hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 28 September 2012

Poles Apart

Alphen, Netherlands, 28 September.

Dear Mr Sikorski,

I have waited a few days to comment on the speech you made to the Oxford Analytica Global Horizons Conference on 23 September at Blenheim Palace and on your recent piece in The Times about Britain and the EU.  Some would see such comments by a Polish Foreign Minister as gross interference in Britain’s internal affairs, but then we are a tolerant people.  That said I am not so sure you Poles would have appreciated such comments from a British Foreign Secretary.  

Your remarks were clearly less for our benefit and more to do with relations with your President and your Prime Minister, who too often feel the Sikorski foreign policy is not Poland’s foreign policy.  Indeed, my sources tell me that after your recent Berlin speech your Prime Minister took up to three days to approve and the President criticised you for not having consulted more widely before the speech.  Moreover, given your call last year for German leadership I felt I could have been reading a lecture by the German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle about how we British have no alternative.  Maybe that was the point.  

However, out of respect to you as a fellow Oxford man I will limit my comments to your Little Britain speech.  You set out to blind your audience with facts.  You said that British membership of the EU cost a trifling £15 ($24) per British head per year against some £1500 ($2435)-£3500 ($5680) (clearly a scientific figure) of benefits. And, that only one-sixteenth of UK primary legislation stems from EU decisions.  

Let me immediately correct those figures for you.  According to the Office for National Statistics in 2011 the net cost of EU membership for the UK was £10.8bn ($17.5bn).  Some outlier estimates put the gross cost at £65bn ($106bn) per year or £1000 ($1620) per head if one includes the cost of all regulation and transfers plus the £15bn ($24bn) paid annually into the EU budget.   The cost is probably between £400($650) and £440($715) per British household.  The only year the UK was a net beneficiary was in 1977 when a referendum was held on UK membership.  You say that half of Britain’s exports go to the EU.  In fact, the latest figures show that trade with the EU is somewhat less than 50% with a £50bn ($81bn) trade deficit.  

You cited the usual Polish nonsense about ‘betrayal’ in 1939 and in 1945 at Yalta (Britain went to war in 1939 for Poland and if you were betrayed at Yalta it was by mighty Washington and Moscow not by exhausted and marginal London).  And then you went for what you thought was our jugular – the EU single market. You said that the single market was a “British idea”.  Indeed, Britain has been remarkably consistent about this ‘vision’ for Europe.  The British people never signed up for the kind of German-led European super-state you seem to be espousing, although it is hard to understand from your remarks whether you seek an empire or a union as you imply a European balance of power. You might wish to clarify your thinking about just exactly it is that you seek.  You also overlooked the fact that the single market is not, well, single.   Euro-virtuous Germany has consistently and repeatedly blocked the Commission’s Services Directive, where Britain is of course strong.  

Your venture into foreign and security policy was at the very least misplaced.  You say a British commissioner runs “our” diplomatic service.  However, no-one in Britain had ever heard of her before she was appointed and we know even less about her now, but that is hardly your fault.  As for your suggestion that Britain “could, if you only wished, lead Europe’s defence policy” it is, I am sure you will admit, very hard to lead nothing.  And whilst I grant you Poland has marginally increased its defence expenditure to bring at least something to your famed Weimar/Bermuda Triangle, the rest of the EU thinks military power far too messy.  

Quite simply, Mr Sikorski, you have missed the point.  The EUrosphere you are about to take Poland into is a political trap that Britain will never fall into.  We would of course wish you well and we respect Poland’s right to decide its destiny.  Indeed, that is why we fought both World War Two and the Cold War.  However, you of all people should uphold our right to choose our destiny. This may not be what you and Germany clearly want for us, but then we are not you.  There is certainly no reason at all why we could not still be friends, in spite of your thinly-veiled threats to future trade relations.  

Our objection to the Europe you espouse is not because we have delusions of grandeur, even though we have one of the world’s biggest economies, hugely-experienced armed forces and an excellent diplomatic machine, although I grant you our political leadership is not up to much. Rather, the simple EU truth is that on matters of economic and political culture Britain will always be in a minority and forced to accept the ‘diktat’ of what Tocqueville (did you read history at Oxford?) called the tyranny of the majority.  Majorities are not always right.

I hope you find your Brussels job. Perhaps you see yourself as a kid of super-commissioner combining foreign, neighbourhood and aid portfolios.  That is after all what your friend Guido Westerwelle has called for.

Sorry, but we are poles apart.

Yours sincerely,

Julian Lindley-French   

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Europe's Naked Emperors

Vienna, Austria.  26 September.  Gazing across the vertiginous topography of my Viennese cappuccino as I sit on the terrace of the Palmengarten palaces stretch before me in this most beautiful of cities which adorns the very heart of Europe.  With a loose heritage that dates back to Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire Vienna is the quintessential post-imperial European city.  Now the capital of a small but rich and modern European state it was once the epicentre of a vast multicultural, multi-ethnic empire that collapsed in 1918 under the weight of its own political hollowness.  As a metaphor for modern Europe there can be no better.

Sad though this may be much of my weekend was spent reading and contemplating the Future of Euro-Aristocracy (sorry Future of Europe) Group report compiled by the foreign ministers of Austria, Belgium, Denmark (traitors), France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Spain.  If this was a football/soccer tournament this would be known as the Group of Death because it would be almost impossible to get out of. 

The report establishes the battle-lines between a Europe built around its nation-states and national parliaments, for all its inevitable inefficiencies, and a Europe that replaces rump nation-states with a putative European super-state, for all its inevitable inequities.  The Group choose decisively for the latter.

A not inconsiderable bit of the report I sort of agree with.  That, “the European Union has reached a decisive juncture” cannot be contested.  Their central contention that a Europe of “28 or more” member-states renders the EU less than the sum of its parts, is equally compelling, but only because they are moving the goalposts between structure, power and ambition.  However, thereafter I part company with the ministers because for all their talk of democracy and accountability for them more Europe, means less democracy.  This report is in effect the founding document of the coming Eurosphere and they see themselves as its founding fathers, like Schumann, De Spaak et al before them.

They call for “treaty changes” if needs be to deepen Economic and Monetary Union, ever deeper policy co-ordination between member-states, an effective single ECB supervisory mechanism to oversee the banks and more power for the European Commission with a directly-elected European Commission President (what German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle last week called a European Government).  All this together with a strengthened European (Pretend) Parliament to “ensure full democratic legitimacy and accountability”.  They also call on the EU “to strengthen its act on the world stage” by creating in effect a real EU foreign and security policy, taking the veto (i.e. Britain) out of EU foreign and security policy decision-making and for a new European defence policy, which “could eventually involve a European Army”.   

In short, the Euro-Aristocracy are creating is a political Frankenstein, something Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski rather forgot in an anti-British speech he made in Oxford last week.  We, the citizens?  Last week I was told by a fully paid-up member of the Euro-Aristocracy to shut up. What he painted for me was a picture of my European future.  I was warned for standing in the way of the powerful.  “Yes”, I replied, “because what is happening is so important that we citizens must be heard whether you like it or not”.  He snorted dismissively. Across Europe the same pattern is being repeated.  Civil society is slowly being strangled by the elite as critics are either co-opted, intimidated or both. 

Over coffee I fell into conversation with a Viennese gentleman.  He did not like the idea of a big Europe because he said it reminded Austrians of a very painful past but like millions of his fellow Austrians he felt utterly powerless.  He told me he detested politicians acting in his name when he had no say. He said he also felt grateful to Britain for again standing up to the grand illusion of a European super-state.  Sadly, I did not have the heart to tell him that PR-Meister Cameron and his Lilliputian London Government lack both the vision and the political backbone to stand up for British interests, let alone those of small countries far way about which they know little.   

This report should not be under-estimated.  It is the beginning of a determined campaign by the Euro-core Euro-Aristocracy to drive through the most profound change in political Europe since World War Two.  They will use hook and crook, demanding formal treaty change here bypassing the recalcitrant there, be they concerned citizens such as me, or the soon to be EU-exiting British (or both).  

Given all that Vienna seems an appropriate place to remember the parable of the naked emperor.  Conned into believing he had been given a magic cloak of the finest cloth, the emperor was in fact naked and only he was blind to the fact.  This time it is the emperors who are conning the people.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 21 September 2012

BAE Systems: A Deal Too Far

Alphen, Netherlands.  21 September.  Sixty-eight years ago just up the road from here the British 1st Airborne Division was fighting to the death at Arnhem Bridge – A Bridge Too Far.  Four days before British paratroopers had been dropped behind German lines to capture the bridge over the Rhine which would have opened the door to Germany.  Brilliantly conceived it was an operation that was tragically beyond the capability of the forces asked to carry it out and reflective more of Allied politics than sound strategy.  Much the same can be said of the proposed takeover of British defence contractor BAE Systems by the Franco-German giant EADS – flawed strategy at far too high a price.  

Since last week’s blog I have been digging and it is becoming ever clearer that the British Government is up to its neck in this decision.  Sadly, it is a decision that reveals yet again the complete inability of London to understand let alone craft sound strategy.  London simply does not understand that this takeover will leave the British having to reconcile a defence–strategy embedded in the American-led Anglosphere with a defence-industrial strategy firmly embedded in the coming Eurosphere.  It is at best irresponsibility and at worst strategic negligence that will see Britain and its armed forces paying far too high a price.

Yes, the British defence budget is clearly too small these days to support BAE Systems.  However, why hitch BAE Systems to a European defence market that has fallen some 30% since 2008 and is still falling.  If BAE Systems is looking for increased volumes it should project partner an Asian company where there is double-digit year-on-year defence investment growth.  Or, if it is seeking to be a technology leader it should tie-up with one of the big American contractors as the US is determined maintain its defence-technology lead.  All the British will get from this deal are low volumes and questionable technology at high cost.  All the proposed new company’s shareholders will get are low returns on investment if any at all.

EADS wants BAE Systems because of its reasonably successful American business, but even this strategy is flawed.  The US business exists partly because BAE Systems is seen as a British company.  The moment BAE Systems becomes EADS (in whatever guise the new company adopts) then Washington will downgrade the company’s access to sensitive US defence contracts and technology.

Furthermore, the impact on British technology, industry and of course jobs will be profound to say the least. This Franco-German dominated giant would close down any British facilities which compete with French and German production, no doubt after assurances to the contrary.  In future Britain’s warships, nuclear submarines and warplanes will be designed and built in France, with some metal-bashing sub-assembly plants left in Britain for the sake of political politesse. This is not a rebalancing of Britain’s defence economy this is the eradication of it.  

Having been taken over the board members of both BAE Systems and EADS would make a lot of money, which is clearly helping to drive this deal.  BAE Systems has long got used to hidden subsidies and gross over-payment at the British taxpayer's expense and may see a takeover by EADS as an opportunity to get a kind of European ‘bail out’.   

Sadly, this whole deal reveals yet again the two contending diseases at the heart of government in Britain – short-termism and the enemy within.  There is the sheer strategic incompetence of a government that simply does not understand the difference between value and cost and which now subjects everything (even the defence of the realm) to its endemic short-termism in an increasingly desperate effort to get re-elected.  Second, too many senior civil servants and their political fellow-travellers no longer believe that Britain should have a national interest.  Rather these soft power warriors seek an end to a strong British military because it leads to too many foreign adventures and gets in the way of their 'successful'(not) management of Britain’s decline.  

This is by and large the same Whitehall group that wants to ‘integrate’ Britain into Europe at almost any price – the surrender lobby.  Last Monday the so-called Future of Europe group of foreign ministers met and called not only for an integrated European foreign policy, but also a European Army, supported by an integrated European defence industry.  Coincidence?   

It is time the sovereign power in the land, Parliament, got a grip.  The BAE Systems takeover must be stopped.  Parliament must examine properly the defence-procurement fiasco that has led to this desperate, defence-destroying move, the murky motives and individuals behind it and once and for all hold to proper account an increasingly apathetic British Government.  What hope the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review?

BAE Systems; a deal too far.

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Resisting Tyranny

Rome, Italy. 18 September.  I am back again in the eternal city - the city which 2100 years ago saw a putative democracy replaced by tyranny in the name of empire.  Being here again in this magnificent Italian capital the many dangers facing Europe and Europeans are brought into sharp focus.  A couple of days ago in Riga I sat down with some very serious, senior Germans to discuss Britain and the EU.  It was a really very important chat with well-meaning German friends who in that wonderfully German way simply could not for the life of them understand why Britain does not get the German ‘vision’ for Europe.  Put simply, for we British the well-intended rush to political union can only end in some form of unintended tyranny.
Only the British seem to understand this.  In a recent YouGov poll over 60% of Britons wanted either much looser ties with the EU, or to leave the EU completely. This contrasted with 62% of Germans who wanted deeper integration, apparently to ensure greater order, and 63% of Italians who wanted a United States of Europe, ostensibly to ensure greater order and more money.   
I tried hard to explain British concerns but with only limited success.  First, the balance between power and democracy is pivotal.  We British have a profound problem with the concentration of too much political power in too few properly accountable hands (never a good idea in Europe).  That is the logical conclusion of the dangerously euphemistic Federation of Nation-States proposed by the European Commission in its efforts to deepen the bureaucratic ‘control’ it already exerts over Europeans.  It is playing its old trick of using crisis to claim more power unto itself in the name of efficiency.  Indeed, give the Commission an inch and it has consistently taken the non-accountable and proverbial power mile. 
Second, fairness is critically important to we British.  Germany has too often talked Europe but meant Germany and does not play by the rules.  Germany has repeatedly blocked the directive on a single market in services simply because the British are far too competitive and vested German interests want protection.   Indeed, Germany has twice as many cases as Britain before the European Court of Justice for breach of European law. 
Third, cost matters.  Britain pays too much and given that Britain has no sense of the ‘Europeanness’ Germans not always convincingly claim to have (a German Europe or a European Germany?) cost matters profoundly to the British.
Fourth, trust is minimal.  After over ten years of British troops doing too much of the dying in Afghanistan compared to caveat-protected fellow Europeans British faith in the reliability of European allies has been deeply undermined, whatever the numbers of troops deployed.  The result is a complete loss of faith in Europeans as reliable defence partners and a re-discovering of a defence Anglosphere.
Finally, I warned my German friends not to take too seriously the ‘do not rock the boat’ assurances of the British Establishment.  London is locked into managing a decline that is not shared by the British people who are prepared to pay a heavy price to protect their ancient liberties from a Brussels juggernaut that has shown scant regard over the years for their interests.  As political union deepens Britain’s politicians will be able to resist calls for action only for so long, whatever the advice of their ‘gone native’ advisors.
Given that can Germany and Britain find common ground?  Maybe.  The formal re-energising of a kind of super-European Free Trade Area (EFTA) with power to oversee the single market but from within the EU framework could perhaps offer a way forward.  It would of course mean Britain would be a half-price, half-member with half-influence (Britain’s reality today) and it would in effect be the mother of all opt-outs.  Still, Britain could content itself that its beloved single market is alive and well and use the political space to work to extend it across the whole of Europe to include Turkey.   Germany could content itself with a leadership job well done and an EU intact.
What is clear is that the status quo ante is no longer an option and even as a half-member Britain would retain profound worries about encroaching tyranny. We British have spent centuries trying to find the right balance between the state and the individual.  Current plans for deeper EU political integration would once and for all destroy that political balance as democracy can only suffer with the concentration of ever more power in the ever fewer hands of the very people who caused this crisis.  Millions of Britons fought to prevent tyranny in Europe and Germany needs to understand that.  .
The British will always resist tyranny however sophisticated its case and how well-crafted its false claims to be the heir of democracy. 
Julian Lindley-French

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Can NATO Pass the Riga Test?

Riga, Latvia. 16 September.  The Riga Conference is a jewel in the crown of security conferences.  Yesterday I shared a panel with the Italian, Latvian and Norwegian defence ministers, together with Ambassador Sandy Vershbow, NATO’s US Deputy Secretary-General to discuss “NATO post-Chicago”.  Did something happen in Chicago?  I must have missed it.  The questions at hand were those great oxymorons of NATO speak; ‘smart’ defence (they have a good sense humour in NATO) and NATO enlargement.  Being your faithful and ever heretical Blogonaut I of course ignored all that and asked a more direct question; can NATO pass the Riga test?
NATO is a bureaucracy, albeit a bureaucracy with attitude.  In the absence of what was once called ‘leadership’ NATO is forced to search endlessly for a bureaucratic solution to the world by looking at it through the wrong end of a telescope.   Sadly, if the good citizens of Riga are to sleep soundly in their beds NATO’s enforced small thinking will have to change.   Indeed, whilst I remain convinced NATO has and must have a big strategic future the Alliance must first confront a very big present and the most profound and rapid rebalancing of world power ever seen.  In other words, NATO’s post-Afghanistan future is one in which China, Germany, India, Japan and, of course a very near Russia and an over-stretched America tussle to defence influence via soft and hard power.    
Now, let me put aside the coming contest between established superpower America and coming superpower China, which was being enacted out by proxy this week over Rock-all in the East China Sea between Beijing and Tokyo.  Let me focus rather on Europe’s two behemoths Germany and Russia.
The thing about power is that it is as unforgiving to those that have it as it is to those who do not.  Just across the border from where I am writing an opponent of President Putin has been unceremoniously ejected from the Russian Parliament for being less than helpful to the Kremlin.  It is clear that President Putin’s world view is pretty ‘unreconstructed’ (to use the appalling non-speak of modern European academia).  His world is one in which hard power is used to project soft power into spheres of great power influence and devil take the small-most.
Looking to the West between me and home is mighty Germany. Germany does not feel mighty and it tries very hard not to be ‘mighty’, but at least in European terms ‘mighty’ it is.  And, behind the economic turmoil of the Eurozone crisis is the re-ordering of European power in Germany’s favour.  A British diplomat recently told me an apocryphal story about being virtually pinned against a wall by a German diplomat and told in no uncertain terms that twice before Britain had thwarted Germany’s attempts to ‘integrate’ Europe and it would not happen again.  Said German diplomat is probably right as Germany and France have successfully used the EU to neuter Britain.  Thankfully, there are some very serious Germans thinking very seriously about all of this and trying to find a solution to all of this but Germany is having to learn leadership on the job,  Not easy,.
And then there are the Americans (Oh! Oh!).  Twenty-first American grand strategy will demand a shift in both ambition and capability by Washington if it is to meet the coming Asia-Pacific challenges to the second American century with profound implications for the security of the honest folk of Riga.
NATO is today the rather slim piece of salami in this very particular power sandwich.  Indeed, Riga is the crucible in which a new Alliance will either be forged or die (and why the next NATO Sec-Gen should perhaps come from the Baltic States).  Or, to put it another way, Riga’s credible defence demands a new strategic bargain between Washington and Berlin and given events elsewhere the possible re-structuring of NATO into the EUrosphere and the defence Anglosphere.
The alternative is a United States pulled progressively away from the defence of Europe by events elsewhere, a NATO that fades as a result and poor, little Latvia once again trapped between the Russian (planned) and German (not-so-planned) spheres of influence.  History suggests that will not turn out well. Indeed, in the absence of a shared strategic concept with Washington Berlin will be forced to lead Europe towards an autonomous strategic defence.  With Europe’s armed forces about to fall over a defence cliff that would hardly be credible.
The people of Riga need NATO and today NATO just about passes the Riga test.  However, history never stops here and all the NATO allies must never forget that whatever the distractions NATO’s future will be decided not in Brussels or even Afghanistan, but right here in Riga.  Riga cannot be defended by European complacency.
Julian Lindley-French