hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 30 April 2012

Pakistan: The Hotel California of World Politics

Alphen, the Netherlands. 30 April. Pakistan is a nuclear power with a population of some 187 million of whom between 25% and 30% live below the UN-defined poverty line situated in just about the most fraught place on the planet. This weekend’s tragic and brutal murder of Red Cross aid worker Khalil Dale has once again brought home how dangerous Pakistan is...and how important Pakistan remains.

The Western intervention in Afghanistan deeply destabilised an already unstable political balance between Pakistan’s two largest ethnic groupings the Punjabis (45% of the population) and Pashtun (16% of the population). Whatever efforts are made to stabilise Afghanistan post-December 2014 without a Pakistan that enjoys a return to some semblance of political balance then such efforts are likely to fail. Pakistan is at the epicentre of instability in central south Asia and what happens there will affect us all.

When I visited Pakistan’s capital city Islamabad I was struck by how Islamabad is itself a metaphor for Pakistan – a beautiful but in many ways artificial creation sitting precariously between Punjab and the Pashtun tribal lands (the rather optimistically-named Federally-Administered Tribal Area) - built to bring some formality to chaos.

That the Islamic Republic of Pakistan works at all as a country is something of a miracle. Until 1971 Pakistan was far bigger as what is now Bangladesh was once East Pakistan but was lost in a disastrous war with India. Within Pakistan a venal elite too often put personal interests above and beyond those of the people. The Pashtun are really a separate 'nation' divided by a meaningless 1897 border between Afghanistan and Pakistan drawn by British colonial administrator Henry Durand to make London’s life easier. From its 1947 founding by Jinnah on independence from Britain Pakistan has always been a delicate compromise between the peoples who live within its complex borders and those that seek bits of it from without.

When I was briefed by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence the sheer scale of the challenges, risks and threats faced by the Pakistani state were all too apparent. Bordered by nascent superpower India to the south, real superpower China to the north-west, the dangerous space that is Afghanistan to the north and the difficult Iranians to the West Pakistan’s strategic reality has never been nor never will be an easy one.

The dispute between India and Pakistan over Jammu Kashmir has only gone on the back-burner because of Afghanistan, but it is still hot. Indeed, the inability of the NATO-led coalition to stabilise Pashtun southern Afghanistan is made more difficult by Pakistan’s need for ‘strategic depth’ in the event of a future war with India. India is also active therein to frustrate Pakistan and to ensure the Pakistani Army is forced to look north and south simultaneously.

China is Pakistan’s main but fickle ally - my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Pakistan will be the epicentre of any future nuclear turbulence between China and India. The Americans, in spite of the Af-Pak strategy, have poured billions into Pakistan without ever really understanding the place or the people.  Critically, they have lacked any real vision of what a relatively stable regional political, economic and, of course, communal settlement would look like. Indeed, Washington has too often seen Pakistan as a function of Afghanistan and paid insufficient attention to Pakistan itself. London? Too tied up in post-imperial political correctness and an appalling and self-imposed lack of strategic ambition to make use of the influence levers it still retains. Britain is strategically broken…and broke.

As the West considers Afghanistan's future it must also now consider its future support for Pakistan. Far from being a ‘small nation a long way away’ as Chamberlain once said of Czechoslovakia, what happens in Pakistan will ripple outwards into east Asia, south Asia, central Asia, Russia and the Middle East.  It will also profoundly unsettle the many millions from Pakistan and Bangladesh who now call Europe their half-home.

It is easy to become frustrated with Pakistan. However, the West must redouble efforts to work with Pakistan and its people to find a long-term political settlement that makes Pakistan work. That in turn will require not just engagement and investment but a respect for Pakistan and its people.  

Mr Dale was a very decent, brave man trying to do right by the people of Pakistan and we should honour him by ensuring that such efforts continue. Pakistan is after all the Hotel California of world politics; you can check out any time you wish, but you can never leave.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 27 April 2012

Why We Need a Smart NATO

Madrid, Spain. 27 April. There is some contention as to who actually said it – Winston Churchill, Admiral Lord Fisher or Ernest Rutherford but in any case some Brit once said, “Gentlemen, we have run out of money. Now is the time to think”. Sitting here in the Spanish capital in the wake of Real Madrid’s exit from soccer’s Champions League and with the Spanish Government this week coming clean about poor Spain’s economic nightmare the mood was not exactly upbeat. My reasons for coming was to speak at an excellent conference organised by Spanish think-tank INCIPE on the need for a smart NATO. What, you will rightly ask, is a smart NATO and what has it got to do with the price of paella? A lot.

The simple fact of strategic life is this. We live in a world of some seven billion plus souls all with legitimate needs and aspirations organised unevenly into more instable power states and failing states than at any time since 1648 and the end of the Thirty Years War. Many regimes are legitimised not by the vote but by economic growth and are therefore inherently rickety. Military expenditure in some parts of the world (Asia) is going through the roof and with it the technology to send more destruction from more sources to more places far further than ever before. Feeling better? At the same time Europe is mutating from being a military pygmy into whatever is smaller than a pygmy (no offence to pygmies). The Euro (understandably) is all that matters in Europe but this is still dangerously strategically myopic.

European strategic myopia is making the world in which we Europeans live (quite a few of us like to pretend we do not) even more dangerous than it already is. This is because the second simple fact of strategic life is that the world is a lot safer when the West is strong and a strong West must necessarily include credible European armed forces. This is something the 'architects' behind Britain’s disastrous 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review forgot.  Once the British, a cornerstone power in NATO, had given up on the big security and defence stuff the other Europeans had the perfect alibi to do the same.

The third fact of strategic life is that security is the first duty of the state. So, to counter Europe’s palpable retreat from strategic reality NATO has come up with something that on the face of its looks like an oxymoron; smart defence. Indeed, whenever I have heard the word ‘smart’ used in conjunction with ‘defence’ it has always invariably meant doing less with less or rather nothing with nothing.  

Smart Defence will be at the centre of things at NATO’s May Chicago Summit and rightly so. In simple terms (not NATO policy) Smart Defence is essentially about maintaining NATO’s security and defence credibility in an age of austerity by better managing and co-ordinating defence cuts in each respective NATO member, being much clearer about the core capabilities (NATO speak) the Alliance needs, promoting far closer multinational collaboration and streamlining of structures to that end allied to better prioritisation of defence investments in the big, expensive stuff such as missile defence, strategic air lift and advanced deployable forces upon which the much needed modernisation of Europe’s defence is dependent. Got that? 

Smart Defence will also be critical in reaching out to new partners world-wide in what is now a global collective security effort at maintaining stability in a very instable world.  This is the very essence of legitimate security and defence. In other words Smart Defence is a new way of doing defence business and we need it.

For all its failings only NATO can do this. It has the mechanisms, experiences and critically the processes and structures to enact what should lead to a vital and American-friendly reform to the European defence effort. By the way, those of you Europeans out there muttering about the EU should confront a fourth strategic fact of life; given the world I describe the more we Europeans cut our own defence investment the more we will be forced to rely on the Americans.

However, to succeed NATO will need the support of all its members if it is going to pull Smart Defence off. The economic crisis calls for far greater defence solidarity than before, the reverse is happening in Europe. That is not absolve the Yanks. Americans talk much about a single transatlantic defence market and cheaper defence procurement.  However, the US Congress seems to think that is simply ‘American’ for making the Europeans buy American and experience of American-led defence projects has been disastrous.  Washington will need to up its game.

In other words if NATO leaders at Chicago fail to support Smart Defence with real political leadership, including not a small amount of personal political risk for some of them, Smart Defence will end up littering the corridors of failing power like all the other ‘smart’ initiatives to date. And, given the pace of change in the world, this could be our last chance to get it right.  Give NATO the tools and let the new NATO show it can deliver. 

Being smart is never that easy. If indeed it was Admiral Lord Fisher who voiced that famous quip then it took place in the midst of the Anglo-German naval arms race one hundred years ago prior to the First World War. Of course the British found a uniquely British solution to the lack of money for building very large battleships (super-deadnoughts) which proved yet again just how defence smart we Brits can be. The government wanted six, the loyal opposition four - so we compromised on eight!

Smart Defence; we ran out of money and had a think…for once. Hasta la vista, baby!

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

How Much Europe Are the Dutch Willing to Pay For?

Alphen, the Netherlands. 24 April. Half-time in the Eurozone Crisis. Last week I was attacked for lacking European zeal, whatever that is. The attacker was one of those pretend think-tanks that sit in the EU’s Brussels nest with mouths agape pleading to be fed by their ‘parent’ Europeans institutions just so they can tell said institutions what they want to hear. Brussels group-think and the fawning sycophancy of much of Europe’s intellectual community goes a significant way to explain how and why the Euro-Aristocracy (national leaders and the Brussels EU elite) have led we the European people into this mess. The key question is evident in this week's fall of the Dutch government; how much Europe are the Dutch (and other northern and western European taxpayers) willing to pay for? 

Tomorrow I fly off to Madrid which is very much at the sharp end of the Eurozone crisis with the Spanish people facing an uncertain and painful future. Here in the Netherlands the government fell ostensibly over the need for further cuts in public spending to meet Eurozone debt limits. However, lurking in the Dutch political shadows is a much more existential question; how much I as a Dutch taxpayer should pay to keep Spain and the other indebted Eurozone countries afloat?

Let me take Spain first. A proud, decent, noble people are facing the fight of their lives if they are to recover from the financial and economic crisis that has enveloped them. Youth unemployment is now over 50%, a level that simply cannot be sustained for long without profound social instability. Yes, one can blame successive Spanish (and Greek, Italian and Portuguese) governments for spending too much but that was the promise of EU membership – invest in your economies and you will be under-written by the rich northern and western Europeans and in time we all will benefit from a European super economy. That ‘contract’ is now broken.

Flip back some fifteen hundred kilometres north to my village here in the Netherlands. People here are angry because they feel they are being conned. They sense instinctively that their political leaders are misleading them about the depth and the extent of the Eurozone crisis. In the absence of honest leadership there is now a very real danger that Europe’s political middle will fail and that the ensuing political vacuum will be occupied by the political extremes of left and right. This weekend some 18% of French voters opted for the far right Front National in the first round of the French presidential elections.

People here also suspect that one of the real reasons for the cuts in what is by European standards a relatively healthy Dutch economy is to create a massive contingency reserve to keep economies afloat such as Spain’s when the second-half of the Eurozone crisis shortly kicks off under the renewed attacks of the bond markets. That reality was implicit in last week’s demand for more money to prop up Europe’s ailing currency by the distinctly French boss of the IMF, Christine Lagarde. It was also the reason US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said no, Europe, he said, must do more. At least he was being honest.

And it is this issue of honesty that is at the heart of Europe’s growing political crisis. Indeed, I am tired of being lied to in the name of Europe. The simple truth is that if the Euro is to be saved transfers from the northern and western European taxpayer will need to be enormous and to last for decades.

As for my European ‘zeal’ it remains what it always was; a belief in a strong Europe of nation-states tightly aligned in alliance. I have never believed in a federal European super-state and never will. I simply do not trust Europe’s political elite enough to let them loose in my name and yet so far from me that democratic accountability all but ceases – the very essence of a federal Europe. That would be taxation without accountability and that is how we ended up in this appalling place in the first place. And yet that is the choice which we Europeans now face.

What is needed is a European Marshall Plan similar to that the Americans funded at the end of World War Two to rebuild Europe’s war-torn economy. Treat me like a grown up and I would support such a plan but only if the Euro-Aristocracy a) come clean about the cost; and b) and show me a plan that could work. The cost of supporting Spain and the others will be such that public services in the Netherlands will be profoundly affected – be it health, education or defence – and for a very long time. So, just be honest about that. Thus far all the Euro-Aristocracy have done is to pour my good money after bad in a failed effort to stabilise Greece whilst trying to hide from me both the severity of the challenge and the paucity of thinking and planning at the top.

Cuts are of course inevitable in a growth-free economy but some cuts make more sense than others. The first thing I would cut would be some of those silly, pretend think-tanks in Brussels which have too often substitute prejudice for analysis and help turn challenge into disaster. As for me I am a real European precisely because I am prepared to face facts. I am not, however, any longer prepared for the Brussels federal Europe fantasy.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 20 April 2012

The Comprehensive Approach: Groundhog Day?

Wilton Park, England. 20 April. For the past few days I have been acting as Rapporteur for a large conference on enhancing and improving civil-military interaction in crises – the so-called Comprehensive Approach. The fifty heavy pages of notes I have before me testify to the intense nature of the debate and the challenge of writing the conference report. Over a decade of attending such conferences I have often felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day; forced to attend the same conference over and over, albeit with different people ‘discovering’ the same revealed truth and coming to the same ‘solutions’. Thankfully, that will change – either we once and for all get this stuff right or we will soon lose. And it is this focusing of minds that gives me some limited grounds for limited optimism.

The world is changing, Western influence is declining and with it a self-appointed luxury to experiment with security. Eleven or so years ago I attended a similar conference in Washington. It was prior to 911 and I remember being struck by two things. First, anything was possible – this was America’s moment, and by extension that of the West. Second, all problems looked like a nail and thus needed a sharp hammer in the form of the American military. Now, talk to capitals and nothing is possible, the end of the West is nigh and all problems look like jelly for which our militaries are useless. This shift is not just a function of relative economic (and thus power) decline but the contemporary influence in government of the counter-terrorism and/or humanitarian community who see every conflict as of a terrorism and/or humanitarian nature - jelly.

Frankly, given the world it would be stupid for Western militaries to forget about winning wars. There will be big wars in this big century and military fighting power must not be sacrificed simply to make the civil-military interface work. That would be simply fighting the last war better. What is needed rather is strategic common sense and a new balance between the two.  Indeed, as strategy gets bigger and resources fewer the need for synergy-led partnerships both between states and across the peace community will only grow.

For all that it beggars belief that ten years into the Comprehensive Approach many key people still refuse to get the vital importance of an effective civil-military interface. At the strategic level capitals and institutions (EU, NATO, UN etc.) talk endlessly about the need for ‘high-level buy in and adequate resources but never really confront the shortfalls. At the operational level there is still too much inertia behind the [US] military desire to focus only upon killing people and breaking things. In a recent planning conference in Afghanistan a friend of mine had “to start from scratch” with senior United States Marine Corps officers and explain the very basics of the Comprehensive Approach and why integrated civ-mil planning might be just be a useful thing to do. Thankfully, this does not extend to all branches of the US military nor all militaries. The British in Task Force Helmand have had the value of a real civil-military partnership knocked into them through painful experience. With the end of major combat operations in Afghanistan scheduled for end 2014 the instinct will be for many Western (particularly European) powers to hunker down rather than engage. If that happens when the West awakes not only will it find itself to have been fatally eclipsed but all the corporate memory of shared best and not so best practice across a host of civil-military operations will have been lost.

Judgment and action is therefore of the essence. NATO is critical to this and much good work is being done particularly by SHAPE (NATO’s strategic military command headquarters) to bring key civilians and military together as part of a new mechanism for interfacing with similar planning and command structures in other serious international institutions – both governmental and non-governmental. However, NATO’s Brussels headquarters needs to get its act together.  In spite of Secretary-General Rasmussen’s clear instruction to implement civil-military training across NATO HQ he has been by and large ignored. There has been neither a report on progress, nor real resources assigned to the task.  Tellingly, the project was placed in the charge of a junior official in the personnel office (of all places).

Therefore, if NATO’s May Chicago Summit is be more than another glorifed and expensive talk-fest the Secretary-General must get a grip of the Comprehensive Approach, inject real energy into NATO’s own efforts and then reach out to critical partners by once and for all by searching systematically for best practice across the civilian and military community. Only then will there be any chance of real unity of effort and purpose in Afghanistan’s transition. Any later and frankly it is too late. One place to start may be his own Copenhagen where the Danes are doing excellent, practical work. No theology; just getting the right people to do the right job irrespective of whether they wear a uniform or not.

This conference was indeed just a little different which means it could finally be the last time I attend it. A safe world needs a strong West and a strong West must champion effective civil-military partnerships.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 13 April 2012

When History Comes Home

Alphen, the Netherlands. 13 April. No, this is not yet another Titanic metaphor! American historian David McCullough once wrote, “History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are”. The other night I had first-hand experience of McCullough’s dictum. Seated close to me on the top table of the Thirtieth Anniversary Falklands Command dinner was Field Marshal the Lord Bramall, one of Britain’s most innovative and respected soldiers. Field Marshal Bramall had played a crucial role during the Falklands Conflict alongside Admiral Fieldhouse, Commander-in-Chief Fleet, who in many ways was the key figure in winning the 1982 war. He also pioneered the Fifth Pillar arguing that there needed to be much tighter co-ordination between British foreign and defence policy and that in the field defence attachés could be used much more effectively as agents to such an end. This is the kind of innovative thinking that ‘cost-reduction at any cost’ London should be considering today.

However, it was not the Falklands Conflict or the Fifth Pillar that was the topic of our chat but rather the 1944 liberation of a small Dutch village very close to my own – Goirle (pronounced HHHorla - that Dutch ‘G’ that sounds like ‘HH’ and which still causes me grief). I hope I do not embarrass the Field Marshal by relating what happened next but it is a story modern Europe should hear and remember.

Goirle has grown somewhat since 1944 and I am sure Field Marshal Bramall would not recognise much of it. However, in October 1944 British General Dempsey’s Second Army was ordered to clear the area south of Tilburg where I live. On 25th October, 1944, led by the British 4th Armoured Brigade in the centre, and flanked by the Royal Netherlands Brigade on the right and the 1st Polish Armoured Division on the left, Second Army moved northward on the road from Turnhout close to the Belgian border, via Poppel and on towards Tilburg, Baarle-Nassau and my own village Alphen. The specific objective was to clear Goirle of Germans prior to taking Tilburg and Breda the two major towns in the area. This was an advance covering some twenty-five miles (30 kilometres) in distance.

Then Lieutenant Bramall was amongst the most forward elements of the drive north. On the edge of Goirle he met a Dutchman on a moped and asked him if there were any Germans left in the village. The Dutchman said no and bravely offered to take Lt. Bramall into the centre of Goirle to see for himself. It is possible that the Dutchman in question was part of the local Resistance as there was a very active Resistance cell south of Tilburg which played a heroic role by providing a pipeline to smuggle downed allied airmen back to Britain. The Germans had left and in effect Lt. Bramall liberated Goirle on his own, although he is far too modest to say so.

By 28th October Tilburg had been cleared as Second Army moved towards its main objective of clearing the entire south of the Netherlands below the River Maas. Towards that end, 4th Armoured Brigade first cleared the Tilburg-Breda road, whilst the Poles drove on into Breda and the Dutch move forward to the East.

It will not be long before all the veterans who took part in that great campaign of liberation are gone and the least we can do is to remember what they did for Europe. For me as an historian there is no greater thrill than to meet someone who played such a role at such a time in a place that I know well. It brings history to life and reminds all of us that have become unreasonably comfortable and complacent in the present that peace is not guaranteed. It has to be safeguarded and at times fought for. Goirle today is plump and prosperous even in the midst of the Eurozone crisis but it owes its freedom to a man I sat next to at dinner last week and many of his ilk from many a nation.

As we Europeans get tetchy with each other over the Euro and a raft of other irritations it might serve all of us to remember from time to time the many Lt. Bramall’s of this world who rendered to us the freedom we have to be openly critical of each other. It also reminds me at least that freedom can never be taken for granted even in a place as wealthy and as well-heeled as this.

History is after all who we are and why we are the way we are…and history came home to me last week.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

War and Peace in the Middle East

Alphen, the Netherlands. 11 April. Tolstoy writes in War and Peace; “What is the cause of historical events? Power. What is power? Power is the sum total of wills transferred to one person. On what condition are the wills of the masses transferred to one person? On condition that the person express the will of the whole people. That is, power is power.” What happens in Egypt and Syria these coming months will decide whether or not there is to be war or peace in the Middle East and tip the balance of power between Iran and Israel one way or another. If leaders emerge in Cairo and Damascus that are vehemently anti-Israeli then Iran will be strengthened and Israel more isolated than at any time since 1973. If leaders emerge that reject Iran’s interference, particularly that of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Syria, then Iran will be isolated and a new buffer established between Tel Aviv and Tehran. These are the geopolitical stakes.

In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood is likely to emerge as the strongest political force. By far the best organised of the political parties now contesting the 23-24 May presidential elections the Muslim Brotherhood has said that in government it will honour all of Egypt’s international agreements. Equally, the mantra of the Brotherhood is decidedly Islamist in flavour, “God is our objective; the Koran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations”. Particularly strong in conservative rural areas there is little to suggest the Brotherhood are natural democrats. And, in spite of its Sunni roots there are also signs of improving relations between the Brotherhood and Shia Persian Iran on the basis that ‘my enemy’s (Israel) enemy is my friend (Iran)’. If that is indeed the case a Cairo regime controlled by the Brotherhood would rub uncomfortably against Israel’s southern border.

In Syria the situation is of course far more messy and far more deadly for the Syrian people who are dying daily in droves. With the Annan Peace Plan about to fail (and it will) and the UN Security Council profoundly split along the new fissure lines of grand politics Iran will be encouraged in its efforts to prop up the Assad regime. The Syrian opposition and the 40,000 strong Free Syrian Army are receiving at best verbal support from the West but little else. A mixture of the new geopolitics, US presidential elections, European strategic ineptitude, stabilisation fatigue and a tendency now to see all conflicts as either a) humanitarian; and/or b) terrorism-generators (or both) rather than strategic calculation have led both America and Europe to miss the point - leaders therein are obsessed with the technology and have missed the strategy. Iran cares nothing for the fate of the regime or the Syrian people but if it can establish a puppet government in Damascus and change Egypt’s foreign and security policy orientation then Israel will again be surrounded by enemies and anti-Israeli proxies such as Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas will be immeasurably strengthened. If that should happen (and it is still an ‘if’) expect Iran to start working to undermine the Hashemite Kingdom in Jordan and an already instable Lebanese government.

The bottom-line is this; the West is missing the point of Iranian strategy. It is not to seek a direct nuclear confrontation with Israel but rather to divert the Arab Spring into a new anti-Israeli coalition which shifts the correlation of forces in Tehran’s favour and then work to foment a new Arab-Israeli war from which Persian Iran gains. Iranian nukes would simply provide a guarantee that Iran itself would not be attacked.

If Iran succeeds war in the Middle East will become almost inevitable and likely sometime after the Egyptian and US presidential elections but before Iran begins to weaponise its nuclear programme. Tel Aviv is fully aware of Iran’s ‘grand proxy war’ plan and will not permit Iran to simply dictate the pace, nature and direction of an anti-Israeli coalition.

The so-called EU 3+3 (Britain, France and Germany plus China, Russia and the US) will meet shortly to see if they can overcome their deep differences over how to dissuade Iran from its nuclear programme. Little progress can be expected. However, they should at least consider the wider power context of Iran’s regional-strategic ambitions and what it could mean for war and peace in the Middle East. If not then the US and its European allies need to come together and consider their own actions.

As Tolstoy once said, “In historical events great men — so-called — are but labels serving to give a name to the event, and like labels they have the least possible connection with the event itself. Every action of theirs, that seems to them an act of their own free will, is in an historical sense not free at all, but in bondage to the whole course of previous history, and predestined from all eternity”.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 6 April 2012

In Honour of the Falklands Victory

Pangbourne College, England. 7 April. “Be pleased to inform Her Majesty that the Union Jack once again flies over Stanley. God save the Queen". Those famous words of Brigadier-General Moore resonated last night as I was accorded the singular honour of giving the keynote address at the Thirtieth Anniversary Falklands Command dinner before Britain’s Chief of Defence Staff and the officers and men who had led Britain to victory in 1982. This blog remembers Britain’s stunning victory in the South Atlantic and the defence of freedom through the use of legitimate military power that was its driving force.

My specific purpose was to pay tribute not just to the living but to the 252 British servicemen who did not return from the campaign and the 775 who were wounded in a campaign with I am intimately acquainted. This was not a cost-free conflict. They never are and the Argentinians who fought and died for their country were ever present in my mind and I honour them as well.

However, I also spelt out a warning to Britain’s leaders; the aura of power which Britain will need in what is going to be a big and dangerous century is itself in danger of being lost. London is daily retreating from sound national strategy into a ‘recognise only as much threat as we can afford’ view of the world. Given that warning what was achieved back in 1982 is as relevant to today’s Britain as past Britain.

My theme was British élan - the determined pursuit of a just strategic goal with a style and assurance that is itself power. Élan is something more than men and kit. It is a strategic brand that can change things even before a bullet is fired. 1982 saw a Britain that like today had retreated into a muddled foreign and security policy with strategy made elsewhere. 1982 saw a country in conflict with itself with many of the same doubts and tensions as today. And yet somehow the British armed forces defied the all-pervading sense of national decline of the time and lifted the country above the management of decline so beloved of so much of the political and bureaucratic elite.

Thirty years ago through valour and sacrifice three invaluable victories were won. First, a fundamental principle was defended which was far bigger than the islands or the Islanders – the right of self-determination and the use of great power to that end. Second, ally and adversary alike was shown that the spirit of Britain pertained and that an old great country still understood how to exercise strategic influence. My friend Professor Gwyn Prins told me that when he was in the Advisory Group to former Soviet President Gorbachev back in 1990 Gorbachev told him that it was the Falklands campaign that in part convinced him that the Soviet Union could never win the Cold War. Gwyn also told me of a senior Russian who recently remarked that, “the things we once admired about Britain are today the things that you despise”. Third, a tired and fractious British people at the end of a long, tired and fractious decade were reminded that Britain was more than a place, it was an idea in which still to believe. No post-imperial basket-case but a powerful modern country that could when push came to shove distinguish between values and interests; principles and parochialism.

Where next for British influence? Today a very new idea is needed; an all-national unity of effort and purpose. That will mean inviting all in these islands to be British, rather than trying to turn Britain into what my old friend Lord Glasman calls a mini-United Nations. This is mission critical as we sink ever deeper into the swamp of political correctness that is eating government and society from within with self-doubt.

Strategically and militarily, as Britain move towards a 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review ‘strategy’ will need to be put back into ‘strategic’. For Britain’s armed forces that will mean a modest but nevertheless global role alongside a maritime-strategic America, those Europeans still able and willing to face up to their security responsibilities and the rebuilding of old relationships in the Commonwealth. Central but by no means exclusive to British influence will be the creation of truly joined-up armed forces in which no one service owns land, sea or air and which are themselves part of truly joined-up security policy led by a national strategy worthy of the name. State-of-the art armed forces that are projectable, deployable and sustainable built of a tight concept of fighting power for which the British armed forces are renowned.

Above all, Britain’s leaders must hold their nerve, just like Margaret Thatcher back in 1982; all the basic components are in place for a powerful modern navy, army and air force. This century is not going to get any easier and like it or not whatever happens in there is no hiding place for Britain. Britain will need its capable armed forces.

Thirty years ago the mission was not simply to rescue the Falkland Islanders from a brutal dictatorship, critical though it was. It was to save Britain from a visionless self and to make a proud people feel again the right to be proud by being on the just side of right.

As Europe crumbles and America stumbles Britain is thus faced with a choice: to retreat into irrelevance and put up with whatever an unjust world throws at it; or to galvanise itself as back in 1982 and set out to shape the world for the better. “For God’s sake, act like Britain”, former US Secretary of State Dean Rusk once demanded of George Brown. In 1982 Britain’s armed forces did just that and showed the world a great country that could rise above the daily grind of party game and blame to which today the British people are too often subject.

There is no greater honour I have ever been or will ever be accorded.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 2 April 2012

Joint Strike Fighter II: The Best is the Enemy of the Good?

Alphen, the Netherlands. 2 April. Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the 1982 Argentine invasion of the Falklands about which I will say more later in the week. Last week I wrote a piece about the spiralling out of control costs of the ‘Fifth Generation’ F-35 Lightning II all-singing, all-dancing multirole combat aircraft. A long supporter of the F-35 I have become profoundly concerned that the ‘balance’ between cost, value, capability and delivery is now so adverse for the non-American members of the US-led consortium that alternatives must be considered. My focus in the last piece was on F-35B and F-35C, the navalised versions of the aircraft, but my concerns apply across the range. Not surprisingly I received a fairly heavy carpet-bombing from the airmen of several nations supported by their allies in certain defence companies. Therefore, in the interests of fairness I went back and did more research and confirmed a simple truth; the unit cost of each F-35 has now reached astronomical and quite frankly indefensible levels.

The research was further encouraged by comments from two very senior military people whom I respect and like enormously. One is a very senior British ex-naval officer and the other a senior Dutch ex-air force officer. The Royal Navy man expressed real concern to me as to whether some twenty years into the project the short and vertical take-off (STOVL) F-35B will ever work. The Dutch air force officer recalled the time in the late 1990s when he was the Dutch Defence Attaché in Paris and was acquainted with a study into the relative costs of the F-35 compared with the French Dassault Rafale fighter. At the time the Dutch could have bought 85 F-35s for the price of 58 Rafales.

Compare that figure with those of today. The 2012 fly away costs for each Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and F-35 are as follows: Rafale $90.5 million; Eurofighter Typhoon $104 million; F-35A $197 million; F-35B $237.7 million; and F-35C $236.8 million. The F-35 will also incur in-life costs of over $1 trillion over a life-cycle that was conveniently stretched out some time ago from a conventional thirty to a highly suspect fifty years. What technology today enjoys such a lifespan even if one can separate the platform from the systems on board?

To be fair the alternative I suggested for the British and their two new super-carriers was to buy FA-18s off-the-shelf but this option would also involve cost. Indeed, whilst the 2012 fly-away costs for the FA-18 would be some $66.9 million that would be balanced out by the likelihood that the plane would be obsolescent within twenty years.

The causes of this procurement mess are themselves telling and reveal (not for the first time) original cost and performance estimates that never stacked up. Moreover, as a precedent for revolutionary US-led multinational procurement co-operation of a cutting edge ‘big ticket’ aircraft F-35 is a sorry tale.  A March 2012 Forbes article by US defence industry insider Loren Thomson offers six US reasons for the F-35 procurement prang which shakes my British/European confidence in the project to the core. First, whilst the F-35 was to be procured on a plan to hold down costs the plan has been simply ignored with the economies of scale central to the plan based on massively inflated numbers. Second, cost estimates for the F-35 were issued that no-one understood. In 2011 the Pentagon gave figures to the US Congress that the politicians could not understand and which actually undersold the aircraft. Third, whilst Lockheed Martin, F-35’s prime contractor, has been repeatedly blamed by the US Government for cost increases the bulk of such cost increases have been caused by the US Government. Specifically, Washington has changed the way it calculates support costs (whatever that means) and then blamed Lockheed Martin. Fourth, F-35 costs were never put into a meaningful competitor context, such as a detailed cost breakdown of alternatives. Fifth, the long-term consequences of delaying the F-35 programme have never been spelt out, nor indeed the impact of the F-35s rising costs on other key defence programmes. This is particularly important for the non-US members of the consortium. Sixth, the US has routinely sent the wrong signals to domestic and foreign audiences about Washington’s commitment to the F-35. Pentagon insiders attack the project on an almost daily basis.

Four things come out of Thomson’s study. First, the US has little understanding of what multinational procurement co-operation really means. Second, this is what happens when project engineers and their military counterparts operate beyond proper management. Third, what oversight has been forthcoming from Washington has too often come in the form of competing requirements from different services.  Fourth, there is always a price to be paid by partner taxpayers for investment without influence. Indeed, this is a mess made almost entirely in America.  Thompson offers a stark warning. F-35 “ the story of what happens to major technology programs in a balkanized, distracted political system when there is no danger to push them forward. Bureaucratic and personal agendas fill the fill the vacuum once occupied by the threat, and so programs seldom stay on track”.

Now, as a European taxpayer I am still prepared to fund this aircraft if I can be convinced that it will give European forces the tools to do their respective jobs at reasonable cost and risk over the fifty years claimed. However, that is not at all clear from either the airmen or the defence-industry people telling me I am wrong.  Indeed, I fear I am being sold a pup. So, just please tell what am I really going to get for my money, when and for how long?
The aim of F-35 was a military super-Ferrari on the cheap. However, as one senior officer put it to me, “we have ended up with a cross between a Ferrari and a Fiat”. That is one very expensive Fiat!

F-35: the best is the enemy of the good?

Julian Lindley-French