hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 29 June 2012

Is NATO Deterring Itself?

Rome, Italy. 29 June. Is NATO deterring itself? A two day meeting here in a searingly hot Rome on NATO’s Deterrence and Defence Posture Review (DDPR) reaffirmed to me the deep transatlantic gulf over NATO’s twenty-first century role. Sadly, no answer will be found to NATO’s existential twenty-first century question: is the Alliance integral to America’s world view or merely a group of failing regional actors with whom Americans may from time to time act?

The DDPR concerns the twenty-first century modernisation of NATO’s core Article 5 collective defence, or at least it should if the Alliance knew anything about public diplomacy. DDPR has four elements; nuclear deterrence, missile defence, defence against cyber-attack and the maintenance of a sufficient number of linked up, moveable fighting soldiers to deter or strike back at any aggressor be it a state or a terrorist organisation. There is also a fifth element; arms control and disarmament inserted mainly at the insistence of the Germans to assuage domestic political opinion.

What DDPR actually reveals is the many inherent contradictions within the Alliance that now render weak NATO’s deterrent role. Indeed, far from communicating a sense of real strategic purpose DDPR acts rather like a roll of thick wallpaper designed to cover cracks and holes in a deeply-cratered wall.

At the highest level (what we ‘wonks’ call grand strategy) the friction between the two new blocks that now make up NATO – the Eurozone and the Anglosphere – are plain to see. In the German-led Eurozone strategic truth has now become so toxic that denial and delusion have become the stuff of contemporary politics. Just look to Brussels and today’s latest instalment of the now long-running EU Muppet Show.

The US-led Anglosphere is slowly turning away from continental Europe towards Asia-Pacific. Indeed, last night’s Eurozone decision to begin moves towards a Eurozone-only banking union will in time confirm Britain’s exit from the EU and its re-orientation towards an Anglosphere embedded in the world economy beyond Europe. As the Americans and British shift away from Europe they will leave behind a legacy NATO. DDPR in many ways reflects that; a last ditch offer to modernise the strategic nuclear deterrent and reinforce it with a missile shield in the hope that Continental Europeans modernise their soldiers. They will again be disappointed.

Germany is the critical power. Indeed, the DDPR reeks of German domestic angst. As Germany emerges as Europe’s political and economic pocket superpower Berlin’s influence over the continent will be legitimised by reducing its military power and much of the rest of Europe with it. To Berlin’s mind the Russians must be kept happy at almost any cost even if it effectively gives Moscow a veto over NATO modernisation. And, all matters nuclear are taboo, barring any nuclear role for NATO whilst pretending NATO remains a nuclear alliance. The effect is to increasingly detach NATO from its three nuclear powers – Britain, France and the US.

The other problem is purely bureaucratic. I was attacked at the meeting by some of the DDPR’s drafters for pointing this all out. Their argument was that ‘this was the best we could do given the circumstances’. Well, chaps, in purely strategic terms your work is simply not good enough and the future will confirm that. But, of course, neither politicians nor bureaucrats live in the future. What comes across is a NATO that is becoming increasingly like an ant-hill in which all that matters takes place within the colony with little or no regard for where the colony sits in the bigger strategic picture.

In the old days NATO had a pretty clear idea as to its purpose. In the very British words of NATO’s first Secretary-General Lord Bruce Ismay the Alliance was, “to keep the Germans down, the Americans in and the Russians out”. Today, the Americans are on their way out, the Germans are up but not really in, whilst the Russians are far too far in and want NATO out.

The next five to ten years will see a revolution in the way power is distributed across the world and in Europe. The first lesson taught in Class 101 for strategic dummies is that structure follows power. This is the last chance NATO will be given to prepare for what is very clearly going to be a very bumpy century with much of that friction on Europe’s doorstep. Therefore, like it or not defence cuts in Europe mean nuclear weapons will become more important not less so. Germany and those who want both nuclear disarmament AND deep cuts to conventional forces are destroying the very foundations of a strategic NATO. Worse, such strategic pretence is the appeasement of reality and we all know where that leads.

Lord Bruce Ismay must be rolling in his patrician grave. NATO is deterring itself.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 25 June 2012

European Political Union: What Would it Look Like?

Rome, Italy.  25 June. Hot! Cicero, that great defender of the Roman Republic and implacable opponent of those that would abuse power in the name of the people once said, “Nothing is more unpredictable than the mob, nothing more obscene than public opinion, nothing more deceptive than the whole political system”.   The great man’s words seem prophetic as Chancellor Merkel daily calls for “more Europe” whilst daily refusing to pay for it (Germany alone cannot) as Europe’s peoples sit paralysed in the middle of a metaphorical autobahn as an out of control debt juggernaut with 26 steering wheels bears down on them.  So what would a ‘Europe’ with one steering wheel look like?  Is European political union, to given the stated ambition some formality, really possible or desirable?  And, is it at all relevant to today’s emergency?

Think of any federal state; Australia, the US, or more appropriately Germany and you begin to get Merkel’s thinking. Having gone through all the many structural economic financial reforms Germany has set as the price for German support ‘Europe’ in her vision would end up looking pretty much like the Federal Republic.  Specifically, Europe would have a constitution similar to the one (irony of ironies) that was drafted mainly by British lawyers for post-war Germany.  It would be a system of loose federation designed to prevent an over-bearing centre, in which EU member-states would become something like the German Landes themselves based on the old states and kingdoms of the German Confederation prior to Bismarck’s reunification of Germany. 
Brussels (backed of course by Berlin) would be the pivot around which Europe would spin and would over time take on more and more of the attributes of a state. The nation-state is essentially about three things; money, foreigners and killing. In other words - tax, foreign and security and defence policy.  To be fair to Berlin few are thinking in such Realpolitik terms it is simply the logic of the mess Europe is in and what Chancellor Merkel is calling for.  Indeed, the ineptitude of European leaders is really a function of today’s totally unworkable Europe.  Power is like giving birth – one cannot be a little bit pregnant as Europe is today.  Either ‘Europe’ truly integrates or becomes a real inter-state alliance. The strange mix Europe has today is simply confusing and paralysing everybody.
There is of course a big ‘but’ to all of this.  In fact there are several.  First, European political union has nothing to do with this crisis, here right now.  Indeed, it is a distraction from the crafting of the Ten Year Plan for European Recovery that is so desperately needed if the markets are to be reassured. Union might be made closer by the components of such a plan (fiscal union, banking union etc.) but is not the aim of a rescue plan.  Second, whilst some southern European states might be willing to accept economy-saving, democracy-crunching technocratic fiat from Berlin/Brussels because national democracy is a relatively recent phenomenon, northern and western Europeans will most certainly not.  Democracy therein has evolved over many years of political struggle and states such as Britain, France, the Netherlands and the Scandinavians are not going to surrender national democratic sovereignty easily. It is hard to believe either that those in Eastern Europe who gave freedom back to Europe would accept such diktat.
Third, there is no system to afford either credible political legitimacy or effective oversight of such a necessarily remote executive. “Do the math”, as the Americans would say.  Germany has a population of some 81.7 million people served by 622 MPs/Representatives in the Bundestag.  In other words in Germany there is a ratio of 1 MP for every 131350 citizens. The Netherlands enjoys a ratio of 1 MP for every 111337 citizens, whilst Britain has 1 MP for every 96000 citizens.  The EU has a population of 502.5 million very different people served by a European Parliament with 745 members, which affords Europeans 1 Euro MP for every 674,496 very different citizens.  European political union would mean the abandonment of effective democratic oversight.  
The first rule of good strategy is to exclude the irrelevant.  Talk of European political union at this juncture is precisely that; irrelevant.  In any case the most that could possibly be achieved but only after many years is not a federal European state but a confederal state such as Switzerland.  The Swiss are neutral mainly because they agree over very little.  A confederal Europe would make a mockery of suggestions from the likes of Tony Blair (beware he is back and looking for a top European job!) that the reason for more European integration is world power and influence.  Rather, the opposite is likely; a weak Europe with no voice for any voice would offend someone in Europe.
So, Euopean political union would more likely than not lead to a weak Euro-state, with too much power over its citizens and not enough influence in the world.  Is that really such a good idea? 
Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 22 June 2012

Football: The Euro That Works

Alphen, the Netherlands. 22 June. Bill Shankly, the legendary manager of Liverpool FC, once famously said, “Football is not a question of life or death. It is more important than that”. As I sit here in my small Dutch village surrounded by a sea of depressed orange I see his point. The Dutch suffered a premature exit from the Euro 2012 championship so ably hosted by Poland and Ukraine because they were rubbish. No schadenfraude here. Now, before I venture further I must point out to those of you who mistakenly confuse 'football' with that armoured interruption that takes place elsewhere that I am talking of the “beautiful game”, the “world game” in which for a moment an air-filled sphere of plastic becomes the stuff of dreams and nightmares. The footballing gods being the humorous bunch they are have tonight pitted the Germans against the Greeks in the quarter-final. That should prove feisty.

Thankfully for three short weeks Euro 2012 has just about eclipsed Euro trillions down the drain. Most Europeans are agog at the spectacle. Politics is not entirely absent. EU member-states have formally boycotted matches in Ukraine over what they regard as the politically-motivated sentencing of opposition leader Julia Timoshenka.

Something else is also apparent watching the matches; the European nation-state is not only alive and well, it is kicking – literally, metaphorically and politically. The passion of the fans for their national teams might, or at least should, give pause for thought to those Euro-fanatics in Brussels and elsewhere who believe that having caused the current crisis they can now exploit it to move decisively towards the creation of a federal European super-state under the guise of political and monetary union. Believe me, that is precisely what the architects of the appallingly named ‘constructive crisis theory’ believe.

The lesson that Euro 2012 should finally bring home to the Euro-Aristocracy is one which should have been learnt in referendum after referendum; that for the massive majority of Europeans their nation-state comes first. Therefore, any European structures should support the state not seek to supplant it. This does not make those of us who place our country before ‘Europe’ anti-European, although it does make us implacable opponents of the anti-democratic impulses of those seeking to impose the Brusselsisation of Europe.

“Do the Europeans Still Believe in the EU?” a fascinating recent survey of public attitudes for Notre Europe by Daniel Debomy underlines that simple but critical political truth. Belief in the EU has declined but still some fifty per cent of respondents see membership of the EU as positive. Fifty per cent of course do not, but only one in five of that group see EU membership as actively negative, although one in three do not believe their country has benefitted from EU membership. In spite of the Euro-crisis this is not the worst crisis in public perceptions which was 1997 when the Euro-Aristocracy tried to foist an unwanted European ‘constitution’ on the people – which is telling in its own right. However, the survey marks an ongoing and “significant” decrease in what it calls “Euroenthusiasm” which pre-dates the current crisis.

Interestingly the Europeans that are most negative are not only the usual suspects (the British followed by the Austrians) but implies that the French and Germans are also becoming increasingly sceptical. Interestingly the survey suggests that the Benelux countries (and strangely Denmark) are amongst the “most accommodating” which does not match opinion polls here in the Netherlands in which there is a distinctly Euro-sceptic chill in the political air these days.

A key point the survey makes is that “Europe in the making is still of course perceived through national prisms”. In other words Europeans’ views of Europe are still shaped mainly by their concerns about national politics. It also highlights something obvious to anyone watching Euro 2012; all politics in Europe that matters remains decidedly national and any attempt to create more distance between the governing and governed will be strongly resisted by the people.

This critical question of political legitimacy really ought to be at the top of the agenda of today’s Rome meeting of the leaders of the four biggest Eurozone members, France, Germany, Italy and Spain together with the “gang of four” charged with opening the way towards fully monetary and in time political union; Barosso, Junker, Draghi and Van Rompuy. Sadly, I suspect it will not be.

The survey finishes with a warning. “The Europe to which its citizens aspire remains a Europe inspired by the value of solidarity". I can buy that.  "But it has lost some of its visibility; it must reaffirm itself as such, without which the present ‘Eurogloom’ could transform into strong and long-lasting disillusionment”.

As for the football as a seasoned commentator and analyst I will of course maintain a professional detachment from such sporting trifles.


Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Euro End Game Begins

A very worried EU citizen and Euro saver somewhere in the Netherlands. 20 June. It is beginning. The Euro end game is upon us. Last night President Hollande said at the G-Empty summit in Los Cabos that the bail-out fund should be used to ease the cost of Spanish and Italian borrowing. This is leader-speak for telling us all that the contagion that started with Greece and spread to Spain has now reached Italy.

Yesterday, European Commission President, Manuel Barosso, told a Canadian member of the Press that he did not need lessons in either democracy or how to handle the economy. Evidence would suggest that he needs lessons in both and might also consider turning up for an ethics class on humility. Indeed, the most laughable part of Barosso’s statement in Los Cabos was to suggest the European Commission is “transparent”. The Commission makes Cardinal Richelieu look like a Freedom of Information commissioner.

The simple, sad fact is there is now nothing to support the Euro but smoke and mirrors. And, whilst some structural economic reforms are beginning in southern European countries they are nothing like deep enough and fast enough to reassure the all-important bond markets. Spain yesterday just about succeeded in selling more than €3bn of treasury bonds at an inflated price simply to meet the interest payments on its national debt. In other words more debt is now being used to fund greater debt, and we all know where that leads.

What Barosso’s comment reveals is four sad truths. First, the President of the European Commission refuses to face reality. Second, the crisis has exposed the innate structural flaws of the Euro and the debt-craziness of many European governments. Third, that Barosso and the other cosseted, unelected members of the Euro-Aristocracy get very irritable when members of the peasantry ask them perfectly reasonable questions. Finally, and most shocking, there is no master plan to prevent this crisis turning into a disaster.

The so-called ‘Gang of Four’ charged with coming up with a ‘plan’ hardly inspire the vital confidence – be it in the markets or me. Barosso is there, along with EU ‘President’ Herman Van Rompuy, Luxembourg PM and Euro-fanatic Jan-Claude Juncker, who is also head of the Eurogroup, and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi. Between them they have the electoral mandate the equivalent of a small English town, but are effectively crafting Europe’s future. This will include fiscal and banking union and no doubt some steps towards an anti-democratic political union – something a range of recent polls has shown a majority of European citizens now to be against. Even if one agrees with such steps it will all be far too late to influence this crisis.

The real power brokers are of course utterly divided. Chancellor Merkel seems to be prepared to invest in a firewall but only one that surrounds Germany. Fat chance. President Hollande is discovering that the next and catastrophic debt storm will hit France. Prime Minister Cameron is a bit-part player of a bit-part EU country who preens and postures but who has next to no influence. He even had to take Norwegian PM Stoltenburg to a recent Berlin-meeting with Chancellor Merkel just to get in the door. How humiliating is that?

To get a handle on the scale of the disaster confronting Europe (and increasingly the rest of the world) I spoke yesterday with a Swiss banker friend of mine. His opening line was sobering. The bail out of Spain and Italy would alone cost some €800bn or the equivalent of all the American debt China has bought over the past twenty years. Add the loss of Spanish and Italian contributions to the bail-out mechanisms and the total is in fact €980bn, the cost of which which will fall mainly on the northern European taxpayer. The Spanish banking sector alone needs at least €400bn at least just to stay afloat, not the €100bn given away without strings at the behest of Mario Draghi (a very dangerous precedent if ever there was one). The €700bn that makes up the European Financial Stability Fund and the European Stability Mechanism is effectively spoken for to cover Greece (which makes President Hollande’s Los Cabos claim somewhat academic).

My Swiss friend told me the first sign of real failure will be a banking collapse that cannot be contained. Once the banks begin to go sovereign debt will explode and after panic bank nationalisation across Europe sovereign debt defaults will follow and the mother of all financial crises will ripple round the world.

The blame game is already underway. That is what politicians do when the extent of their failings is about to be exposed. Last week’s lame claim by Chancellor Merkel that she is not a “miracle worker” merely mirrored Baroso’s ‘nothing to do with us, guv’ Los Cabos comment.

Have a nice day!

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 18 June 2012

The Anglosphere: Two Hundred Years On

Alphen, the Netherlands, not far from Waterloo. June 18. Two hundred years ago today US President James Madison declared war on the British Empire and the War of 1812 began. The war can be thus summarised; the British became ever so slightly miffed at repeated American attempts to interfere in British Canada, especially as London was in the process of casting a certain vertically-challenged Corsican into history and eventually packing him off to see out his days on ‘one of our islands’ in the South Atlantic.

As a way of drawing London’s irritation to American attention the Royal Navy began to put what the Americans called a navy in its place. Eventually, the British had to burn down the White House, making them ever so popular in the Mid-West, to teach the Americans a lesson about strategic etiquette and London and Washington lived happily ever after. The Anglosphere was thus born. And, apart from the odd bit of tiresome American behaviour, the Anglosphere has not only survived but flourished with the American and British empires now united in common purpose.

What of the Anglosphere today? Nominally, it is comprised of America, Australia, Britain and Canada, with a few hangers-on such as New Zealand and could in time extend informally to the likes of India and South Africa and maybe a few others. In other words it comprises the remnants of a new long dead empire. Is it really a political and strategic option for the states concerned?

The Americans are not the power they were and will need like-minded allies in the twenty-first century as their power and influence begins to wane. The British, who had their last superpower day on 6 June, 1944, are led by people who by and large do not believe in Britain or its people and who have done very nicely thank you very much out of the EU gravy train whilst handing over much of Britain’s national sovereignty to it for little in return. However, in as much as the strategically-illiterate and inept Westminster Village ‘thinks’ big about anything these days, even they might be just beginning to realise that Athens has more influence over ‘Europe’ than London. Tying Britain’s future to a Euro-infected EU over which it has no influence whatsoever is thus the political equivalent of escaping the doomed Titanic in a lifeboat and then deciding that the safest and only course of action is to tie said lifeboat to the sinking wreck. Australia, and the other Asia-Pacific ‘members’, is only attracted to the Anglosphere as a form of insurance policy against a potentially strategically volatile China. Canada? Well, look at a map.

Equally, no-one should be under any illusions how difficult it would be to make the Anglosphere work. The Americans would see it only as a grouping that could add some political legitimacy and minor military capability to ease their strategic over-stretch as they ‘pivot’ towards Asia-Pacific. If NATO is not politically and militarily reinvested continental Europe will be effectively lost to the Americans as a meaningful group of political and military allies. The British who are calling for it tend to come from the ‘anything but Brussels’ wing of the Conservative Party. Swapping dependence on an illiberal, undemocratic bureaucracy in Brussels for dependence on a dangerously dysfunctional Washington prompts one to suggest beware what you wish for. Australia simply wants reassurance that the future in Asia-Pacific will not be exclusively Chinese. Canada? Well, look at a map.

For all that the Anglosphere may slowly and informally emerge as a forum of strategic influence much like, albeit more effective than, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) which is fast becoming the home of the strategic anti-West. Indeed, as power becomes more instable in the world it is also becoming more informal.

The advantage of the Anglosphere over the SCO is that its foundation would be the shared economic and financial model which constitutes the real Special Relationship and, of course, a similar world and cultural view. However, it would probably never amount to more than that.

On June 18, 1815 the Duke of Wellington gave the ever tiresome and uppity French a sound thrashing in a field just off the main E19 Brussels-Mons highway in what regrettably later became Belgium. Wellington’s victory confirmed Britain as the world’s superpower for a century. Paradoxically, the Americans also confirmed Britain’s supremacy. In 1823 the US announced the Monroe Doctrine which stated that any further European attempts to colonize North or South America would be seen as act of aggression. On the face of it Washington’s move seemed a distinctly anti-British move. In fact, it protected Britain’s strategic flank to the west and enabled the British to look south and east with confidence and thus the second British Empire was born.

As for the Anglosphere the first step would be for Her Majesty the Queen to offer the Americans membership of the Commonwealth…if they can learn to behave. If not we British could always burn the White House down again. Just look at a map.

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Day of Russia or the Day of the Kremlin?

Alphen, the Netherlands. 12 June. Today is the Day of Russia. It marks the moment in 1992 when the Declaration on Russian National Sovereignty was adopted by the Russian Parliament and Russia re-emerged from the wreckage of the Soviet Union. Back then there was much hope both in Russia and the rest of the free world that this enormous, great country would take its place amongst the true democracies of the world. Last week the Russian Parliament confirmed a Kremlin-inspired bill which would increase the maximum fines for breaking laws governing protests by 600% for participants and 1200% for organisers. Yesterday police raided the homes of opposition leaders and removed computers and mobile phones.

It is not just the Russian people who are feeling the iron fist of President-for-Life Putin’s Kremlin. Indeed, the Kremlin's foreign and domestic policies are two sides of the same coin.  Last week Moscow announced that it was reopening three Arctic bases that were mothballed at the end of the Cold War to expand Russia’s military presence in the energy-rich High North. Prior to his re-election then Prime Minister Putin announced a doubling of the Russian defence equipment budget over the next ten years, at a time when the US military faces large defence cuts and European militaries are in meltdown.

Two things are happening. First, the Kremlin is moving to entrench power in the tiny elite that run Russia’s so-called ‘sovereign democracy’. Second, the Kremlin is seeking to mask its assault on Russia’s putative democracy by wrapping itself in the Russian flag. This might appal the sophisticated Muscovites who lead the opposition to President Putin but will doubtless appeal to millions of ordinary Russians who understandably equate ‘democracy’ with the chaos of the 1990s and the corruption of the oligarchs. Order and stability are much cherished in Mother Russia.

June also marks the anniversary of Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union which saw some 23 million Russians perish in the Great Patriotic War and Soviet Russia’s defeat of Nazi Germany. In effect, President Putin is slowly re-inventing Soviet foreign policy albeit somewhat more modestly, with opportunism the central theme.

At one level the Kremlin has the West exactly where it wants it. The Eurozone crisis is rendering the European Union and many of its member-states utterly impotent. Moscow’s only interest in the suffering of the Syrian people is to remind the West that Russia is a player in the Middle East and block any action that it deems injurious to Moscow’s influence. The Kremlin is trying to build an anti-Western alliance with China through the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation and given the need for NATO to re-supply its forces through Russia has the West by the throat over Afghanistan. A divided NATO is also permitting Russia to prevent the much-needed modernisation of the Alliance’s collective defence (although the NATO nations do not need much encouragement).

So, is Moscow winning? Well, no. Although the turmoil of the 1990s seems to be over with mortality rates and life expectancy showing signs of recovery from the dark days of the mid-1990s Russia remains a deeply divided and impoverished society. Moreover, the economy remains dangerously unreformed and dependent on the export of hydro-carbons to fund much of public expenditure which is again growing as the Kremlin re-establishes a system of political patronage not dissimilar to that of the Soviet Union. The irony is that Russian income stems from the very Western economies which the Kremlin continues to insist pose the greatest threat to Mother Russia. Indeed, Russia’s economy is utterly dependent on the West which explains the Kremlin’s use of Gazprom as a front to seek control over critical European economic assets.

This is but one of many paradoxes in the Kremlin’s foreign and security policy that demonstrate the tension between analysis and policy in Moscow. The threat posed to Russia’s Far East by Chinese economic and growing military power is growing. Russia may welcome the humiliation of the West in Afghanistan but it could be left with an even greater Islamist threat to its southern republics. Russia claims to seek a stable Europe and yet moves mobile Iskander M nuclear missiles within range of the High North. Russia seeks a strong relationship with the United States and yet remains an utterly implacable opponent to any Washington-inspired move in the UN Security Council to end the strife in Syria, or indeed Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Some years ago I found myself sitting opposite the Russian Deputy Defence Minister at a NATO-sponsored meeting in southern Germany. Being me I asked the Minister if Russia was a partner in European security or a threat to it. She looked at me quizzically after the interpreter had spluttered and then translated my question. Russia, she said euphemistically, would always have its own interests.

The Kremlin is once again using ‘Russia’ to play its convoluted and complex power games in the name of the state. It all feels terribly Soviet and one can almost see again those old, grey men with their old, grey faces in their expensive furry 'ushankas' standing atop Lenin’s tomb celebrating Soviet military might with their wooden-armed salutes. There was much talk of ‘reset’ recently. Until there is a ‘reset’ in the Kremlin’s old-fashioned thinking expect a difficult time.

The Day of the Kremlin is back.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 8 June 2012

Have the British Armed Forces Met Their Waterloo?

Alphen, the Netherlands. 8 June. Winston Churchill once lamented the “Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong, these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history." Reading the speech of British Defence Minister Philip Hammond yesterday to the RUSI Land Warfare Conference I was tempted to say here we go again.

These were the words of a minister given the almost impossible mission to cut the British armed forces irrespective of the changing world beyond Britain’s shores. And yes, the very real danger exists that Britain will compound the profound loss of influence of late in Europe by in effect sacrificing the one tool that gives Britain real influence in the world – the British armed forces.

Now, it would be easy for me to jump on the bandwagon of criticism I can see rolling towards London. In fact Future Force 2020 and Army 2020 might just strike a much-needed balance between strategy, capability and austerity; if that is the politicians hold their nerve and do not again raid the defence budget simply to satisfy the latest adverse press headlines.

Specifically, come the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review Britain must re-commit to three simple defence strategic principles; sufficient military power to influence a changing US defence strategy, the absolute maintenance of Britain’s position as Europe’s leading military power and the use of military excellence to form strategic partnerships with key Commonwealth partners in and around Asia-Pacific.

Whilst the Hammond speech was couched in the ‘we only recognise as much threat as we can afford’ language so-beloved of this government there was much to commend it. The speech talked of facing the future with adaptable armed forces as part of a ‘Whole Force Concept’ that better integrates regular and reserve forces. This is common sense. However, what the speech lacked was a coherent statement of defence strategy that would provide context. Where is the vision, the level of ambition?

At the politico-military level such strategy would recognise that the shift in US strategy from a land-centric, regional focus to a maritime centric global remit has profound implications for Britain. The ability to work with European allies whilst important offers no alternative to a close defence relationship with the US. The imbalance of effort in Afghanistan demonstrates that under no circumstances should Britain allow itself to become reliant on European allies for effective operations simply to balance the books at home. That would render Britain utterly impotent both politically and militarily.

At the military-strategic level what is needed is a Total Force Concept in which no single service owns land, sea or air. That in turn would require a new vision of military ‘jointness’ to re-establish Britain as a defence radical at the core of a hub of military excellence that preserves and enhances Britain’s ability to lead what might best be termed ‘junior coalitions’, i.e. those that do not involve the Americans.

Here’s the rub; the Royal Navy, Army and the Royal Air Force are developing all the components necessary for the strategic renovation of Britain’s post-Afghanistan armed forces. The Royal Navy’s two super-carriers will afford the British armed forces vital strategic projection for much of this century and help re-cement critical strategic partnerships with the likes of Australia, India and South Africa with whom Britain shares a military heritage. The new Astute nuclear submarines and Type-45 destroyers will enable Britain either to support the US or act as the core of future task forces and battle groups. The RAF’s emerging strategic lift capability will reinforce the strategic reach and re-supply Britain and its allies will need, although important gaps will need to be plugged in command and control capabilities, air-to-ground surveillance and maritime protection. Even though the Army will be reduced from 104,000 to 82,000 by 2020 if the future force is comprised of cutting-edge regiments that can provide the core of a rapidly expandable force that employs properly trained reserves then Britain will be well-served by these reforms.

That is the good news. If, however, Hammond’s speech was simply a return to the hollowed-out force that emerged from the Front-Line First reforms of the 1990s and which were found out by the 2003 Gulf War then Britain’s ability to influence both allies and environments will be nil. Greater reliance on reserves and the private sector for support must mean just that, not the creation of mythical structures that again fail Britain’s young people in uniform when the crunch comes, as it will.

My bet is that Future Force 2020 is too ambitious a target for this strategy-free government. In reality it will be 2025 or even 2030 before all the components are in place and Britain’s armed forces can again play their full role in the defence of Britain’s vital interests in the big twenty-first century. Moreover, there is a very real danger that the corporate memory of recent operations (a key British advantage) will be lost if a more systematic effort is not made to preserve them.

The British armed forces are a strategic brand and to destroy that brand in the name of the here and now would be a mistake that would set Churchill spinning in his grave.

Have the British Armed Forces met their Waterloo? No, not yet, but...

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Montenegro: Why We Must Keep the Door Open

Budva, Montenegro. 7 June. Graham Greene once wrote, “There is always one moment when the door opens and lets the future in”. Here in beautiful Budva the Adriatic laps gently on the beach below my balcony and then stretches away like a carpet of crushed opal with the sun leaping from shard to shard. I have just spent the past two days at the excellent ‘2BS’ (To Be Secure) conference as a guest of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro along with ministers and leaders from across the Western Balkans. In the wake of NATO’s Chicago summit the most profound of questions has hung in the air; will the Western Balkans be given sanctuary within NATO and eventually the EU before the region slides back into dangerous instability?

It is all too easy to slot the Western Balkans into the ‘job done’ box of what now seems an endless conveyor belt of crises. That would be a mistake. As I write the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation has just concluded with China, Russia (and observer Iran) warning the West to keep its hands off the Syrian tragedy just as another massacre is denied by Assad and his cronies. Closer to home Prime Minister Cameron is meeting Chancellor Merkel to discuss the Eurozone crisis and Spain’s imminent banking crash.

At Chicago the one commitment of any substance was the determination to move rapidly towards NATO membership for at least three of the successor states of Yugoslavia; Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia ('Former Yugoslav Republic thereof to keep you Greeks out there happy, although the argument over a name demonstrates the pettiness of many Balkan contentions) and Montenegro. Serbia is of course key to stability in the region and unless Belgrade is happy (something Serbs tend to find hard) the Western Balkans will never be truly stable. 

However, incorporating countries from the region will not come without cost. First, the western Balkans will need financial support for many years to come at a time when most of Europe is mired in dangerous debt. Second, the region still faces a profound challenge from organised crime that too often spills over to blight the rest of Europe. Third, Russia is still prickly about aspirations from countries in the region to join NATO in particular. Fourth, several of the causes of past conflict remain not only unresolved but bubble just below a dormant political volcano that is by no means extinct – Republika Srpska remains unreconciled with Bosnia-Herzegovina and the relationship between Serbia and Kosovo is always a flashpoint. As one senior Montenegran said to me, “true peace will take generations to achieve”.

The bottom-line is this; on balance (and international politics is always ‘on balance’) I have been convinced that NATO’s Open Door must be honoured and quickly. Indeed, with Greece facing possible exit from the Euro there is a very real chance that the instability traditionally associated with this region will spread across the rest of the Balkans. Above all, with Syria burning what hope can we in Europe possibly offer those struggling for the respect of human rights in North Africa, the Middle East or elsewhere if we cannot guarantee stability in this corner of Europe?

There is no question that the Eurozone crisis represents the greatest security threat of the age with Iranian nukes not far behind. However, the danger that the Western Balkans slides back towards war is also very real posing a threat to the stability of Europe at a time of particular instability. The Western Balkans cannot be brushed under some metaphorical (and mythical) security carpet by capitals otherwise engaged.

The next NATO enlargement will take the Alliance into the heart of Balkan instability and must therefore be a model enlargement. Montenegro is small enough and committed enough to make that embrace work. With a population of only 650,000 and having adopted the Euro as the national currency there is no duplicity – either open or subtle – about Montenegro’s ambitions and leanings. Be it security sector reform or democratic control over armed forces Montenegro can show the way for much of the rest of the Western Balkans so that Europe is never again blighted by the obscenity that was the War of Yugoslav Succession in the 1990s.

Europe will not be able to do it alone and the open support of the United States at this conference in the elegant and impressive shape of the US Ambassador Sue Brown was both welcome and necessary. For all the talk of America’s ‘pivot’ to Asia-Pacific it is clear Washington is committed to the Western Balkans and will need to remain so.

Graham Greene was right; this is indeed the moment when NATO’s open door can shine a light on a Balkan future that offers hope not just in Europe but much of the world beyond. In time another door might lead into the EU. Montenegro holds a mirror up to us all and the image I see is not a pretty one.

We must not close the door on Montenegro.

Julian Lindley-French

Sunday, 3 June 2012

A Light in the Mire

Alphen, the Netherlands, 3 June. Edward Gibbon, in his masterly Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire wrote ,“all that is human must retrograde if it does not advance”. Having just come back from a two day NATO meeting in the Eternal City one is beginning to see that in the fabric of the people and the place. The fear and frustration is almost palpable. “Why don’t they do something?”, one Roman friend said to me looking skyward to imply a vague vision of our Dear Leaders as Roman Gods. “They are doing something”, I replied. “They are re-arranging deckchairs on the Titanic”. And, if he listened ever so carefully he might hear something else; the acoustic perfume of a distant violin wafting its way from nearby Anzio as Nero fiddles anew.

Our absent without leave leaders last week missed yet another chance to put in place the ten year, multi-billion Euro grand plan that might, just might, save the benighted single currency and stave off not just financial meltdown but save European democracy from those who would rent it asunder in the name of European political union. Even that consummate Euro-Aristocrat, Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, this week warned that the Euro is fast becoming unsustainable in the absence of decisive action. The markets of course crashed…again!

Crises being like London buses they never come in ones. The US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta suggested in Singapore that by 2020 some 60% of the US Navy will be in the Pacific. What he was saying to all intents and purpose was that America is fast giving up on NATO, the implication being that Europeans are too. I wonder. Asia-Pacific might be ‘where it is at’ in grand strategy these days but as my close friend and former US Ambassador to NATO Robert Hunter rightly points out; the great tectonic fissures of grand political friction will still be found for the foreseeable future on the shores of a powerless Europe in North Africa and the Middle East.

And yet there was a light in the mire this week. There is a famous painting by Canaletto of the Royal Thames Pageant of 1662. At the time Charles II was only two years into his reign and England was slowly recovering from the civil war and Cromwell’s Republic. Charles wanted to show both the majesty and the continuity of monarchy.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II also went afloat this week.  She has afforded Britain both majesty and continuity during the momentous and revolutionary change that has taken place in the sixty years of her reign which the Diamond Jubilee is celebrating. At times ‘majesty’ has seemed at odds with a Britain in steep decline but precisely because of her sense of duty the Queen has done great service to both her country and much of the world beyond. However, it was not Her Majesty alone that warmed my heart but rather the sight of newly-arrived immigrants and refugees taking the chance to celebrate all things British.

Regular followers of this blog will know my concerns about the impact of hyper-imigration on British society and, in particular, English culture. The political left, which hates all things English, has tried to destroy Englishness through immigration-fuelled multiculturalism, and have by and large succeeded. The political right has used immigration as a way to impose ‘labour market flexibility’ and thus drive down the living standards of ordinary Britons in the name of ‘competitiveness’.

However, the sight of so many immigrants so keen to celebrate Britishness on the occasion of the Pageant gives me hope that one day a new society will emerge that sees itself as being British albeit in a very new kind of way. For that I offer them my heartfelt thanks as they might be shining a light on a future for all.

Contrast change in Britain with change in Europe, and I am now convinced more than ever that Britain and Europe are no longer the same. Behind the Eurozone crisis lurks an enormous EU-British crisis. Europe has no equivalent of the Queen, unless you count that nice Belgian, Mr Rompuy. There is no anchor of stability for Europeans to look to as Europe embarks on what in the next decade will be momentous change. Rather, there is a bunch of uncertain politicians all of whom lack the greatness the moment demands and who are utterly unable to see or grasp the bigger picture which is painting not only their respective destinies but those of their peoples.

My Roman friend also asked me if ‘Europe’ could really collapse. Yes, I said, it could all too easily collapse, because what the Euro crisis has shown is that 'Europe' does not really exist.  Perhaps we need a new 'Europe'.  Any ideas?

By the way it rained on the Queen. Tradition matters.

Julian Lindley-French