hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Free Speech: The Dangerous Conceits of Elites

Alphen, the Netherlands. 30 May. John Milton in a famous 1644 speech before Parliament during the English civil war famously said, “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties”. There is much debate today about the chronic democratic deficit in the EU, i.e., the failure of political elites to uphold the principles of parliamentary democracy, to listen with integrity to and respond to the reasonable will of a majority of citizens. However, the creeping conceit of political elites is not confined to Brussels. Indeed, it is a phenemenon that is strengthening across Europe, as governments fail to cope with the mess they have created, not least in Britain. Three events have occurred this week in London that reinforce the sense of an elite not just out of touch, but willfully misinterpreting the public mood.

Conceit number one concerns the EU. Justice Minister Ken Clarke said this week that MP’s calling for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU were “a few extreme nationalist politicians”. And yet, far from being the preserve of a few wild-eyed political mavericks some 90% of the population in a recent poll demanded a so-called ‘in-out’ referendum on membership of an EU that bears no resemblance to the one last voted for in 1975.

Conceit number two concerns the judiciary. Lord Justice Leverson is heading a ravishingly juicy public enquiry into press malpractice. Or, to decribe it more accurately, why successive prime ministers got too close to ‘The Sun’ king, Rupert Murdoch, and how they are justifying it. This week the Education Minister Michael Gove gave evidence and warned against the curtailing of free speech in the name of press controls. Lord Justice Leverson intervened to lecture Gove rather grumpily that he needed no lessons on the importance of free speech. Apparently he does and so do his legal peers. The whole thrust of English law over the past decade or so has been the promotion of political correctness at the expense of free speech. As Gove pointed out; sooner or later free speech offends someone and that on balance it is free speech that should be given the higher priority unless such speech incites hatred or violence.

Conceit number three concerns England’s now draconian race laws which are specifically designed to curb free speech. This week Jacqueline Woodhouse was jailed for twenty-one weeks for a racist rant on the tube (London Undergound). Anyone who has seen her rant on U-tube and her assailing of fellow tube passengers in the most foul and offensive manner can only conclude that she had it coming. Her comments were both a clear incitement to hatred and violence and utterly unacceptable. However, in sentencing her Judge Michael Snow showed just how detached the judicial elite have become from workaday reality in Britain.

Woodhouse said, “I used to live in England, now I live in the United Nations”. This might not be how the elite may see things but go to any pub, or sit on any bus (something I suspect Judge Snow does not do very often) and you will hear perfectly decent people – black and white - expressing similar concerns, albeit thankfully more modestly. The Woodhouse case raises the most profound question that neither the political or judicial elite seem prepared to confront; where does freedom of speech stop and racism begin?

This week the British Government announced that over the past year a further 500,000 plus people entered Britain. Immigration is still out of control and ordinary people have every right to express legitimate concerns about a fundamental failure of policy. And yet racism laws are being used to suppress dissent. 

Living in the political bubble of modern politics, sharing more in common with their fellow European elite members than their own voters and assailed daily by pressure groups, lobbyists and special interests it is all too easy for politicians to retreat into a kind of politically correct la-la land in which ‘the people’ become the enemy – to be manipulated and kept at distance but rarely represented. This retreat into conceit is as much a danger to democracy in Europe as the drive to distance what democratic accountability there is ever further from the voter in the name of political union.

Can any state be called a democracy if free speech is sacrificed in the name of order? That has been long the refrain of dictators as far back as Aristotle. Milton also warned that, “None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but licence”.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 28 May 2012

Europe's New German Question

Alphen, the Netherlands. 28 May. Almost sixty years ago to the day the European Defence Community (EDC) Treaty was signed in Paris. Under pressure from an America facing a possible war on two fronts – Korea and Europe the aim was to create a European Army that would see West Germany re-armed to provide manpower for the defence of Europe only twelve years after Nazi troops had marched down the Champs Élysée. The French agreed but only on the condition that German forces were subsumed into a supranational European military force. In a moment of prescience Winston Churchill said of Britain, “we are with them, but not of them”. Nothing changes. In essence the EDC concerned the German question - how to constrain German power and to reassure France. Nothing indeed changes.

The durability of this question was brought home to me during my time at the EU Institute for Security Studies in Paris over a decade ago. The many meetings and conferences I attended on ‘project Europe’ all had the same sub-plot, French elite concerns about Germany and its power, matched only by German elite concerns about Germany and its power. For many years German guilt and French fear was enough to fashion a sort of balance of power. No more.

The late 1980s saw two things happen that would lead us all to the precipice over which we are now staring. German war guilt began to wear off just as German re-unification began to push Germany to the fore. Both then French Socialist President Francois Mitterand and British Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher saw the danger and were profoundly concerned about the power and influence of a united Germany especially given the pending collapse of the Soviet Union.

Typically, Mitterand and Thatcher chose radically different paths. Prime Minister Thatcher sought strategic separateness from Europe and a close relationship with the United States. President Mitterand believed the only way to constrain Germany was via European integration. This was to be achieved first by monetary union, which had first been dreamed up back in the late 1960s, and ultimately political union. The 1991 Maastricht Treaty was meant to see the launch of this grand French plan and the drive towards political union without which monetary union would not only be difficult, but downright dangerous. In then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl Mitterand found an unlikely conservative ally.

However, the French and German elites engineering this great experiment in sovereignty faced three profound dilemmas. First, many ordinary Europeans remained utterly wedded to national identity, not least the French. Second, with the end of the Cold War the moral imperative to extend the EU to the east was enormous, even though ‘widening’ undermined ‘deepening’. Third, Germany championed ‘integration’ but refused to pay for it, just as today. As another senior German said to me at the time, “Germany does not really understand the meaning of solidarity”.

The British response as per usual was utterly idiosyncratic. London said that under no circumstances would it give up national sovereignty and then promptly did so as successive British governments transferred power to Brussels without any semblance of permission from the British people. Today, Britain is in the worst of all Euro-worlds – obligation without influence. Indeed, Europe has rendered the British state virtually powerless to control even its own borders with the possible secession of Scotland pointing to a United Kingdom of little utility nor advantage.

2005 was the moment the slow landslide began towards today’s uber-crisis. French, Dutch, and other voters rejected the proposed Constitutional Treaty that would have established the ‘ever closer union’ that may (just may) have led to effective governance of the single currency. Today, Europe is split in two between southern and eastern Europeans who see ‘Europe’ as a metaphor for wealth transfers from the still reasonably and temporarily rich northern and western Europeans; and German, Dutch and other taxpayers determined to resist what they see as a money grab by the structurally inefficient south and east. Under President Hollande France sits uncomfortably between the two camps.

Beyond possible currency collapse the failure to answer the German question sees Europe today faced with the two great dangers of this European age born of the past; the twinned democracy and sovereignty deficits. Neither the EU nor the EU member-states have the power any longer to act decisively. The capacity to act has been lost down the political black hole that is Brussels. This exacerbates a popular and utterly justifiable impression on the part of the European peoples of a self-serving and incompetent Euro-elite over whom there is little effective political oversight.

There is of course an historical irony to all of this. In 1954 the EDC Treaty failed because France killed it. It was a sovereignty step too far. There is no reason to believe that today would be any different.

Sixty years on history remains as eloquent as ever in Europe and there is still no answer to the German question…simply a new question; empire, union or nothing.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 25 May 2012

The Joy of Democracy

Alphen, the Netherlands. 25 May. Tahar Ben Jelloun wrote that Egypt has suffered more ordeals than other countries to get where it is. That may or may not be true but to see the enthusiasm of Egyptians as they queue in their millions to vote is joyous. For the first time in five thousand years and some fifteen months after Hosni Mubarak was ousted Egyptians get to choose their leader. Some fifty million people are eligible to vote for thirteen candidates with a run-off scheduled for 16 and 17 June in the event no candidate manages to get more than 50% of the vote.

For all the West’s focus on Iran, and this week saw but the latest round of ‘5+1’ talks in an effort to come to some accommodation with Tehran over its nuclear ambitions, the future of Egypt is THE strategic question for the Middle East and much of the world beyond.

It could of course all go wrong. Even though the Army leadership in the form of the Military Council says it will hand over power to civilian leaders in June it still seems to believe it can maintain an undue influence over the political process. Like all new democracies there is always the danger of ‘one man, one vote, once’. There will no doubt be numerous cases of voting irregularities from people denied a vote to stuffed ballot boxes. Those dangers are ever present.

There is also the danger that all new democracies face; that the defeated will not accept the judgement of the people at the ballot box. Such fears are heightened by the sheer range of opinion contesting the election. Those standing for the office of president match Islamists against secularists, and revolutionaries against Mubarak loyalists. The institutions of the Egyptian state never strong under Mubarak (apart from the Army) will doubtless be tested in the years to come.

For the West this is one of those tricky moments when it has to face up to the consequence of its own rhetoric. The fact of Egyptian democracy represents a victory for the idea of democracy and should help put to bed the ridiculous notion that Arabs neither ‘get’ nor aspire to democracy. And yet the outcome might lead to an uncomfortable reality for the West – a legitimate and legitimised Islamist regime leading the largest Arab state. That government may make choices the West will find hard to swallow. What relationship will the new Cairo seek with Iran? What relationship will it seek with the Gulf States and Saudia Arabia? What influence will the new regime seek in the troubled lands of the Maghreb? What role will Egypt seek in Syria’s tragedy? What relationship will Cairo seek with the West? Above all, what relationship will Cairo seek with the Palestinians and by extension with Israel? The choices the new Cairo makes could well decide the fate of the Middle East and the Mediterranean basin at least as much as Iran’s nuclear ambitions or, indeed, the Euro crisis. Peace itself could be at stake in the choices Egyptians are now making.

Whoever takes the presidency, be it the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in the form of Mohammed Mursi or the former foreign minister and Arab League head Amr Moussa these questions will remain acute. However, perhaps even more important than questions of foreign orientation will be the ongoing search for a just and durable political settlement that can help embed democracy, ensure that future handovers of power are peaceful and legitimate and that checks and balances are sufficiently robust to prevent the abuse of power that was all too evident during Mubarak’s grip on power. That more than anything will ensure a stable, balanced Egypt around which the Middle East will pivot.

Former Chinese Premier Cho En Lai when asked in the 1960s what he thought about the French Revolution of 1789 said that it was too early too tell. Egyptian democracy and the revolution that spawned it is still in its infancy. The challenge for the West will be to find a way to nurture democracy without giving the impression that it harbours neo-colonial ambitions. Egyptians are ever sensitive to the still recent experience of British rule and the Mandate established in the interbellum.

However, all these critical questions are for the future. For the moment I am simply going to savour the moment and humbly express my joy at watching millions of Egyptians execute and celebrate their democratic right at the ballot box.

It is the joy of democracy.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

When Will You Face Strategic Reality, Mr NATO Secretary-General?

Alphen, the Netherlands. 23 May.

Dear Mr Secretary-General Rasmussen,

You and I share at least one thing; a passionate belief in the Atlantic Alliance and the vital role NATO must and will play in the future defence of our peoples and the security and stability of a fractious and dangerous world. Given the importance of that vital mission when will you face strategic reality, Mr Secretary-General? Chicago did not. All we the NATO public got were the usual blandishments from you the uber-elite and nothing to suggest the Alliance is properly preparing for the very big, dangerous, ‘strategic’ future that is about to ambush the West. Frankly, the NATO you oversee is losing strategic momentum by the day and Chicago did nothing to address that.

There are in fact four right now strategic realites you need to grip even before you begin to defend me credibly. First, what role NATO in America’s global role? The strategic dissonance between the United States (and the other ‘Anglo-Saxon’ powers in the Alliance) and continental Europeans is now critical. As the United States ‘pivots’ away from Europe towards Asia-Pacific it is opening a yawning gap in NATO’s already tattered strategic purpose. An Anglosphere is slowly forming that in time will see Canada and the United Kingdom join the Americans in a new maritime-centric global strategy whilst continental Europeans fiddle around with a failing defence effort that will kill NATO. The Eurozone crisis will drive the EU inexorably towards a new political settlement that in time will doubtless see the EU assuming responsibility for Europe’s defence however incompetent that may be. Chicago did nothing to answer that.

Second, how can NATO contain the poisonous legacy of Afghanistan? One of the drivers of the Anglosphere is the impression amongst the Americans, British and Canadians that they have been doing too much of the dying in Afghanistan. There have been honourable exceptions to the continental European rule such as your own Denmark, and of course Norway. And, of course, I pay tribute to those Europeans who have given their lives in what is after all meant to be a common effort. However, France’s decision to leave Afghanistan prematurely only heightens the sense amongst the Americans, British and Canadians that continental allies can never be trusted to be there at the sharp end when it really matters, whatever happened in Libya. This patent lack of trust at the heart of Alliance will not only hinder greater shared reliance on the reformed NATO Command Structure but also suck the life from multinational formations such as the NATO Response Force which is a paper tiger. Chicago did nothing to answer that.

Third, how does NATO rebuild a sense of a shared popular will? North Americans and Europeans might share the same values but do they really share the same security and defence? There is an implicit contract at the heart of Alliance; the less powerful gain the security of the most powerful in return for the sharing of NATO responsibilities. Today, that contract appears to many in North America and Britain as ‘you’ have a responsibility to defend ‘me’ but expect nothing back. To mask free-riding European politicians routinely trot out the now tired mantra that the Alliance is bound by shared values but there is little to demonstrate the fact. At a time when financial pressures should be promoting greater defence synergy the opposite seems to be happening. No Alliance can survive the imbalance of investment, risk and effort that NATO today represents. Chicago did nothing to answer that.

Fourth, how is NATO going to balance strategy, austerity and capability? Given the nature and scope of defence expenditure elsewhere in the world it is evident that NATO must up its capabilities game. However, in spite of the broad brushes of the 2010 Strategic Concept there is little or no agreement about how to close the now gulf that is the strategy-capability-austerity gap. You make the right noises about smart defence, cyber-defence, missile defence, advance deployable forces and civil-military planning, which must of course form the basic ‘mix’ for NATO’s future defence. At the heart of this dilemma are NATO’s future core capabilites and agreement how they might be afforded and yet is not even clear what NATO’s core capabilities should actually be. Chicago did nothing to address that.

Until you answer these questions with real substance NATO summits will come and go surpassing each other in champagne irrelevance and you will find yourself presiding over a failing, second-rate generator of inadequate coalitions. The Alliance and we the NATO people for whom you work deserve better. All you are doing, Mr Secretary-General, is managing NATO decline and you seem to have no answer to that. Chicago certainly did not.

Yours sincerely,

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 21 May 2012

The G Fiddle, Dissemble and Wait Communiqué

Camp David, Maryland. 21 May.


1. We, the Leaders of the Group of Fiddle, Dissemble and Wait, met at Camp David on May 18 and 19, 2012 to pretend to address major global economic and political challenges. In fact we have not got a clue what to do and in any case do not agree about anything much but we did agree that we have no responsibility for the pending disaster which was caused by our predecessors. Does anyone know who that is sitting in the corner?

The Global Economy

2. We welcome the never-ending discussion on the Euro and we agree to continue to endeavour to give the impression we seek a strong and cohesive Eurozone. We are pleased that a nice dinner will take place next week in Brussels to maintain that pretence. Greece must remain part of the Eurozone until the day we throw them out. We will also talk endlessly about global stability and recovery in the hope that our respective electorates are stupid enough to vote for us again. We invited the Germans to pay for the mess as they started the war. They declined.

Energy and Climate Change

3. We will continue to pretend that to meet our energy needs we are committed to seeking clean technologies and a balanced energy mix. In reality we have no time for any of this ‘green’ rubbish given the pending meltdown of our economies. We will also talk a lot about climate change and to tell our voters it is a good thing, particularly for Britain which is fast becoming a tropical island. We have a long-established principle at the G Fiddle, Dissemble and Wait of ‘do as we say, not as we do’, and will thus lecture developing economies about the need for climate responsibility. To that end we will use lots of long words like ‘sustainability’, ‘efficiency’ and ‘renewables’ and call upon the United Nations to set up another committee to ensure nothing ever actually happens. Can someone please tell us who that is in the corner?

Food Security and Nutrition

4. This is a good one as it gives the impression we the former rich care about all those poor people who do not vote for us. We thus agree to talk a lot about poverty reduction in Africa. We will also make sure that trade tarriffs prevent any export of farm produce from Africa to our economies that might impact upon our subsidy-guzzling farmers, particularly in Europe. They are far too important a group to risk offending and in any case several of us own land.

Afghanistan’s Economic Transition

5. We have made a real success of Afghanistan. It is such a success that our French friends are about to leave prematurely the job having been done. Given our success we will continue to pretend that we share a commitment to a sovereign, peaceful and stable Afghanistan, and that what passes for a ‘government’ in Kabul will take ‘full ownership’ of its own security, governance and development so that in time (we define that as a couple of hundred years and well beyond our next round of elections) Afghanistan will be free of terrorism, extremist violence, and illicit drug production and trafficking. Most of us will move onto Chicago to discuss high-level strategic pretence at the NATO Summit. Much will be made of our ‘success’ in Afghanistan and we will also celebrate progress on smart pretence and missile pretence. Has anyone any idea who that is in the corner?

Transitions in the Middle East and North Africa

6. We will continue to say that the mess in the Middle East and North Africa is a good thing and mutter a lot about freedom, human rights, democracy (which we are in the process of scrapping in Europe), job opportunities, empowerment and dignity. Of course, we will not believe a word of it and in private express great concern about the future chaos that beckons. In particular, we really hope the Egyptians vote for our Islamists and that democracy never reaches Saudia Arabia as it is bad for the oil price.

Political and Security Issues

7. We remain appalled by the loss of life, humanitarian crisis and serious and widespread human rights abuses in Syria but will not do anything very much about it. We of course remain united in our grave concern over Iran’s nuclear programme but will not do anything very much about that either. To ensure nothing is done we call upon the EU to take the lead on both issues and to evince the same political leadership as shown over the Euro crisis. When it all goes wrong we can then blame Brussels. Everybody else does. He is still there sitting in the corner. He never says anything.


8. We look forward to meeting in Britain under the presidency of the United Kingdom in 2013 at the Fiddle, Dissemble and Wait Pub, just off the A44 main road near Leominster. If, of course, the United Kingdom still exists and the British can still afford to buy us a good lunch. We all had a nice time here and the food was quite good, even if it was American. The wine was of course rubbish. By the way, one of the sherpas tells us that the man in the corner is called Herman and he is from the EU. Good to have clarifed something.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Welcome To Merklande?

Tal-y-Wern, deepest, darkest Wales. 16 May. Plinlimmon, Cader Idris and Mount Snowdon slumber around me as I write (on a dodgy laptop).  Those great, sleeping Welsh dragons that legend has it will awake in the hour of Cymru’s (Wales) greatest peril.  This is Dylan Thomas country full of myth and the legends of failed struggles against the great beast to the east – England.  Sitting here listening to the sound of sheep and swallows, watching house martins dove and dive around me it is just about as far from the Euro crisis as it is possible to get these days in Europe.  And yet here it is, oozing from the political landscape like the metal-laden waters that seep from the ubiquitous Welsh slate. The second half of the Euro-crisis is now well underway and within the year I, the Dutch taxpayer, will either own all of southern Europe’s debt or the Euro will be in a death-dive and my savings with it.  That was the stark choice on the Berlin menu last night for Europe’s two most important politicians – Chancellor Merkel and newly-crowned President Hollande.

Bond’s the name-Eurobond.  Forget all the talk of ‘growth’. ‘Growth’ is but a French euphemism for the ‘mutualisation’ of southern Europe’s (and France’s) enormous debts in the name of ‘Europe’.  In much the same way as ‘austerity’ is a German euphemism for ‘hands off my money’.  You will hear a lot of ‘mutualisation’ in the months to come, reinforced by calls for ‘solidarity’ as southern Europeans seek to force northern Europeans to pay for their profligacy and northern Europeans try to limit their exposure to what could become a life-long dependency.
And yet something has to shift and President Hollande may have a point.  European civilisation began in Greece and may end there if decisive action is not taken. There is a humanitarian tragedy developing in Greece which is a disgrace to modern Europe. Can the need to support Greeks be separated from the now blindingly obvious – Greece’s exit from the Euro without bringing down both the single currency and/or European democracy?
To be frank the latter worries me more than the former. To British ears the ease with which the majority of southern Europeans seem prepared to abandon democracy for technocracy seems bizarre but then in most of Europe’s periphery countries democracy only dates from the mid-70s at the earliest.  And, of course, a drowning man will hang onto any piece of flotsam and jetsam and that is all that is on offer at present from Europe’s hopeless leaders.  What is also clear is that it will take far longer than hoped for southern European countries to be stabilised and cost far more. Whatever happens a plan is needed to that effect which does not simply create the excuse for further profligacy and at the same time offers people some hope. This is what we pay leaders for.

And what of Britain?   The mood on the farm here is pretty belligerent.  This time last year I conducted a ‘scientific’ survey in a pub in my native Yorkshire where the mood was clear – get us out of this mess. It is not of our making and we did not vote for it. Yesterday I posed the same question here and got the same answer.
Welsh native wit has a point.  If the only way Greece can recover is outside the Euro, the only way Britain can recover influence is outside the EU. Berlin and Paris have successfully used the EU to neutralise Britain which has become a kind of Belgium with nukes. Indeed, for the first time in a thousand years Europe has nothing to offer Britain and Britain nothing to offer Europe.  Worse is to come. To pay for France’s enormous debts President Hollande will insist upon a British-busting tax on financial transactions in the name of ‘growth’, ‘Europe’, ‘solidarity’ and ‘mutualisation’.  Indeed, the French seem to see Britain as a large, gagged cow tethered to the continent ripe for milking.  More likely than not in an effort to protect the German taxpayer from French ambitions for ‘growth’ Chancellor Merkel will accede to such demands.

Is there a middle way?  In the longer-term no but in the short-term one must be found.  Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg suggested recently that one of the most successful political entities in history could not survive without the EU and by extension the ‘guidance’ of self-interested Berlin and Paris. That is patently wrong. At the same time Britain needs to ply an active role in solving what is now a strategic crisis. However, if Britain is not actively courted as a strategic partner by Germany and France then Britain must instead focus its future on a dynamic world economy and will be forced to turn away from a European economy that will be in intensive and expensive care for years and a European political project that is inimical to the British interest. That is the other choice implicit in this crisis.  

The bottom-line is this; the only way to save the Euro is to move towards political and fiscal union via ‘mutualisation’ and ‘solidarity’. – Merklande.  To that end a European finance ministry and minister is just around the corner.  Forget talk of the single market – the Euro is the EU and the EU is the Euro.  And, the British should be under no illusions; Europe’s political elite will go to great lengths to protect the Euro – Europe’s quintessential political project. 

As they say in Wales – if we have to part let us do so as friends.

Merkozy is dead. Welcome to Merklande?
Julian Lindley-French        

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The True Meaning of Solidarity, M. Hollande

Alphen, the Netherlands, 9 May

Cher M. Hollande,

First, let me congratulate you on your victory. You are about to become president of a great country which is at the heart of European affairs and a major influence on world politics. Second, I accept that much of the scaremongering about your intentions is no doubt (hopefully) misplaced. You are an experienced politician who has been in and around power for many years and you will be fully aware of the realities all we Europeans face.  Only together have we the slightest hope of escaping from the many dangers that confront us. Third, let me apologise for my Prime Minister, David Cameron. Whoever was advising Mr Cameron to publicly support M. Sarkozy should be shot.

The February article in Le Monde was particularly ill-advised. It has been clear for sometime to anyone with even the slightest modicum of political sense that you were likely to be the next incumbent of the Élysee. The word on the political street is that Downing Street was being advised by the Paris Embassy. That does not add up. First, knowing the quality of British diplomats at the embassy I find it very hard to believe that they would make such a basic error of political analysis. Second, this has all the hallmarks of an incompetent Downing Street machine trying to shift blame for their own failings onto poor civil servants who cannot speak for themselves. Nothing new there then.

So, having got the Yorkshire political finesse out of the way (I know you French like that kind of thing) let me cut to the quick (this will help your already excellent English). No sooner had you won on Sunday than you went on radio to attack Britain for protecting our vital national interests. Put simply, M. Hollande, we are in for a very rocky road if we are to have another five years of you French blaming we British for being right about the Euro and then attacking us for a lack of ‘solidarity’ when we defend a fundamental national interest – the City.  This is even more galling when you French think it perfectly fair to protect French national interests often (and this really gets me) in the name of 'Europe'. Indeed, the logic of the interview you gave was essentially to attack we British for being right about the structural flaws in the Euro and then insist we pay for fixing it.

My point is this (yes, I have finally arrived at my point which given your ENA training will no doubt condemn me as another sloppy Brit); do not expect to attack us one day and then expect us to co-operate the next. Specifically, if you set out to impose a City of London-bashing Financial Services Transaction Tax you can forget co-operation over defence. You know as well as I do that some 90% of that tax will be paid by the City of London and that it will represent a direct attack on British strategic interests. You also know there is no such thing as a free tax and that not only will it damage the competitiveness of the City of London (a French strategic objective?) but damage the British economy and by extension the hard-pressed ordinary Briton.

In that light let me offer you two pieces of advice (I do not offer them ‘humbly’ as I do not do humble). First, given the context you may wish to avoid use of that tedious French word ‘solidarité’. You are about to leave for a NATO summit in Chicago at which you will announce the early withdrawal of France’s excellent troops from Afghanistan. I have had the honour on occasions of working with the French military and they do great honour to your great country. However, the bottom-line is this (as we say in Yorkshire), your early withdrawal will mean more British troops will die and we British (and Americans) have done too much of the dying in Afghanistan. For that reason we find talk of ‘solidarité’ just ever so slightly hypocritical.

Second, seize this moment to fashion a new start in what remains a critical Franco-British relationship. We need to accentuate the positives in our relationship (and there are many) to find a way forward for all Europeans at this difficult time. Specifically, we need an early British-French-German summit that can coldly and practically address all the challenges we face – economic, social and security. High level unity of purpose and effort is critical at this dangerous moment and all we are getting is division, discord and narrow political calculation. The Great European Crisis is a big strategic picture crisis needing big power strategic and systemic solutions.  Real solidarity means that at the very least Europe’s three major powers act together for the good of all. Without such an injection of strategic political purpose the institutions, be it the EU and/or NATO will fail and once again the ordinary European citizen will have been failed by you the über-élite.

So, in conclusion (yes, there is one) let us together put meaning into solidarity M. Hollande. Hold off on your Brit-bashing and treat us with the respect we deserve and we will reciprocate by working with you to build a relationship that can help get us all through the very turbulent days that doubtless lay ahead.

With sincere best wishes for your success in office,

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 4 May 2012

Made in China: Is America Losing its Grand Strategic Mojo?

Alphen, the Netherlands. 4 May. Former US Secretary of State Dean Acheson once famously remarked that Britain had lost an empire but had not yet found a role.  Sadly, many years later London’s strategic bankruptcy means Britain is still searching, but what of the US?  Nothing that has happened of late suggests an America that is thinking hard about how it will lead in the big, brave and dangerous world which is about to emerge from behind the mask of two wars and a sub-prime economy.  Is America losing the will to make grand strategy?     

On the face of it President Obama’s rather unconvincing commitment this week to “finish the job” in Afghanistan, China’s rather brusque rejection of American attempts to finesse the human rights of one Chinese activist and Hilary Clinton’s rather stuttering ‘big issues’ visit to Beijing are only tangentially connected.  
In fact the US needs Chinese support to get out of Afghanistan if it is to retain even a modicum of strategic honour.  However, the price Beijing will exact from Washington for helping engineer a modicum of stability in Afghanistan’s post-American space will be high.  In spite of the sacrifice of Western soldiers and the huge amounts of Western taxpayer’s money that has been poured into Afghanistan this past decade it is China that will extract Afghanistan’s high-value natural resources.  Beijing will also expect less criticism of its human rights and Chinese mercantilism. However, the real prize for Beijing will be geopolitical; it is China that post-2014 could well define stability in Asia if the US is seen to give too much ground.  
Tellingly, Hillary Clinton’s visit to Beijing was not the big news this week; that looked too much like a hard-pressed American administration seeking Chinese favours in election year.  The big news was the treatment of Chen Guangcheng – by both Beijing and Washington.  America remains the natural beacon for those Chinese discontent with the ‘we will make China powerful but do not question how’ deal the post-Tiananmen Communist Party has long offered its people. 

Afghanistan? For all this week’s talk of strategic partnership one year on from the killing of Osama bin Laden Afghanistan is old news in American politics.  President Obama promised to get America out of two contentious wars in Afghanistan and Iraq prior to November’s presidential election.  His two exit strategy is on track, if not on time.

So, for all this week's rhetoric America is beating a strategic retreat.  If that political retreat leads to a new global balance of power that is not ‘made in America’ Asia and much of the world beyond will come to reflect Chinese interests rather than American values.  The rest of us will be forced in time to occupy the sodden, swampy quicksand in between.  Such a world would take on the appearance of nineteenth century Europe – a cold, hard place in which change is driven by the narrow interests of narrow, cynical elites.  Absent American strategic leadership India will be forced to treat with China as the dominant regional power; Japan will be forced to look to itself for security and what price Taiwan? 

The Washington-Beijing axis will be the defining power relationship of this age. However, Washington must be careful not to sell its soul in pursuit of such a relationship.  Beijing must be held to account and prove it is prepared to work for such a relationship. How China treats its citizens should be as important to Washington as the fasihoning of power balances.  Indeed, the critical balance in American strategy is the one between values and interests that has defined American leadership and must continue to do so.  Therefore, Washington must look up from the Afghan trench into which it has fallen, overcome its palpable strategic exhaustion and begin a bipartisan effort to consider America’s new leadership challenge in the post Osama bin Laden world. 

As a Briton I can on occasions find the Americans irritating. Much of that I put down to my jealousy as I watch my once proud country decline into irrelevance.  However, the plain truth is that a just world needs a posturing, irritating, big-mouthed, big ideas America. If America becomes just like the rest of us then the world will be far the worst for it.  If a Beijing-placating US henceforth merely mouths human rights platitudes the battle for ideas will be over before it has begun and Americans will have vacated their ‘shining city on the hill’ to join the rest of us on the muddy plains of power and weakness.

At the very least a second term Obama administration will need to offer Americans and the world more than a ‘we got you out of two bad wars’ strategy.  A Romney administration will need a bigger idea than deficit-reduction or the strategic pretence of neo-isolationism.
It was of course Churchill who made that famous quip about one being able to rely upon the Americans making the right decision, but only after every other option had been exhausted.  I am beginning to wonder.

Is America losing its strategic mojo? If it is twenty-first grand strategy will be made in China.
Julian Lindley-French