hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

American Independence: Time to End the Experiment

Dear Yanks,

We are prepared to forgive and forget. On 4th July you will commemorate the 235th anniversary of your expulsion from the British Empire for bad behaviour. You are a perverse people, celebrating such a dark day in your history, but there you have it. I can only hope the truly titanic (good word that) quantities of burgers you will doubtless consume and beer you will quaff will ease the pain. I would like to post this blog on the day to help ease your pain, but sadly I will be doing something important.  And, for the rest of this week I will be in London dealing with matters imperial.

Now, let me give you a brief history lesson as you have not got much. Being a generous people back in 1776 we British agreed to a period of probationary independence. The kind of thing one does with less mature teenagers.  But, frankly, recent events make one wonder if one is in a position to extend said probation, let alone confirm independence. I do not use these words lightly but you should be aware that there are senior people in London (your betters) who are fast becoming more than a little, dare I say, miffed.  Having sub-contracted out bits of the Empire to you to run, your record has been a tad patchy, to say the very least. You clearly have a lot to learn about leadership, but we are patient.

Now, of course, whilst 1776 is a painful date for you, sooner or later you must confront it. Naturally, it had little impact on the Mother Country, as Trafalgar and Waterloo only proved to demonstrate. I bet you wished you had been part of those two bashes, as we did give the French such a sound thrashing. You never quite mastered that art, did you.  Having failed to think through your ‘Revolution’ (you do have a tendency to exaggerate) your little bout of petulance only led to tears. We cannot say we did not warn you, but you ended up paying for your own security after all, and in time our own.

There is good news. In a spirit of penitence you recently created the Tea Party to consider how you might reimburse us for that minor riot in Boston during which some very good Earl Grey was given a shaking. Poor show that. Given the state of your coffee though this is hardly surprising. Moreover, rumour has it that secret classes have been established to learn the rules of cricket. That should keep you out of mischief for at least a century.

We also recognize your failed but worthy attempts to re-create the monarchy through their Royal Highnesses the Bushnesses. But let’s face it ‘president’ does not have the same ring as Her Imperial Britannic Majesty.  One not only needs the right family to be royal, but ideally they should not come from Texas. Germany will do. 

So, in principle we would be willing to re-admit ‘yooz all’ (I believe that to be the correct vernacular) to the Empire, although this does create somewhat of a poser; how?

We could of course offer you a period of pretend independence in the European Onion. I was in Brussels yesterday at the heart of said Onion and floated the idea. The broad consensus was that whilst you have proven to be a tad unruly the price tag for membership is imposing and probably beyond you right now, and in any case the Onion is only for the truly self-deluded – such as the Greeks.

The other option is of course NATO – No Action, Talk Only. However, the widespread sense in London was that if you joined the Alliance it would have a membership of one within a week - No Talk, Americans Only. Your greatest thinker, Groucho Marx, was indeed correct when he suggested that his membership of any club rendered the reputation of said club questionable, which makes me concerned for the Empire. Certainly, your recent efforts at ‘going it alone’ leadership have not met with overwhelming success, but the Empire is probably big enough to cope.

Thankfully, after a considerable rummage around in dusty cupboards and strange brown boxes with fading labels, I came across a thing called the Commonbroke. From reading the paperwork it seems to refer to a motley collection of broke colonies playing at independence but which are still on our payroll, together with our few remaining dependent volcanoes, such as Montserrat, and of course Scotland, which we can never get rid of. Clearly, you qualify on both counts and to be fair you are so much more reasonable than our lunatic Celtic fringe.

There would even be some benefits of, let's call it reintegration, to both the Mother Country and yourselves. For example, the Royal Navy would become marginally bigger and you would no longer have to drink that coloured water you call beer. We would certainly be willing to scrap all your politicians and lawyers thus eradicating your budget deficit in a trice.  And, finally, Hollywood would be able to make proper films that gave an accurate account of our glorious role in your history. We did indeed win World Wars One and Two and it is about time the true story was told.

Now, we would of course demand something for all of this largesse and good grace.  You would be expected to turn up on time for our wars – for once. And, we would insist that you meet all expenses in full incurred by the British Army when burning down the White House in 1812, during a previous bout of intolerable bad behaviour (note the spelling). Otherwise we might have to do it again.

It must also be understood that an apology is needed for the Declaration of Independence – it was just so tedious and quite upset Buckingham Palace, interfering gratuitously with the horse racing at Royal Ascot. Clearly, the Special Relationship, which clearly matters so much more to you than to us, will depend to a significant degree on the revoking of this so-called Declaration of Independence. And, by the way, you should read the small print - it was after all written by 'American' lawyers. 

So, next steps? 2012 is the sixtieth anniversary of Her Imperial Britannic Majesty’s accession to power. What a wonderful gesture it would be if you voluntarily changed the name of your regional capital from George the Unmentionable to Elizabeth.

And one final thing, you will of course need to learn to spell. Happy 4 July!

Yours sincerely,

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 27 June 2011

At the Going Down of the Afghan Sun

Baden, Austria.  Here in this beautiful spa town that adorns the southern rim of Vienna azaleas, petunias and rose cascade and tumble down manicured hills of bloom onto green swards that guard deep and soulful pools of reflective water.  My friend and colleague Dr Franco Algieri of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Studies has a knack for the catchphrases of insecurity and uncertainty that pepper security wonkery here at the heart of the European Onion.

Baden, Franco suggests, is a metaphor for Europe – the Austrianisation of Europe – comfortable to the point of self-delusion.  Europe, like Austria, is a shrinking pool of western peace surrounded by the encroaching weeds of eastern disorder.  This is how the Romans of the fourth century must have perceived their own peace, their own space.  In the far distance lies Hungary, visible to the naked eye and offering the first frissons of an alluring but threatening East.  The road beyond leads to Afghanistan; but it is still a world or two away.    

Which way to go?  President Obama clearly does not know.  Last week’s one foot forward, two feet back decision to withdraw ten thousand American troops by year’s end, and another  twenty thousand six months hence is worthy of Lewis Carroll.  “One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? She asked. “Where do you want to go?” was his response. “I don't know”, Alice answered. “Then”, said the cat, “it doesn't matter.”

The Afghan sun is dipping and another night of chaos beckons.  The West’s attempts to ‘civilianise’ Afghanistan now seem doomed; to be judged by history as simply another failed detour by the greatest of powers into the weakest.  Once the inevitable spin has lost its dark magic the Americans, and their recalcitrant partners, will be deemed by historians yet to be conceived as no more successful than their Soviet, British or Mogul forebears.  The only difference being that the ‘defeat’ will have been as much self-inflicted as Afghan inflicted.

So, Afghanistan is doomed to remain a space, rather than a place and will now never make the journey to anything other than the most pitiful of states; reminiscent of another age here when picturesque castles were the homes of rapacious bandits menacing and protecting in equal measure. .

I have visited that challenged Afghan space.  I have toured Kabul protected by my Movement Protection Squad.  I have walked the dust of Kandahar.  I have looked up at an old British fort near Qalat.  I have spoken with elders in Mordakhan Kalay deep in the Pashtu heartlands.  I have seen the beauty and the beast that is Afghanistan.

Today, those Afghans who had hoped that the West could make a difference will be thinking of escape.  Those who sat on the fence between order and disorder will slide off towards the latter. Warlords will be considering their next move in the forecourt of future civil war.  And, the Taliban will talk to their British negotiators firm in the belief that with the West packing up its watches they have the time.

In reality, most Western political leaders tuned mentally out of Afghanistan a long time ago, if they ever tuned in.  With honourable exceptions (well, one honourable exception) European Onion countries and the European Onion itself, were never serious. Even those claiming to have tuned in left it to their hard-pressed militaries to ‘resolve’ Afghanistan.  And, soldiers being soldiers they tried.  Oh, how they tried.  But the seeds of failure were also sown at the outset by an America that confused values with interests, just when Washington was at its self-eulogising worst with little understanding of the very real limits of its power and influence.  One has only to read Rudyard Kipling to realize the power of Afghnistan to humble the mightiest of powers.   

So, the drugs will still flow from the feudal fields of poppy, the nuclear-armed neighbours will go back to using Afghanistan as their proxy punch bag and Al Qaeda, shorn of its Sheikh, will slowly move back into the Ruds of southern and eastern Afghanistan.  Leaders in Kabul who bear much responsibility for this failure, will be considering which Geneva bank offers the best return for their ill-gotten gains.

In keeping with other great retreats President Obama will host a conference next May in Washington at which blame will be spread and responsibilities apportioned.  The mythical ‘international community’ will be invited to create new futures for Afghans.  But as the champagne is quaffed it is old futures rather that will busy the minds of Afghans.

Ten years on from 911 and now unwelcome guests the least we the West can do before we close the door behind us is to give the people some little hope.  At least one final attempt must be made to bridge macro and micro-Afghanistan – we owe it them, we owe it to ourselves.  Specifically, that means bringing together the National Stability Programme and the village-level Community Development Councils.  That means making a concerted effort to create an Afghan National Army and Afghan national and local police worthy of the name.  That means focusing all efforts on the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, and forgetting the weak EU Police Mission which is the talk-talk Onion at its worst. The very fate of millions of Afghans could depend upon the extent to which structure eclipses the chaos that the warlords we accommodated now seek and expect.  The most they and we can hope for now is Afghanistan-lite.

Above all, we owe it to our soldiers who have been sacrificed in their thousands.  The ordinary Grunts, Tommies, Canucks and Aussies (only the Anglosphere was really serious – Onionistas beware), the soldiers who have borne much the worst of this struggle – far from home and far from societies detached from their and any reality.  Kipling offers a stark warning of the consequences of failure from the same space at another time.  “When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains, jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains and go to your gawd like a soldier”.  Surely, this struggle must be for more than that.

At the going down of the Afghan sun, shall we remember them?  Not here in Baden.  But, remember the road to Afghanistan leads both ways and it is not that far away.
Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

What Does Russia Want?

22 June, 2011. At 0315 hours seventy years ago to the day Axis powers attacked the Soviet Union. Some 4.5 million Axis soldiers attacked the Red Army on a 2900km (1800 miles) long front. Adolf Hitler said, “we have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down’. Less than four years later Hitler was dead and the Soviet flag flew atop the Reichstag in Berlin. Twenty-three million Russians had paid the price for Hitler’s aggression, and Stalin’s defence.

Not surprisingly, Russia and Russians still live daily the tragedy of 1941-1945. Those in the West who forget that are guilty of an injustice to the Russian people. The past can never truly be the past for Russians. But time is passing, Europe and the world are changing, and yet so much of Russian foreign and security policy still seems to be defined by a view of the West that is patently misplaced and outdated. Seventy years on from that terrible day, what does Russia want?

Scroll forward sixty nine years to two events last year that for me seem to typify the contradiction that Russia remains. The first was the November meeting in Lisbon between President Medvedev and Secretary-General Rasmussen on the occasion of the launch of the 2010 NATO Strategic Concept. The talk was of renewing the strategic partnership and possibly even a shared missile defence system. The joint fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, piracy-related issues, nuclear proliferation, and weapons of mass destruction was also re-affirmed. All well and good.

A couple of months prior I had been standing in Hangar 4 of Royal Air Force Kinloss in Scotland listening to the announcement by Assistant Commander-in-Chief Air Operations that Britain’s brand new anti-submarine/maritime patrol aircraft was to be scrapped and the base closed. As he spoke one of the RAF aircrew told me an ancient US P-3 Orion aircraft that happened to be at Kinloss because it had broken down was taking off to look for two Russian nuclear hunter-killer aircraft that were trying to penetrate British water space.

It was like being back in a Cold War John Le Carre novel and I was struck by the utterly contradictory nature of Russia’s attitude and behaviour towards the West. But this is not the only example of such behaviour. Russia regularly sends equally ancient Tu-95 bombers (‘Bears’ in NATO –speak) to test Britain’s twenty-first century air defences.

Now, I am not for a minute going to suggest the West (such as it is these days) is perfect. Big mistakes have been made in the past, especially over the past ten years. It has been a difficult time. But Russia seems to regard so much the West does that is either legitimate or simply incompetent as anti-Russian. Why?

Winston Churchill once described Russia as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. With the best will in the world nothing over the intervening years has done much to dispel that notion. Indeed, if anything Russia’s interests today would appear to be ever more at variance with Russian policy, even taking into account the ‘Russian-ness’ of Moscow’s strategic perspective.

The West offers Russia the one stable border it has across six time zones. The West is by far Russia’s most important trading partner. Russia is completely plugged into Europe’s energy supply chain (dependence works two ways) and yet Russia is still playing Cold War games.

Furthermore, it is not the West that is putting pressure on Russia’s Far East. And yet, too often Moscow seems to define its ‘greatness’ by defying the West. Surely Russia is too great a power to define its power by simply being an irritant to others. Russia’s distinctive voice will always be heard but how can true trust and partnership be established if Moscow behaves in a capricious and unpredictable manner. Much of the future relationship will of course depend on the degree of co-operation (or not) that is established in the High North. Few in the West are confident over the medium-term.

Right now the issue is NATO. Critically, if Russia tries to prevent the legitimate modernization of NATO’s Article 5 collective defence architecture then trouble will be inevitable. And that will include a limited missile defence shield which Russia is welcome to be a part of, but has no right to veto.

Given that it is also worth recalling another important anniversary. Twenty years ago this month the Alliance issued “NATO’s Core Security Functions in the New Europe”. The communiqué stated that “… equal security amongst the members of the Alliance, regardless of differences in their circumstances or in their national military capabilities relative to each other, contributes to overall stability within Europe and thus to the creation of conditions conducive to increased cooperation both among Alliance members and with others”. That, “…and with others” meant something. Russia has not been an enemy for a very long time, but nor has Russia been a partner, and entirely of its own volition. The Russian myth is that the West lost Russia in the 1990s. Rubbish – Russia lost Russia in the 1990s!

However, scoring points is not the point of this blog. I want to pay tribute to Russia and the millions of Russians who gave their life fighting the Great Patriotic War. It is also to assure Russians that those of who think about these things and who can separate Russia from the many extremes of the Soviets have neither forgotten Russia’s sacrifice, nor lost our respect for Russia and Russians. Indeed, my respect for Russia is genuine and heartfelt.

It is time for Russians to move beyond a world-view defined by a war that came from the West, even as those that fought and died in that war are honoured and remembered. The West was Russia’s ally in that war and logic would suggest that the West should again be an ally today. However, deeply felt we must all limit the power of the violent past to damage the present and possibly corrupt the future. Even we British are beginning to get that.

And please, one more thing, stop sending ageing submarines and aircraft against Britain. It does not intimidate us, it simply annoys us. And, there is always the possibility something will go horribly wrong.

Partner or Peer Competitor - Russia the choice is yours...and it is an important choice.

Julian Lindley-French

(A full length article exploring these issues will shortly appear in the Russia in Global Affairs Review)

Monday, 20 June 2011

The European Onion and the End of the Euro-Republic?

Rome, 21 June, 2011. Sallust wrote, “Only a few prefer liberty – the majority seek nothing more than fair masters”. What does the Euro crisis say about the state of Europe and the European Onion?

I am back in Rome – the Eternal City, writing your blog from a perch on the Aventine Hill. Rome and the Tiber flow a hundred metres or so below down the Clivo di San Rocco. One of ancient Rome’s seven hills the Aventine is traditionally the place where the masses would protest against the patricians. The Aventine faces the Palatine, the palace of the caesars, which not without reason dominates the Forum and the Senate.

In the second century BC Sulla brought his Army to the Aventine breaking a golden rule established at the birth of the Republic, that no Roman army could enter Rome. Having crossed the Rubicon Caesar did just that a generation later. Caesar pretended to be upholding the honour and virtues of the Roman Republic even as he smashed it. Ancient Rome was much like modern Europe, an instable balance of power between oligarchs, patricians and people. Caesar succeeded not simply because of the Army but because political leaders and the Roman people chose to believe he was the protector of Rome at a time of crisis. European history since has been full of such deceipts. Is it happening again?

The late nightness of this week’s Luxembourg Compromise where Euro-zone political leaders struggled and failed to deal with the second Greek debt crisis seems all too representative of the mixture of incompetence, self-deception and sleight of hand that has characterized the descent. Leaders are for the moment resisting the temptation to pour more money into the black hole that is Greece, but in the many calls for European Onion ‘solidarity’ the ground is being laid for another costly and pointless bail out. It is the economic equivalent of re-arranging deckchairs on the Titanic.

Indeed, until the Greeks face up to the sheer scale of their national financial disaster they will either keep coming back to their northern European partners, demanding ever more money, or be condemned to live in perpetual austerity…and maybe the rest of us with them. This latest Greek tragedy could well become Europe’s tragedy.

So, Europe, like its Roman forebears, is sleep-walking into disaster. Sooner or later European governments will be asked to place their trust in a new Dictator (in Roman times a dictator was a leader given absolute power for temporary periods of crisis) charged with ensuring that the financial and fiscal rules upon which the Euro should be established are observed. The threat to European democracy could become pressing as the already dangerous democratic deficit is cast in Roman concrete.

The parallels with ancient Rome are striking. As the distance between the elected and the electees has grown a new European patrician class has emerged, an uber-elite, much of it in Brussels. I have too often seen myself the extent to which whilst comfortable talking to each other, Europe’s oligarchs and patricians talk eternally about the people, only so long as they have little to do with them. This is the true mark of the patrician class.

Given the state of the Euro there are indeed few options; a new financial Dictator could be appointed, Greece could be cut free, Eurozone members could move towards fiscal convergence…or the Euro could fail. What I suspect will happen, given the nature of the Onion, is that a mix of all the above will be sought. Something certainly has to give. The middle ground that Eurozone leaders, rather like the Aventine, is small and getting ever smaller.  Inaction is perpetuating the length and the depth of the contagion beginning to run across Europe like one of those ancient plagues that from time to time ravaged even the most civilised.

Those of us who hold much of our savings in Euros could wake up one morning faced with a fait accompli – the Euro collapsed, a new Euro-lite being hurriedly and disastrously re-established around what is in effect a new German Bundesmark, with the value of savings slashed, whilst much of southern Europe lies in financial ruin. In that event the Onion will be sliced, diced and fried.

What is needed is a Plan B! Prepare the ground now for a soft currency landing and put in place a properly constituted body of national politicians to oversee the process.

Brussels is indeed fiddling whilst Europe burns? Where are the new Ciceros and Catos when you need them?

Europeans, wake up!

Julian Lindley-French

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Lightning Strikes Paris...Twice?

18 June. Paris. You’ve got to hand it to the Americans. They know how to put on a show...and at just the right time to impress wavering Europeans. This weekend the F-35 Lightning II will grace the skies over the Paris Air Show. Named after two iconic aircraft – an American twin-engined World War Two fighter-bomber and a British Cold War interceptor – this plane could well be the last manned fighter and equip allied air forces for much of this century. That is if Pentagon assumptions are to believed, which are normally about as accurate as predictions by the manager of the England soccer team. Is this the triumph of hope of experience?

The amounts involved are truly staggering. The US is investing around $1 trillion (£0.62 trillion/€0.70 trillion) over what is claimed will be a fifty-year in-service life, having cost some $379 billion (£234 billion/€265 billion) to design and build. There will be some 2,443 aircraft built, mainly of the conventional F-35A and the navalised F-35C variants, which will also arm the air forces and navies of the Anglo-sphere Australia, Britain and Canada and others, such as Denmark, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark. I will not even bother discussing the short and vertical rip-off F-35B, with half the range and half the payload of the conventional version. If there is one thing Britain's 2010 Strategic Pretence and Impecunity Review got right it was to cancel the F-35B and replace it with the F-35C. 

This issue of how long the plane will remain in service (and indeed when it will eventually come into service) is critical, especially as the programme started back in 1996. In 2001 the Pentagon suggested that the in-service life of the Lightning II would be thirty years. In 2006 that date mysteriously rolled back to fifty years. Being a Yorkshire cynic I am tempted to suggest that the fifty year in life service now claimed for the Lightning II is simply to reduce the perception of cost in Congress and amongst European governments by spreading said cost over a longer timeframe. There is certainly some evidence for this. At the very least the many travails of the programme have helped to make the benighted Eurofighter Typhoon look a little more respectable. You may recall the Typhoon was designed as an air defence fighter to protect Britain and other Europeans against Soviet air incursions. Now, miraculously, it sings, dances and fries eggs, and all at the same time.

But is the Lightning II the right aircraft? Probably yes. The real issue is of course the balance to be struck between cost, performance and change. The many challenges we in the West face range from state hyper-competition to the use of fragile and failed states as bases for catastrophic terrorist attack, and all of the above fueled by rampant developments in and the spreading of weapons technologies. Therefore, having looked at several programmes, and given how much has thus far been invested, it seems to me to be the only real option for Western air forces and navies over the medium term. There is risk. Technology is indeed advancing at a staggering pace and multi-role fighter-bombers are a bit like your PC – all shiny and new when bought, but soon become a little jaded compared with the new systems on the block (or should that be bloc?) a year or so later. But then again there is no way around the opportunity cost problem.

Would I recommend Europaans doing Lightning II again? No. Or, let me put it another way, yes. But, only if the US is far more willing to share critical technologies with paying allies and/or if Europe’s own defence industry fails to move past the men in sheds with hammers state in which it seems perpetually locked. The lesson from Lightning II is that European defence industries need to get over their obsession with meaningless sovereignty and local employment and become far better organised and much more efficient. That means a European Defence Agency worthy of the name with far more synergies between said national industries.

Only then will Europe stop designing aircraft for the Stone Age, deploying them in the Information Age but in so few numbers that cost becomes wildly disproportionate to performance. Without a radical reform of Europe’s defence and technological industrial base (DTIB) that is indeed the future as technology and defence inflation drive up the cost of military equipment. Indeed, without radical reform European defence industries will continue to be little more than sub-contractors for American giants.

Berlin, London...and Paris take note. Lightning always strikes twice.

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Soft Power Disarmament Will All End in Tiers

Leiden. The Netherlands, 17 June. America’s greatest thinker, Groucho Marks, once famously said that military intelligence is a contradiction in terms. One might say the same about European strategic intelligence. I have now just about read every single European security and defence strategy available and they all share a profound similarity. The joke goes something like this. In chapter one they describe a world getting bigger and more dangerous by the day. In chapter two they promptly cut a critical source of influence, the armed forces.  Conscious that this might seem a little unbalanced in chapter three they speak the language of soft power, i.e. power that has no fuse, to justify disarmament.  Groucho would have found soft power disarmament a scream!

I have just shared a platform with the former NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in which he echoed US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates by warning of a two-tier NATO.  With an audience of by and large sympathetic Dutch politicians, journalists and academics I too made the case for credible European armed forces so that Europe’s soft power was properly underpinned by credible hard power. Balance was the theme, balance was the aim. Well, that was what I thought.

Those of you who follow this blog know that I do a lot of this kind of professing. What else are professors for? Certainly nothing useful. These days my professing normally involves flying great distances to speak to the same people in different places and normally over a good Bordeaux. Someone has to do it. Indeed, if I redeemed all my KLM air miles they would have to give me the airline!

But herein lies a story all in itself. The security wonks (someone who proffers) speak to the security wonks, the aid wonks speak to the aid wonks, the economists speak to no-one at all, because they are by and large incomprehensible and diplomats speak to each other all of the time but never actually say anything worth understanding.

Sadly, for those of us who believe passionately in balanced security – aid and development, diplomacy and credible, legitimate armed forces embedded in sound strategy driven by proper analysis – these are the wilderness years. Indeed, sometimes in my more hubristic moments I do feel like Winston Churchill (according to my wife as I get older I am increasingly sounding like him). Perhaps I should go away and build a brick wall?

Hang on a bit – there is a point to all of this. Last week Robert Gates said he was a tad peeved with ‘most’ of we Europeans. In fact he is peeved with all Europeans as the ones who don’t care and the ones who used to do a bit but can no longer, are about to be joined by the few doing a little bit at the moment but who in future will be unable to afford it.

But there is a serious point here. Well, two actually. Make no mistake, the Yanks really are peeved this time and it is more than a few grumpy old white men lamenting the good old days when the West was the West and the Soviets could be relied upon to be both dastardly and incompetent (competent dastardlies are never a good idea). Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (or ‘hoops’ as he was affectionately known by those in the rest of NATO who did not speak Dutch – which was just about everybody) made a hugely important point. There is a generational change taking place in American politics and the new, shiny, young American politicos stepping off the Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth gravy train onto the Washington gravy train have little awareness of Europe, little care for Europe and virtually no affection for Europe or NATO. Things are indeed about to change.

So, at this critical moment, as Afghanistan begins to come to an end, as Americans consider their huge budget deficit in the morning and their global responsibilities in the afternoon, the European soft power disarmers are snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  Getting rid of armed forces not because we are broke, although some of us are but we get around this by fighting wars and hoping no-one will notice we're broke.  You know the old joke - if one owes a bank a thousand Euros one goes to prison; if one owes them two hundred billion they give one a seat on the board. 

No, it is rather because we Europeans have cast ourselves into one of those Merchant and Ivory films set back in the bucolic, upper class comforts of the 1920s - part pacifist, part-isolationist, mainly and usually drunk and more than a little delusional.  We have created a new Ten Year Rule by which we declare that nothing bad is going to happen because in Euro-world it is not allowed.  Beware Greeks bearing debt and all that.

NATO is paralysed, Secretary-General Rasmussen spends most of the time in the gym and getting a tan, whilst his officials spend most of their time creating new headquarters to organise our one soldier.   There is of course the European Onion. You remember, opaque, multi-layered with a centre that stinks. If NATO fades into a multi-tiered nothingness, as threatened by Gates-Gate, then we Europeans might have to really get our act together and finally give the Onion some teeth (an onion with teeth, now there's a thought!).

I have some sympathy with this because if we can no longer get Johnny Yank to pay for our defence then we might have to pay for it ourselves. There is nothing worse than when rich relatives who have all their debt in the bank go all stingy on one. But what makes you think the Onion will be any more immune from the soft power fungus than the No-Go Alliance?

Any chance that our delusional politicos will get it?  Sadly, no.  The voice of we security wonks is no longer heard in European chancelleries. Too dangerous, too expensive, and insufficiently post-modern (whatever that is?).

“Good”, I hear you say.  Not so fast. According to the soft power disarmers realism is militarism, and militarism is what got Europe into its twentieth century mess. Well, er, no, actually. It was the pacifism of democracies and a previous generation of soft power disarmers that enabled the militarists and autocrats to seize the power high ground. By the way, their forebears in the 1920s and 1930s used precisely the same argument – public opinion would not tolerate a defence effort and in any case any transgressor would be held to account in the ‘court of world opinion’. The old ones are the best, eh?

So, Secretary Gates has warned of a two-tier Atlantic Alliance. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has warned of a two-tier Alliance. Optimists like that really should not be allowed anywhere near real power!

Soft Power Disarmament will not only end in tiers…but tears.

Pass me another brick!

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Is David Cameron another Gordon Brown?

What is it with British prime ministers? No sooner they scramble over the threshold of Number 10 Downing Street then some strange diseases begins to afflict them. They start wars, cut the defence budget, warn the British people of the horribly painful cuts about to hit them and then start spending billions on foreign nationals.

David Cameron might wish to check the water at Number 10 because he is beginning to behave suspiciously like his predecessor, Gordon Brown.

At the very least hubrisitis seems to have set in, claiming to lead by example a world that frankly finds such claims insufferable and not a little laughable. David Cameron’s latest stunt suggests he may indeed wish to talk to someone. Adding £810 million of hard-pressed British taxpayers money to the already burgeoning aid budget to fund immunization in the developing world suggests something has come unhinged. This figure is some ten times more than richer (and more sensible) France, and four times more than the slightly more mighty United States. Do not get me wrong, child immunization is like apple pie and motherhood; incontrovertibly good. But, as soaring UK Rubella rates suggest, British children could do with a bit of that money.

This decision is all the more strange given the warning by the head of the ever-shrinking Royal Navy that Britain’s sole remaining rowing boat might sink after the summer for lack of funds if the Libya War goes on beyond the summer. And, millions of public sector workers are about to strike because cuts will mean much smaller pensions.

There is of course one rational solution. Why not take the money from the £1.2 billion of British taxpayers money promised to nuclear-arming, space launching, weapons-building India. At the very least Prime Minister Cameron should ask the Indians to take over from the Royal Navy as at the British taxpayer is now subsidising India’s brand, spanking new expanding navy.

Let’s all hope that this serial giving away of the broke British taxpayer’s money gets Mr Cameron the UN job to which he clearly aspires. The sooner the better, as far as I am concerned, as then the burden of debt Britain faces might just get a bit lighter! !

Is David Cameron another Gordon Brown?

Julian Lindley-French

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Solidarity: On the Front Line of Freedom's Defence

Wroclaw, Poland.  11 June.  US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is right. "In the past, I've worried about NATO turning into a two-tiered alliance.  Between members who specialize in 'soft' humanitarian, development, peacekeeping, and talking tasks, and those conducting the 'hard' combat missions.  Between those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership - be they security guarantees or headquarters billets - but don't want to share the risks and costs.  This is no longer a hypothetical worry.  We are there today.  And it is unacceptable".

Here in Poland, for so long on the front line of freedom's defence, where Solidarity was born to defend it, I have just emerged from a session during which Senator John McCain spoke eloquently of the 'power' of Secretary Gate's remarks.  Senator McCain reminded Europeans of the warning from history that is Poland's past.

Last night I attended the Freedom Awards dinner of the Atlantic Council of the United States and its partner the beautiful City of Wroclaw.  Wroclaw is a city which is occasionally potmarked by a violent history, themselves eloquent testimony to a struggle for freedom for which millions of Europeans died.     

It was a great privilege simply to be there. It was a dinner from which this old Cold War worrier came away with a simple life belief restored.  For freedom to be maintained it must be believed in and if necessary fought for.  Ask the people of Egypt, on whose behalf Esran Abdel Fatah was honoured.  Ask the people of Belarus, on whose behalf Ales Byalyatski was honoured.  Ask the people of Poland, on whose behalf Helena Lucyzwo and Adam Michnik were honoured. People who are either fighting for freedom or fought for it.  And, of course, ask the people Libya, Syria, Tunisia and many others.

Secretary Gates is of course right. This is all very 1930-ish - we talk about freedom even as we retreat from its defence.  Freedom will only flower if North Americans and Europeans together tend the lighthouse of hope so many millions want to believe in.  We must therefore face together the world as it is, for it is far too soon to believe the world is as we would like it.

That means a strong West.  But 'strength'  must include in its inventory legitimate armed forces credible and able to act in the world of today and tomorrow, not the past.  'Soft' power is all well and good but all the lessons of the past and the present suggest that without the firm foundation of hard power Utopia will eventually fall.

Frankly, too often the 'strategies' I read to justify the squalid nature of Europe's retreat reveal the lie that is Europe's contibution to defending freedom.  Indeed, in the visionless world of Europe today we only recognise only as much threat as we can afford.  It is thus a short step back to Munich and Neville Chamberlain's grovel that he was unwilling to defend the freedom of a small country far away about which he knew nothing.  The rest is barbarous history.

There is one small country over which freedom is not only being defended, but supported.  Sadly, only eight NATO nations are doing it; with the rest shuffling their collective feet in the shameless defiance of solidarity.  Freedom and solidarity go hand in hand.  Sadly, there is a sub-text in Secretary Gates speech which I see here at this impressive conference.  Too many Europeans either take feedom for granted or simply do not believe in preparing for its defence.

The consequence? A very real danger now exists that in the face of coming challenges European democracies will simply lack the means to defend freedom, even if they want to.  1939 all over again.

The bottom-line is this; no Alliance nor Union can survive both a lack of solidarity and capability over time.  If we collectively fail to lift our heads from the defeatism and short-termism, from the rejection of freedom's projection that is Europe's lot today, the twenty-first century will be every bit as dangerous as the twentieth.

We are still all of us on the front-line of freedom's defence.  If you do not believe me come to Wroclaw.

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Being Right Better in Brussels and London

9 June. London. Big day. Big issues.

In the morning I gave an interview about NATO and Libya to the BBC’s main morning radio news programme – “The Today Programme”. It was strange being back in a studio I used to attend fairly regularly in the 1990s as a ‘Presenter’s Friend’, a turn to expert on security matters. I am older now, not sure wiser. You can be the judge of that.

The issue at hand was the NATO Defence Ministers meeting in Brussels and what is likely to come out of it. Regular readers will know of my concern about NATO’s Operation Unified Protector. However, before I spoke I listened to a desperate plea from Misrata for NATO’s continued support. It was heart-warming to know that we (and by ‘we’ I mean the democratic West) are on the right side of history in our support of the Libyan people. I just wish NATO would be right better at it.

The figures are nevertheless impressive. NATO aircraft have now flown some 9500 sorties and some 4000 strike sorties to enforce the No Fly Zone. Countries about which I have been traditionally rude, such as Belgium, are for once pulling their weight. Critically, so are a few Arab countries – Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Qatar. There really is no love for Gadhaffi amongst the Arabs.

We may also be approaching a tipping point. Although I need to issue a health warning here; the ‘infallibility’ of the Lindley-French prediction model normally at this point falls flat on its face. The arms embargo has effectively prevented any munitions reaching the Tripoli regime. The introduction of British and French attack helicopters (few though they are) has further restricted the movement of regime forces and there are encouraging signs that the Libyan Army leadership are beginning to consider a Gadhaffi-less ceasefire, which is after all what this is now about. People have to stop dying as soon as possible.

In Brussels some form of solidarity has been crafted from the rubble of national caveats and restrictions over the use of force and the NATO Defence Ministers will agree to extend the mission for another ninety days.

Two things now need to be carefully considered – how we support the Libyan people in establishing an enduring ceasefire, and how we support them in crafting a peaceful political transition.

To that end, three conditions must first be met for a ceasefire: all attacks on civilians must cease; all regime forces must verifiably withdraw to bases, including the very nasty paramilitaries; and full access should be guaranteed for humanitarian relief.

Critically, the political transition will require the Libyan people and their regional partners front and centre. First, any intervention to guarantee the peace must be asked for by the Libyan people. Second, the Arab League and the African Union must be in the lead. Third, all actions must be UN-mandated. That will ensure ‘we’ continue to be right.

Gadhaffi’s personal future? Ultimately that is up to the Libyan people to decide, not us.

And then I went to the British Parliament. I had been summoned to give evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee on the UK’s National Security Strategy and the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). My central contention was blunt; both ‘strategies’ describe a very big world getting bigger and more complex by the day and then promptly make Britain smaller and weaker.

At the military level the Strategic Pretence and Impecunity Review (and the new ‘SDSR2’ which is currently being conducted) will damage Britain’s standing in the world for the foreseeable future and impose upon Britain and its armed forces a much greater level of risk than the British people (and their American allies) have a right to expect. Forget the promise by the Government to reinvest in the armed forces from 2015. From what I am hearing that is not going to happen.

The official line is that Britain’s retreat, for that is what it is, is simply a function of being broke. That would not be unreasonable with the national debt 60% the size of the economy, even if the solution seems to be to disarm the baby and then throw the baby, the bath-tub and the bathroom out of the window. Of particular concern is a conversation I had over tea (what else?) with a senior official whom I very much like and admire very, who had a hand in drafting the SDSR and with whom I profoundly disagree.

His argument was that taken together the NSS and SDSR are not temporary adjustments to cope solely with being broke. Rather, it is a structural change to lessen the reliance of British governments on the armed forces as a tool of strategic influence and shift the balance of effort and investment to other tools such as aid and development and diplomacy. In principle that is a perfectly defensible position, even if it does smack of strategic political correctness.

There is a genuine dilemma. For many years the understandable fixation with Al Qaeda and terrorism has masked the nature and pace of strategic change. Moreover, the threat to British values and security from hyper-immigration has undoubtedly forced British governments to switch resources from projection to protection.

However, when I look at this world of ours as I do and see the nature of dangerous change driven as it is by hyper-competition between democracies and non-democracies I see all the conditions for the kind of instability that needs western democracies to have credible and capable armed forces. ‘Credibility’ and ‘capability’ are defined not by navel-gazing but by properly understanding what is out there and what is likely to be out there. As President Obama said in London if ‘we’ do not play an active role for the better in such a world then who will?

Sadly, if the strategically correct are permitted to hijack and undermine Britain’s security and defence policy all they will succeed in doing is destroying our credibility internationally, our alliances and the very international institutions that are central to Britain’s influence.

And, in the end? Some poor bloody infantryman from Sheffield will find himself in a foxhole under fire armed only with a UN-mandated plastic bottle and a broken elastic band. That is what is at stake if this folly continues.

I just wish London would for once be right…and be better.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 6 June 2011

D-Day: The High Water Mark of Anglo-American Defence Relations?

D-Day. June 6. London. Good news - it is raining.  Good to see the natural order restored.  Back in 1944 Americans, Britons and Canadians were struggling ashore onto Norman beaches under heavy fire to rid Europe of the Nazis.  On this day of days it is right and proper to look back and remember and in that light consider Anglo-American defence relations today.

For me this is an especially poignant moment as my grandfather was there and this week I have been called to give evidence to the British Parliament on Britain’s future defence strategy, or what is left of it! The word on the street in Washington is that Britain is seen as an increasingly unreliable ally, abandoning the four principles of alliance upon which D-Day was launched – strategy, influence, competence and commitment.  Was D-Day the high water mark of Anglo-American defence relations?

First, let me de-mythologise the relationship that existed back in 1944.  The US routinely demonstrated frustration bordering on a lack of respect for the 'ponderous' British.  That was unfair.  D-Day and the subsequent battle for Normandy are cases in point. Of the 156,000 allied troops landed on D-Day, only 57,500 were American, with the rest being mainly British and Canadian, with the bulk British.  British General Montgomery (Monty), so often derided by American historians, was the architect of D-Day, which worked like clockwork on the two British and one Canadian beach.

It was the British and Canadians who took on and defeated the cream of the German 7th Army, particularly the Panzer Lehr and Hitler Jugend SS divisions.  This enabled the Americans to eventually break out of much more lightly-defended parts of Normandy. Montgomery said the Allies would reach the River Seine on D plus 90. That objective was achieved on D plus 81.

Furthermore. the British advance from Normandy to Antwerp was the fastest advance in military history until the American advance on Baghdad in 2003. Even Operation Market Garden, the attempt to get over the Rhine at Arnhem bridge in  September 1944, and widely regarded as ‘Monty’s’ folly, could have worked if US Airborne had taken intact the bridge over the River Maas at Grave. Their failure held up the British XXX Corps for a critical thirty-six hours.

But what of today? The evidence of the past decade would suggest the high-water mark may indeed have been reached.  Britain was an effective junior partner during the re-taking of Kuwait in 1991 and the performance of the British armed forces during the 2003 Iraq War was solid, if not spectacular.  However, in Afghanistan the British Army has come close to being broken, trying to follow American strategy on British resources over a long time and at great distance from a politically uncertain home base. 

And yet, the British are still there and in force in Afghanistan, with some ten thousand troops deployed unconstrained by the absurd caveats and rules of non-engagement of other Europeans.  Equally, Britain took the lead wth France to uphold UN Security Council Resolution 1973 in Libya, an operation which has just entered a new and dangerous phase with the deployment of British Army attack helicopters.

So, why is Washington sniping (at least the ever-shrinking bit that cares about Britain)?  There are three main concerns which have been apparent since London launched the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) back in late 2010 and which are growing in intensity. First, Britain’s ability to work effectively with the US is being rapidly eroded. Second, Britain’s ability to influence and lead European and other allies and partners is being dangerously undermined. Third, Prime Minister Cameron is retreating ever further into strategic and defence ‘spin’.  

Current actions are particularly exercising the Americans. First, Defence Secretary Fox seems to be re-visiting the SDSR by carrying out a further review to 'match' defence planning assumptions to funding. It is little more than yet another thinly-disguised Treasury-driven attempt to force armed forces at war to squeeze a further £1 billion of cuts above and beyond the savage cuts announced in the SDSR.  The SDSR abandoned any pretence at ‘strategy’, this review is in danger of burying it. 

Second, the British seem unsure as to the effect of policy.  The Government aims to cut some £38 billion ($62.4 billion) of unfunded commitments inherited from its Labour predecessor, mainly in the procurement and acquisition of defence equipment. Not an unreasonable goal the Government thought it had successfully found at least £19 billion ($31.2 billion) of savings by 2015. However, my sources in Washington tell me that a further £9 billion ($14.8 billion) of over-spend has now been uncovered and that the real figure is back up to £28 billion ($46 billion). Any pretence to competence is being rapidly abandoned.

Third, the British are behaving badly.  Prime Minister Cameron is ‘punishing’ the Americans for not supporting him more aggressively over Libya. Specifically, he is refusing to permit the British Army to replace the successful US Marine Corps mission in the upper Gereskh valley, which ends in October. This is in spite of military advice that the British Army is up for the mission and can do the job. As a consequences the Taliban will re-infiltrate an area of critical strategic significance close to the main Helmand province base at Lashkar Gah. Such a failure could torpedo any hopes of handing authority over to the Afghans as part of the transition.  Any pretence to commitment is in danger of being abandoned.

This is not the first time Prime Minister Cameron has behaved in such a dangerously churlish manner. He scrapped the brand new MRA4 spy aircraft, to teach a ‘lesson’ to BAe Systems, a defence contractor. How we British could have done with such eyes and ears over Libya today.  The Prime Minister is also micro-managing the Libyan campaign, issuing so-called ‘red cards’ to stop attacks on targets the military regard as essential. As for the famous attack helicopters, much of it is 'spin'.  The British can only deploy four, the French fourteen.  The Americans?  They are quietly having to divert their own over-used and over-stretched strategic eyes and ears to support the British and the French. No wonder the Yanks call the Brits the ‘Borrowers’.  Just wait until Congress finds out!

In this light D-Day does indeed seem a very, very long time ago and the Americans have a point. Both the Americans and the British armed forces deserve better.  Too often they are forced to make up for London's strategic contradictions, its lack of vision, the strategy and policy mistakes, as well as the endless prevarications of an increasingly surreal Whitehall village.
With the gap between stated ambition and available forces now yawning London is snatching contempt from the jaws of American respect. Strategy, influence, competence and commitment underpinned D-Day. The four principles still inform an Anglo-American defence relationship which the British still regard as vital to both national and defence strategy.  

If London is serious (a big 'if) it is time for to wake up and smell the the Americans would say.

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 2 June 2011

"Everyone Needs a Dragon Slayer"

“A thousand hearts are great within my bosom; Advance our standards, set upon our foes; Our ancient word of courage, fair Saint George, inspire us with the spleen of fiery dragons! Upon them! victory sits on our helms”. Richard III, William Shakespeare.

Krakow, Poland. What role does national myth play in forging national identity and cohesion? Here in this beautiful country of Poland it is a question that seems particularly apposite. Poland is a country that through the centuries has had to sustain its identity in spite of many attempts to wipe the country from the face of Europe. But, where does one draw the line on national myth? What happens when myth evaporates? My visit to Auschwitz was eloquent testimony of what happens when myth through strategy and policy becomes industrialised. Hitler, Mussolini, Mladic – these people represent the danger that can emerge from unbridled, industrial myth.

One could argue that Europe’s violent past is itself the result of a myriad of myth-makers. Myth fits neatly into the ancient tradition of European story-telling.  And yet myth clearly has a role to play. My own sorry country Britain is a sad example. Now denied its myths by the Komissars of political correctness, drowning in a sea of meaningless multiculturalism, St George has been slain not by the now protected dragon, but by the health and safety laws of a state that has become over-mighty. 

It was my old friend, Hans Binnendijk of the National Defense University in Washington, who gave me this phrase which crowns this blog.  It is powerfully convincing. Americans of course have their own myth; purveyors of the American dream, a nation recast from nations, the shining city on the moral upland of rectitude looking down upon the rest of us dwelling in servitude amongst dark, satanic mills from which narrow calculation is ground out. And, of course, the one in which the Americans turn up late and then 'win' World Wars One and Two.  America's hollywood myth has almost written we Brits out of history.  Hey ho.

But there is a point to myth.  Take America indeed.  We all need America to believe itself that America is an idea, rather than a power. When America simply becomes another power, as it did during the last decade or so, the West lost much of its moral compass and with it much of its political authority.  The European Union is trying to cast itself in a similar mould, but Europeans do not sit comfortably on top of shining hills.  European myth requires that someone always has to win and someone always has to lose. Sad, really.

Here in Poland myth is alive and well. Do not get me wrong. This amazing, modernizing country is testament to human spirit, faith, myth, NATO, European Union but above all Poles. Indeed, standing in the centre of beautiful Krakow I felt ashamed of the fast-fooded, fading, filthy centres of most British cities. The beauty of central Krakow is a myth in itself and speaks of centuries of defiance of a people gang raped repeatedly by history, most recently by Nazi and Soviet alike. Remember, the liberation of Europe from Soviet occupation began here in Poland.

Indeed, it is that heady mix of faith, myth and modernity that makes Poland.  There are warnings.  I saw several gangs of skin-headed youths that looked dangerously aggressive and seemingly fed by a more unattractive form of Polish national myth.  I also saw the contrasts of Poland as I drove out to Auschwitz.  Smart Polish Catholics on the way to church weaving to avoid 10am.  Poland has come a very long way, but still has a ways to go. 

My hosts took me on a tour of the amazing Wieliczka salt mine. Some three hundred kilometers of tunnels, diving some nine-hundred metres deep, taking some seven hundred years to carve out. And, what carvings! Here Polish faith, myth and modernity are represented by salt carvings that range from cathedrals to monuments to myth in huge chambers that leave one speechless and breathless.

In a sense this mine is itself a metaphor for national myth. Bring myth too fast and too abruptly to the surface and it can break the delicate social and political balance upon which all societies are built – ancient, modern and post-modern. Why? Because national myth in Europe (and for much of the world beyond) is not like America's myth in which everyone is meant to win.  In Europe most ‘dragons’ are metaphors for the slaying of enemies, and historically in Europe most enemies live next door. That was the tragedy of the Balkans where myth became fact and fact became murder.

Rather, keep it safe, discreet, carved in some underground gallery of shared awareness so that we can from time to time we can remind ourselves of who we were and maybe, just maybe, who we are.  

Yes, everyone does indeed need a dragon-slayer, but keep him in the closet.

St George, England, today? My money’s on the dragon.

Julian Lindley-French