hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Mali: Now What?

Alphen, Netherlands. 31 January.  Oscar Wilde once wrote “One of the many lessons that one learns in prison is that things are what they are and will be what they will be”.  As I witness the French, British and other Europeans rush to offer their very little militaries in support of an expanding Mali mission I am reminded of that famous little Dutch boy who stuck his finger in a dyke to stem a pending flood.  The gap between politician speak about “generational struggle” (dyke) and deep cuts to the very means needed to deal with such dangerous change (size of aforesaid finger) suggests either aforesaid politicians do not mean what they say (how can that be?) or they do mean it but do not know what they are doing (how can that be?).  Two questions now need to be answered; so what and now what?   
On the face of it there are good reasons to support the French.  For example, British PM David Cameron needs to show he is a ‘good’ European following last week’s now famous Euro-realist speech.  Moreover, today Prime Minister Cameron will announce not only that there will be no further cuts to the British armed forces, but he will officially confirm the €200bn ($271bn) military equipment programme I highlighted before Christmas.  The British government has finally come to realise that its armed forces are not only vital in and of themselves, but also underpin all other forms of British strategic influence, not least with an increasingly unfriendly Obama administration. 
However, London and all other European governments should be careful not to rush in at French behest to save a  la francophonie that France has jealously guarded hitherto as its sphere of influence unless one can really demonstrate a genuine strategic threat.  First, because one of the many lessons from Afghanistan is that the use of force in the absence of a meaningful political strategy (which includes political reconciliation) is but a short step to failure.  Watching Cameron jet off to Algiers yesterday had all the hallmarks of Britain being suckered into French problems.  What has happened to the informal agreement with France whereby Britain focuses its counter-terrorism intelligence effort on the Gulf and Yemen, whilst France focuses on la francophonie?  Third, in spite of calls by Paris for West African states and forces to step into the breach it is clear from discussions I have had that neither the money nor the forces pledged are likely to be anything like enough or good enough for a long time to come.  At present it looks like France (and the rest of us) is going to be there for a long time to come.
There is another reason for caution.  London is rightly keen to show that the 2010 Franco-British Defence and Security Treaty is worth more than the paper it is written on.  However, it is equally clear France not for the first time will happily take British support to get them out of a hole but offer little back in return.  Indeed, if Prime Minister Cameron thinks by stepping into la francophonie somehow Paris is going to change its implacably anti-British position on EU reform then he had better think again.  A taste of what is to come was all too apparent in comments made Tuesday by French intellectual (but appalling historian) Bernard-Henri Levy.  As Britain announced the commitment of some 340 troops to a training and support role Levy reacted with scornful derision.  He accused Britain of “spinelessness” and “inconsistency” for not committing combat troops.  He conveniently forgot that France repeatedly refused to move into southern Afghanistan, the crucible of the war therein, to support the British at a critical time in the campaign and has just completed a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan.  Whilst I honour the sacrifice of all coalition fallen in Afghanistan M. Levy’s comments reflect deep disrespect for the 440 British dead (as against 88 French dead) thus far in Afghanistan in what is meant to be an operation founded on NATO solidarity.  In other words, M. Levy, if you want Britain to support France shut up!
The French action in Mali was necessary to stop genocide.  However, my sense is that France and its allies are now drifting towards the great unplanned with no real sense of what they want to achieve, no real sense of how to achieve it and no idea at all how long it is going to take or what cost they will incur in lives or money.  Once again the solutions they are offering their publics exist purely in political imagininations.  This is action rather than strategy, heat rather than light. 
If the answers to my two questions can be both provided and demonstrated then there may be the making of strategy.  As Professor Colin Gray once wrote, “If we neglect strategic theory, marginalise it as irrelevant or unworldly then we are utterly at the mercy of the perspective of the moment”. 
Quite so! 
Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 28 January 2013

Europe and the Holocaust

Alphen, Netherlands. 28 January.  Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day, the sixty-eighth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet forces which last year I visited to pay homage to the murdered.  Here in the Netherlands Anne Frank wrote “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.  I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.”  Anne Frank died in March 1945 in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp days before its liberation by the British 11th Armoured Division.  Almost seventy years on what does the Holocaust mean for the Europe of today?
The Holocaust or Shoah defines modern Europe because without wishing to deny the suffering of millions in the 1939-45 European war it was the murder of six million Jews and others that stalks European politics to this day and rightly so.  The 1957 Treaty of Rome which established the then European Economic Community (EEC), the forebear of today’s EU, determined to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”.  It might have added “…to prevent genocide ever again being committed on Europe’s soil”.  All the human rights legislation overseen by the Council of Europe against which so many Europeans rail was also inspired by the need to prevent such obscenities.  Anti-Semitism, far from being confined to Nazi Germany, was prevalent across Europe before the war.     
As David Cameron last week finally forced Europeans to begin considering the relationship between power and people and just what “ever closer union” should actually mean in the future Europe the Holocaust continues to provide Europe's ghastly context.  Like it or not Hitler’s ghost still haunts latter day Europe and at this tipping in Europe’s history the political balance European leaders must strike is indeed a delicate one. 
Clearly, Europeans have a special duty of care for the Jewish people but such care must also extend to all minorities.  Indeed, Europe will be judged by its treatment of minorities, especially at a time of hyper-immigration, weak economies and the social tensions inevitable at such moments.  Today’s seminal debate on the future Europe is really about the interaction of globalisation, Europeanisation and integration and by extension power, structure and liberty. 
However, finding a new European balance is not the same as simply embracing the freedom-eroding mantras of political correctness that so infects European politics and which is fuelling new intolerance, new censorships and the new discriminations felt by an increasingly oppressed majority. The Holocaust must always inform European politics but not enslave it.
That the Holocaust still defines a historical fault-line in Europe can be seen in the tension between British Euro-realists and Euro-federalists.  Britain was never occupied and never suffered the terror of occupation.  In the Netherlands alone some 205,000 Dutch people died, the highest proportion in any occupied territory.   Moreover, one only has to visit certain parts of Central and East Europe to very quickly realise the importance of the EU as a safeguard against dangerous nationalisms and the intolerance of minorities.  This is something most Britons simply do not understand.  Indeed, even Britain’s so-called 'pro-EU' lobby simply see the EU as a means to an end of economic stability, rather than the quintessential historical end in itself many Europeans believe it to be.
Ironically, both the federalists and realists are deep down driven by the memory of the Holocaust and the need to ensure it never happens again.  They simply disagree about how.  Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who is fast becoming the champion of federalism, when interviewed last week on the BBC suggested 'peace' in Europe can only be assured by a United States of Europe.  For Euro-realists the opposite is needed; a new separation of powers between Brussels and the member-states, in favour of the latter, to re-establish vital checks and balances that alone can prevent extreme abuse of extreme power. 
Ultimately political liberty must trump guilt however eloquently history speaks to Europeans.  The Holocaust must not be used as an implicit alibi for an ever closer union that is really about the undemocratic concentration of too much power in too few elite hands.  When the Treaty of Rome was drafted the key phrase was an ‘ever closer union of peoples’, nowhere does it call for an ever closer union of states which is how it has come to be interpreted by the Euro-federalists. 
Europe will continue to be held to account by its twentieth century history and rightly so.  However, Anne Frank is a heroine of mine precisely because in spite of the horror she endured her spirit soared alongside her belief in the essential goodness of humanity.  “Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl” is now online.  Read her, celebrate her and honour her belief in humanity.    
Never again!
Julian Lindley-French

Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Dangerous Guy Verhofstadt

Alphen, Netherlands. 27 January. One of the beauties of a blog is the ability to react immediately. I have just been watching former Belgian Prime Minister and Euro-fanatic Guy Verhofstadt on a Dutch TV programme called "Buitenhof".  It is one of those political talking heads programmes that clog the airwaves of most European countries of a Sunday.  The main topic was of course Cameron's big speech on Europe this week.   It was strange to see my country being discussed at length with no Brit present who could offer a real insight into the strategic and political implications of the speech but hey ho! 
However, most galling was to watch the fanatical Mr Vershofstadt use blatant disinformation to make his case for Britain to stay in the EU and thereafter for a federal Europe that would, he said, come to look like the US.  He claimed that British trade with the rest of the EU represented over 53% of GDP.  Wrong.  It is 48% and declining.  He also failed to point out the EUR60bn trading deficit Britain suffers with the rest of the EU. He claimed that all the opinion polls show that the British people are clamouring to stay in the EU.  Wrong.  A poll for this morning's Sunday Telegraph shows a surge in support for Cameron and most of the polls suggest strong support for a referendum, a big majority in favour of repatriation of powers and a small majority in favour of leaving.  He asserted that the whole of British industry is warning Cameron not to push for a referendum. Wrong.  Most of British industry and commerce as represented through their respective trade bodies are strongly in favour of a reduction in EU regulations. 
Mr Verhofstadt is not simply a fanatic but he represents something very dangerous about the Euro-elite.  If the European people, including the British, are going to be subjected to this kind of propaganda the Europe that emerges could be something sinister.  It was after all Goebbels who said that if one repeats a big enough lie long enough people will start to believe it.
If you want to make your case for a federal Europe, Mr Verhofstadt, stick to fact not fallacy.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 25 January 2013

Poland's anti-British Anglophile

Alphen, Netherlands.  25 January. 

Dear Mr Sikorski, you are at it again.  You described Britain yesterday as a "country under special care" and that Poland would be happy to replace Britain in Europe's ruling triumvirate.  As you well know 'special care' in English implies a mental impairment. 

Here is just a bit of political education for you Mr Sikorski (your manners it would appear are beyond repair).  First, France and Germany have never let Britain be part of what you call rather clumsily the "ruling triumvirate".  There was no noticeable British presence at this week's fiftieth anniversary celebrations of the 1963 Elysee Treaty, the founding document of the Franco-German duarchy.  You must be an eternal optimist if you really believe France and Germany would ever let Poland into their club.  Will you have a real say over the Franco-German plan for deeper union which is to be rolled out this coming May?  Somehow I doubt it.  Second, it is strange to hear a Polish foreign minister seeking to create a new balance of power in Europe by offering to replace Britain in your triarchy. Surely the lesson of Polish history is that European integration should act as an insurance against the kind of power politics you clearly espouse.  Third, facts speak for themselves.  According to the IMF Poland had a 2011 economy worth $514bn, whereas the British economy was worth some four-times that at $2.4 trillion.  Poland has a population of 38.2 million against the British population of 65.5 million with a Polish GDP per capita of $13,469 against the British $38,811. 

So, good luck with your 'leadership' drive Mr Sikorski, but you will have to defy the gravity of the very power politics you clearly espouse if you are to succeed.  It may also be time that your President remind you that you are a foreign minister and that such language does no credit to your great country.  All your comment reveals is that you care little for minor political principles such as democracy and even less for the need to prepare the EU for the twenty-first century.  Instead your vision of the EU seems akin to a kind of centralised Union of European Socialist Soviet Republics.  Now there's an irony.     

You claim to be an Anglophile.  With friends like you we British really do not need enemies.  Good luck with your continuing hunt for a good job in Brussels.  I am sure the French and Germans will oblige.

Take special care with your language,  Mr Sikorski!

Julian Lindley-French


Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Euro-Realism: Well Said, Prime Minister!

Alphen, Netherlands.  23 January.  In November 1942 Winston Churchill famously said, “This is not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning”.  For two years I have waited for Prime Minister Cameron to stand up as a British leader and make a speech that establishes Britain’s Euro-Realist principles and gives the EU a wake-up call.  At a time of immense change both in the EU and the world Prime Minister Cameron this morning delivered that speech.  The message was as succinct as it was blunt; if EU leaders choose a legitimate union of nation-states and begin the reforms Europe desperately needs if it is to compete effectively in the twenty-first century then Britain will be a part of it.  If EU leaders choose instead the path towards a false union, a sclerotic, uncompetitive and unaccountable Brussels bureaucratic tyranny, Britain will leave, but only after a fight!
This was a principled, grand strategic Euro-Realist speech, not the little Englander euro-sceptic speech as characterised by the hopelessly-biased BBC and its supporters on the political left.  This was a British prime minister, leader of one of the world’s top powers, standing up for principle against the danger of an inadvertent, but nevertheless very real threat to democracy at this tipping point in Europe’s governance.  A road to tyranny set out all too clearly last night by former Belgian Prime Minister, and well-known elitist Euro-federalist Guy Verhofstadt, when he talked of the German-style Basic Law for a federal Europe which he said is coming.  Cameron also challenged the lazy notion that Soviet-style centralisation under the rubric of “ever closer political union” is either inevitable or good.  He stood up for ‘heretics’ like me who have had the courage to stand up for the Europe we believe in and been ostracised for speaking truth unto power. 
Critically, his speech offered five Euro-realist principles.  First (and foremost) he called for a competitive Europe.  The EU will fail it it tries to ring-fence Europe from world change and reality.  Second, he envisioned a flexible EU that no longer forces member-states into a single intolerant template.  Third, he demanded that power flow in two-directions between Brussels and the member-states, a commitment of a decade ago that has been conveniently forgotten by the Euro-federalists.  Fourth, he reminded all Europeans of the absolute centrality of real democratic accountability, not the false-legitimacy ‘offered’ by the appalling European Parliament.  Fifth, and finally, he reminded Europeans of the need for an EU built on that most British of traits – fairness.  Whatever new arrangements emerge within the Eurozone in 2014 the new EU that is coming must be fair to all and seen to be so. 
Above all, Cameron had the courage to trust the British people, unlike Ed Miliband the Labour leader or Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats.  Equally, he charged that same British people with the responsibility that now lies before them.  Britons have asked for a choice; they have now got it and when they make that choice it must be a considered choice.  By 2017 or 2018 when the referendum comes the current phoney war over the future of the EU will be over and Europe’s future direction will be clear.  EU leaders had better understand that it is the political context of the referendum which will decide the vote, for the majority of the British people are by no means anti-Europe.  If EU leaders act like Verhofstadt and are dogmatic and intolerant of legitimate British concerns then the vote will indeed become an in-out referendum.  Miliband and Clegg had also better understand that the offer of a vote now having been made to deny the British people would be electoral suicide. 
What Cameron offered was a British vision for Europe, one that should be taken very seriously. Indeed, far from being a speech that charts a path to a Brexit, if other EU leaders are sensible they will recognise that what Cameron said chimes with millions of ordinary European citizens on this side of the Channel.  Now a sensible, popular and lively debate must begin on the critical issues Cameron raised which will not only define Europe but Europe’s place in the world.  It is a vision for a Europe that puts citizens not elites front and centre and the just pursuit of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.  It is a call for an end to the nation-state crushing, freedom-destroying elitist political fantasy that the EU has become.     
Two kilometres from here is a small British war cemetery.  Five young Britons killed for the freedom of Europe lie interred in clay.  Cameron rightly reminded Europeans (and sadly the Obama administration) of a simple truth; Britain’s role in making the Europe of today was critical and Britain’s role in making the Europe of tomorrow will be equally critical.  It is not Britain that is turning inward away from a dangerous world; it is the EU as currently constructed. 
Well said, Prime Minister!  Now mean it!

Julian Lindley-French


Monday, 21 January 2013

Malgeria: Pause, Think, Plan, Act

Alphen, Netherlands.  21 January.  It is being called the “soft underbelly of Europe”, an entire sub-continent from the Maghreb to the Middle East that stretches down to the transitional zone between Saharan and Sub-Saharan Africa known as the Sahel region and beyond to Nigeria.  It encompasses both Algeria where the attack inspired by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) took place on BP’s In Amenas gas plant, and Mali where French forces are currently struggling to contain a heavily-armed Islamist/Tuareg insurgency, many of whom were Gadhafi's mercenaries in Libya’s recent civil war.  In fact, the phrase ‘soft underbelly of Europe’ was first coined by Winston Churchill in November 1942 to counter growing pressure from Roosevelt and Stalin for what would have been a disastrously premature Second Front against the Axis powers in Europe during World War Two.  And, clearly, the region in question is not Europe.  Therefore, before sustained action is taken the events in both Mali and Algeria must be placed in context and blanket terms avoided that too often reflect a lack of real understanding.  What is happening is important but this is not the start another global war on terror. 
Two critical factors must now be gripped.  First, the Tuareg uprising is an unintended consequence of the Western-supported toppling of Libya’s Gadhafi, fuelled by the small and heavy arms now awash across the region which as a result is in danger of tipping the balance between state and anti-state forces in Mali.  Second, the nature of the insurgency and its links or otherwise to the strategic brand that is Al Qaeda and the so-called “global jihadist consciousness” need to be better understood.  The links may or may not exist and may or may not be strong but it would be a mistake to create a monster where none exists by dignifying criminality with some kind of religious, ideological grand strategy. 
Clearly, Islamist groups and criminals seeking to exploit and expropriate Islam have been growing rich in recent years though the retreat of the state across the northern half of Africa.  And, there will be some groups who clearly see the creation of ungoverned spaces as potential bases to attack the West to legitimise their activities in the eyes of followers.  However, just as the threat of global jihad was exaggerated post 911 it must not be exaggerated here.  If that happens the likelihood is that the West again will craft another failed strategy that again uses a hammer to crack a nut, and in so doing strengthens the nut.
The strategic aim of policy should be clear; the preservation of the state in the region with aid focussed on the reconstruction of state apparatus.  This is a struggle between the state and the anti-state and it is a vital Western interest to ensure states survive.
The strategy must in turn have six elements all of which should have been learnt from experience in Afghanistan.  First, a consistent intelligence picture must be developed across the region to better understand the extent and nature of the insurgency, the key movers and shakers and what if any links exist to outside forces, such as Saudi-based funding.  This will enable the intelligent use of force and resource over time and distance critical to strategy.  Second, Western elite military forces should be held as a mobile strike and support reserve to deal with specific crises and thus prevent state collapse.  Third, local (police), regional and national forces must be trained, equipped and properly paid to provide both the vital legitimacy and mass of boots on the ground to better stabilise and reconstruct.  This will help disaggregate insurgencies and criminality locally by helping to break any link between local grievances and AQIM that may exist. 
Fourth, a detailed mapping of aid activities must start with a focus on those programmes that deliver results via a strategic and co-ordinated aid policy with all concerned governments pooling their efforts.  EU this is a time for you to pull your finger out and for once turn theory and talk into successful practice.  Fifth, establish a new aid architecture that reinforces state legitimacy and efficiency via a Contact Group that incorporates Western and regional governments, African Union, Arab League, together with the EU, UN and World Bank.  Sixth, establish a proper auditing and reporting system built on sound output (not input) metrics for measuring aid performance and distinguish between aid (short-term) and develpment (medium-to-long term). Too much Western taxpayer’s money has been squandered over the past decade by peppering with money dysfunctional and under-performing programme in an attempt by governments to pretend heat was light.
The French were right to intervene in Mali to prevent a Rwanda/Sierra Leone-type genocide.  However, Western governments, in particular European governments, must now pause, think, plan and only then act.  The many lessons that have surely been learnt in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan must now be systematically applied in North Africa and beyond. 
Something must be done; but 'it' must be done properly. 
Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Euro-Realism, not euro-scepticism, Mr Cameron

Alphen (NB),
Netherlands, 17 January.

Dear Mr Cameron,
Tomorrow you will make the most important speech of your premiership on Britain’s relationship with Europe here in the Netherlands.  Yesterday in Parliament you gave me some encouragement that you have finally grasped the huge strategic significance of what is happening here on the Continent.  It is precisely these strategic factors you must focus on in your speech.  Indeed, at this critical moment in Europe’s history you must endeavour to communicate two vital messages not just to Britons, but all Europeans.  First, the drift of the EU towards bureaucratic tyranny represents a danger to democracy.  Second, Europeans must again look outwards to the world and become competitive across all economic and strategic domains.  Euro-Realism must be your theme tomorrow, Mr Cameron, not euro-scepticism.
Living here in the Netherlands with my Dutch wife as I have done for many years there is much frustration with Britain.  On the one side there are the Euro-fanatics who will go to almost any lengths in pursuit of the ‘Grand Europe’ they seek.  Joseph Goebbels once said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it”.  Now, I am not for the moment equating European federalists with the Nazis, but be it here or in Britain the use by the pro-Europe lobby of fear is disgraceful. 
On the other side there are millions of ordinary Europeans looking to Britain to offer some alternative to the ‘ever more Europe at any cost’ creed.  All they want is for their nation-state to remain the centre of Europe’s political gravity with national governments and parliaments firmly in control of their interests and their futures.  And yet all they hear from Britain is an incessant and self-defeating “we want our money/laws back” whinge.  There is no sense of a Britain willing to fight on the bigger, principled questions of balance, liberty and democracy. 
We both know that the Eurozone will soon commit a terrible error and cross a dangerous political Rubicon.  Once crossed too much power will be placed in the hands of an elite few with the unelected and unaccountable strengthened at the expense of liberty.  Democracy itself may well be at risk if all people can elect in future is hollowed out politicians in hollowed-out states.
Britain must therefore do what it has always done; prevent the emergence of an unholy alliance and over-mighty power on the Continent.  However, Britain can only do that if London takes a strategic and historical view of Europe rather than the narrow, short-term, parochial view so far offered.  What is happening is far more than a simple issue of cost.  Be it Phillip II of Spain, Louis XIV, Napoleon, the Kaiser or indeed Hitler, Britain’s job has always been to prevent the hegemony of any one single power over Europe in whatever form it casts itself.  The rhetoric might have changed but behind all the Euro-speak the same old European geopolitics are at work and Britain as ever must lead the resistance.  That is the kind of leadership for which millions of concerned Europeans are looking to Britain.  It is something past British leaders would have immediately understood, but which hitherto has been utterly absent from your own leadership.
Britain must also fight for a Europe that again looks up and out to the world.  The killing of two European citizens yesterday by Islamists and the kidnapping of forty others is but one example of a European strategic neighbourhood replete with dangers.  You were right to support France’s efforts to stabilise Mali, although Paris deserves far more.  Sadly, the flip-side of the Eurozone crisis is a Europe that is fast becoming neo-isolationist and neo-pacifist as evinced by the effective scrapping of credible armed forces in many European states.
In that light Britain’s agenda must be twofold.  First, to make pragmatic, common cause with all those who want to repatriate powers from Brussels, and that includes Germans, Dutch and many others.  Second, with France start to lead Europe back to strategic seriousness in what will be a dangerous instable European neighbourhood in a dangerous world. 
Yesterday I watched with interest your Fresh Start group of MPs present you with what a long and frankly not unreasonable list of ‘competences’ you wish to see returned to London from Brussels.  In essence they were asking for the return of many of the same powers that will be integrated in the coming EU treaty changes that will emerge after the September German elections.  However, unless such demands are embedded in the broader Euro-realist agenda I have outlined they will have no chance of being agreed.  Win the argument over principle and you may have some chance of winning the argument over particulars.
Winston Churchill once said, “every time Britain has to decide between Europe and the open sea, it is always the open sea that we shall choose” Were life that easy.  Remember, Mr Cameron, Euro-Realism, not euro-scepticism tomorrow.  Good luck!
Yours sincerely,

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Why Obama is Betraying Britain

Following my comments in Trakai a senior American contacted me to ask me why I thought Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gordon’s comments amounted to a betrayal of Britain.  There are four reasons:
1.           European Geopolitics: This is the most strategic of European moments.  Behind the Euro-speak good old-fashioned European geopolitics are at work.  Whilst modern, democratic Germany is vastly different to past Germany the impulse in Berlin to unify Europe around Germany remains and Washington is naive in the extreme if it thinks otherwise. By pulling the negotiating rug from under a weak prime minister's feet the US has at a stroke prevented Britain from building a balancing coalition in Europe and thus play its traditional role as the balancer.  Evidence of Realpolitik is apparent in Berlin's repeated refusal to fully comply with the EU’s Services Directive critical to the hallowed Single Market in an area where the British are strong and Germany relatively weak.  This is not German-bashing, simply strategic fact.
2.               Bad Timing: Britain is not negotiating about its future in THIS EU; it is beginning to negotiate a position vis-a-vis the New EUrozone EU.  This new EU will be built around Germany and created pretty swiftly (by EU standards) post-September and the German elections. The Obama Administration by making this very public and humiliating intervention at this critical moment has effectively cut the ground from under Cameron’s 'definitive' speech on Europe, now scheduled for 18 January in the Netherlands.  The fact that Cameron is making this critical speech abroad and not in Britain speak volumes as does the fact he was forced to move the date by the Germans!  A sign of things to come? 
3.          The Politics of the Moment: David Cameron is one of the least strategic prime ministers in British history and he needs all the help he can get to see the big strategic picture, craft policy from it and have the political courage to stick to it.  Indeed, Cameron has wavered repeatedly over recent weeks depending on which group has spoken to him last.  The Administration has critically undermined a key negotiating lever of an already weak prime minister by effectively forcing Cameron to abandon the Armageddon option; leaving the EU.  There is now no pressure on Germany or others to agree to give Britain any concession now that Berlin believes it has the tacit backing of the US.  Berlin also believes that sooner or later the British people will be forced to join a project an overwhelming majority have never wanted nor will ever want.  
4.          The Future: This EU is now all about Germany and the (understandable) German desire to pretend it is about ‘Europe’.  The rest are either too weak or too broke to matter.  This is the bottom of the strategic and political cycle for Britain which will in time recover some influence.  Therefore, only Britain with US support can ensure an enduring political balance in Europe.  Critically, there are those in Berlin keen for Britain to play just such a balancing and legitimising role.  A sign of good faith would be for Berlin and Washington together to encourage Britain in such a role.

The bottom-line: The British are already the 2nd biggest net contributors, with the EU costing the over-stretched British taxpayer £52 million a day, reinforced by an annual £52bn trading deficit with the EU.  As such the relationship between British costs and British benefits in THIS EU is already dangerously unbalanced.  As the German-centric EUrozone consolidates the bloc will inevitably act in unison reinforcing the economic imbalance with political fiat.  Even with the so-called ‘treaty-lock’ (whereby any more shift of powers from London to Brussels automatically triggers a referendum) Britain will be cast into a permanent minority.  Therefore, the only way for Britain to remain in the Union equitably over time is to negotiate now for a repatriation of powers in direct proportion to the German-led integration of Eurozone national powers that is about to happen.
Next Steps: The US should engage in quiet diplomacy to reinforce Britain's position vis-a-vis Germany (and to some extent France) in the implicit (and not so implicit) European power politics.  First, because Britain’s ancient liberties matter as much to Britons as America’s to Americans and for good reason.  Second, because Britain has always rightly, distrusted Continental ‘grands dessins’ that focus so much power in so few hands via an utterly unaccountable and undemocratic Brussels.  Such power gambits have never ended well in Europe.  Therefore, the US must now make a very public commitment to ensuring that Britain's interests and influence will be properly protected in the coming EUrozone.  If not Britain’s position will become untenable and in time no amount of American and German bullying will prevent Britain from leaving the new EU. 
 The Special Relationship would then be well and truly dead.  This is about Britain’s long-term future; free-standing nation-state and American ally or province of a German-led, Brussels-administered EU or more taxation with even less representation.  Now, there’s a delicious irony.  Revenge is indeed a dish best served cold.  Britain deserves better than that America.

Julian Lindley-French


Monday, 14 January 2013

Cameron, Get Berlin to Write your Europe Speech

Alphen, Netherlands.  14 January.  What a mess!   On Friday the Austrian Chancellor Werner Feymann said he can no longer trust Cameron because he says one thing in the European Council and another when talking to the British people.  On Saturday Cameron's former strategy advisor Steve Hilton said in the US that Downing Street is not only dysfunctional but only learns much of its news from BBC radio.  Today, Cameron suggested that his long-trailed, 'definitive' 22 January speech on Europe will now take place here in The Netherlands.  This was news to Dutch Prime Minister Rutte who up to an hour or so ago had no idea Cameron was about to pay a visit. 

Cameron's incompetence is breathtaking.  The PR-Meister had originally planned to make his great EU climbdown (sorry, speech) in Germany.  However, Cameron's advisors had forgotten to tell him that 22 January is the 50th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty, which not only sealed Franco-German reconciliation but established the basis for the British-excluding Franco-German relationship upon which the EU is built.  Not surprisingly my contacts tell me Berlin is not all happy with the date Cameron has chosen for his speech and emboldened by their new relationship with Washington (a sign of things to come?) is telling the PR-Meister to move the date of his speech.

So, expect a 'technical reason' over the next 24 hours as to why the speech has to be shifted so as to comply with German demands.  In fact, it would make much more sense for Berlin to simply write the speech for Cameron.  At least it would make sense and we would all know Britain's fate without having to watch two more years of Cameron's amateur dramatics pretending he is fighting Britain's corner. 
Sadly, watching PR-Meister Cameron trying to climbdown over Europe as per Washington's instructions of last week leaves a bad taste in the mouth.  My once great country is now led at a critical juncture in its history by the most lightweight, pusillanimous and downright disingenuous prime minister in modern British history, and that is saying something.
There is an old saying that suggests countries get the politicians they deserve.  Nothing from my copious knowledge of British history suggests we were that bad.

Winston Churchill he ain't!  You could not make this stuff up!  

Julian Lindley-French    

Much Snow in Lithuania

Trakai, Lithuania. 14 January.  The Snow Meeting.  Trakai Castle sits firm and strong on its island stronghold in the midst of a snowbound, frozen lake.  Built in the fourteenth century the castle protected the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from attacks by the Teutonic Knights.  As we looked upon Europe’s past an array of prime ministers, foreign ministers and ambassadors from across the western world considered Europe’s future.  This intense, small, annual meeting is a gem in the calendar and so different in tone from many ego-fests.  It is also one of those moments in a year when I really speak truth unto power in my role as strategic court jester.
In Lithuania both the European Union and NATO make sense.  Some 190 kilometres from the Russian border Moscow is always present.  In the 1960s then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev once cited the restoration of Trakai Castle as an example of what he called the ‘nationalism’ that he believed threatened the then-Soviet Union.  Today, we would call such ‘nationalism’ political liberty; the right of nation-states to self-govern, a theme that ran throughout the conference.
Two big geopolitical pictures of note were painted, one understood, the other not.  Russia is ever looking to exploit weakness and irresolution in the West even if in reality the only stable border Russia has in the one a short distance from here.  With the Eurozone crisis having now effectively killed off any prospect of EU enlargement to the likes of Belarus or Ukraine and with little to offer as incentives for political reform therein, the Kremlin has offered an alternative Eurasian Union with Moscow firmly embedded at its centre.  This was clearly understood by all present but there was little that could be done other than to let the Russians screw it up in their own inimitable fashion.
The second big geopolitical picture concerned the consequences of crisis-driven, Germany-led, Brussels Centre managed deeper economic and political integration in the Eurozone and Britain’s reaction to it.  On the eve of the biggest shift ever in the balance of power between the EU state and Brussels Centre it is clear from this meeting that no-one will support Cameron’s objective of repatriating powers from Brussels.  Indeed, there is no mood to compensate Britain for its coming downgrading by the Eurozone, referendum or no referendum.  The Germans know full well that the British political Left (including the Liberal Democrats) are willing to sacrifice any amount of Britain’s political liberty to keep Berlin and Brussels smiling on them, whatever the views of the British people.  Thus, Germany has no need to give any ground whatsoever to Britain and can drive on regardless now that it has Washington’s backing. 
What I was shocked by was the level to which the European elite as a whole have convinced themselves that what is about to happen is a good thing and that somehow Britain gets a good deal.  One very senior person quoted figures about how much Britain benefits from the EU that were spectacularly wrong.  On 22 January Cameron will offer the British people a 2015 sort-of referendum on the EU.  If he is still in power (big if) he will then go to Brussels with his demands and promptly be told to “Brussels Off”.  At that point the reality of Euro-integration will be apparent to all and London will face a choice – sign up to Germany’s Europe or try and quit. 
The Eurasian Union is already a busted flush, whilst the future EU will simply not work and whatever the pressure or propaganda Britain must stand firm and continue to resist.  Rather than force the recalcitrant into a structure they can never accept, will never work and which affords all sorts of dangers to democratic oversight of over-mighty power work should rather begin on an entirely new EU.  That was the essential point made by George Osborne, the British finance minister, in an 11 January interview with German newspaper Die Welt. 
In my opening remarks to the conference I warned about a weak Europe playing bad chess whilst the rest of the world plays stud poker.  Here in Lithuania Realpolitik is ever present and unless Europeans relearn the rules of geopolitics the new balance of power that emerges from it will be cast utterly at Europe's expense.  If ‘Europe’ is to make sense the real challenge is a Europe that can compete effectively across all economic and strategic domains and which is seen as legitimate and democratic by all its peoples. Surely, this is an agenda that can unite Germans, Britons, Swedes and most other Europeans?
Perhaps the most poignant, painful lesson for this life-long Atlanticist from the meeting was the abandonment of Britain by an Obama administration contemptuous of Britain.  The Special Relationship is finally dead; long-live the New Special Relationship…America and Germany.
Of course, none of this was confronted head-on.  Too much snow.
Julian Lindley-French, Director, Europa Analytica

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Euro-Realism, Mr Gordon!

Alphen, Netherlands. 9 January.  It is not often I am moved to write two blogs in a day but I really must.  Last week I warned  that a "senior administration official" was going to lecture Britain about its relationship with the EU.  I chose not to mention his name out of respect for his position and indeed for him, although I knew full well who he was.  Today, the US Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Phil Gordon broke cover to warn against Britain leaving the EU.  He also counselled against the British people being offered a referendum on perhaps the greatest single choice they have faced since at least World War Two; to remain a self-governing state or by accepting the sovereignty-sapping future EU a German-led Eurozone and Brussels Centre are driving toward see Britain in time reduced to to all intents a province of a 'united' Europe.  Make no mistake; that is the choice on offer. 
Now, I have known Phil Gordon for many years from the days when I worked for the EU Institute for Security Studies in Paris and Phil was a Washington academic.  Whilst I respect him greatly Phil Gordon was and is the closest thing in DC to an EU groupie. He was also very close to my French boss of the time and the French Government.  Whilst Gordon did his best to choose his words carefully listening to Phil today warn that "referendums have turned countries inward" it was hard to be sure if this was the US Government speaking or Phil Gordon.
What is clear is that a campaign is now underway to influence a very influenceable David Cameron ahead of his keynote speech on Europe which he will make later this month.  Cameron simply does not get the huge strategic issues at stake.  Gordon's comments also imply a campaign by several foreign powers and some from within the Whitehall Establishment to deny the British people a voice on their future. 
Whilst some of what Phil Gordon said today makes sense, such as the need to keep the EU looking outward (see my earlier blog of today) the implication of his intervention is that the British people should be forced to accept a model of 'Europe' they have never wanted, never voted for and never will want.  It is a Europe in which the European nation-state will steadily be hollowed out and power transferred to an impossibly undemocratic and probably utterly unworkable Brussels Centre.  This is something Phil Gordon and his fellow Americans would never accept for Americans so why should we British be forced to accept it?

At this point I could get all precious about Gordon's comments being an egregious American interference in British internal affairs but the US has earned the right to comment on Britain.  The EU decision Britain finally makes will impact the US.  However, Phil Gordon and the Obama Administration must be very careful not to be seen to bully the British people over this matter.  The EU of today is not the EU of tomorrow and there is nothing about the Eurozone and its governance that the British find at all attractive. 
Nor should Americans confuse anti-EU Euro-scepticism with Euro-realism.  Rather than lecturing we British to stay in the EU at all costs Washington should be backing Britain to help ensure that the fantasy of political union is brought to an end, that the European Commission and European Parliament are put back in their respective toy boxes and that the EU goes back to being what it should always have been; a tight alliance of nation-states with power resting firmly in national capitals.  That is the only form of legitimacy that works in Europe.  Implicit in Phil Gordon's comments is an America equally comfortable with the idea of one large state dominating Europe with a Britain that is prevented By EU statute from playing the balancing role it has always played in a German-leaning Europe.
America needs to go back to the traditional principles of American diplomacy in Europe, Mr Gordon, and rediscover its Euro-realism. 

Julian Lindley-French       

Can Anything Stop Europe Disarming?

Alphen, Netherlands. 9 January.  The world is playing stud poker, whilst Europe plays bad chess.  Last week’s stern warning from US NATO Ambassador Ivo Daalder that Europeans should use the money saved by withdrawing from Afghanistan to reverse crippling defence cuts was surely just another tiresome American whinge?  In fact Daalder is dead right.
Daalder and I have not always seen eye to eye but he knows what he is talking about.  Nor is he just another gung-ho American.  Born in The Hague he is as European an American as one could possibly find and by and large sympathetic to the idea of a ‘Europe’. 
The facts speak for Daalder.  Last month’s authoritative “European Defense Trends” by Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) demonstrates conclusively a disconnection between Europe’s on-going slashing of defence spending and the hikes taking place in the rest of the world.  According to CSIS European defence spending fell by 1.8% in 2012 on top of the up to 30% cuts from between 2008 and 2011.  Contrast that with defence spending elsewhere revealed by my own research.  Russia aims to inject about $775bn/€593 by 2022 for new armaments and a more professional military.  Beijing grew the Chinese defence budget by 11.2% in 2012 (although slightly lower than the 12.7% in 2011) which is but the latest double digit increase.  Indeed, China has been growing its military at that rate since 1989 and the official figures are probably ‘conservative’. 
Even Europe’s overall defence spend conceals a dangerous capability gap BETWEEN Europeans.  The combined 2011 defence budgets of NATO Europe totalled some $235/bn€180bn compared with a 2009 U.S. defence budget of $658bn/€503bn, even though the size of the two economies is roughly the same.  Of that $235bn/€180bn France and the UK together represent 49% whilst the so-called ‘big three’ (Britain, France and Germany) spend some 88% of all defence research and development in NATO Europe.  Sixteen of the twenty-six NATO Europe members spend less than $5bn/€4bn per annum and much of it inefficiently.  In spite of economic difficulties Britain plans confirmed spending of some $261bn/€200bn on military equipment alone over the next ten years. 
It would be easy to say that Europe’s appeasement of strategic reality can all be put down to the Eurozone crisis.  Clearly, that is an important factor.  However, there are other deeper forces at work.  When I worked on what became the EU's Common Security and Defence Policy a decade or so ago there was still a sense that European defence would in time provide a new set of defence benchmarks wholly ‘made in Europe’, rather than imposed by America.  Sadly, whilst the EU has indeed made limited progress towards a European defence market today those Euro-benchmarks are honoured only in the breach.  More than one senior EU official has told me privately that each time a force goal is missed EU member-states either move the goalposts, hide the facts or more often both.
America has some responsibility.  Washington’s strategic mistakes and poor leadership have helped to create the pacifism from which much of Europe now suffers.  However, ultimately Europeans must take responsibility for their own defence.  Sadly, too many Europeans lack the appetite to create the big picture strategic analysis upon which sound strategic defence decisions are made.  Consequently I can guarantee I will waste a lot of time this year at conferences listening to the same self-serving, short-term ‘strategic’ nonsense official Europeans serve up to justify defence meltdown.  This will no doubt be supported by ‘evidence’ of meaningless deployments whilst reality-sapping national caveats and swingeing cuts will be quietly ignored.
Daalder’s essential point is therefore correct; one cannot establish a credible defence on a military vacuum.  At a time when NATO's collective defence architecture is in desperate need of modernisation to cope with the technologies of a new age Europe cannot detach itself from geo-politics or pretend balance of power politics are a thing of Europe’s past.  Like it or not Europe’s defence effort is a key test of European strategic seriousness.  Europeans cannot expect Americans to invest in Europe's twenty-first century defence if Europeans do not.  Moreover, with an over-stretched America increasingly focussed on Asia-Pacific Europe’s defence appeasement will drive dangerous world change not stop it.  Sadly, lacking a strategic concept worthy of the name, mistrustful of American leadership and organised around a Germany the more influential it becomes the less military continental Europe will likely become more pacifist and more neo-isolationist.  
What will it take for Europe to stop disarming?  Europeans must stop appeasing reality by pretending they live in the Euro-world they would like and face the world as it is; a world in which others now make the rules.  In other words, Europeans must stop playing bad chess, whilst the rest of the world plays stud poker.  Winston Churchill once described an appeaser as “one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last”.  If Europeans do not finally get their defence act together Churchill’s crocodile will one day bite...and hard!
Julian Lindley-French


Monday, 7 January 2013

Saving Syria from Assad

Alphen, Netherlands. 7 January.  “The enemies of the people are the enemies of God, and the enemies of God will burn in hell.” Syrian President Assad left little grounds for optimism in his 6 January ‘peace’ initiative.  Clearly there can now be no peace with Assad but what will it take to get rid of him and what would happen if he went? 
The need is pressing.  The United Nations last week estimated the death toll in the Syrian civil war at come sixty thousand since March 2011, possibly many more.  International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned that if the war is not ended in 2013 Syria could indeed turn into a “hell”.  However, whilst the so-called Geneva Plan lays the foundation for a resolution by Syrians for Syrians it is extremely unlikely any ‘big deal’ can now be reached between the regime and the Syrian National Coalition.  Transition from war to a stable Syria will thus demand the removal of Assad and the direct involvement of the international community.   
Equally, whilst the removal of Assad would be the first step to peace it would not be an end in itself.   Assad is right about one thing.  Fundamentalist Sunni fighters and what British Prime Minister David Cameron recently described as a “new cohort of al-Qaeda linked extremists” are all too apparent in the opposition’s ranks.  If the regime simply implodes doubtless a new power struggle will begin.
Furthermore, an enduring Syrian peace will also only be possible if the conflict is detached from a wider regional Realpolitik.  Iran has been supporting the regime with both expertise and munitions, with substantial evidence of direct involvement by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, whilst Russia and China have blocked any direct outside intervention.  Indeed, the regional strategic ambitions of Iran and its proxy Hezbollah-led conflict with Israel have critically exacerbated the war.  Equally, whilst an arms embargo has been formally imposed evidence abounds that it exists in name only.  The Coalition has been receiving directly or indirectly both small arms and man-held anti-aircraft missiles from the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia to counter the regime’s use of air power. 
What would a 'credible' international presence on the ground look like and under what mandate? Arab League, UN, NATO, EU or a beefed up Contact Group?  Experience of political transition in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya (hardly encouraging) suggests that early political reconciliation would be critical but only possible if reprisal killings are prevented and the humanitarian suffering of all alleviated.  A new seat of government in Damascus would also need to be rapidly established and protected, committed to a political timetable for transition underpinned by the early disarmament and rehabilitation of combatants.  The armed forces would need to be re-oriented and essential services and the judicial system preserved to provide stability. Critically, senior members of the Assad regime charged under law would need to get a fair trial and justice seen to work.  National elections woven into a new constitution would also be vital with extreme elements in the opposition forced to face a choice; reconciliation or exclusion.  Would Russia and China agree?  Maybe this is the moment for a Tony Blair-type Sextet for Syria - America, Arab League, China, EU and Russia?
But here’s the thing.  For Syria to find true peace a new coherence will need to be forged that reflects a Syria very different to that of 1966 when Assad’s father seized power.  That will not be easy.  Assad’s fate is linked to that of Syria's many minorities such as the Shia community, specifically the Alawhites from which he hails. Syria is 90% Arab, with some two million Kurds plus other smaller groups making up the balance of a 22 million population that has exploded by over 300% since 1966.  Syria is also 87% Muslim with Shias making up 13% of the population, as against 74% Sunnis with the rest comprised of small Christian, Druze and other communities.  In the past the Baathist constitution protected minorities and until those self-same minorities feel secure peace is unlikely to endure.
Moscow’s admission last month that Assad may fall from power allied to Vice-President Farouk al-Sharaa assertion that no-one can win the Syrian civil war and that a transitional government is now the only way forward suggests the war is indeed at a tipping point.  Sadly, no-one can expect peace soon.  An enduring Syrian peace would only be possible with the consistent support of a unified international community and that simply does not exist.  Even if it did would any state be prepared to commit land forces under UN mandate to secure the peace?  Who would be prepared to offer the huge resources vital to re-settle peaceably displaced populations, promote peaceful transition and re-build a smashed Syria? 
If peace miraculously came tomorrow with the fall of Assad Syrians would face a vacuum created by a hopelessly split international community.  Saving Syria from Assad is but the first step.  The Syrian civil war is not simply about the transfer of power from a national minority to a majority it is about the future geopolitical shape of the Middle East. Without real support from us all Syria will continue to be a danger to itself and its neighbours in a very dangerous region.  
Julian Lindley-French