hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 29 July 2011

Fiddling Whilst the West Fails: The Great Globalisation Disaster

“Forget these frivolous demands which strike a terror to my fading soul”. So Mephistopheles beseeches Marlowe’s Dr Faustus. With American politicians not so much debating whether or not to sell America’s soul, but for what price, the most profound of strategic questions is now apparent. For how long does the West support a system of globalisation that is clearly no longer working in its favour?

The United States has a budget deficit of $14.3 trillion. 9.2% of the workforce is unemployed and for every dollar the US Government spends 43 cents is borrowed. Much of southern and eastern Europe is mired in debt with states being propped up either by a small group of western European taxpayers or selling their indebted souls to China for who knows what future strategic price.

The West fought a long and just struggle to defeat the extreme statism of Soviet communism. Now the West must face up to one of the uncomfortable consequences of its victory; extreme free marketism allied to sovereign capital is rapidly destroying Western influence. The system is in crisis and the West is trapped in a rapid spiral of self-induced decline.

For too long Western leaders have stuck to the mantra that globalisation is westernisation. This is now patently wrong. Globalisation has no inherent values and eschews structure. There is patently no inherent link to the open, liberal model of government and governance the West espouses. No, globalisation simply enables those with the most (and most liquid) financial clout to access and influence societies. In that sense extreme globalisation works much likes a computer virus.

Furthermore, globalisation might indeed work as once envisaged as a vehicle for the promotion of wealth and freedom if all the key actor played by the same rules on a level playing field. That is clearly not the case. Asian powers such as China are manipulating the naïve openness of many Western states by demanding access to markets that they deny others. By such an approach China is constructing a huge network of sovereign influence over Western states. Put simply, the trade imbalance between China and the West is leading to a power imbalance that unless addressed soon will permanently eclipse the West.

Unfortunately, it is a mark of the shallowness of political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic that they cannot see beyond their immediate and respective debt crises to the bottom-line strategic reality. The real question is thus not how much is owed, but rather to whom and at what price? The current debt crisis is the symptom not the cause.

To some extent America‘s debt is a deterrent to China as an American default would be devastating for those holding the dollar, even though such a move would effectively destroy the Bretton Woods system of global financial governance. Europe has no such Armageddon option.

But perhaps the most pernicious aspect of this disaster is the steps taken by Western political leaders to mask their own incompetence. The consequences of extreme globalisation are explained away either by pretending to deal with the symptoms (they are not), either by ignoring the problem all together, or by pretending it is a good thing. In fact, Western governments lost in the vacuum between ideology and impotence have effectively lost control over all borders – informational, financial, economic and even physical. They simply cannot bring themselves to admit that extreme openness is as dangerous as extreme protectionism or statism. As such they have lost any sense of the balance in and of government needed to manage international relations in all is forms.

History is full of many lessons but one of the most consistent is that when governments give up their power and responsibilities the results are as dangerous as when governments attempt to control everything.

Since the end of the Cold War there has been a collective dereliction of duty by Western leaders – American and European alike. They have collectively failed to see either the implications or dangers of extreme globalisation. They have collectively demonstrated mind-boggling complacency about the implications of extreme globalisation. Prevailed upon by too many narrow vested business interests they have collectively failed to realise that they have lost control of globalisation and in so doing we the people are now vulnerable to the savagely acquisitorial – both states and businesses.

Balance is the key. Western governments must move collectively to re-assess globalisation and begin to re-assert control over money, markets and mayhem. Indeed, globalisation in its purest form is mayhem and anarchy. The whole point of government is to prevent such. Otherwise, life will indeed become as Hobbes would have it “nasty, brutish and short”. If that means some form of macro-protectionism whilst new rules are established then so be it. But to continue with the current system of wilful vulnerability would be to damn the West to destruction and far more quickly than feared.

Western politicians are fiddling whilst the West fails. At least something unites American and European politicians. A plague on both their houses.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Up the Blades!

Bill Shankly, a famous manager of Liverpool Football Club once said that 'fitba', he was from Glasgow where they speak a language beyond the register of most humans, was not a matter of life and was far more important than that. Given the tragic events in Norway such a statement seems fatuous in the extreme, but I know what he meant.  

For the record, I am not going to dignify that Norwegian monster with any consideration.  It was an act of evil pure and simple and he should be cast with his views into the dustbin of history.  My heart goes out to the victims and their families and the people of Norway...of all colours and creeds. End of matter.

No, today as a new seasons beckons I am going to admit to an obsession that has been with me since birth and which I will take with me to the grave.  I am a football fan - yes, real football. I am not only a football fan I am a sad, mad, obsessed fan of Sheffield United Football Club.

Americans amongst you may offer oblique sympathy because you are still prone to a version of this obsession, even if your so-called 'sports' are by and large silly. Europeans amongst you will fully understand and no doubt share this particular obsession for a game that was to all intents and purpose invented in my home town - Sheffield - and which is now played far better across at least 99% of the planet.  Bill, you are excused at this point (you know who I mean).   The only thing that can really be said for this obsession is that it channels the national, patriotic and local zeal from one entirely violent field of European endeavour onto another marginally more peaceful.  
Known as the Blades 'we' (note the depth of the obsession) are renowned for 'our' blunt edge in front of goal.  In fact, last season we not only lost the ability to score a goal, but were by and large unable to locate the goal itself.  And, all this whilst a large neon sign was illuminated over our own goal with the words 'Score Here For Free' emblazoned.  Excessive defensive largesse led of course to much gnawing of teeth amongst the faithful and much departing of managers whose grasp of  tactics seemed by and large to be limited to offering excuses for defeat before a ball was kicked.  We were awful. 

Consequently, having been but three years ago amongst the gods of the Premier League, playing the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool we are now cast asunder amongst the weeds that make up League One.  Note, I have not mentioned Arsenal as they are not really a club, more an up-market north London beauty salon run by and for the French.

Now, being English nothing is what it seems.  League One is of course the third tier of English football - of course it is.  This morning I received the fixture list from the Sheffield United Supporters Club of which I am a proud member.  Indeed, me and the other bloke see ourselves as the gritty back-bone of supporterdom and jealous guardians of our club's anthem - the chip butty song. 

Next season far from attending the glitzy grounds of the great - such as Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge - we will travelling to those very symbols of post-imperial industrial decline such as Walsall, Tranmere and Huddersfield.  These are teams that have managed not only to avoid a golden age, but are probably more proud than we are of being truly and utterly dire.  If they ever had a future it is now so far behind them as to constitute ancient history.  Solid folk all!

Still, there is one saving grace.  Sheffield Wednesday - the enemy and known justifiably by we Blades as the Wendies - are also in League One.  This means there will be two so-called local 'derbies' at which some 40,000 people will pay very good money - well, pounds - to cram into two fading grounds to watch complete and utter rubbish for ninety minutes - twice!  Worse, I will travel all the way from the Netherlands to watch what is probably the worst football on the planet.  And, I will enjoy it.  Is that obsession or what?

The facts are these.  Both clubs are broke.  Both clubs are rubbish.  In a sense both Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday reflect the great city of Sheffield from whence I hail.  The steel city of an empire now long gone Sheffield is a great city that struggles to avoid relegation into history.  

Some years ago I allowed my strategic head to rule my supporter's heart and wrote to the Sheffield Star, our local paper, suggesting the two clubs merge with Sheffield F.C., the world's oldest.  Then, I argued, the city of Sheffield would have a club that could compete with the best.  Interestingly, my email address was placed at the bottom of the letter by an editor clearly possessed of a strong sense of humour.  Being born no more than 500 metres from Sheffield United's ground, Bramall Lane, I thought I knew most of the words that make up Sheffield's distinct dialect.  Clearly not!

And that is of course the point.  As yet another season approaches you can forget the Champion's League, the Premier League, the World Series (oh, please!) and even the World Cup (bunch of overpaid prima donnas - just like academics, without the overpaid bit).  Most fans support rubbish clubs and are proud of it.  So, spare a thought for me and the millions like me as we watch the 'lads' yet again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on some cold, dark night in front of a few cold, sad people in a dark mood in some cold, dark place. It is the true mark of the human spirit, the triumph of hope over experience and proof if ever needed that we are all in need of a little insanity.

Football is not a matter of life and death, but it matters to me.  I am a football fan, I support a rubbish team and I am proud of it!

Up the Blades!

Julian Lindley-French


Monday, 18 July 2011

Lions led by Donkeys?

Brussels, 18 July. German First World War Generalissimo Ludendorff reportedly said of his British enemies: "The English Generals are wanting in strategy. We should have no chance if they possessed as much science as their officers and men had of courage and bravery. They are lions led by donkeys." That strategy word again. When I rule the world it will be banned. At the very least I can write to my publisher, Oxford University Press, and insist ‘strategy’ is re-defined in the Oxford English Dictionary to mean leading without due care and attention.

Today in Parliament, Secretary of State for Defence Liam Fox announced the findings of Strategic Defence and Security Reviewette 2 (SDSR): The Further Reckoning. There is good and bad news. Let me give you the bad news first. On the face of it this reviewette smacks of that unholy alliance of end-of-the-world Treasury accountants and beautiful world soft power disarmers who came up last November with the rather silly Strategic Pretence and Impecunity Review. Prime Minister David Cameron showed real chutzpah when he rose in the House at the time to claim that the review would be see no shrinkage of Britain’s strategic footprint. He had just amputated a foot!

So, in this ‘we clearly did not get it absolutely right reviewette’ a further £5bn of ‘uncosted spending’ has apparently been uncovered, on top of the £38bn that had supposedly been missed by the previous and equally strategically illiterate mob.

The British Army will be cut by some 19000 personnel by 2020 reducing the force to 82000, the smallest regular British Army since 1901 (and in those days Britain still had a navy!). The remaining 20000 personnel stationed in Germany will be bought home (that should please Ludendorff). To offset the cuts to the Army the reserves will be increased from around 30,000 to a bit more than 30,000 with a focus on the creation of a fighting force, rather than a support force. The equipments budget will be increased by 1% between 2015 and 2020. This will ensure major projects, such as the Royal Navy’s two super-aircraft carriers can be completed and more Chinook helicopters bought for the Army, although given the planned draw down in Afghanistan the words stable, doors, bolt and flown horses comes to mind.

The ‘strategic’ (aaaargh!) objective remains; to ‘balance the books’ by 2020. Clearly, balancing these infamous books still comes an awful long way before the balancing the force and there still seems little relationship apparent between the fantasy National Security Strategy and the dreaded SDSR – versions one or two. By the way, has anyone ever seen these ‘books’?

Now the good news. Alright, the less bad news. Buried deep in the Sir Humphrey speak there may be just a semblance, a smidgeon, a smearing of strategy and science peeking over the parapet into the no man’s land of Whitehall policy-making. Ludendorff pay attention.

First, some strategic (aaaargh again!) thinking is apparent. Or, rather, the Government has imlictly acknowledged there may be life after financial Armageddon. Reserves can either act as technical support, which has been the traditional British approach, or provide a surge capacity for the fighting force. Hitherto, the British assumed that European allies would provide the surge in the event the British armed forces were doing the heavy fighting during the initial stages of a conflict. It is sad to say that given the sorry experience of Afghanistan and the duplicity of European allies therein, that hope has all but evaporated. With the exception of the French London has no confidence whatsoever in European allies who have proved themselves all too adept at giving their excuses at critical moments in the campaign. They talk solidarity, but never fight it, which helps to explain Britain's veto of an EU strategic (aaargh - ditto!) headquarters which would inevitably involve more cost for London. Indeed, it is noticeable from Secretary of State Fox’s announcement that only the Anglosphere was mentioned – the Americans, Australians and Canadians. 

Second, the move to create a US-style fighting force 120,000 strong with a 70/30 ratio between regulars and reserves will not only reinforce a surge capacity, but also begin to re-embed the British military in civil society. The British like to believe they are casualty tough and there is some truth in that given the three hundred and eighty or so British dead in Afghanistan. One more today sadly. However, having been the first major state to abandon conscription in 1960 one of the reasons for such ‘toughness’ is indifference and ignorance in large segments of British society. Put simply, the massive majority of British citizens have had virtually nothing whatsoever to do with the armed forces, and for a very long time. The military has become a virtual ghetto. Whilst efforts such as Help for Heroes and the Military Covenant raise awareness the gap between the defenders and the defended is dangerously wide.

Even given the ‘goodish’ news there remain profound question-marks that the 2011 reviewette fails to answer. Why, for example, has a professional Army of over one hundred thousand found it so hard to maintain a force of ten thousand in Afghanistan? Such a low level of deployability would suggest that Britain’s hire purchase military has been suffering for too long from an imbalance between personnel and capability – too many boots, not enough weapons and stuff. How, for example, can the management-led approaches to defence reform and procurement reform which have or are about to see the light of day lead to better strategy? Will Liam Fox’s version of Kitchener’s Army be an army on the cheap? If so can it ever really be used for fear of failure?

Certainly, the government does not have the answers. July is the month a British government on dodgy ground makes announcements.  This marks yet again the yawning gap between the self-obsessed governing class and the poorly governed. When will the Whitehall Village learn that it is not clever to announce such a review when it thinks most Brits are turning unmentionable shades of sun-burn on some corner of a foreign beach that will be forever Basildon. It simply reinforces the contempt too many Britons have for their government.

The British Government has made a complete Horlicks of security and defence strategy during its first year in office. Governments are of course like popes – infallible. They never admit mistakes. The 2010 SDSR was indeed a profound mistake. But maybe, just maybe, in what is a very muddled British approach to strategy, corrections are beginning to be made and yes, strategic common sense will eventually prevail.

So, one hundred years on from his caustic commendation some re-ordering of Ludendorff is justified. Until proof is apparent to the contrary the British politician is wanting in strategy. The British could make a real difference and generate real influence if the political class possessed as much vision as their officers and men have of courage and bravery.

Military lions led by political donkeys? That is probably unfair.  It gives donkeys a bad name.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Euro-Crunch: The Grim Banker is Calling

“If there is no relief, we are going straight into the abyss”. So says, Romano Prodi, one-time Italian Prime Minister and President of the Onion’s European Omission. As European Onion finance ministers gathered in Brussels to disagree about what to do over the deepening Eurozone crisis the sheer scale of the crisis and its potential consequences are now apparent. The Euro-crunch is upon us and Onion leaders face probably the most fateful strategic decision in modern European history – break the Euro up or move to a common fiscal policy, which effectively means the creation of a federal European state. This catastrophic failure of both policy and strategy, the result of many years of irresponsibility by all European leaders of all political hues, now brings us to the edge of Prodi’s abyss.

Greece with a government debt some 143% of the size of its economy will soon default. Italy, led by a buffoon of a prime minister, and with a debt some 120% the size of its economy, now looks like going down the same Mediterranean plug-hole. The debt contagion long feared by Onion leaders is now fact as the cost of borrowing soars for governments that have resolutely refused to make the reforms necessary to balance the books. The European Stability and Growth Pact established to ensure fiscal and budgetary discipline at the creation of the Euro has been derisively and now disastrously ignored. Indeed, governments have routinely lied about their level of debt; and complicit western European leaders have for too long pretended to believe them.

There are of course many lessons from this unfolding fiasco but perhaps the most telling is this; if a political project such as the Euro is not established from the outset on stable financial and economic fundamentals then disaster will sooner or later ensue. There are of course several reasons why the European citizen has been deliberately kept in a state of suspended uncertainty over the Euro. First, the Euro has indeed been first and foremost a political project, designed to foster ‘ever closer union’ in the words of the Treaty on European Union.  Profound, structural weaknesses have thus been ignored. Second, confidence in a currency is the pre-requisite for a stable single European market and of course the very basis for a sound banking system. European banks are still reeling from the 2008 global crisis and are thus deeply vulnerable to shock. Third, information is power; the retreat of democratic oversight in the Onion has fostered a patrician belief in Brussels that we the little Europeans should be kept in the dark for our own good. This noblesse oblige tendency of the Brussels Euro-Aristocracy is as dangerous as it is arrogant.

So, what are the implications? First, it is unlikely that France and Germany will give up on the political Euro until the cost of supporting the financial Euro is so great that over-taxed citizens begin to revolt. Second, if there is a decisive move towards fiscal union, which may be needed given the refusal of southern European states to fulfil their obligations under the Stability and Growth Pact, then the very real prospect will emerge that the United Kingdom and possibly other non-Eurozone member-states could leave the Onion. Third, much more power will be transferred to an opaque, secreacy-obsessed Brussels wholly unfit to exercise strategic sovereignty over the money of European citizens. This will not only render any hope of effective democratic oversight meaningless, but could also break the centuries-old and fundamental link between the European nation-state and its citizens – tax-raising authority and accountability.  Fourth, Europe's precipitous decline will be confirmed and with it any chance to influence a challenging world. 

The paradox? Far from curbing the appetites of avaricious southern European states, it could well stoke further dependency obesity as the gap between the western European payee and those accountable will become so wide as to be in effect broken. And, all of this whilst we the little Europeans slumber on beaches safe in our induced ignorance. By the time summer is over a fait accompli could be fact.

Whatever happens – break-up or state-up, the sorely-tried western European taxpayer will have to pick up a bill that the European Omission suggests could need paying at least until 2030. The alternative?  Sell Europe's debt to China, with all that entails.  Clearly, the political institutions of southern European states long undermined by venal politicians and their assorted hangers-on are simply too weak to cope with the austerity packages needed to bring government debt back down to manageable levels. There will of course be much empty talk of European ‘solidarity’. Sadly, if there is one thing I have long understood about the Onion it is this; whenever I hear talk of ‘solidarity’ it is going to cost me money.

Make no mistake, Europe, the grim banker is calling.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 11 July 2011

Talking with Benazir

The American decision to ‘punish’ Pakistan by withdrawing some $800m of a $3 billion military aid package demonstrates Washington’s nuanced approach to dealing with Islamabad that is to be commended. Clearly, the Pakistani Government knew exactly the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden at the time of his death in May at the hands of American Special Forces. There are no doubt several other senior Al Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban figures being quietly supported by the ISI, Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence agency. And yet, the ‘punishment’ is measured, enabling Islamabad to insist it is only the routine withdrawal of men and equipment; the removal of which they had themselves sought. It is a diplomatic Pas de Deux, and so it must be.

Why are the Americans being so careful with Pakistan? Quite simply, America and the West are a very long way from being able to leave that troubled region. Indeed, the West will need to support the Pakistani state against the anti-state for the foreseeable future. Fail and nuclear-armed Pakistan will provide the space for Al Qaeda and its cohorts to reconstitute and re-group. This struggle is far from over. Indeed, the Americans, unlike their European allies, most of whom have tuned out, understand that any strategy that draws down in Afghanistan must necessarily draw up in Pakistan.

Why are the Pakistanis so ‘difficult’? A couple of years ago I was briefed by the ISI at the Pakistani Army Headquarters. The briefing was what one would expect; a justification of Pakistan’s uneasy relationship with the Americans and their western coalition partners. Above all, whilst an ungoverned or Taliban Afghanistan may be a threat to the West, Afghanistan is only important to Pakistan in the context of its struggle with India over the future governance of Jammu Kashmir. To understand Pakistan, a Pakistani view is thus always essential and years ago I had the best.

Back in the 1970s I had a conversation with Benazir Bhutto in the Oxford Union. As I recall our chat was shortly before her father, Zufikar Ali Bhutto, then Prime Minister was overthrown by a military coup so it must have been late 1976 or 1977. Two years later Prime Minister Bhutto was executed on what are still widely held to have been trumped up charges. This striking, beautiful woman had the poise of an aristocrat and spoke like one, albeit with an alluring taste of the Punjab. What she had was star quality, and I was star struck.

She was inordinately proud of her country, but despaired of it; she loved her people, but despaired of them. She told me that whilst Pakistan wanted to be governed, its needs were so great that it was virtually ungovernable. Pakistan would always be a compromise between tyranny, democracy, society and community because the relationship between the state and the people was like no other on earth. Sadly, she too met an untimely end fighting for the country in which she so passionately believed.

She also took a sophisticated view of her country’s troubled relationship with India. Whilst she could be as populist as the next Pakistani leader when it came to India (she rather infamously once urged a crowd to cut an Indian governor to pieces), she also sought to break out of the sterile cycle of distrust that so still haunts these two nuclear neighbours born out of the British Raj.

The Americans clearly understand that any adjustment to strategy can only take place if the US a) acts as an honest broker between India and Pakistan; and b) convinces India and Pakistan that Jihadists are as much a threat to them as to the West. Fail and the status quo ante will be rapidly re-forged, with previously fragile states even further discredited in the popular mind. In such circumstances India will seek to increase its influence in southern Afghanistan to keep the region instable. The Pakistani Army will be forced to look two ways, south over the green line in Kashmir at the Indian Army, and north at an instable border along its entire north-west from Nimroz, through Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul and beyond. To counter India’s stratagem the ISI will continue to destabilise Kabul to prevent and constrain Indian influence in Afghanistan. At best two weak states, Afghanistan and Pakistan, will be left to handle a complex and disruptive Pashto space – the very conditions that spawned the Al Qaeda threat to the West.

Had Harvard-educated Benazir lived and risen to power, which seems likely, she may well have provided a more consistent partner to Washington. It would have been risky but she was no stranger to risk. She could well have insisted in return on the de-militarisation of America’s strategy in the region, which Washington is now moving towards. There would still have been a big ‘if’. New Delhi would of course have been critical both to her strategy and that of the Americans. The sadness for me is that Indian politicians have seemed so lacking in vision and thus unable to move beyond the domestically factional. Would they have made the leap of faith required?

Forty one years ago, on the eve of the 1970 war the relationship between India and Pakistan may have been one of competing equals. No more. Today, it is the relationship between a failing nuclear-armed Islamic state and an emerging world power. If anyone can change the regional-strategic dynamics it is the Indians, but to do so they will need to start acting like the world power they claim to be. And yet we wait.

America is thus right to tread softly with Pakistan. However, since the premature demise of Richard Holbrooke momentum has been lost (for all the Ambassador's heavy-handedness).  American attention to strategic detail only makes sense if India is properly engaged so that the conflicts in southern and eastern Afghanistan and that in Jammu-Kashmir are once and for all ‘de-conflicted’, to use the ghastly jargon of the strato-wonk.

I could not say I knew Benazir Bhutto, but I did meet her and talk with her and being very young and naive at the time I was utterly star-struck, like so many. She had her faults. She could be haughty and imperious and too easily forgive those around her less noble, but she never lacked for a ready smile and a keen wit. Had she lived Pakistan’s future would have been brighter, as would Afghanistan’s and India’s futures. This is because she had something I have so rarely seen in the region – an ability to rise above the factional and see a truly strategic future for her country, her people...and her region.

America must therefore honour her legacy and stick close to Pakistan, for all its many failings. There is simply no other strategic option open – not today, not tomorrow, nor the day after.

Talking with Benazir – I only wish I had had more of a chance.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Can Europe's Small Leaders Make Big Strategy?

George Washington wrote, “A slender acquaintance with the world must convince every man that actions, not words, are the true criterion of the attachment of friends”.

As Leon Panetta takes over at the Pentagon the US military faces cuts unknown for a generation. A defence budget of $700 billion is unsustainable given the intensive care nature of America’s economy. But here’s the strategic crunch; America like Europe must balance strategy with austerity at what is arguably the biggest moment in global strategy since 1945. The world is no longer Euro-centric, it is world-centric, but only now as the mist that is Al Qaeda begins to dissipate can strategic futures begin to be glimpsed with any clarity.

Balances of power and spheres of influence are slowly re-forming and with them the progressive marginalisation of the grand institutions that were the stamped hallmarks of the Western liberal age. Beijing sees power and strategy in essentially and traditionally classical terms.  So to a degree does Washington.  Neither have as yet ‘benefitted’ from Europe’s post-modern view of itself and the world beyond. Europeans are too busy seeking the world they would like to deal effectively with the world that exists.  And, like it or not it is America and China who will establish the rules of the twenty-first century power game, not Europe.

Thus, as Panetta takes high office China’s 2010 White Paper on China’s National Defence (CND10), published earlier this year, offers essentially more essential reading than the increasingly irrelevant and misnomered European Security Strategy and, dare I say it, the 2010 NATO Strategic Concept. Whilst China is unabashedly nationalist and strategic, both the European Onion and the Atlantic Alliance have become unashamedly astrategic.  A gap between words and deeds now yawns. In that context how one organises the transatlantic relationship or indeed the Onion is beside the point – the re-organisation of the irrelevant by the incapable in pursuit of the unattainable.

The China Paper pulls no punches. The US is bracketed alongside terrorists and extremists as a ‘destabilising force’ in Asia. Particular concern is expressed about the reinforcement by the US of its military alliances in the Asia-Pacific region. China’s aim: an Asian strategic order that is China-led.

The crux of the strategic matters is thus; the nature and pace of China’s relative rise and America’s relative decline, allied to the political-strategic philosophies of both, means that on current trajectories a clash at some point in this century is probably almost inevitable. Europeans thus face the most profound of big choices – seek the continued protection of the United States and the price that will go with it, or cut free from America and thus re-define its relationship with the coming China.

If European leaders want to understand the relevance of the transatlantic relationship to Americans they too might read CND10. Indeed, the relationship between America and China will shape not only Europe’s place in the world, but the shape and the nature of its defence. And, the strategic choices Europeans will make over the coming decade and the structures that emerge from such choices will tip those very emergent balances now apparent. Let us at the very least hope said choices are indeed strategic in both scope and reach, for they will need to be.

The facts of strategic power are indeed stark. China’s White Paper under-estimates its defence spending by a factor of at least two, China claims a defence budget of $81.8 billion, which is probably closer to $200 billion and growing at around 4% per annum. At present US defence expenditure represents some 4.7% of gross domestic product, China’s defence expenditure some 2.2%, but is more likely nearer 3.5%. US defence expenditure is politically unsustainable, whilst China’s defence expenditure is sustainable and from Beijing’s perspective desirable.

The nature of the strategic choice open to Europeans is thus simple - balance China with America or balance China and America. Certainly, Europeans will not be afforded a strategic bolt-hole in which to hide. But there is a glimmer of an opportunity if European leaders are big enough to see it. Europeans can and must work tirelessly with America, China and others to mitigate the dangers of said balances of power, not least because of the damage done to Europe's own history.  And Europeans could clearly be in a position to play such a role if it has the strategic vision and leadership so to do. 

However, such a role is dependent on a European grand strategy worthy of the name, either through a concert of European powers, or rather more implausibly through the increasingly unworldly European Onion. However, such a vision would also require big leaders, not least to overcome the self-defeating tension that exists between the Onion and the leading member-states on issues of strategy, the most fundamental of issues. Indeed, what the current crop of Euro-leaders clearly do not as yet realise is that the next decade is as big in strategic terms as that faced by Europe’s greats in the 1940s – Churchill, Monnet, Schuman, Spaak et al.

Thus, the strategic challenge for Americans and Europeans alike will not simply be to do more with less, but again to meet the challenge of greatness that is thrust upon us at a time when all the austerity–driven, post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan instincts are to retreat behind walls of rhetoric. To obsess over petty issues that divide and which providence will soon prove dangerously irrelevant.

The sad fact of our age is that neither the European Onion, nor NATO nor indeed the United Nations and its many diaspora are fit for the coming age. It is strategic midedle-aged spread shared by many of America’s great institutions of state which are still too focussed, too often on fighting each other. The failure of the West is thus a very real prospect. 

The ancient Chinese military writer Sun Tzu once said that the quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon. There is little in the uncertain way that Europe’s leaders have dealt with the debt crisis that suggests they are capable of either decision or timing, let alone strategy. It is not much more encouraging on the other side of the Atlantic. 

Can Europe’s small leaders make big strategy? 

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Britain is Coming Off the Rails

London, 5 July. Can you believe it? The British Government is about to given £3 billion, some €3.5bn, of British taxpayers money to a German company to build one thousand rail carriages. As a result some fifteen hundred jobs will be lost in the north of England at a time of acute economic stress. The Government says that its hands are tied by European Onion procurement rules. Would the German or French governments have permitted such a deal? Answer? Never!

Apparently, the French and German governments take a more ‘liberal’ interpretation of Onion rules. But it is not the fault of Berlin or Paris. Indeed, this whole sorry saga typifies the mix of incompetence and arrogance that has marked the approach of successive British governments (both politicians and bureaucrats) who seem to forget that their first duty is to look after the interests of the people who put them in power – the British citizen.

It is incompetence in that British governments are eternally obsessed with playing by the rules that everyone else breaks. The result? Britain and its taxpayers are routinely shafted. It is arrogant in that British governments routinely convince themselves that leading by example will somehow convince others to do the same. This morning Berlin and Paris will be laughing at London’s stupidity – again.

Ironically, I have just watched a BBC TV programme on the future of the United Kingdom. A poll came out yesterday that suggested that some 50% of the English would not mind if Scotland gained independence. I am a passionate believer in the Union between England and Scotland that has been so effective since it was created back in 1707, when the English taxpayer had to bail out the Scottish state after Edinburgh’s disastrous expedition to colonise Panama brought Scotland close to bankruptcy. Just like the English taxpayer had to bail out the Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank of Scotland after another ill-advised venture in more recent times.

Indeed, in a world getting bigger and more dangerous by the day the ‘United Kingdom’ is still a brand that offers something to a stable world. That said, as a democrat I would reluctantly accept the will of the Scottish people if they did indeed decide the forge their own path, so long as we English did not have to pay for it - again.

Interestingly, a sub-current of dissent ran through the TV debate; given that British institutions of state no longer look after the interests of British people then each of Britain’s constituent parts – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – might be better served if they looked after their own parochial interests. It is a mark of how far London has become disconnected from its primary responsibility (and one is tempted to say ‘reality’) that such a debate should even be taking place.

Do not get me wrong. Rules matter – but if only all governments uphold both the spirit and the letter of said rules, and avoid routinely defecting as and when suits. Nor am I calling for nationalism or protectionism, simply pragmatism. At the very least London should stop trying to occupy a moral high ground that does not exist. If the French and German take a ‘liberal’ view of Onion procurement rules than so must the British.

The implications are clear. Unless the ‘British’ people can see that London is indeed fighting for their interests both in the Onion and beyond and stops its obsession with playing by rules everyone else breaks then I fear for the future of the United Kingdom. And, unless the great institutions of the British state can escape from the political correctness that has infected it to the heart and which do so much harm to ordinary Britons then in time the United Kingdom will fail. Why? Because ordinary Britons will rightly no longer support institutions that clearly do not support them.

Britain is fast coming off the rails. Time to back on the tracks and stand up for Britain, Mr Cameron.

Julian Lindley-French

Sunday, 3 July 2011

What Has the Onion Ever Done for Us?

There is nothing as strategic as money. Reg, leader of the People’s Front of Judea in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, asks his followers, “…apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?" With the battle now under way over the European Onion’s 2014-2020 budget a similar question is now being asked by western European taxpayers. What has the Onion ever done for us?

For western Europeans it is indeed a hard question to answer. Of course, trite politicians in the main net payers Britain, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Finland (yes, Finland) trot out the same trite answers – free movement of trade and peoples is in everyone’s interest, as is the transfer of billions of western Europe’s money to invest in central, eastern and southern European economies.

Certainly, western European leaders never give straight answers to the questions that really matter to their respective electorates – be it the cost of underpinning central, eastern and southern European economies or, indeed, immigration and its impact on our societies – both good and bad. Indeed, it is a mark of the loss of national sovereignty over both money and borders that said politicos have become so evasive and so economical with the truth.

And, during the boom years of largesse prior to 2008 there was an argument to be had that there was sufficient to go round. But not any more. The inability of Onion leaders to properly address the Greek debt crisis almost certainly means a) more western European taxpayer's money will vanish down the Athenian black hole; and b) Europe will become even more in hock to the Chinese, who at some point when Europeans are suitably hooked will demand a price – a big strategic price.

So, a divide is emerging between the ‘have not but must give’ western European taxpayer and the ‘increasingly have and want more’ central, eastern and southern European beneficiaries. It is no surprise that the spendthrift European Parliament, dominated as it is by central, eastern and southern European politicians, is demanding a 5% increase in the Onion's budget as a share of European states (i.e. western European states) national income. At a time of acute austerity across the Onion such demands border on the obscence and simply help to further undermine the credibility of an already out-of-touch European Parliament.

The depth of this divide has been brought home to me by two very different but linked experiences. My recent visits to Krakow and Wroclaw in Poland and Tallinn in Estonia left me deeply impressed by the progress being made in life quality therein. The fabric of all three cities had hugely improved according to the locals. Everywhere I went there were big signs with the Onion’s flag proudly displaying ‘its’ largesse. Or, to be more accurate, my largesse, being a British citizen paying tax in the Netherlands. Naturally, I pointed this out, as is my Yorkshire way, and whilst thanks were offered there was much mumbling by my hosts about ‘historic duty’ and all that. It is an historic duty that has long been paid by our fighting and winning both World War Two and the Cold War. Shortly thereafter I went back to my own home city, Sheffield, in the north of England, which was tired and shabby by comparison.

Being a freelancing professor I am often approached by young researchers keen to have me supervise their PhDs. The divide is ever apparent. The western Europeans almost invariably have a question as a sub-text – is the Onion a good thing? The central, eastern and southern Europeans, on the other hand, invariably take it as read that the Onion is a good thing, and simply want to know how to get more of it. There are of course variations, but that is by and large the message.

Now, what western European leaders are not telling ‘we’ the taxpayer is that the very purpose of the Onion is to transfer money from ‘us’ to ‘them’. What they are particularly keen to avoid telling us is that the Greek debt crisis was caused primarily because Greeks took it as their right to have western European taxpayers subsidise them, and indeed still expect it. As do millions of their fellow Europeans.

As a western European taxpayer let me make this clear to our frankly appalling political leaders; I am prepared to do my bit for ‘Europe’, but I am not prepared to be fleeced indefinitely to fund countries and societies that simply refuse to reform or modernise. In the past it may well have been the case that transfers of wealth from we few western Europeans to everyone else acted as ‘structural’ investment in the European economy for the benefit of all. Today, I am seeing with my own eyes that the propping up by the west of the rest is leading directly to the impoverishment of western Europeans, together with their countries and societies. As austerity bites deep both our life quality and security are being profoundly undermined.

I have spent much of my adult life believing in ‘Europe’, and deep down I still believe in an ideal. But I do not believe in this corrupted Europe, with leaders all too willing to give my hard-earned money away and yet give me nothing in return but meaningless and costly platitudes.

Therefore, as the Onion’s budget negotiations get underway those charged with leading the Onion, together with their weasel-worded fellow travellers in national chancelleries, must remember that we, the eternally ignored peoples of western Europe, will only up put with so much.

What has the Onion ever done for us? Certainly not sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health...we pay for all of that on top!

Julian Lindley-French