a certain vintage will recall a superb Michael Caine caper film, “The Italian Job”. No, I am not referring to that appalling 2003 American re-make which had none of the delightful irony of the 1969 original (typical!). In the real Italian Job a bunch of ‘plucky’ London criminals steal $4 million in Chinese gold being paid to the Italians (plus ca change…?) from the centre of Turin. To steal the loot Caine’s gang cause a monumental traffic jam in and around Turin. Escaping from the city three Mini Coopers use the only route available – the sewers. The Mafia boss is, of course, a tad dischuffed but grudging in his admiration for the planning that went into the job. “If they caused this traffic jam, they must have planned a way out”, he laments, his prestige having been severely tarnished.

In the Libyan Job we have created the jam, but have no idea how to get out. Indeed, the Libyan Job exemplifies all too clearly the inherent contradiction in much of Western (particularly European) policy as we routinely confuse values and interests. It is all too easy to espouse values when one never has to really defend them.

I was in a conference call with a senior French official who admitted candidly that there had been no real plan prior to the action. The impulse was simply to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Benghazi. I believe that but find it bizarre that so little contingency planning had apparently taken place in Washington and the major European capitals. Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are on Europe’s doorstep and I was warning (in writing) some years ago of just such dangers…and was dismissed. Yes, I know that sounds a bit of an ‘I told you so’ moment - but I did.

So, how do we get out of this jam – which is all the West’s leaders are really thinking about? Clearly, ‘we’ are at the go all the way or simply go away point, facing an adversary who is rapidly turning the struggle into urban counterinsurgency successfully negating much of NATO’s air power. The mythical international community has as ever gone for a hike at the critical moment. The UN and the Arab League keep reminding NATO that UN Security Council Resolution 1973 imposes very real constraints on allied action. And yet, they are doing very little to create the conditions for a political solution.

Indeed, I am surprised how little political vision is at all apparent, let alone creative thinking. What matters now is a political settlement that brings a rapid end to the killing. However, to bring that about a critical vision is needed for a post-Gadhafi future for ALL Libyans. To do that the unpalatable will have to be swallowed.

First, Gadhafi and his clan must be progressively isolated. This will require a back-channel political track to the regime elite that offers them encouragement to defect in the short-term and gives them a say in post-Gadhafi Libya. This will likely also require concrete inducements, such as immunity from prosecution and protection for families/clans. Libya is not simply a state, it is also a complex amalgam of clan/tribal loyalties. Of course, Gadhafi's departure would be preferable prior to any cease-fire, but need not be insisted upon and could take place AFTER an agreed period if necessary. That, the opposition would have to swallow.

Second, the political space must be created to enable the Gadhafi regime to withdraw/leave. This may well require immunity from prosecution by self-seeking Spanish lawyers, the self-juridicating International Criminal Court and, sadly, the relatives of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing. I say this with the heaviest of hearts recalling vividly as I do that dark December day in 1988 when Pan Am 103 blew up. As I write this I wince.

Third, tribal leaders have been marginalised recently following the concentration of power in the hands of the Gadhafi clan. They must see they have a role in immediate post-Gadhaffi stability and that their interests will be protected. This should extend to elements in the Army so that the Libyan top brass need fear no reprisals, nor an Iraqi-style disbanding of the Army.

Fourth, the West must engage the Arab League and the African Union much more aggressively in consideration of a post-Gadhafi constitution. The European Union has a vital role to play in this respect, particularly as it concerns bringing key parties to the conflict together. An informal Libyan Transitional Conference in Europe would help give political momentum to the vision.

The next steps will be critical and this will involve some risk because to create the political space a breakthrough of sorts is needed. Two actions are needed urgently. NATO and/or the EU (preferably the latter) must now intervene on the ground in Misrata which is fast becoming the leitmotif of the struggle. This humanitarian intervention in strength could unlock what is fast becoming a stalemate with Misrata the key to the struggle. Turkey must be encouraged to play a leading role in post-Gadhaffi stabilization. Although a former colonial power that was a long time ago and as a Muslim, allied country that has expressed grave concerns about Operation Unified Protector, Ankara would have all-important legitimacy.

Mission creep? Perhaps, but unless the regime is placed on both the political and military back foot and quickly this quagmire will only deepen.

Why is Libya so important? First, Libya and the struggle of the Libyan people is of course important in principle. It is amazing for an idea apparently in decline that so many people are prepared to die for freedom. Second, we are already embroiled. The Libyan Job is therefore important in fact. Third, we cannot afford any more successes of the type we are 'enjoying' in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has been a bruising decade for the West. And, the Taliban have just given us another good kicking by re-enacting “The Great Escape” in Kandahar.

Ultimately, as Mr Bridger, the English capo dei capi (played by Noel Coward) tells Caine in “The Italian Job” - “It is all a question of prestige”.

Yes, ultimately, it is all a question of prestige.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Franglosphere - No, Not Bad BBC Science Fiction

I was in London this week and two things happened that suggest l’albion perfide might be about to do the dirty on both America and France. First, in high-level meetings in the Ministry of Defence British officials confirmed that the disastrous 2010 Strategic Security and Defence Review (Strategic Pretence and Impecunity Review) had been the right thing to do and was on track. Oh, please. Second, unattributed briefings to senior members of the Commentariat (a self-formed, self-mutating, self-important, and self-imbibing group of strategic ‘thinkers’) urged ‘caution’ about the value of the 2010 Franco-British Security and Defence Treaty. Oh, please again.

London, as ever, has got it diametrically wrong – sacrificing, as ever, the medium-term for the short-term. Which brings me to the Franglosphere (no, it is not a bad BBC science fiction shocker). Far from dissing it, London should be investing in it. Indeed, it could mark a new trirectoire of critical American, British and French leadership as Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya begin to shake down. Such leadership could in time bring both NATO and EU back from the abyss of irrelevance over which both are hovering.

Sitting in one of those delightful central London squares dusted by the spring sunshine doing an interview for BBC Radio (I suppose that is what they mean by outside broadcast) my mind short-circuited and out sprang an idea. The gap between the strategic pretence that is NATO and the EU and the true alignment of security and defence power is fast becoming so embarrassing that no amount of institutional wall-paper can now paper over the cracks.

The result? Coalitions are fast replacing alliances as the place where real security business is done.  Institutions are fast becoming places where the complacently secure try to prevent the dangerously insecure from doing what they must to protect their citizens. This is not simply inconvenient, it is downright dangerous.

In the Atlantic Alliance today we have four categories of power and weakness: America - the erstwhile superpower; Britain and France – the ersatz pocket superpowers; Germany, Italy and Poland - the pretend weak powers; a ‘proud to be weak’ group of dodgy powers with a propensity for bicycles, and what I call the McEnroe Six – the ‘you cannot be serious’ ‘powers’. The exact composition of the Six I will leave to your imagination.

Which brings me to the where are we ‘at’ over Libya question? Well, we are at the ‘go all the way or simply go away’ point. At least London has understood that, although the response is, shall we say, a tad arcane.  As with all such moments the British are engaged in one of those semantic debates in which the British official elite specialise and which make London look like the setting for one of those old Peter Sellers movies. Ruritania was the place, I think. 

This particular iteration concerns the balance to be struck between the Cameron, Obama, Sarkozy ‘let’s get Gadhaffi’ letter, the meaning of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 and just how far ‘we’ can go, even though ‘we’ have not got much to go much further with. Today, this concerns how many boots have to be on the ground BEFORE there are boots on the ground.

Power of course has its own eloquence. Three of NATO’s twenty-six powers hold over eighty-five percent of the military power. Now, of course, one of them is so primus inter pares that the primus rather embarrasses the pares. That said it is precisely primus inter pares that makes both NATO and the EU look ever more like bureaucracies in search of a pension. Why?  Both institutions were created at a time when the ethos of the age was not just to defend against the great power of the ‘other’, but to constrain the great power of the self. In the past such constraint was believed to be necessary due to what was believed (mainly by Americans) to be Europe’s innate tendency to war with itself.

The problem today is that power is also a form of vulnerability. The more powerful one is the more a target one becomes and because of this Europe has found a whole new way to be divided, as well as being lost in a sea of uncertainty. And here is the crunch; differentials in power create profound differentials in strategic perspective. The result is not just free-riding, but too often free-braking and on occasions free back-seat driving by the pretend weak and weak powers. They want to constrain the powerful for fear a) they will be embarrassed domestically; and b) be sucked in to the vulnerability psychosis of the powerful. And yet the complacent seemingly demonstrate little concern for the security needs of the powerful beyond the merely rhetorical. How 'symbolic' does commitment have to be before it is not a commitment?  Such wobbliness critically undermines the contract at the heart of any alliance that can only function if fuelled by real solidarity – the small get the security of the powerful in return for the sharing of responsibilities.

But that is not all. They also want to be washed and fed by the powerful, i.e. getting someone else to buy the ingredients, bake the cake and then eat their bit as well.  The great unwashed are of course pretending they are preparing for something - humanitarian operations, peacekeeping etc. etc.  But time moves on and nothing much appears.  Libya has utterly exposed the sham that is conventional military capabilities in Europe, especially if it is even vaguely hi-tech. 

Sadly, the 2010 NATO Strategic Concept gave the McEnroers and friends exactly what they wanted – free defence. Now, the great and not so good had hoped that in return for such protection some of the relatives would pitch in from time to time to help do the washing up. Not a chance – they are too busy sunning themselves on the broad sunlit uplands of strategic self-delusion.

There is of course a caveat (it is impossible to write a piece about European security and defence without referring to caveats. Perhaps I should throw in a Rubicon as well as I am sure something is about to be crossed?). Whatever. In any case, Britain and France must look collectively to their own ersatz pocket super-powerdom and the Franglosphere because if they do not invest in the new alignment they will create an entirely new and dangerous category for themselves – the pretend strong. If that happens both institutions will be little more than homes for the strategically insane.  That, I thought, had been the reason for the Franco-British treaty but according to London not.

Now the critical question that ensues is profound; will the Franglosphere serve NATO and the EU or bypass them? That is up to the relatives. But as Shakespeare would have it, there is a rub. We need the Franglosphere precisely because only states can save institutions which are after all tools not ends in themselves. Then maybe, just maybe, America, Britain and France can together inject military backbone into the increasingly invertebrate NATO and EU.

The alternative? Big power will be forced to act independently of institutions.  Indeed, if NATO and the EU are only there to get the committed to pay for the security of the recalcitrant that will truly mark the beginning of the end for the age of institutions which the West did so much to create.  I thought driving without insurance was illegal.

“What is the sweetest form of death”, Caesar was asked shortly before an interruption in Imperial service; “The kind that comes without warning”.

Get a grip, London!

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 15 April 2011

Welcome to NATO Operation Protecting Disunity

Don’t you just love NATO speak? Yesterday in Berlin NATO Foreign Ministers settled down to a working lunch to discuss ‘progress’ on Operation Unified Protector (OUP) in the skies over Libya. Personally, I have never been able to eat and think which could explain the ensuing Statement on Libya, which in its brevity and truth wobble suggests more Hock than work. Thankfully, Presidents Obama, Cameron (he is at least behaving in a presidential manner) and Sarkozy issued a more sober statement bereft of the veritas vino that seemed to have affected their foreign ministers.

The statement is a masterpiece of NATO speak and thus needs interpreting into plain English. This is something that has not been seen at NATO Headquarters since the Scottish occupied it back in the early naughties – it was plain but incomprehensible.

The “valuable” contribution made by OUP members was noted demonstrating “broad-based” support” for the Libyan air operation. Roughly translated that means; we know there are not enough members doing enough of the right things but that is all you are going to get. The statement goes on, “NATO will continue to coordinate its actions with the United Nations, other regional actors and international organizations”. You can take that as meaning, whilst we might not be able to agree amongst ourselves over the best course of action, we can be pretty sure we can find point our particular point of view somewhere in the mythical and rumoured international community.

There is at least agreement that, “Gadhaffi and his regime have lost all legitimacy” and the ministers correctly endorse the Doha meeting of the Contact Group which called on the long-time Libyan leader to depart the scene of the tragedy he has inflicted on his country. This must have been before the main course and after a swift gin and tonic. The statement also calls for an end to armed aggression by the regime, withdrawal of all Libyan forces to agreed bases and unfettered humanitarian access. So far, so good but note the lack of any political course of action (sorry, I used the word ‘action’ in completely the wrong context – meaning sharing risk equally and doing things together).

But then comes the killer word – ‘robust’. Robust in NATO speak is like the British use of the word ‘interesting’ in diplomatic speak. As you may know the British have several stages of alert ranging from ‘a tad concerned’ when a crisis erupts , to ‘a bit niggled’ when war is declared. However, nothing in the British dip lexicon compares with ‘interesting. Indeed, whenever the British respond to ‘language’ with the word ‘interesting’ it can be thus translated; a load of complete tosh, you cannot be serious and how can you possibly think that. Robust in NATO speak is only deployed when disagreement is critical. Indeed by invoking Article Robust are invited to interpret any and all action as ‘robust’, even if they are not actually doing anything.

But that is not the clincher. The statement then goes on to “ tribute to the skill, bravery and professionalism of OUR men and women in uniform”. Well, excuse me but in Yorkshire (from whence I hail) we call a spade a spade and not a “joint effort”. By ‘Our’ men and women – do they not mean American, British and French men and women? I spoke to an RAF officer the other day (one of ‘our people) and he though NATO served the coffee. He was wrong – it serves the wine.

And thus to the crunch and the ultimate in NATO speak, “...we are committed to provide all the necessary resources and maximum operational flexibility”. That means, we invite America, Britain and France to pay for all of this and do all the dangerous buts although at lunch we the rest of us might serve the wine – subject to parliamentary approval.

The NATO Secretary-General? Sack him. We need St Francis of Assisi.

Welcome to NATO Operation Protecting Disunity.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 8 April 2011

The Past is Another Country, Germany

Berlin, 8 April

The past is another country. Yesterday, I was in Berlin at the German Federal Chancellor’s Office discussing Libya and German security and defence policy, deep in the beautiful heart of a dazzling new city that is Berlin today. Indeed, I had the profound feeling that I was at the heart of something new – new city, new country, new Europe. The dark days of World War Two still spoke with tragic historical eloquence from the fading pot-marks and scars that can still be spied on many Berlin buildings.  However, today those scars are indeed fading. And yet, the heart which beats so proudly remains a heart with a deep hole in it. For some fifty years we the victorious allies told Germans they could do little because of World War Two. Today, Germans tell me how little they can do because of World War Two.

The simple, plain truth is that modern, scrupulously democratic Germany is using old Germany as an excuse to shift the burden of its security and defence onto its allies and it is not good enough. The consequence? Europe is itself slipping ever deeper into a strategic pretence which is turning rapidly into dogma.

The Berlin mantra is clear. Germany insists on being treated as a normal power but Germany can never be a normal power.  She is too powerful for that and Berlin reflects that power. With an economy almost twice the size of Britain and France Germany is rather a leading power. And yet, Germany only wants to lead when it suits Berlin. A senior official told me that Germany was indeed pulling its weight – cash bags instead of body bags. Berlin, she told me forthrightly, was leading efforts to save the Eurozone and with Portugal but the latest economy to falter it is indeed no mean challenge. However, she forgot to mention that the Eurozone had for many years being doing wonders for German exports.  The zone is in effect a customs union which by its very nature offsets the high cost of German productivity. Germany’s economy has benefitted accordingly. It is no act of German altruism to save the Eurozone – it is Germany’s duty.

And that is the point. Germany today sits on the cusp between present and past, between solidarity and selfishness and sadly it is the latter that is winning out. What also struck me as new was the ringing hollowness of much of the German talk of multilateral solidarity., be it inside the EU, OSCE, NATO or UN. For the past ten years Germany has become adept at excusing itself on contact with danger. This has left the Americans and British to bear an unfair burden for Germany’s security. Now, there’s an irony. Clearly, cash bags can and never be a substitute for body bags for partners in alliance.

The security meeting in the Chancellor’s Office wound its way through the usual apologia. Germany was doing its bit in Afghanistan, but would not do its bit in really dangerous Afghanistan; Germany had not joined the air campaign over Libya because it was led by a coalition and not NATO (it now is led by NATO and it is failing), it was an open-ended commitment and there was no exit strategy. No mention was made of the impending humanitarian disaster in Benghazi that had triggered Britain and France to act.

Perhaps the most telling comment was this; Germany was particularly concerned to preserve its position as the world’s third largest arms exporter. So, there you have it. It is alright for Germany to produce the weapons with which armed forces and others fight for that is money; but Germany has no wish to engage itself. A clearer definition of selfishness I have yet to hear.  There was a distinct whiff of hypocrisy in the air.

I respect Germany. Indeed, I like Germany and Germans. I do indeed have many German friends. I love Berlin. Moreover, part of the German challenge is the fault of Germany's allies having been imposed by the victorious World War Two allies. We drafted the post-war German constitution and designed it such as to prevent Bonn/Berlin ever again dominating as it did during the Wilhelmine and Hitlerian eras. But that was then and this is now.

As an Englishman I am comfortable with modern Germany and I want Germany to be a leader. But, I am tired of the back-seat driving, free-riding, self-excusing Germany all too keen to make money, but resistant, far too resistant, to stand up and properly fulfil its international security responsibilities.

The bottom-line is this; no Atlantic Alliance nor European Union can survive over time if one of the leading powers transfers risk continually onto partners. And here is the paradox: Germany is in danger of destroying the very multilateralism it claims as the quintessence of its security and defence policy. And, as for being treated as a normal power - modern, democratic but above all powerful Germany has frankly yet to earn that right. A cherished permanent seat on the UN Security Council? Berlin must realise that neither America, Britain nor France will ever support such ambitions whilst German solidarity is so selective. We all of us after all have publics opinion.

As L.P. Hartley famously remarked – the past is another country, they do things differently there.

Julian Lindley-French

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Figthing to the Last American? America, Libya and the End of the European Age

The European age is finally over! Five hundred years after it began with the Spanish conquest of Latin America the Libya imbroglio marks the final end of Europe’s strategic pretence. For all the rhetoric from Paris and London and the belated ‘leadership’ of NATO, Europeans clearly lack the strategic imagination, political ambition and basic military means to influence events even in their own backyard. In the wake of the 2010 Strategic Concept the U.S. had the right to expect at the very least a Europe able and willing to act as a regional leader, but the divisions that have marked the Libya crisis have once again revealed a Europe split to the core and weak at heart. Without the active leadership both political and military of the US such ventures are doomed to fail.

The world has moved on and if Europe has one responsibility it is to keep Americans strong in East and South Asia, the epicentre of dangerous change. Americans must hold Europeans to such a commitment and make U.S. commitment to NATO the prize.

The implications for the US are clear; unless there is a step change in European strategic ambition Americans are effectively alone in the mission that is being imposed upon them to stabilise a dangerous world. Indeed, no NATO Strategic Concept however well drafted can mask the mismatch in causes, forces and resources that again Operation Odyssey Dawn has revealed. How did this happen and what are the implications for the United States?

The Great European Defence Depression

On the face of it Europeans are superbly placed to exert strategic influence. The EU has 135 diplomatic missions world-wide, with EU member-states deploying some 40,000 diplomats. The EU provides 50% of all development aid with some $100 billion to be disbursed over the 2012-2014 period. However, the soft power beloved of Europeans is part of the problem for it masks a dangerous truth – weakness has become strength in Europe. Specifically, military weakness is fast becoming Europe’s defined strategic ‘culture’, permitting many Europeans to occupy a moral upland untroubled by the shadows of responsibility.

The result is the great European defence depression. The figures speak for themselves. NATO Europe nations enjoy a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of some 127% of the U.S., but spend only 37% of the U.S. expenditure on defence. Britain and France alone represent some 43% of the NATO Europe total with Britain, France and Germany representing 88% of all defence research and development. In spite of some modest modernisation 16 of the 26 NATO Europe members spend less than $5bn each year and much of it very inefficiently.

The bottom-line is this; between 2001 and 2008 NATO Europe spending on defence fell by 14% from $360bn to $315bn (not adjusted for defence cost inflation) whereas over roughly the same period the U.S. increased its defence expenditure by 109%, China by 247%, Russia by 67% and Australia by 56%. And, even as the British and French claim ‘leadership’ of the anti-Gadhafi coalition they are both cutting their armed forces and in the British case quite savagely.

Appeasing Reality

The reasons for Europe’s rapid retreat into the new appeasement are manifold and the U.S. must take some responsibility. Post-911 American leadership has by and large been poor; at one and the same time dismissive of Europeans and yet needy of them. Given the perceived failings of American leadership in Iraq and Afghanistan there are many Europeans who today believe they would be more secure politically distant from Washington rather than politically close.

However, the main drivers of the new appeasement are decidedly European. Europe’s ‘power’ is lost in the political ether between Brussels and member-state capitals. The European Union has become a self-managing political crisis. One has only to look at the structure of Europe’s new foreign ‘ministry’, the European External Action Service – more organiscramble, than organigram - to realise this institution will never actually do anything. It is designed first and foremost to ensure all are represented. In spite of efforts to create a Common Security and Defence Policy, and the appointment of a foreign policy head Baroness Ashton, ‘war’ would be fought by the European Council, the European Commission and a European Parliament too distant from either power or people to offer any meaningful oversight. That is why soft power remains so alluring – indefinable and immeasurable.

Naturally, national capitals like to blame Brussels for their impotence but they are all complicit. Germany is Europe’s selfish power. Europe’s leading power, Germany, wants it all power ways. The Eurozone has done wonders for the German economy over the last twenty years helping to create a customs union that offset the high cost of German productivity. Now that zone is under pressure Germany has no interest in any other strategic issue. In any case, Berlin has Washington, London and Paris paying for Germany’s security and defence. It is one of the most profound of historical ironies that Germany has just about achieved its 1914 war aims having persuaded Americans to pay for them. Libya has merely demonstrated two realities – German influence and German selfishness.

Britain is Europe’s lost power. There can be no doubting British sacrifice over a decade of trying to follow America on British resources. Sadly, the British sense of an ungrateful America has only reinforced public cynicism about politicians – be they British or American. However, the malaise goes far deeper. Britain is so lost in a sea of political correctness and health and safety risk aversion that it is no longer sure of itself nor its identity. After fifteen years of political devolution and identity-sapping mass immigration patriotism has become a dirty word. Only through the creation of a multicultural society can the sins of Britain’s imperial past be washed away. The result is the longest strategic apology in history with foreign and security policy (such as it is) being all things to all people. Libya has revealed the hollowed-out facade that is Britain today – believing in little, offering little.

France is Europe’s lonely power. The one European power still capable of strategy France remains at times unhealthily obsessed with the idea of a united Europe constructed at the expense of America. In spite of France rejoining the military core of NATO the Alliance is still for many in Paris the metaphor for American power over and in Europe. The French reluctance to permit NATO to lead operations in Libya was at one and the same time sensible and self-serving. Sensible, in that NATO is Europe’s other self-licking lollipop and incapable of being decisive in the absence of firm American leadership. Self-serving in that eclipsing NATO reminds all (at least in French minds) that there is a European alternative. France had long hoped Germany would join it on a crusade to build a strategic Europe but Berlin is too interested in making money. The French turned to the strategically inept British last year and signed a new security and defence treaty in the hope of returning Europeans to strategic seriousness. To paraphrase Winston Churchill; some treaty, some hope.

The rest of Europe? It is made up of a bunch of by and large weak little powers short on strategy, and even shorter on capability, for whom the financial crisis has provided the perfect alibi to retreat behind a new wall. Americans thought that last November’s new Strategic Concept would provide the foundation for a new NATO committed over time to support an over-stretched America. In fact, to many Europeans it was the first step on the road to a new fortress NATO for countries the armed forces of which are little more than armed pensions.

Should America Care?

Certainly, Americans should care. Not only has much American blood been spilled in making Europe what it is today, Europeans remain the only pool of like-minded democrats the world over. Moreover, the European people must not be punished for the short-sightedness and weakness of their leaders.

Furthermore, America needs more Europe not less. Therefore, Americans must now be cruel to be kind...and radical with it. No longer can Europeans effectively take it for granted that Americans will defend their vital interests the world over. At the very least, Washington must use the Libya crisis as a benchmark; European allies must at the very least collectively fashion a European military capable enough to intervene in precisely the kind of crisis that emerged in Libya.

The measure? Implementation of all elements of the NATO Strategic Concept and a meaningful commitment from all NATO European members to modernise their deployable forces based on and held to the minimum 2% GDP defence expenditure target that so many are today flouting. Austerity can no longer be the excuse for apathy.

The alternative should also be made clear; unless Europeans properly reconsider their strategic role and reinvest in the armed forces that remain the bedrock of credibility in this world, Europeans can expect no American support for issues which are clearly in the European interest.

It is now or never and Libya, and Europe’s weak response to it, must mark the final line in the draining sand that is Europe’s appeasement of reality.

Fighting to the Last American?

The world is a safer place when the West is strong. However, for the West to be strong requires a community of values and interests that reaches far beyond the shores of the United States. There was a time when the West was a place, but it is a mark of the success of liberal democracy and free markets that the West is today as much idea as place. However, with Europe effectively appeasing reality one of the West’s twin towers has been weakened to the point of collapse. This in turn is gravely damaging an idea that has offered inspiration to billions the world over.

The end of the European age must not presage the end of the American age. The danger is that having retreated into itself the mixture of grandstanding and political weakness all too evident in Europe’s response to Libya could mark a new phase of strategic pretence. Do nothing and Washington will find Europeans all too willing to fight to the last American.

Julian Lindley-French

First published online in The New Atlanticist of the Atlantic Council of the United States