hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 30 May 2011


Today, I walked in Auschwitz – Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II Birkenau., Today I walked before the walls of Elysium, the final resting place of the heroic and virtuous. Today, I paid my respects to people, not numbers. Three of whom spoke to me – Anne Kraus, Hana Weisenkind and Berta Eppinghausen. They spoke to me not because they are different from any of the other victims of this Megiddo of industrial murder, but because their empty, pathetic suitcases spoke for them; their emptiness beyond words.

This Auschwitz is a place in which evil hides in peace and in which evil is and must be defined. I walked in silence, in utter humility, in anger, in repentance, and in shame. I walked in the footsteps of honoured ghosts; honouring with each free step I took, each condemned step I followed on the short but long road of death. 1.1 million Annes, Hanas and Bertas were murdered in this place. In Auschwitz each and every victim of the Holocaust - the Shoah - was before me, too numerous for me to comprehend, only feel, only sense. Less than a single lifespan ago ordinary Europeans were torn from the fabric of community and butchered in this place, this Auschwitz.

As I walked I thought of my Jewish friends, Scott and Neil and a host of others, spared the ovens by the serendipity of timing, but still burning with the heat of fires lit and fed by endemic evil, hysterical hate and criminal deed. In Block 11, the ‘Death Block’, my head became bowed, my heart heavy and I did not know if I would vomit or cry. Today, I was in sheol, a grave with no bodies, only soulful, sad, material remains of people still denied the dignity of identity. I came to honour them and I leave more troubled than this seasoned man of history could possibly have imagined. Oxford letters here count for nothing. In this place a people almost died here; a people triumphed here. Nothing has ever defined a present as eloquently as this recently suffered past.

I was troubled for the past, but also for the present and the future. I watched Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu in Washington and like many Europeans felt that tinge of regret, guilt, frustration that makes me both ambivalent to Israeli policy towards the Palestinians and conscious of an historic duty to support Israel whatever. Indeed, coming here, to this place at this time, my utter commitment to Israel’s right to exist was re-cast, re-forged. No-one today can expect Israel to take risks none of us would take, this place put paid to that. Whatever presidents may say a return to Israel’s 1967 borders is not going to happen until Israel’s security is assured. Here in Poland President Obama yesterday told an old Jewish woman that the US would never abandon Israel. Come to this place.

As I walked I also thought of my Arab friends, of Lena and my recent dinner with Lakhtar Brahimi, one of my heroes. And even in the heart of evil I am sure Israel’s security will never be assured when so many Palestinians seethe with their own sense of injustice. As I walked I was clear-headed enough to know that the past must in time be denied the hunger it has to consume the future. Without a two-state solution that guarantees the security and well-being of Israeli and Palestinian alike there can be no peace in the Middle East, nor I doubt in Europe and beyond.

The respective political currencies of both America and Europe are fatally devalued by the belief of both Israelis and Palestinians that such currency is arbitrary and prejudiced. This place casts a shadow over all. America rightly claims special rights because it was and is the great protector of the Jewish people and Jewish state because of this place. And yet well-intentioned, patient America is perceived by millions of Arabs to be Israel’s advocate. The foundations of the fallen twin towers were first undermined not on the American side of the Atlantic, but on this side. Europe? Auschwitz – this giant maggot of history eats into all of us and taints us by association. The past may indeed be another country, but not here, not in this place. For Israelis we Europeans always favour the ‘other side’, even when we do not.

I walked along the road of death, alongside the final platform where those about to die were separated from those soon to die. From afar I witnessed the hollowed carcass of the peace process descend the long spiral staircase of hopelessness and fear that now spans its own lifetime and which stops this place from ever being in the past..

There are no certainties in this place – then or now.  But, looking beyond the killing wire I saw an Israel no more able to escape this place, than the space that pretends to be Palestine. That is the nature of this place.

The new Egypt’s decision to open its border with Gaza heralds a new cycle of change in the Middle East. And yet finally that change need not be defined by this place. A glimmer of an opportunity can be fleetingly glimpsed fluttering in and out of grasp if we all have the vision to grasp it. The Arab Spring is driven not by Islamic medievalists, but by an aspiration for a freedom and liberty only Israelis enjoy in the Middle East. After much European encouragement Fatah and Hamas are beginning the long road to a unity that might in time bring sense to the leaders of Hamas. And, in so doing deny Iran its dangerous mischief. Can this place also be denied?

Beyond the killing wire I could also see a Europe finally ready to join with America to ease Israel’s legitimate fears for its security and offer hope to Palestinians that their statehood is more than a diplomat’s promise. A Europe that stops talking too much of a future defined by this past and which is finally able to live beyond this place and its shadow of death. There in the distance I could see a Europe that took the evil that drapes this place from its own shoulders and seized the chance to redeem itself from the ashes upon which this place stands.

From the depths of the depravity that reeks from every corner and crevice vision is still offered to us by Anne, Hanna and Berta. It is of an America and Europe standing together with Israelis and Palestinians. Genuine, responsible and supportive partners in search of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, both of whom suffered at the hands of Europe.

A price must be paid. That is the nature of this place. For the spell cast by this place to be begun to be broken real political risk must be taken. For this place vision alone is not enough for it existed and exists to destroy hope. Walking here today I was and am convinced that only if we Europeans actively become a real part of a meaningful peace (there can be no final solutions here) can we atone for this place. Simply throwing large amounts of money can never ease the pain of this place.

Therefore, seventy years on from the commencement of industrial murder a new commitment must emerge from this place to a peace agreement, interim, final or whatever. And, if needs be, the commitment to send a European force, under UN mandate, to assure the confidence such a bold step will demand. Such a force would need to be there at the behest of Israelis and Palestinians, and act on their behalf.

Only such a brave step would honour Anne, Hana and Berta. And, begin to ease the suffering, fear and anger of Arab and Jew alike, which is so easily exploited by the new men of hate who perpetrate the hopelessness of this place. Our resolve will be tested as will the force, and doubtless losses will be taken. And, of course deep fissures will remain – such as the future of settlers and the status of East Jerusalem.

But, there can be no more running away; we would simply be running straight this place.

“For ever let there be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity”, read the stone. Today, I walked in Auschwitz; and Auschwitz spoke to me.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 27 May 2011

The Balkans 2011: A Road Not Travelled?

“Somewhere ages and ages hence: two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference”. So wrote American poet Robert Frost a century ago. He could have been speaking of my Balkan experience. Has a corner been turned?

Ratko Mladic has been arrested. Or, to put it more accurately the Serbian authorities have decided to detain the 'General' at a politically apposite moment having known his whereabouts for many years. Nothing is ever what it seems in the Balkans, and neither is this. That said, President Boris Tadic is to be commended for facing down Serbia’s powerful nationalists for whom Mladic and all his genocidal doings still resonate with the clarion call of dark heroism. Ultimately, little Greater Serbia has lost out to Big Serbia and its bid to join the EU. A clearer example of the benefits of Union there is none – for all its many Byzantine failings.

Will the arrest of Mladic finally mark the true end of the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession? Probably not, but the Mladic detention does at least provide an opportunity to move just a step further on a long road to true peace. It also provides a moment of reflection for all engaged in a war that tragically defined a post Cold War decade that should have been joyous.

Recently I was driven by a young Bosnian-Serb diplomat from Sarajevo Airport to Pale, the political heart of Serb Bosnia where Karadzic and Mladic held court. To be precise (something of a rarity in the Balkans) he was a Bosnia-Herzegovian diplomat of Serb extraction, which goes to the very heart of a continuing problem. I am not going to reveal what he said because he was genuine in his desire to see all communities come together and impressive in his grasp of past and present and I have no wish to get him into trouble. He is very much a man of and for the future of a truly European Balkans.

Nor was it the first time I have travelled that road. I go to Sarajevo two or three times a year and have done for many years. Often, I go the other way to Camp Butmir home of the EU force guaranteeing peace. You do not see much of them, but in conversations with Bosnians of Bosniak, Croat and/or Serb extraction the message is always the same; their presence is vital. Tensions remain very close to the surface of a fractured society held together as much by EU aid and American commitment as political reconciliation. Everyone is a victim in the Balkans; noone ever an aggressor.

Nevertheless, progress has been made. When I first started to lecture to Bosnian officers they wore the uniforms of their violent, sectarian past and proudly so. I was present the day a common uniform was issued. It was the source of much hilarity and triggered jibes similar, albeit more pointed, than one might hear between English and the Scots. Sectarianism is not a local phenomenon.

The television picture last night recalled that dark past in which two hundred thousand died. These are images that cannot be dissolved by antiseptic edict. The pictures showed a T-74 Serb tank pounding the centre of Sarajevo. It was the road I had just travelled.

Each year the bullet strikes on buildings lessen and the shell holes I recall have now gone, but not the scars. What strikes any visitor to Sarajevo is the beauty, the intimacy and the tragedy of the place. So tight is the valley, so dominant Mount Igman, that there can be no hiding place in Sarajevo – physically or politically. The city has sat at the tectonic epicentre of European politics since the days of the Ottoman Empire. There was certainly no hiding place from my road, below which Sarajevo cowered in injured remembrance. As we drove on the road turned north and east and began to climb away from Sarajevo through yet another soaring mountain valley.. After fifteen kilometres we passed a sign – Welcome to Republika Srpska. It was 2010.

History, of course, laughs at us with subtle irony. It is circular because we make it so. If Mladic is well enough (a big ‘if’) he will be transferred to The Hague to stand trial. Mladic established his enduring infamy in 1995 for the massacre of eight thousand Bosnian Muslims, at the tragically ill-named UN ‘Safe Haven’ of Srebrenica. The most exposed of several such havens the place was defended by the lightly-armed Dutch troops of Dutchbat.

Mladic humiliated them and for many years Srebrenica has been synonymous with the failure of the Dutch Army to protect civilians under their care. In fact, the Dutch were hung out to dry by an international community that had done everything it could to avoid confronting the tragic reality of a brutal war amongst the people. The UN was utterly divided both politically and morally about how and if to use force, the European Union, having declared this to be the ‘hour of Europe’, failed cataclysmically and the United States at the time was ‘not cleaning windows’, as one rather myopic American put it. Dutchbat had no chance and honourable men were made to pay for the utter failure of political masters and UN apparatchiks across the West and beyond.

Paralysed by a dispute over the precise meaning of a UN Security Council resolution and to what extent under international ‘law’ civilian populations could be protected by force, the politicians buck-passed and the diplomats fiddled as the hills around Srebrenica became charnel.

“And both that morning equally lay; in leaves no step had trodden black; Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way; I doubted if I should ever come back”.

I have travelled that road and it now leads towards Libya.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Thank You and Goodnight, Mr President

President Obama has done Britain and Europe a huge favour. By recasting the ‘special’ relationship as an essential relationship the President has released London from the shackles of an increasingly hollow ‘specialness’. London must now seize this moment to re-balance Britain’s foreign and security policy so that British influence can be re-established where it matters for America – in Europe and with key members of a resurgent Commonwealth. President Obama is inviting Britain to become a better ally and Britain must meet that challenge. The ‘special’ relationship has now come full circle and the President has placed it graciously in the oak cask of history where it belongs.

Britain’s relationship with America is essential and will endure. There is and will remain a special place for the British in the American mind. However, that place must not become a museum. The special relationship began formally seventy years ago with the August 1941 signing of the Atlantic Charter. However, the political roots for the relationship were established not by power-brokers and statesmen, but by an American journalist – Ed Murrow.

On 22 September, 1940 Murrow began his ‘London rooftops’ broadcasts to the American people, enduring the worst of the Blitz to tell a pacifist American people of Britain’s defiance of Nazi Germany. Gradually the broadcasts generated a groundswell of popular and political support for Britain’s struggle. That in turn created the political space in Washington for President Roosevelt to prepare America for the coming struggle between might and right.

The special relationship was always a leadsership relationship.  As such it blossomed from the vital anti-Nazi alliance into critical transatlantic solidarity between democratic North American and democratic Europe in the struggle against Soviet communism. From the very beginning the special relationship was unique; a political relationship underpinned by genuine affection that in spite of the many nay-sayers continues to this day.

However, that was then and this is now. In 1940 Britain was still a global power, with the world’s most powerful navy and probably the most advanced air force (certainly air defence). A quarter of the world’s population was headed by the King Emperor, George VI. In other words the ‘special’ relationship was essentially between political equals – even if one was coming and the other going. Today, the contrast in fortunes could not be greater.

The twenty-first century will still be the American century for all the contortions of the pessimists, including an increasingly wrong Henry Kissinger (it is never good to see one’s heroes fall to Earth). Americans and Britons routinely exaggerate the strengths of others and the weakness of self. Britain will still be an essential partner of the United States, but simply lacks the clout to be THE exclusive special partner of the United States. American grand strategy (the organisation of immense means in pursuit of global ends) cannot afford to maintain such an illusion any longer. Today, America remains the challenged but indispensable power, whilst Britain is much diminished, albeit far less diminished than is currently fashionable in fashionable London. Britain stands alongside France as a great power. Britain is neither an Italy, nor indeed a Germany, and hopefully never will be a Belgium.

Ultimately, for the all the genuineness of the relationship between two countries that have done more to shape a positive world than any two others in history, relative power and influence are at the core of the link - both economic and military. Power that is underpinned by an idea – the new West. That was the essence of Ed Murrow’s broadcasts from London. Britain was not just another old European power fighting for power, but family standing for values. As George VI said in his famous King’s Speech, on the outbreak of war on 3 September, 1939, “We have been forced into a conflict, for we are called, with our allies, to meet the challenge of a principle which, if it were to prevail, would be fatal to any civilized order in the world”. The same could be said of the struggle against the new extremism during which America and Britain have again stood shoulder to shoulder and paid a heavy price in blood and geld.

New, more systemic challenges to the West will come – both North America and Europe.  And, America needs a new ‘special’ partner and for all its failings that partner must in time be Europe as a whole. Britain has therefore a critical role to play with France in preparing Europe for the new Special Relationship relevant to the twenty-first century, rather than a relic of the twentieth. After all, that is what America and Britain fought for.

To such an end Britain must first start to live up to its potential in the world and put aside the obsession with decline which is doing so much to reduce essential British influence in those parts America cannot reach. Second, Britain must forge a new partnership with France to properly renovate the European pillar of a new transatlantic relationship. Third, the relationship must be properly cast in a global context.  Whilst the two pillars will look outwards rather than inwards all-important solidarity must be seen to be preserved.  The US will be necessarily focussed on Asia-Pacific whilst Europe must get its act together in North Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Britain’s Europeaness must therefore become an asset not a liability. Fourth, the enduring military to military special relationship must set an agenda to properly prepare NATO for the twenty-first century. Fifth, Britain and France must use their collective influence to forge a direct EU-US special relationship that can reinforce the security of the respective homelands (as opposed to purely defence-related matters), particularly as it relates to counter-terrorism and counter-crime.

Above all, Britain must re-discover the global ambition to foster the Commonwealth into a new security partnership.  The West is an idea rather than a place and such groupings are firmly anchored in the idea for which America and Britain fought . It is an idea that is as compelling and attractive today as it was in the dark days of disaster in 1940 and 1941. The Empire may have indeed become a Commonwealth and Britain but one equal member of it, but as a vehicle for stabilising influence the Commonwealth can play a vital role. Several of the emergent states are committed members.

Murrow once said; “A reporter is always concerned with tomorrow. There's nothing tangible of yesterday. All I can say I've done is agitate the air ten or fifteen minutes and then boom - it's gone”. Characteristically modest as ever, Murrow may well have been talking of contemporary British politics and politicians. That must end. It is time therefore for Britain to look to the future of an Essential Relationship, America certainly is.

Thank you and goodnight, Mr President.

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Strategy and Technology: A Fading Lesson from European History

In Memoriam

Dawn. 24 May, 2011. North Sea. Seventy years ago to the hour a fifteen inch (38cm) shell from the German fast battleship KM Bismarck entered above the aft main magazine of the British battlecruiser HMS Hood – the ‘mighty Hood’. The ensuing explosion had the force of a small atomic weapon and the Hood broke into three parts, whilst 300 feet (100 metres) of the hull simply disintegrated. Within a minute 1418 men were gone as the Hood sank into the icy wastes of the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland. 3 survived.

Three days later at 0800 hours the Hood’s assailant capsized and sank taking with her 1995 of her 2200 strong crew. Hunted down by the Royal Navy, crippled by British carrier-based air power and then despatched by two battleships, HMS King George V and HMS Rodney, the pride of the Kriegsmarine had not even lasted one operation. Within three days some 3400 Europeans had been killed.

Sitting here in the embrace of a cold dawn on a North Sea ferry I am reminded of the sacrifice of both crews. What a way to go. I am also reminded of the lessons that we Europeans must today draw on this tragic anniversary and which I fear we are not.

The Hood was an un-modernised British battlecruiser of 1919 vintage that was no match for the Bismarck. Her destruction was sorry testament to what happens when technology is over-reached by strategy. The Bismarck was an ultra-modern 1941 battleship. She combined speed, armour and firepower. However, her fate was sealed because technology alone cannot atone for bad strategy.

We Europeans should heed the lessons from our military history. After all, we have had enough practice.

Strategy without technology is risk; technology without strategy is waste.

Lest we forget.

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The European Onion and European Defence: An Outside Toilet with a Bay Window?

Deepest, darkest Yorkshire – The Awakening.   When I was a lad my grandmother’s house in Sheffield had an outside toilet. This was not uncommon in the grittier parts of the Yorkshire industrial belt. There was a phrase used at the time to describe someone or something that had ideas above their station. “It is like putting bay (fancy) windows on an outside toilet”, the phrase went, although the Yorkshire vernacular was somewhat more direct and smellier.

I have just come back from the pub where I had a chat with two blokes. In Yorkshire such a gathering in such a place constitutes a scientific sample at a centre of knowledge excellence. After a pint or two the subject of European defence came up. Well, I brought it up. At first, one of my interlocutors thought I was talking about the forthcoming Champions League final at Wembley. In particular, Manchester United’s chances against the robustly rampant Barcelona. However, we soon got down to ‘brass military tacks’ (the basics) as they say in these here parts.

The reason I broached a seemingly dangerous subject here in my native Yorkshire was that last week I saw my old friend Colin Cameron in Paris. Colin is the Clerk to the Western European Union Assembly, which is about to be no more ending some sixty-three years of parliamentary oversight of European defence. Much maligned and often unfairly so this collection of senior national politicians provided both experience and insight and with the demise of the Assembly critical parliamentary oversight of Europe’s failing defence effort has been weakened.

Several ‘truths’ were then uttered. First, that there exists a startling gap between the European elite and ordinary Europeans. Second, that the extent to which the Brussels elite dismisses the views and common sense of ordinary Europeans is dangerous. Third, equally dangerous delusions of unaccountable grandeur are harboured by the unelected Euro-Aristocracy or Eurocrats. The main message of the chat was clear. if ‘Brussels’ does not carry the people then the European project is dead.

I have worked on European defence for nigh on thirty years and I have also worked for the European Onion and I have never known the gap between the people and the European elite to be so strong. Being genetically prone to common sense Yorksire folk call the EU the Onion because it is opaque, multi-layered and has a centre that stinks.

It would be easy to dismiss such skepticism as the typically British ramblings of an island little imbued with the European spirit. And yet it is a sentiment I pick up today all over Europe. In recent years I have lived in Italy, France and the Netherlands and I spend much of my life travelling across the Onion. In that time Euro-scepticism has not only swelled it has migrated from these shores across much of the Old Continent.

So, what does this mean for European defence? If one listens to the more wild-eyed of the Brussels Euro-fanatics one would think nothing. Defence has always been for the bureaucratic elite, n’est ce pas? In fact, the use of force – the real issue here - is at the very core of sovereignty, particularly parliamentary sovereignty. Without proper and effective parliamentary oversight the message from my Italian, French and Dutch friends, not to mention my more succinctly phrased Yorkshire friends, is clear – over my dead body.

The European Parliament comes in for particular ire being seen by many Europeans as staffed by self-serving over-paid, wannabes with little interest in or care for the peoples they are meant to represent. That is probably unfair but I have seen for myself the dangerous mix of inexperience and arrogance on the several occasions I have addressed members of the European Parliament. As such it is incapable of providing sound parliamentary oversight. This leaves the Euro-Aristocracy – those unbelievably highly-paid, untaxed rarified Eurocrats who always think they know best. They do not. Of course, there is the European Council where the ‘real’ decisions are apparently made. Sadly, after a decade of a defence-busting lack of solidarity between member-states the Council agrees on little. And, the plain fact is that the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon (you remember, the non-Constitution) did give an awful lot more power to the Euro-Aristocrats and some more power to the Parliament, whatever London might like to pretend.

Here is the paradox. We will all need more Europe in future because the only way declining European states can exert real influence on a dangerous world is through solidarity and joint action. However, the gap between the citizens and the elite makes such action almost impossible.

Colin and his colleagues re-invented themselves some years back as the European Security and Defence Assembly, offering a direct link between directly elected national politicians and European defence. Surely, rather than scrapping this vital link to the fostering of critical European defence (as opposed to Euro-fantasy) some form of hybrid grouping could have been fashioned to a) keep European defence truly inter-governmental; and b) maintain a proper and direct link with my mates in the pub? If not European defence will go nowhere.

When I hear the Euro-Aristocracy in Brussels describing the ‘progress’ being made in and on European defence I cannot help but remember ‘my Nan’ and what she would have said. It is a sentiment that is reflected across much of Europe. Unless the sovereignty/oversight gap is fixed European defence is indeed like putting bay windows on an outside toilet!

That concludes the three blogs I chose to write during my writing/walking week in this truly stunning part of my native county.

As they would also say in these here parts, “That’s yer lot!”

Next week, Poland.

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

More Lessons from Fantasy Island: The Doodlings of Decline

Deepest, darkest Yorkshire – The Sequel. Another day on Fantasy Island. For those of you of an un-British persuasion (I suppose there must be some) I apologise for the Britishness of current blogs.  However, there are lessons for all in the mess the British are making of both strategy and austerity at present. Given I am here it is worth considering how small politicians are failing to deal with big issues. 

Those of you sad and mad enough to be regular readers will be aware of two of Lindley-French’s dictums. First, that one should not go to war with a peacetime mindset. Second, that wars cannot be won by cutting defence budgets. Well, that is precisely what this increasingly lost British Government is attempting to do. In the midst of the critical phase of both the Afghanistan and Libya imbroglios London has announced the need to ‘trim’ a further £1 billion of cuts above and beyond those announced in the savage and utterly un-strategic 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review.
If such pain was part of a reasoned and balanced effort to reduce the burgeoning national debt across government then such cuts may be defensible. However, according to the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies it is not.  For every £1 of debt currently incurred by the British taxpayer in four years time at the end of this parliament that debt will be 97p. Put simply, this government is not even good at cutting which is meant to be its raison d'etre!  Sadly, the armed services, which are rightfully a source of pride for the majority of the British people, have clearly been singled out for special treatment.

This particular focus on cutting the defence budget (which in reality is nearer 1.7% of GDP than the 2.1% advertised) also reveals the hopeless lack of interconnectedness in government policy and the creeping retreat into spin caused by a lack of clear strategy. This week London announced a) a new legally-binding military covenant for the care of British soldiers (all well and good); and b) more cuts to the military.  The latter will inevitably mean more British servicemen will be killed and injured than should be the case.  Predictably the announcement of the Covenant was little more than a cynical ploy to cover the announcement of the military cuts.

And how is this for timing?  The same day the government announced plans to ring-fence in law the foreign aid budget (the money the British have not got to give to foreigners) at 0.7% of gross domestic product. According to The Times this is for narrow domestic political reasons, i.e. to appeal to ethnic minorities with the vote. In other words with under-funded, ill-equipped British forces stretched beyond the limit in places the world over Prime Minister Cameron wants to reward certain voters for disloyalty.

Now, I do not care if British citizens are white, black, yellow or purple (Brits on holiday in the sun tend to become that colour), but I do expect them to be loyally British. If The Times is right (and I hope they are not) it makes me particularly angry that an incumbent government is seeking to bribe groups that apparently place the well-being of the country of their forebears before their own. The biggest recipient of such aid is India which has a space programme, a nuclear programme and a defence programme the British can only dream of.

The Defence Minister, Liam Fox, wrote to the Prime Minister complaining that ring-fencing the aid budget at a time of austerity would further limit the Governments already limited room for manouevre in other areas, i.e. defence.  Tellingly, the letter started with “Dear David Cameron…” So much for collegiality at the heart of government; the first principle of implementable strategy.

Britain is broke. Britain is at war. And yet, British politicians want Britain to set an example to the world with its commitment to aid whilst fighting two wars on a threadbare shoestring. The rest of the world is simply laughing at the mix of arrogance and incompetence.

So, why is this happening? The Government has lost all sense of vision and strategy. Rather, it is using ‘cuts’ as a mask to hide the strategy/vision vacuum at its heart.  Sadly, I have never seen pride in this country so low. No wonder the Scots want out!

I believed in this Government but its performance over the past year has been lamentable. Rather, likes its Blownite predecessors it is retreating ever more into spin to mask the lack of substance.  The Government can either cut public spending or fight wars - it cannot do both.  The contradiction is sympomatic of a governments doodling in decline. .

More lessons from Fantasy Island.  Beware!

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 16 May 2011

The General, the Baroness and the Colonel

Deepest, darkest Yorkshire. I should have been giving an interview this morning to the BBC’s flagship radio news programme on whither Libya. Sadly, the nearest thing to a signal in these here hills is metal, clunks up and down and occasionally stops trains. Well, it would if there were any trains left running to stop. Still, found some coal ‘out back’ and fired up the interweb locomotive (I freely admit to being a not so closet steam railway ‘anorak’). So, this is what I would have told the BBC; both the baroness and the general are right in principle about the colonel, but the general is more right in fact than the baroness.  Here is why. 

General Sir David Richards, Chief of the British Defence Staff, has suggested that pressure must be increased on the regime of Colonal Ghadaffi by expanding the targeting of allied air strikes to include infrastructure – bridges, roads, power-plants and stuff. Richards went as far as to suggest that if “NATO did not up the ante” then Gadhaffi could remain in power. Baroness Amos, the UN’s Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Relief has at the same time called for a 'temporary' cease-fire. She is correct in principle under the strict and narrow interpretation of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 which only authorizes action to protect civilians. There is no question that large numbers of people are suffering.

Well, here’s the thing. Today, the International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor waded in and indicted Gadhaffi and two of his mob seeking their arrest for crimes against humanity. Does that not change the terms of reference of 1973? Now, I am no international lawyer but it strikes me that be it under the UN’s own Responsibility to Protect or indeed not, the issuing of such a warrant is a game-changer.  In principle (a lot of 'principles' being uttered at present) such an indictment also places an additional requirement on those acting under UN mandate to ensure such a warrant is served.  The legal goalposts may have moved today which could, in principle, provide a basis for expanded coalition action.  For all the principle 'thing' these campaigns always come down to politics - new openings and new chances to save face.  The General and the Baroness need to talk.  

But will she? To ease pressure on the Gadhaffi regime as the Baroness suggests would spell be disaster for both the Libyan people and international law. Why?  It is because Gadhaffi and his regime are a princples-free zone.  Remember, Saddam? After one bout of UN-sanctioned action he simple said, “I survive, I win”. Gadhaffi has clearly made similar calculations hoping the coalition will simply run out of steam.

There is I suspect more at work here. General Richards is no bomb-happy martial. Far from it. He is one of the most thinking, considered and humanitarian of military chiefs I have ever met. When a man committed to the minimum use of force commensurate with mission success makes such statements it is for a reason. I do not know Baroness Amos and in her interviews she strikes me as both principled and sincere. That said, I must admit to being a little jaundiced as she was also part of that New Labour Islington champagne socialist elite who were so full of principles that they invited everybody else to live with the consequences. It will take Britain decades to recover, if it ever does. Nor do I like the way failed British politicians somehow end up with plum jobs with plum salaries in plum apartments on the plummy shores of Lake Geneva.  You can read into that what you may.

However, from reading over, under and between her lines I suspect she has a principled objection to the use of force period. If that is the case her calls for a ceasefire must be resisted because the only winner will be Gadhaffi. Rather, she would be better advised telling her UN boss to authorize the on hold EU Operation to provide humanitarian assistance to Misrata and to urge him to seek to expand that mandate. This would enable both the campaign to continue and humanitarian assistance to be provided where it is needed on the ground through military support. Momentum is everything in this business, as is principle.

A couple of weeks ago I was concerned that an ICC indictment of Gadhaffi would make it harder to break his resistance. Those concerns remain. Now that it has been issued it may provide the very basis for the expanded operation that this campaign so desperately needs. The alternative is quagmire.

Where are Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin when you need them?

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Blackadder Builds Aircraft Carriers

Back in London. Another sunny, spring day. Does it ever rain here? Getting used to Britain as a tropical island is taking some doing, but at least the wine is good. Another high-level meeting (yes, I know, all my meetings are ‘high-level’, as opposed to the ‘what on Earth am I doing here’ meetings I often find myself at).

This one again concerned the HMS Highly Unlikelys – those benighted British aircraft carriers the construction of which resembles an episode of Blackadder Goes Forth. You know the episode. It is the one in which ‘Bob’ Parkhurst says, “I want to see how a war is fought, so badly”. To which Blackadder replies: “Well, you've come to the right place, Bob. A war hasn't been fought this badly since Olaf the Hairy, high chief of all the vikings, accidentally ordered 80,000 battle helmets with the horns on the inside”. As Prince Philip once famously said; “What a way to run a railway?”

This was London at its Whitehall goldfish bowl worst with politicians and officials swimming around in an ever-diminishing pool of fratricide and carrier-cide as though the real world beyond had nothing to do with them. Sorry, it has.

The only defence of the Whitehallers is that this incompetence is passed down from generation to generation. The story goes something like this. First, there is an over-ambitious statement of over-strategy, normally to correct a previous statement of under-strategy. That is followed by a period of over-engagement in which plucky British servicemen daily defeat an entire Wehrmacht division armed with a piece of chewing gum, an umbrella and a square jaw. The ensuing disaster is then followed by a hopelessly under-strategic review run by the Treasury which a) pretends that British taxpayer’s money actually belongs to them; and b) which states that for the next four hundred years nothing nasty is going to happen. When it does we then expect the Americans to sort it out...and call it burden sharing. This is where we are today.

The sad fact is that Britain will need those ships because the world will not leave Britain alone, and the Americans will rightly expect at least a bit of a global effort.  Indeed, the two ships will serve at the core of Britain's future military effort for much of this century.

For me the saddest aspect of this sorry saga is the opportunity being missed to tell a great British story. The construction of these ships represents world-beating innovation. If we were Yanks we would have made at least ten hollywood blockbusters by now. With a British people desperate to feel proud again it is a story that desperately needs telling. But no, according to the Illuminati sections of society apparently would not like the fact that Britain at least retains some pretentions to the ambition that once made this nation great. Sod them – get on with it!

As a testament to poor political and bureaucratic leadership there can be no peer. There is one episode of Yes, Minister in which Sir Humphrey describes the Byzantine methods employed by civil servants to kill projects they dislike. First, they add on bells and whistles that inflate the price and make the whole process hideously expensive. Second, they delay the project so long that by the time it is ready it is time to scrap it. Third, they cut the numbers to make the development costs look absurd. Finally, they talk only of cost and never of value, and use their media chums to distort the message to a disbelieving public. Well, something along those lines. That is precisely what the out of control bureaucrats are doing to HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. Where is the Prime Minister in all of this?  Leading from the rear, as ever.

For me the saddest spectacle is to witness the utter strategic vacuum that this debacle represents. Inside the Whitehall goldfish bowl politicians are obsessed with dodging any bullet that can possibly harm them, leaving strategy-hating bureaucrats to out-manoeuvre the under-political military chiefs - lambs to the slaughter.

The key issue? Not the future strategic influence of the United Kingdom, oh no, but rather how to ensure one’s fingerprints are not found at the scene of the forthcoming crime. Nor can the military chiefs absolve themselves. They are too often too busy fighting each other over their bit of a small cake that is rapidly becoming a small tart. It is an appalling spectacle the result of short-term, narrow behavior from people who really should know better. It is quite simply pathetic!

Thirteen years into this project it is still under review. Thirteen years into the project those responsible for it wake up each morning not knowing if they still have a project at all. Thirteen years into this project no-one actually knows the cost. Thirteen years into this project no-one is actually sure what will actually fly off them.

I am off to Paris today for another meeting, another speech. At least I might get some common sense there, but not here in this Whitehall Village of the Damned.

Whitehall; grow up, get your act together and start putting Britain’s strategic interests first. If not, history (and me) will condemn you all.

One final thought. Why not put horns on the inside?

Julian Lindley-French

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Nuking NATO

Tallinn, Estonia. Sitting here on the banks of the serene Baltic in a beautiful city founded by eighth century Danish knights it is difficult to imagine the tsunamis of violent history that have washed over this place. And yet, for the past two days I have been discussing a seismic shift in NATO’s nuclear reality that in time could reduce the very ‘sea’ defences Estonians have a right to expect. Right now the tsunami is merely a fast-travelling disturbance in the strategic sea upon the shores of which the Alliance village sits. Yet one day the wave could crash upon these shores with force and venom. NATO’s nuclear future ain’t what it used to be.

NATO has always been a nuclear alliance. Indeed, with Russia a few hundred kilometres to my right as I write this, one is struck by the proximity of the past; only a stone’s throw away. Or is that a short-range nuke away, none of which were covered by the 2009 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed by Moscow and Washington.

Nuclear weapons are still with us, particularly short and intermediate range nukes.  And, for an old wonk like me who cut his teeth on the searing tears in detente (wonderful – mixed metaphors!) caused by Euromissiles back in the 1970s and early 80s, deja vu is really all over again. It is a sad fact that our nuclear past still lays ahead of us, although most of we Europeans simply cannot bring ourselves to face it, we are soon going to be back to the future.

The obsession here is of course the neighbours from hell, although in reality the Russian-NATO relationship is as much symbiotic as dangerous – a failing power obsessed with a failing institution. Hard though it is to explain to Estonians (for very obvious reasons) Russia is not the real strategic threat. They bluster and of course occasionally misbehave – that is what the Russians do. However, even the most cursory glance of a map will demonstrate that Russia actually needs the West, offering Moscow its only stable border and source of income.

No, the coming crisis concerns what I call free defence and the role of nuclear forces therein. In other words, the price Americans will demand for Europe’s defence and the extent (or otherwise) NATO Europe is willing to help bear the cost - both actual and political.

Much of the crisis will concern the role and place of American short-range nukes on European soil and the willingness of all the allies to share the burden of nuclear responsibility. There are some two hundred such nukes at present, although I cannot disclose where. If I did so I might have to kill you, or at least bore you to death.

Normally, the reason for nuclear weapons is to offset the weakness of conventional forces. NATO’s future deterrence and defence posture would ideally see the number of nuclear forces reduced, offset by a limited but capable missile defence system, and enhanced and deployable conventional military forces. And yet, NATO’s forthcoming Deterrence and Defence Posture Review (DDPR) faces an almost impossible mission – balancing demands for reduced nukes, reduced conventional forces, and constraints on missile defence with demands for enhanced security and defence. Even for this rather innumerate Yorkshireman NATO’s contemporary strategic equation simply does not add up.

Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands are signalling they soon will no longer permit US nuclear forces on their territory. The ‘De-nuked Three’ join a host of other European allies who are also cutting defence budgets and yet expect the Americans to proceed with missile defence at American expense. I think the Yanks call it chutzpah! 

One delegate from a very large central European country that shall remain nameless, but with a fondness for worst, suggested not only the removal of American nukes, but that their defence should be assured by a real missile shield.  Although, of course, the interceptors would need to be hosted by the neighbours. A clearer definition of free defence/free-riding I have yet to hear.

In effect, the ‘Du-nuked Three’ (not to mention the relatives) want free US defence, as well as the right to shift the burden of nuclear responsibility onto the three NATO nuclear powers – Britain, France and the US. The lunches were nice in Tallinn, but I do not think they were free.

Thus far, the US Congress has not become too excited over such free-riding. However, with Bin Laden dead the true nature of twenty-first centuryt strategy will emerge and with it the place of the Alliance in America’s global role – which will be Asia-centric. And all of this just when the US finally confronts its budget deficit. I think I will absent myself when that credit card final demand drops on the front door mat of Congress.  With no ‘war’ to justify such largesse the role of allies in squaring America’s strategy-austerity circle could well swell from a ripple of discontent at present to become a giant political wave that threatens to engulf the Alliance.  Brussels as Atlantis - now there's a thought.

NATO is built on burden-sharing, which concerns as much the sharing of risk as cost.  The US gets very little of either.  The Americans are an historically generous people, but they are not stupid. Right now there is a strange calm as the waters of the strategic foreshore begin to retreat ahead of the coming tsunami. And yet the wave marches on.

First, we are moving back into a nuclear world. Iran will get nuclear weapons, North Korea has them, as do several of its Asian neighbours with quite a few more simply waiting to throw the switch if America’s stabilising hand is withdrawn or becomes arthritic. Second, in a globalised world no technology or commodity can be ring-fenced forever. Nuclear technology is now over seventy years old.  Third, the archaic 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT) is showing all the signs of being swamped by proliferation.  The European solution?  Build a tsunami defying picket fence of good intentions.  That should keep the damp out.

Sooner or later in the absence of the highly unlikely global nuclear zero we will need to re-nuke NATO. If the burden falls disproportionately on the Americans and/or the extended deterrence of the one and a half other NATO nuclear powers (France and Britain) then the Alliance could well fail. Why? Once again solidarity will have failed the test of danger.

(Re-)Nuking NATO – it is on its way...but only after lunch of course.

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Kunduz: Afghan for Double Dutch

OBL is dead and here in the Netherlands we are about to mark two days of annual remembrance. May 4 is Commemoration Day and May 5 Liberation Day, both of which remember the fallen of World War Two. It is perhaps fitting therefore that I give you some sense of where this country is at. Nowhere, really.

The Dutch are rapidly transforming themselves from a small country with a big heart and a sense of international responsibility, into an even smaller country with a focus firmly on all matters Dutch...and nothing too dangerous. In so doing the Dutch are in the process of bringing to an end sixty years of committed transatlanticism. They are also breaking Lindley-French’s First Law of Alliances; that a retreat by one ally imposes an equal and opposite burden on other allies.

On 8 April the Dutch Government announced a cut of EUR1.1bn, some 13% of the defence budget. The statement from the minister tried to hide behind the 2010 British Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) which slashed the British armed forces. There is one minor problem with this approach. Well, two actually.

First, the British could at least plausibly cut. The Dutch not. In a major 2010 report for the Royal United Services Institute (“Between the Polder and a Hard Place?”), Col Anne Tjepkema and I definitively proved that over the past twenty years the Dutch have been serial defence cutters. By 1999 the Dutch Government had removed so much defence ‘fat’ that the Dutch armed forces were positively anorexic. Thereafter, they were cutting bone and now they are simply trying to hide the body.

Second, even after the SDSR the British will still be spending some 2.1% of national wealth on defence. If one takes the Dutch gendarmerie force (the Royal Marechausee) off the books the Dutch will be spending less than 1% of national wealth on defence. Less than half the Brits. Whatever way one cuts this the Dutch are free-riding.

Afghanistan is where the consequences of going Dutch are most apparent. Not to my taste but in 1981 The Clash had a hit entitled, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” They may well have been singing about the proposed Dutch ‘contribution’ to the police training mission in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan.  The parliamentary debate has led Dutch politicians to tie themselves up in all sorts of utterly pointless rhetorical knots.  It is double Dutch at its best. 

On the one hand the politicians seemingly want to do the minimum possible to meet their Alliance obligations; on the other they clearly want to get out of Afghanistan quickly.  Some of us thought they had already left!  In 2010 they withdrew the excellent Task Force Uruzgan. 

Now, I am all for parliamentary sovereignty, but I am also one for the equitable sharing of burdens. This ain’t it! Indeed, as an example of political sleight of hand the parliamentary debate over the Kunduz mission is fast becoming a Dutch masterpiece.

This is no joke. A few weeks ago I attended a high-level meeting at a NATO force headquarters in the Netherlands. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the critical role of police training in creating a basic, but functioning Afghan state – the key to ‘success’.

Two things struck me. First, the vital importance of establishing a police force worthy of the name that is relevant to the streets of Mazar-El-Sharif, not Maastricht. Second, the shadow-boxing of many European allies – committed in principle, back-tracking in practice. Make no mistake, if we do not make some real progress in the area of Afghan policing we might as well pack up and go home now. Some 750 police trainers short in spite of the sterling efforts of the NATO and EU police training missions, the situation is not pretty. No-one said it would be easy, but no-one suggested ‘we’ would make the task harder.

That is why the double Dutch of the parliamentary debate here is so galling. The Dutch police trainers (both of them) are to train the Afghan recruits to “Dutch objectives”. As part of those ‘objectives’ the Dutch have insisted upon a written guarantee from the Kabul Government that the police will not be used to fight the Taliban. Of course, Kabul has said yes to this; as it says ‘yes’ to every such request... which is then promptly ignored. In reality the constraints being placed on the mission by the Dutch opposition and the willingness of the Dutch Government to pander to such posturing is rendering the mission meaningless in terms of the collective effort.

The Dutch opposition say that only a small part of the population support the mission. Well, the same can be said of populations in the US and UK, but it is the job of political leaders to lead. We are all of us tired of the Afghan imbroglio and we are all of us keen to leave. However, it is vital that we all leave together and that we all make a proportionate effort to give that benighted country some chance of a future. OBL’s death changes that reality not one jot.

And yet, at this critical moment in the campaign the Dutch Parliament is ducking out and trying to find a way so that the rest of do not notice. Sorry, it is too late for that.

I am proud of my adopted country. I am particularly proud of the men and women of the Dutch armed forces that I have had the honour to serve.  They are decent people who want to do their ‘bit’ and deserve better from their political class.

Often I visit my fallen countrymen laying in military rows of sacrifice in their thousands in the many war graves that mark the liberation of the Netherlands. As I walk from grave to grave with their little messages of love from families now long gone I lament the fact that we are all of us forgetting the very lessons of democratic solidarity that led them to die in a corner of a Dutch field that will be forever England.

Today, on the eve of two days of Commemoration and Remembrance I wonder why yet again it is British soldiers, and their American counterparts, bearing an unreasonable burden for the Alliance somewhere in the corner of yet another foreign field. Sadly, as I write this I know I will soon hear of yet another British soldier killed in action. He (or she) will join his brothers buried across the Netherlands.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori? No, not really.

Should you stay or should you go? It’s up to you, but we shall not forget. Remember that!

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 2 May 2011

A New HMS Ark Royal?

I have just heard that a new HMS Ark Royal is to be built.  One of the monster aircraft-carriers currently on the stocks was to be called the HMS Prince of Wales, but apparently it is now to be renamed HMS Ark Royal. 

This is encouraging as it would be almost impossible (even for the Ministry of Defence) to scrap two Ark Royals in one year! 

On the other hand, don't bet on it.

Julian Lindley-French

The Death of Bin Laden: This is Not the End...

I have just awoken to hear of the death of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan at the hands of US Special Forces. All one needs to know about Bin Laden’s demise is in that single sentence. There is of course much rejoicing in the US. President Obama has spoken, as has Prime Minister Cameron, for both countries have suffered grievous losses since 911, and made egregious strategic mistakes.

In many ways, it is hard for we Europeans to grasp the enormity of the impact of 911 on the American psyche used as we are to struggle between and within our lands. Living with vulnerability is almost a European way of life. Certainly, Americans have every right to mark this momentous occasion, but none of us must get carried away. To many a terrorist has been served his just deserts; to many others a new martyr has been created. Martyrdom may well serve Al Qaeda well in the short-term, boosting the waning allure of a strange and dangerous interloper into history. We must all be on our guard.

So, what does the death of Bin Laden mean? I am reminded of Winston Churchill in the immediate aftermath of the British victory over Rommel at the Battle of El Alamein in November 1942. Speaking with the growling gravitas that was his power Churchill said, “This may not be the end, this may not be even the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning”.

Two things became rapidly clear in the immediate aftermath of 911. First, the struggle against violent Islamism was going to be long and hard. Second, Afghanistan and Pakistan were the epicentres of struggle. There is nothing in the death of Al Qaeda’s spiritual leader to suggest the first is any less true today than a decade ago. It may however be even harder to galvanise popular public support for the continuing struggle to stabilise Afghanistan and Pakistan in ways other than Islamist.

That said, listening to the BBC this morning there is already a sense of ‘job done’. To some extent that is correct; the West went to Afghanistan in late 2001 to kill Bin Laden. That has now been done. And yet, our understanding of the challenge has evolved so much since the dust of two New York towers and their trapped victims came to rest. Most importantly, the Arab Street seemingly so motivated by Al Qaeda in the early aftermath of 911 seems to have rejected the medievalism and nihilism implicit in the Al Qaeda creed. Both Islam and the word of the Prophet have demonstrated greatness and risen above the strategic sectarianism Bin Laden stood for. Furthermore, whilst the Arab Spring may evince the occasional vein of such sectarianism its message is clear; freedom!

In a sense it is fitting that Bin Laden should die as tumult erupts across the Middle East. Islamism was born in many ways from the failure of Arab nationalism in the wake of the colonial era. Hijacked by the corrupt and self-seeking many Arab states ignored the aspirations of millions of their fellow citizens. Frustrated and with no-one to believe Bin Laden offered the appeal of a false prophet. Today, new belief courses along the highways and bye-ways of the Arab Street. It is belief that for once must be given full chance of expression.

A post-Al Qaeda age is now apparent. However, the job is not done – not in Afghanistan, nor Pakistan, nor Somalia, nor Britain, nor a host of other places. Jihadists will strike back, they will evolve and they will continue to represent a danger to all free-thinking peoples and all right-minded faiths.

In essence the defining struggle of the past decade has been one between the legitimate state and the anti-state. That struggle will continue across much of the world and we in the West must stand ready to side with those committed to the principles of liberty and freedom for which millions aspire. We must also recognize the critical importance of an American-led West as a beacon of hope, just as America must be reminded of its obligation to lead soundly.

In May 1945 upon victory over Nazi Germany Churchill’s voice was almost lost in the wild celebration of the moment. “We may allow ourselves”, he said, “ a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead…We must now devote all our strength and resources to the completion of our task, both at home and abroad”.

This is indeed only the end of the beginning.

Julian Lindley-French

Goodbye, Ron. Job Done!

Ron Asmus is dead. The security community has lost one of its greats. I knew Ron for many years and had nothing but liking and respect for him. He was not just an analyst, we are ten a penny, but a man who had been at the coalface of geo-politics and wore the soot on his face with pride.

I am off to Estonia this week to address a high-level conference. As a child of the Cold War my freedom to go to that great country has much to do with the vision and determination of Ron. A couple of years ago Ron and I were in Afghanistan together as he struggled with the illness that has claimed him. He took a photo of me on a first contact visit with US forces. It is a photo I treasure not just because of the implicit “I was there” all arm-chairers seek for legitimisation, but also because it was taken by Ron; for whom an arm-chair was a lethal weapon on the battleground of negotiation.

No soaring rhetoric, no slick reference to popular culture.

Ron, job done!

Julian Lindley-French