hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 30 March 2012

Bradford: The Coming Crisis of European Democracy

Alphen, the Netherlands. 30 March. Strange week this. I have just emerged form hospital after an operation on my right eye. So, this piece is even more ‘one-eyed’ than normal. My wife thinks I am mad even writing this. However, a political earthquake took place last night in the city of Bradford, in my home county of Yorkshire, that is relevant not only to Britain but could well signal a coming crisis of European democracy – the revolt of the people against the professional political caste. The defeat of the long-incumbent Labour Party by George Galloway, a populist, self-promoting left-winger long used to conning the politically gullible, is quite simply stunning.

With a large Asian community the anti-war stance of Galloway’s Respect Party on both Iraq and Afghanistan was always going to appeal. However, the sheer scale of Labour’s defeat and the collapse of both the Conservative and Liberal-Democrat vote heralds something much more profound. Quite simply Bradford showed an electorate not apathetic as the mainstream parties like to claim, but actively hostile to mainstream political parties and politicians. It is a phenomenon evident across Europe, not least here in the Netherlands where right-wing populist Geert Wilders represents a growing disillusionment with cosy elites and a move towards more extreme politics.

Why is this happening? Regular readers will recall that I have often warned about the European democratic deficit and the rise of a Euro-Aristocracy. However, the professional political caste is not only limited to ‘Brussels’, but is evident across all European countries. My own country, England, is a case in point as its political leaders show all the signs of becoming just such a caste. Both Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Milliband belong to this caste. They went straight from university politics into a special advisor position with a minister and then onto a safe elected seat which was set up for them to win by their respective party establishments prior to then being fast-tracked into a ministerial position. Neither of them have any real-life experience of the world outside the rarefied world of high politics. According to the House of Commons in 1982 the number of such people in Parliament was some 4%, in 2001 it was 14% and today it is 25% with almost all of them either in Government or the Shadow Cabinet (leadership group for the opposition).

The result is a new layer of influence between the governing and the governed. This has encouraged the rise of political lobbyists, single-issue special interest groups and think-tanks who seek to exert influence over the caste often at the expense of the people. Politics is thus seen by the caste as a narrow ideological game played out between small Westminster elites with lobbyists and activists acting as both seconds and the only constituencies of note. Politics beyond Westminster has thus become irrelevant to the point of being pointless. Indeed, the people are seen only as the distant objects of political and media management with their representatives in Parliament reduced to being merely the window-dressing of democracy, with little or no influence over the caste.

The most obvious example of this was how both the two leading parties not only failed to deal with hyper-immigration, but in Labour’s case actively encouraged it. The English people have always rightly been open to a reasonable level of immigration. However, according to a leaked secret Labour Party report what happened from 2000 onwards was the deliberate attempt by Downing Street political advisors to change England forever by a deliberate policy of mass migration so as to “rub the Right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date”. It was an ideological war between and within a small Westminster political caste with no regard as to the social and cultural consequences on ordinary English people who have had to live with the consequences. Indeed, such is England’s unhappiness that the caste must now resort to the use of draconian anti-racism laws to suppress the anger of a people who believe they have been conspired against by the caste to take their country away from them. Go to my home town of Sheffield if you do not believe me. The only way forward is for ordinary decent people of all creeds, cultures and colours to find a way to live together but the signs are not encouraging. The politicians caused this mess; they will not fix it.

Fast forward England’s unhappiness to Brussels, which has always been the home to a professional political caste. Every time I go the European Parliament I am shocked by the number of Members of European Parliament (MEPs) who are the ‘sons, daughters, family members of’ or at least well-connected to, national political elites across Europe. With the pressure now mounting for more power to be given to ‘Europe’ i.e. Brussels, the growth in influence of Europe’s political caste is likely to match the growing distance between Europe’s governing and governed. The abyss which already exists between the European citizen and Europe’s elite is not only a recipe for political corruption on a grand scale but could well herald the coming crisis of European democracy.

In both and England and the wider Europe there is a pressing need to get more real-life politicians into power who know what it is like to struggle to balance the weekly budget, to deal daily with unyielding bureaucracies, to confront discrimination and prejudice, who have known unemployment, and to face the reality of fractured societies in which mistrust, fear and even hatred stalk the streets.

If mainstream politicians do not move to reconnect with ordinary people there will be more Bradfords and more George Galloways and Geert Wilders across Europe. This is a dangerous political moment and our leaders need to start treating the rest of us with the respect we deserve.

Now I will go back to bed.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 26 March 2012

Joint Strike Fighter: How Not to Build an Aircraft

Alphen, the Netherlands. 26 March. F-35 Lightning II is a name to conjure with. Otherwise known as Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) ten countries are collaborating under US leadership to build a fifth generation multirole fighter that can apparently do everything and not be seen doing it – whatever it is it does. Last week BaE systems announced the opening of a $175m plant in Lancashire, England to build the things. Being a Yorkshireman this is a bad mistake in and of itself as nothing good has come out of Lancashire since the fifteenth century Wars of the Roses (which was not very good either). Suspiciously this announcement comes hot on the heels of news that the British Government is having yet another wobble over whether to buy the F-35B STOVL (Short Take-Off or Vertical Landing) version or the F-35C conventional aircraft-carrier version for the two mythical British super-carriers HMS Not at All Sure We Can Afford This After All and HMS We Can Afford Either the Ship or the Plane but Not Both.

Now, the reason I was compelled to pen this blog is entirely the fault of my Dutch wife, Corine (brave woman bless her). In her infinite, supreme commander way she decided that I needed to be compelled to stop thinking quite so much about work. Having heard me drone on about the models I used to build as a kid she bought me an Airfix kit (I think you call it Revelle in Yankdom) of HMS Iron Duke (known affectionately by its crew as the Iron Duck due to a tendency to waddle), the flagship of the grandest fleet of the greatest navy ever to sail the seven seas. It sat accusingly in its box for a year or so until no longer able to bear the shame I last week took the myriad of tiny pieces out of the box and began to ‘build’ it.

Unfortunately, I had failed to tell my wife of two important failings that had slipped between the cracks of nostalgia. First, as a shipbuilder I was complete rubbish. Second, my childhood purchases were invariably models of the German battleship Bismarck which with a firework inserted inside (a ‘banger’ in English vernacular) invariably and rapidly met a watery demise in the stream outside my house. It was a happy 1970s childhood. Entirely in keeping with past efforts some hours into the project both the glue and the paint seemed to have gotten everywhere except where intended. This project was clearly going to take far longer, cost more and become a real mess. Just like the F-35 Lighting II.

To mix my metaphors the F-35 is fast flying into a tipping point. Estimated at $237.7m per F-35B and $236.8m per F-35C costs have doubled since the original estimates of its manufacturer Lockheed Martin. Moreover, the plane will not now see service until sometime “after 2016”. Last month the Japanese warned they would cancel the contract if prices inflated further and Italy cut its order by 30%. This month the Pentagon announced that it was delaying an order for 179 F-35s which surprise, surprise will push up the price further. Having made a decision in 2010 to re-design the carriers for F-35C, the potential British flip-flop back to the F-35B (which has half the range and can carry half the weapons of the F-35C) threatens to destabilise an already precarious British defence strategy. The Dutch? The savagery with which they are cutting their defence budget and the rate of climb of F-35 costs means that they will probably only be able to afford one F-35 and only if they scrap the Dutch Army and Navy.

What has gone wrong? Essentially the F-35 suffers from what is known as the 80-20 problem; expecting a system to do too much too soon given the available and untried technologies being built into it on the budgets available. This has been compounded by the savage cuts to defence budgets that have taken place in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Moreover, the project management of Lockheed and its government partners has left much to be desired, further complicated by American concerns about technology transfers and the shifting needs of clients. The only saving grace is that it has made Europe’s incompetent weapons-makers look positively nimble by comparison.

What to do? For the Europeans there are two options – scrap or pool. Take the British as an example. In London’s position I would reconsider F-35 not simply in terms of cost but defence strategy. It is evident that with the US shifting towards a maritime strategy and with a main aim of British defence policy to have sufficient deployable military power on call to influence Washington the two aircraft carriers are more important than the F-35 per se. In such circumstances it would make far more sense to buy a proven system off the shelf, such as the US F-18 or French Rafale, and equip them with the latest avionics and weapons systems.

By adopting such an approach the British could afford a full fifty aircraft wing for the carriers, including airborne early warning. Striking such balances is one function of sound defence strategy. Alternatively, all the European F-35 end users (Britain, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway and Turkey) could pool their respective efforts and look for economies of scale and maybe invite Australia, Canada, Israel and Japan to form a new end-users group to exert more control over the bloated US-led procurement process.

If not I suspect F-35 will suffer the same fate as my Duck - it too will probably never be completed.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Sixty Years of Royal Duty

Alphen, the Netherlands. 21 March. Edmund Spenser’s 1590 Faerie Queen was an ill-concealed homage to Queen Elizabeth I, one of England’s greatest monarchs. “Ill can he rule the great that cannot reach the small”, he wrote (note the somewhat gender-bending concept of kingship in the sixteenth century). He could well have been writing of Queen Elizabeth II, who yesterday addressed both Houses of Parliament in the majestic St George’s Hall on the occasion of the official launch of her diamond jubilee; the celebration of sixty years on the throne. The fourteenth century gothic monument is the centre-piece of the Palace of Westminster and all that is left of the palace from which her eminent forebear ruled.

House of Commons speaker, John Bercow, demonstrating yet again his self-serving talent for the ill-timed and inappropriate, called the Queen, “the kaleidoscope queen’. He suggested that Her Majesty has been at the forefront of change as England slowly at first and now with great and ill-considered haste continues on its way to no longer being the England I once knew and loved. In fact the Queen has been the opposite. She has managed to confer upon a troubled country an aura of stability but has done so in the absence of nostalgia, which for an octogenarian monarch is quite an achievement. Indeed, she has been personally responsible in no small measure for much needed reassurance without which the revolutionary change and national decline that has taken place in her reign could well have descended into chaos.

Now, I am no royal flunky, far from it. Indeed, I find the whole edifice of the Royal Household at times absurd and arrogant. There are people within it who have really earned the royal patronage they enjoy because of the service they have given both society and country. There are also those within the Household who continue to look down their rather snooty upper-class noses at the rest of us in spite of having done little else in their lives than to have been born into the right family. Yes, twenty-first century Britain still suffers from such class nonsense.

So, why do I, a Yorkshire democrat, believe so firmly in the Queen and the institution of monarchy? It is a question those of you unlucky enough not to have been born English will doubtless find puzzling. The short answer can be found about a mile (no kilometres here) down the road in the House of Commons. The merest glance at Britain’s politicians is enough to convince most sane British people of the value of and need for a constitutional monarchy.

That said the monarchy can ill afford to be complacent. This most permanent of institutions has survived democracy precisely because it has been able to adapt and it will need to do so again. The affection in which Her Majesty is rightly held does not automatically extend to the institution of monarchy itself. The Queen has ‘ruled’ (she does not of course) with unusual intelligence and sensitivity to the sensibilities of an increasingly complex people and indeed those of the fifty-three other countries in her beloved Commonwealth. She remains head of state in some sixteen countries. She should, of course, have been Queen of America, but the Yanks were ejected from the Empire for failing to understand the difference between rugby and football and coming up instead with an extended TV commercial which is neither.  The only time her assured grip of the public mood slipped was in the immediate aftermath of the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales. She has also offered sage advice to twelve prime ministers, occasionally reminding them of the distinction between the interests of their political party and that of the country.

However, without wishing to be morbid Her Majesty is in her late-eighties. Soon Britain, if it lasts, will need to consider a future without her. That will be a shock to many of us. She has been a constant during all my fifty-four years. When she goes the undoubted majesty she has conferred on the monarchy will doubtless go with her. She is after all the last Imperial Britannic Majesty. His Royal Highness Prince Charles to my mind will be a good king, albeit in a very different manner as he too shares a deep understanding of the needs of a restless people. As for Prince William, he is very much a man of his era and far less stuffy than many in the Household that serves him. Therefore I am confident that in future the monarchy will indeed learn to be more modest, like the country it serves and like the monarchy here in the Netherlands.

So, not only am I confident that the monarchy will survive but it shall continue to enjoy my support and loyalty. That might, as I say, seem strange to foreigners, but it is simply our way of ordering power in a complex state. And, to have an institution at the head of state that is by definition bipartisan and above the political fray is to my mind a very real blessing.

Thank you, your Majesty for your sixty years of duty to our country. I remain a humble, loyal citizen of the country you head, but you will forgive me if I will never be your subject. Those days are gone. And no, I am not looking for a knighthood. An OBE (Order of the British Empire) would be nice though.

Lord Lindley-French of Bramall Lane

Monday, 19 March 2012

Marius Montius Caesar: A Latter Day Shakespearean Tragedy?

Rome, Imperial Capital. 19 March, 2012 AD. “Beware the ides of March” a Soothsayer warns Caesar. Marius Montius Caesar is made Dictator of the Roman Republic to save the Republic in the name of the Republic. Critical is the support Caesar enjoys from the heads of the two leading families of the Empire, Angela Portia Merkela, formerly of the Germanic tribe, and Nicholatus Minimus Sarkozius, formerly of Gaul. Silvius Brutus Berlisconius, who has been deposed by Marius as leader of the corrupt, bloated Senate, plots his revenge. He utters bitterly, “I do fear the people choose Caesar for their king. I was born free as Caesar, and this man is now become a god”. The Roman die is cast.

Brutus Berlisconius, one time friend of Caesar, is all too conscious that his electoral chances depend on his playing to the fears of the Plebs now gathering in their uneasy impotence on the Appenine Hill across the deep valley of the Circo Massimo from the Capitoline where this great drama is unfolding. Caesar, gripped by the acute vulnerability of his position, has a vision of the fate that awaits him. Fatalistically he accepts that death “will come when it will come”. So, charged with his duty to save Rome from itself Caesar goes to the Senate to explain his plan.

Caesar is slain. As Brutus Berlisconius plunges a bloody dagger into Caesar the Dictator utters his final words, “Et tu, Brute”. “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”, cries Brutus Berlisconius, “I come here to bury Caesar, not to praise him”. Romans, he warns, would have been slaves under Caesar, before he departs to his luxury island for a party.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti is no Julius Caesar. He is a good man in a terrible position at a terrible time. However, his political (hopefully not personal) fate could be similar if he does not succeed in what is an almost impossible task – to drive down Italy’s public debt. As I walk the streets of this magnificent city and talk to Romans the mood here is one of uneasy calm.  The Italian debt hangs in the air like a gathering Shakespearean storm. The atmosphere is unworldly; a heavy calm before a cataclysmic social and political upheaval. Either Hannibal will bypass the city or the market barbarians will storm the ramparts. Cannae or Carthage?

My sources tell me that Monti sees himself being in power for no longer than one more year. He believes that not only will elections be necessary by then but that he and his technocratic government will have done all they can to stabilise Italy’s finances. If truth be told a year is probably nothing like enough time. Italy is a country wedded to debt. And, just like Caesar before him it was the failure of a corrupt political class that put the Republic in danger. Indeed, Italy’s politicians have traditionally survived on a system of patronage which has encouraged over-mighty subjects and special interest groups. Europe and the Eurozone was seen by many of them merely as a means to extend patronage via the cheap money that the Euro afforded. Indeed, the moment France and Germany broke the Euro’s stringent rules it became open season for many in the Italian elite to use government to over-spend.

Therefore, Monti faces a terrible choice.  If he does indeed go in a year or so and hands power back to a political class that shows little or no sign that it will mend its ways financial oblivion will beckon and Monti will be accused of a dereliction of duty. However, if Monti hangs onto power indefinitely he will be accused of being a latter day Caesar hell bent on destroying the ancient virtues and freedoms of the Republic. Italy, far more than Greece, will be the true test as to whether or not the Euro’s empire can survive the assault by the market barbarians. And, of course, Brutus Berlisconius waits in the wings.

Italy is a serious country with serious people who have deserved far better from their past leaders. In my years living in Florence, speaking the language, studying the place and the people I was constantly struck by the daily battle that was fought out between the state and the people. It is a battle that continues apace.  It is now one in which the future of Europe not just Italy is at stake. The Italian people deserve our support…and our vigilance.

As for the Eurozone crisis, the ides of March may indeed have come.  “Ay, Caesar, but not gone”.

Julius Livy-Cicerench

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Obameron versus Merkozy

A NATO military base somewhere in deepest England. 14 March. I could tell you where I am but then I would have to kill you. I have just spent the day annoying NATO generals, the majority of whom are British, which is one of my purposes in life. Much of the day was spent by the British explaining the debt-fuelled contradiction that is likely to be Britain’s future defence strategy – to remain close to America whilst relying more on NATO. On the face of it such military parochialism might seem a world away from the Obameron high politics/grand strategy taking place in Washington.  It is not. Let me start with the high politics first.

Officially Obameron will consider the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, and of course the joint position the US and UK will likely adopt at May’s NATO Chicago Summit. It is also clear from the red carpet treatment PR-Meister Dave is receiving in DC that the Americans again see a wider significance to the ‘special (yawn) relationship’. After many months of the Merkozy duarchy assuming the right to speak for Europe Obameron are in effect formalising the new fault-line in the transatlantic relationship. Berlin and Paris be warned; Obameron will henceforth contest the European strategic piece with Merkozy.

Those of you out there who react to this statement with bewilderment and object to my suggestion that the German Chancellor and French President could be acting out of anything but the most altruistic of impulses have something of a point...but only something. The Eurozone crisis needed leaders and Germany and France had to act. However, like any power capital Berlin and Paris are complex places with a range of complex political and strategic motives.  A clear sub-text from the start of the duarchy has been the establishment of a precedent for the future leadership of Europe by Berlin and Paris. It is leadership that neither America nor Britain will ever accept.

Many continental Europeans simply do not understand this and they need to. ‘Liberty’, as defined by national parliamentary democracies exercising sovereign will, was precisely what the Americans and British fought for together and died together in their millions in two world wars. The ‘political’ system on offer today for future Europe is not parliamentary democracy. For one I desperately do not want my country to leave the European Union. However, the plutocratic/technocratic path the EU has now taken threatens a shared Anglo-American heritage in which I also passionately believe to make Europe safe for democracy.

This brings me back to my meeting here in xxxxxxxxxx. The fatal flaw in London’s logic is to equate NATO with the US. NATO is increasingly a European organisation in which the Americans have at best a waning passing interest. To rely more on NATO means the British relying more on continental Europeans. Not only are the defence budgets of said Europeans in meltdown, but even more importantly so is the political will to use legitimate force and crucially Britain's at best meagre political influence in Europe is also in meltdown.

The contradiction in British defence policy is thus clear.  On the one hand the British want to save money by relying more heavily on a NATO command structure in which the US has little interest and on European partners that either do not want to act with Britain or simply cannot.    On the other hand the British want to stay close to the Americans militarily even though that will cost a lot of money, especially so as the Americans are about to make the final break from a land-centric defence strategy with Europe at its core to a maritime strategy which does not at all have Europe at its core.

Is there a way out?  Possibly, but it is a long shot. First, Chicago must reaffirm the principles of national parliamentary sovereignty the defence of which is NATO’s core mission. Second, Britain, France and Germany must be seen to come together and reaffirm the idea of a united Europe established firmly on the principles of national parliamentary sovereignty. Third, the very practical defence pact that France and Britain share must be expanded to include Germany so that Europe’s new strategic triangle could then begin Europe’s long road back to strategic seriousness.

There is one thing that all parties to this schism need to understand fast; the stakes are very high indeed.  Fail and Obameron versus Merkozy could be just the beginning of a strategic realignment that would in time render the Channel wider than the Atlantic.

Mind you what could come next does not sound at all appealing – Romron versus Merkholl?  Heaven forbid Merkland-e!

Julian Lindley-French

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Tough but Correct Call Prime Minister!

Alphen, the Netherlands. 12 March.  The 7 March attempt to free Briton Mr Chris McManus and Italian Mr Franco Lamonilara from Nigerian kidnappers by Britain's Special Boat Service (SBS) and Royal Marine Commandos British ended in failure.  Tragically, Mr McManus and Mr Lamolinara were killed by their captors.  The Italian President has attacked London for launching the raid without informing Rome prior to the operation. 

Regular readers of this blog know that I have my issues with what I regard as Prime Minister Cameron's lack of strategic vision and his tendency to cave-in to London's supine officials at key strategic moments, particularly over Europe.  Not on this occasion.  The 'go' decision took real steel.  These operations are always intelligence-led and sometimes action must be taken at very short notice.  Moreover, there are a thousand things that can go wrong in what are by definition extremely high-risk operations.

Of course I deeply regret the killing of the two men and my heart go out to their families.  However, there is a deeper point; once again British forces put their own lives on the line to save the lives of others.  I can understand Italy's frustration as London and Rome are close.  However, the Italian Government may also wish to reflect on the dangers British and Nigerian forces were willing to face to free their citizen.

There is also a wider point that informs the future of Britain's armed forces.  The very fact that Britain could put a significant force of very specialised troops into Nigeria is a significant precedent that must be factored into the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review.  Britain's twenty-first century military must be built around a small but very specialised professional army, deliverable and protectable by small but global reach naval and air forces of the highest quality centred on the two new super-carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. 

To realise such an 'influence force' Britain's political class will have to lift itself out of the mire, nay the cult, of self-imposed decline into which it has fallen.  Indeed, the decline management culture that pervades Westminster and Whitehall was reflected in last week's House of Commons review of the National Security Strategy in what was otherwise a solid report.  As per usual the politicians simply accepted Britain's decline as a fait accompli.  Yes, it is true Britain will have to confront a twenty-first century world in which new actors emerge.  However, London's political class routinely exaggerate the strength of others, and routinely exaggerate the weakness of Britain.  This is supported an elite bureaucratic class that too often questions Britain's right to strategic influence and to keen to appease reality.

Quality is the key to Britain's future strategic influence; quality of thought, quality of strategy, quality of action and quality of force.    

Thank you for making a tough but correct call Prime Minister.  I am sorry it did not work out as planned.

Julian Lindley-French


Friday, 9 March 2012

Is it Time for a Nuclear Mutual Assistance Pact?

Alphen, the Netherlands. 9 March. Is it time for a Nuclear Mutual Assistance Pact? Yesterday’s ‘P5+1’ statement urging Iran to enter into “serious dialogue” on its nuclear programme “without preconditions” suggests the danger of nuclear proliferation is now so real that something new is needed to prevent it. The statement is also an important precedent. The very fact that the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States have come together with Germany demonstrates the gravity of the growing crisis. As British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, if Iran gets nukes others will follow.

Israel and Iran are clearly on collision course. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Tuesday night US speech made it clear that time is running out and Israel will “…not live in the shadow of annihilation”. Netanyahu was to some extent exaggerating for effect and talking to a particular audience, but Israeli perceptions cannot be ignored. Indeed they are central to this crisis. A Nuclear Mutual Assistance Pact would reinforce Chapter Seven of the UN Charter which allows for self-defence by authorising the P5 to act in the event of a nuclear threat including the use of military force if the threat was imminent. The immediate purpose of the pact would be to stabilise the Middle East. As Hague implies if Iran gets the bomb Saudi Arabia, possibly the Gulf States and others will doubtless follow.

However, the pact would also be designed to reinforce the failing 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty. The first atomic bomb was exploded in 1945 and the first modern missiles flew in 1944. Such is the pace and scale of technology creep that nothing that old can be kept forever in a locked treaty box, especially when a treaty reflect a past age. Sooner or later the bomb is going to spread well beyond the current eight nuclear powers. Indeed, an uncomfortable truth is that sooner or later the world is probably going to have to find a way to properly police a multi-multipolar nuclear reality.

Under the pact the five nuclear UN Security Council Permanent Members would immediately and collectively threaten an offender with overwhelming military action and render humanitarian assistance in the event of an attack. The pact could be established as an addendum to the Non-Proliferation Treaty which was extended indefinitely in 1995. The pact would also authorise the establishment of criteria for ever-tougher sanctions for unauthorised possession of nuclear weapons. Of course, sooner or later consideration would also have to be given to what President Obama called in his 2009 Prague Speech “Global Zero”, or general and comprehensive nuclear disarmament. However, that would be then, not now.

Part of the problem is that facing up to the reality of nuclear proliferation is simply too uncomfortable for leaders and publics. They simply want the problem to go away. Indeed, there are even people out there who have convinced themselves that Tehran’s ambitions go no further than the peaceful exploitation of nuclear power. That is the latter day equivalent of holocaust-denial.

If action is not taken the threat that Israel launches an air-strike against Iran will grow. At some point Israel may judge the threat so great and the chance that conventional air strikes do the job so unlikely that a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Iran becomes an option. Israel possesses an estimated 250 nuclear warheads at Dimona. Remember, there is an extra dimension to Iran-Israel relations that makes this particular nuclear stand-off particularly dangerous. Alternatively, the Western powers offer an exclusive nuclear mutual assistance pact solely to Israel with all that entails for the Middle East...and the transatlantic relationship.

The price of proliferation will also strike closer to home. The very fact of a world with multiple nuclear powers would undermine the ability of the great power to shape events. Indeed, for all the fancy conventional forces the Americans, Chinese, Russians and their like may in future possess the whole point of nuclear weapons is that they equalise and neutralise power. The only way to stop the drift towards a very dangerous nuclear world would be to make the possession of them hideously costly and the use of them utterly ruinous.

The simple truth is that like it or not we are indeed entering a new nuclear age. And whatever the situation in the Middle East we need to start thinking about new control, verification and if necessary punishment regimes for those states that might contemplate using nuclear weapons. The nuclear genie is not yet out of the bottle but the lid is getting looser by the day.

We need to act now.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

In Honour of Britain's Afghan Fallen

Alphen, the Netherlands. 7 March. Today it was announced that six British soldiers serving in Afghanistan are missing presumed dead. Five of them were serving with The Yorkshire Regiment, my own county regiment, and the other with the Duke of Lancaster Regiment. My heart goes out to the family and friends of the fallen. They were part of a sustained British effort that stands second only to that of the United States in its commitment to bring peace to the people of Afghanistan. Today’s sorry tally takes the number of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan past the 400 mark since British troops first deployed in 2001.

In the House of Commons today Prime Minister Cameron paid fitting tribute to the men. He also re-iterated the determination of his government to maintain the commitment of British troops to Afghanistan prior to the planned drawdown of combat forces at the end of 2014.  Prime Minister Cameron also reaffirmed the three reasons for the continued presence of British troops in Afghanistan: to prevent the Taliban returning to power in Afghanistan; to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming an ungoverned space for terrorists to exploit; to keep violent Islamism at strategic distance from Britain.

My support for Britain’s troops is absolute. For much of the past ten years I have worked on Afghanistan, I have been to Afghanistan and I believe passionately that Afghans be afforded every opportunity to live at peace with each other and their neighbours. However, in honour of my fellow Yorkshiremen I must warn the Prime Minister that he needs to make a much better case for the continued sacrifice of our young men. He can no longer continue to trot out now tired mantras to justify the sacrifice.

First, the claim that Britain’s troops are fighting and dying in Afghanistan to keep Islamism at strategic distance is hard for the British people to accept when in the past decade over a million people have been permitted to enter the United Kingdom from some of the most conservative parts of Islam. Second, Afghan President Karzai yesterday welcomed “guidelines for women” from the Ulema Council which he funds. Comprised of senior clerics the Council demanded that women must henceforth wear headscarves, be permitted in public only if escorted by male family members, and forbidden to work alongside men. If brought to pass such restrictions would undo much of the progress made since 2001. The British people will not understand the sacrifice of British forces if all they are doing is keeping Afghanistan warm for the post-2014 return of the Taliban. Third, my sources tell me that President Karzai and much of his senior cohort are preparing for a swift exit from Afghanistan should things turn ugly. It needs to be made very clear to President Karzai that he can expect no taxpayer-funded safe haven in London. There can be no Mayfair apartment if he fails.

Britain’s armed forces, working within NATO and with American and other allies, have achieved much this past decade. Unfortunately, however effective a military campaign, whatever the number of Afghan soldiers and policemen trained, it will be as nothing if the political strategy fails. Indeed, the only purpose of military campaigns is to create the conditions for a just political solution. The Talibanisation/Pashtunisation of the Afghan Government would dishonour our troops. 

Next week in Washington Prime Minister Cameron will meet President Obama. There would be no better tribute to the fallen of both America and Britain than for President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron to re-state clearly their political strategy between now and end 2014. Specifically, we the British people need an urgent answer to two simple questions; what is the specific political objective you seek in Afghanistan and how do you intend to achieve it? The answer is now not at all clear. You need to make it so.

In honour of our Yorkshire fallen – God’s Own County!

Requiescat in Pace.

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Refused Bail: Christopher Tappin Update

Alphen, the Netherlands. 6 March.  65 year old English businessman Christopher Tappin has been denied bail by a US court because he apparently poses "a flight risk".  Mr Tappin, who was extradited from England to the US under an unbalanced extradition that blatantly favours Americans, is to be tried for allegedly selling batteries that could be used to fire Iranian missiles. He denies the charges.  Not surprisingly Mr Tappin's wife Elaine believes the decision by Judge Robert Castaneda to keep him in custody as "heartbreaking" and an "outrage".   The judge had agreed that Mr Tappin could be monitored if released, but still decided to refuse bail citing what he described as discrepancies in Mr Tappin's financial statement. 

Sadly, the British Government is doing nothing to ease Mr Tappin's plight which is fast bordering on the cruel and inhumane punishment banned under English law.    This is not least because no date has been set for his trial, he is solitary in confinement, allowed out from his cell only one hour in twenty four, denied reading materials and forced to sleep with lights shining day and night.  He has also been refused effective communication with his defence team to prepare for his trial. 

For those of us who have been life-long supporters of the United States, believers in American justice and who have defended America from its many critics Mr Tappin's appalling treatment must force a re-consideration. London feebly suggests that the matter is now entirely for the US courts to decide.  Apparently, the human rights of English people abroad is no longer of interest to Her Majesty's Government.  Indeed, it now seems Mr Tappin is being unjustly punished by the Americans precisely to make a point that in the US we English are seen as second-class citizens.  There is at least some consistency in this because we English are also seen as second-class citizens in Britain too these days.

Julian Lindley-French 

Monday, 5 March 2012

Big Weekend for the Big Brothers

Alphen, the Netherlands. 5 March. This has been a big weekend for the big brothers. President-elect Vladimir Putin somehow managed to get himself ‘re-elected’ in Russia. He should next time try to become EU President as the system is by and large the same. China announced a paltry 11.2% increase in defence expenditure, whilst at the same time highlighting ‘disappointing’ economic growth figures of 7.2%, the lowest ‘for decades’, which is never a good combination. Meanwhile, President Obama, speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), said that the US “will not hesitate” to use force to stop Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, but says diplomacy could still succeed. All three events imply a rocky road ahead.

What is also interesting is that all three events take place against a backdrop of change at the top of world affairs. Indeed, four of the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council are either in the midst of election campaigns (France and the US), or handover campaigns (China and Russia). The only one that is not is Britain. However, Britain today cuts a rather forlorn figure of a Permanent Member with a government in London patently running out of both ideas and steam leading a country that due to self-inflicted decline is losing influence by the day - both in Europe and the wider world. France is locked into the Eurozone crisis and increasingly a surrogate of Germany, Europe’s only real power of influence, albeit power of a distinctly soft nature. So, what does this moment of change imply for world peace?

President Putin claims to have won over 64% of the vote this weekend but amidst allegations of vote rigging the figure is probably nearer 50%. It is clear that Putin has lost a lot of support across Russia and his term could face significant challenge from an increasingly vocal big city opposition. Like many a previous Russian leader he seems to be leaning towards nationalism as a means to shore up his regime. Two weeks ago Putin wrote that “For Russia to feel secure and for our partners to listen carefully to what our country has to say,” Russia will about $775 billion by 2022 for new armaments and a more professional military. That will be a heavy burden for the Russian economy to bear but the intent is clear.

Beijing’s announcement this weekend that it will grow the Chinese defence budget by 11.2% in 2012 (although slightly lower than the 12.7% in 2011) is but the latest double digit increase. Indeed, China has been growing its military at that rate since 1989 and the official figures are probably ‘conservative’. What makes this year’s increase interesting is the timing. It is likely that Vice-President Xi Jingping will succeed President Hu Jintao when he steps down in 2013. Xi is known to be close to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and his accession will doubtless strengthen the influence of the forces and with it their sustained access to investment. Worryingly, during Xi’s recent visit to Washington the Americans tried to interest him in new military-to-military exchanges. They were met with a flat ‘no’.

President Obama’s weekend warning to Iran comes in the wake of Israeli President Shimon Peres saying that Iran “was a danger to the world”. What makes Iran particularly worrying is that Teheran is also in the midst of what passes for democracy in the Islamic Republic and with it an implied power struggle between the clerical elite and radical elements around President Ahmadinejad. Worried that Israel might be tempted to launch a preemptive strike against Iranian nuclear sites President Obama said, “Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment – I have a policy to prevent Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon”.  Cue confrontation - soon!

It is not simply leaderships that are changing (well, sort of). Russia, China and the US are also changing their respective strategic orientations. Russia is increasingly looking east towards China.  Expect and increase in the Kremlin’s anti-Western rumblings and tensions in the High North and with Ukraine over the coming years, not to mention another stand-off with NATO as it tries to update its collective defence structure.

China is beginning to move beyond the Strategic Harmony which has driven its growth-friendly foreign policy for many years. Beijing is also beginning to use the wealth it has generated to begin to assert itself both in its own neighbourhood and beyond. With the PLA now ascendant one can expect a more techy relationship between Beijing and its neighbours and, of course, with Washington.

For Washinton real difficulties lay ahead.  The US is drawing down both its global military and diplomatic footprint even as forced obligations expand. Rather like Britain in the 1930s, which could no longer defend its Eastern Empire, the Suez Canal and the home base, Washington is being forced into hard choices. Implicit in both Beijing’s and Moscow’s defence hikes are efforts to make America’s choices just that bit harder. Were they up to the task the UN’s two other Permanent Members, Britain and France, would realise the game that is afoot and re-discover true strategy. It is vital London and Paris assist the US by exploring ways to take the pressure of an over-stretched America by leading efforts to maintain stability in Europe and its neighbourhood.

Tragically, it will also mean that 'in-between' places such as Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, together with a host of others, will see little concerted humanitarian action as big brother politics again paralyses the United Nations.

Julian Lindley-French

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Mark Easton's Attack on Britain

Alphen, the Netherlands. 3 March.  Mark Easton is the BBC's Home Editor. It is a mark of the BBC's shift to the political Left that Mr Easton has been appointed Home Editor.  On the BBC website today Mr Easton has written an extended blog questioning what it is to be British.  In fact this is just the latest of a series of Mr Easton's serial attempts to undermine the concept of Britishness.  His basic point is that Britishness is all things to all people and is therefore nothing.  He occupies the usual space of the Left on this issue by implying that all other countries - the French, the Germans, the Dutch and the rest of course have national identities but not we British.  He also regularly champions all minority identities particularly against the English and is quick to find any range of excuses for law-breaking and criminality.  In Mr Easton's world no-one is ever responsible for anything unless that is one is English.  He is a Scot by background. 

Precisely because Britain is comprised four of consitituent nations (and thanks to hyper-immigration many more now) being British is by definition a construct.  However, that is the point - it is an important construct that offers a complex society a chance of social cohesion without which no society can function.   The whole point of Britain has been to establish a common identity sufficiently strong enough around which we can all gther. Moreover, we British all live on an island called Britain and are therefore British simply by association with the rock that keeps our collectiuve heads above water.  

In fact Britain has been both successful idea and defined place. Take it from my Dutch neighbours who have no problem with understanding Britishness.  Not least because by and large the Dutch are also pretty comfortable with the multiple identities that each of them possesses. 

What Mr Easton and his friends on the Left really seek is an end to Britain as an idea and the BBC should have nothing to do with that.  

If you value your reputation for balance and objectivity BBC then get rid of Mr Easton before he does any more damage.

Julian Lindley-French 

Friday, 2 March 2012

Onion Blarney

Alphen, the Netherlands. 2 March. Irish wit Oscar Wilde once said, “Before you call for one for one for the road, be sure you know the road”. Europe’s road has now been chosen. With today's signing of the European Fiscal Stability Treaty (or Treaty of Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union to give it the sexy title)  who knows where the road will eventually lead. However, the inference is clear – fiscal union. Do the people of Europe have a say? 

No.  The extent of the changes being pushed through with this treaty go far beyond “fiscal consolidation as an essential condition of higher growth” as called for in a letter by the German and French duarchy. Without any reference to 'we' the European people Herman van Rompuy has been made EU president...again. Maybe it is my age but I do not recall ever having elected ‘Mr’ van Rompuy. As such he is no president of mine. Clearly, being Greek the Onion's euro-aristocracy have decided this democracy thing is not for them. Mr van Rompuy's 're-election' merely confirms that.

PR Meister David Cameron is of course twittering from the margins into which he cast himself by retreating from his principled position of 8 December. Cameron is fast becoming a parody of Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher. She once famously said, “U-turn if you want to, the lady’s not for turning”. Be it over Europe, health care reform, immigration and asylum policy, Scottish independence and a host of other things that matter to the British people Cameron’s mantra is ‘U-turn if you want to, if you are at all nasty to me I will turn with you’.

To cover his somewhat supine political back he has wrangled 11 other European leaders into signing a wholly meaningless ‘letter for growth’ which he wanted inserted into the final communique of today's summit. Far from demonstrating his influence the letter merely serves to highlight his impotence. Over dinner last night Cameron complained that his calls for a growth-friendly reduction in Omission bureaucracy were being ignored by the European Omission. Really, David?

The true test for Cameron will come when the Omission accelerates efforts to impose a financial services tax of which Britain will pay 80% to save a currency of which it is not part. There is no such thing as a free tax. The very growth which Cameron needs is now under severe threat from the ambitions of Germany, France and the Omission. All the PR-Meister has done has delayed the final battle and what a battle royal it will be. Will Cameron be King Arthur or King Harold (Battle of Hastings and all that)? Sadly, I suspect the latter. The last few months have revealed a sad truth about Cameron – more iron maybe than iron ‘lady’. He is no leader.

Cameron apart what really matters at this summit is what is not in the headlines – the quiet but inexorable retreat from democratic oversight implicit in this treaty. Not for the first time it is the Irish, long used to dealing with over-bearing power, who have revealed a dangerous sleight of political hand. Not far from Cork lies the Blarney Stone, a block of bluestone built into Blarney Castle. According to legend, kissing the stone endows the kisser with an ability to tell wonderful tales, to flatter and to coax the unwary. Perhaps the Irish should send the stone to Brussels where it clearly belongs. 

The Irish are about to hold their third referendum in four years because of all Europe’s people they know blarney when they see it. Although the new treaty is not an EU-treaty per se the fact and nature of it means it will be seen as such. Sadly, this treaty makes it much easier for the euro-aristocracy to ignore the people of Europe. In the past fundamental changes to the way the EU did business required all member-states to ratify a treaty at national level either via parliamentary vote, popular referendum or both. However, this treaty establishes a precedent which gravely undermines this principle of unanimity and replaces it with a new kind of what is called qualified majority voting in Onion-speak. If there is one principle over which Cameron should have stood his ground this is it.  He did not. 

The problem for the euro-aristocracy has been the rather annoying tendency of Europe’s people to say 'no'. Back in 2008 the Irish people said ‘no’ to the Lisbon Treaty. They were then told to vote again until they got the answer right. The same happened back in 2005 when French and Dutch voters rejected the putative European Constitution, only for it to reappear in another form pushed through by the euro-aristocracy. To avoid 'we' the euro-peasantry inflicting another such inconvenience on the euro-aristocracy the new treaty now requires the approval of only 12 countries to enter into force.

Even if the Irish people say no it will be meaningless. The leadership of Germany will be confirmed and with it the unaccountable influence of the European Omission will be extended as the Onion takes one more step on the road to Imperium. Of course our Dear Leaders as per usual have omitted to tell we peasantry about all of this as it would be far too hard for us to understand. Rather, the suffocating shroud of the ‘Brussels omerta’ has once again been draped over what passes for democracy these days in Europe.

Why is this important? A close friend of mine was having dinner with a very senior official from the Omission in Washington recently.  After a good glass of claret or two the latter explained that the European elite had always pushed forward its integrating project using what he called the “strategy of creative crisis”. By said gambit crises such as the Eurozone crisis are seen by the Omission as an opportunity. The trick, the official explained, was first to create panic and then to use that panic to push for more power for the Omission. Recognise it?

Oscar Wilde also said, “A man who does not think for himself, does not think at all”. Maybe, just maybe, a dose of Irish bravery might just wake up Europe’s slumbering masses to what is taking place in their name...and at their expense.

Erin go Bragh!

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Christopher Tappin Update

Alphen, the Netherlands.  1 March.  You may recall that last week 65 year-old Englishman Mr Christopher Tappin was extradited to the US under the terms of a wholly unbalanced extradition treaty.  Under the treaty British citizens are deemed to enjoy an inferior status to American citizens.  Even though Mr Tappin's alleged crimes never took place in the US the Americans who demanded his extradition were able to do so because the British Government refuses to afford the same level of legal protection to British citizens as the Americans insist are applied to their own.  Today I have learnt that Mr Tappin, who is yet to face trial and is therefore innocent, is in solitary confinement, has had all reading materials confiscated, is forced to stay in his cell 23 hours out of 24, with lights shining 24 hours out of 24.  The aim seems to be to cower Mr Tappin into accepting a plea bargain and plead guilty even if he is, as he claims, innocent.  I am a friend and ally of the United States and have long stood up for the US often at a profound cost to my career here in Europe.  I will remain a friend of the United States.  However, the treatment of Mr Tappin is shaking my belief in American justice.  I am particularly saddened that a citizen of such a close ally should be treated as though the presumption of innocence no longer exists - a concept of justice that both America and England are meant to share and for which we have fought wars together.  As for the British Government it is doing little or nothing to protect a British citizen.  Nothing new there then. Were Mr Tappin a foreign national the British Government would be pulling all the stops out...and getting the British taxpayer to fund the bill.  As Mr Tappin said, "It is a disgrace". 

Julian Lindley-French