hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Balance of Incompetents

The European Federation Benelux Region. 31 July, 2063.  The Berlin-based European Government orders the European Federation (EF) English Regional Government to increase taxes to pay for the South-East European Regional Development Plan.  England’s first female President and European Commissioner instructs the English Regional Parliament to duly rubber-stamp Berlin’s wishes.  Comprised as it is of 60% EF appointees the Parliament duly obliges.  All of Europe’s remaining constitutional monarchies were scrapped in May 2050 on the centennial of the Schuman Declaration and the creation of the European Federation. Indeed, democracy as Europeans once knew it has long been replaced by an elite-led technocracy that governs in the name of ‘stability’. 
The technocracy is ‘overseen’ by a remote and weak European Parliament that acts in the name of the people but rarely has much direct contact with them.  The English still get to vote but only on minor local issues.  The United Kingdom also ceased to exist in May 2050 as England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland became part of the EF’s British Isles Region.  The last vestiges of national sovereignty were finally abandoned at the 2040 Brussels Summit which not only transferred the seat of European government to Berlin but also revealed Europe’s worst-kept secret – no decisions of any substance had been taken at the national level since 2032 and the signing of Maastricht Treaty 2. 
Fanciful?  That is precisely where Britain/England will be in 2063 if London continues to transfer national powers to Brussels at the rate that has been taking place since the 1986 Single European Act.
Last week the first reports of the British Government’s so-called Balance of Competences Review were published.  Already dubbed the Great Whitehall Whitewash the Review has thus far concluded a) the EU does not cost Britain too much; and b) the balance of competences between London and Brussels are about right.  However, the benchmark against which the reports core judgements are made are impossible to discern.  The reason is that most EU member-states can point to tangible benefits of membership but with the cost of membership to Britain so high the ‘benefits’ are at best intangible.
The aim of the Review is to demonstrate ‘fairness’.  Of course, I should add ‘or otherwise’ but thus far the Review is simply making the case for EU membership and does not begin to address inequities.  For example, of the 1.4 million advertised jobs on a European Commission funded web-site – EURES - 814,359 are in Britain – almost 60% of the EU total.  Germany’s economy is some 25% bigger than Britain’s but offers only 20% of the advertised jobs. Why and how?
On the face of it the Commission appears to be actively discriminating against British workers by offering £1000 to any British employer who will take on a non-British worker with any worker travelling to the UK offered an additional £900 to cover travel costs.  And yet over a million young British workers are mired in the despair of long-term unemployment.  How can this possibly make sense or be fair? 
Part of the problem is the FCO itself.  To be fair, those charged with preparing the Review face an almost impossible task in the current political climate.  Equally, asking the FCO to review the EU is akin to asking the Pope to review the Catholic Church and whether the Holy Father should be part of it.  In other words, the Review is “Yes Prime Minister’s” Sir Humphrey Appleby at his very worst. 
The reports thus far also critically undermine David Cameron’s calls for EU reform, the very reason they were commissioned in the first place.  Cameron is thus firmly skewered on a very uncomfortable political fence.  He should now be under no illusion as to the opposition he will face from a Whitehall elite appalled that the British people should have their say about Britain’s future place in a future EU.
And it is 'futureness' which is the essential weakness of the Review.  Indeed, perhaps the most telling indictment of the Balance of Competence Review is that it deliberately sets out to establish the ‘cost-benefit’ of Britain’s membership by addressing today’s EU.  However, the real issue is Britain's relationship with the EU of 2020, 2030, 2040 and 2050 and beyond given the reasonable assumption of  Eurozone-driven 'ever closer union'.  
A real British referendum would thus ask two questions.  Are you the British citizen prepared to accept further reduction in both the power and influence of the British Government and Parliament and see more power transferred to both the European Commission and European Parliament?  Are you the British citizen prepared in time to join the Euro?  A yes vote would by definition entail an implicit acceptance of both outcomes.
If they ever get the chance in 2017 the British people face the gravest decision over their future since declaring war in 1939.  However, it is precisely this decision that the Balance of Competences Review clouds by providing the wrong answers to the wrong questions.  For Whitehall it is any EU at any cost. 
Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Freeing Japan

Alphen, The Netherlands. 24 July.  Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “I like the dreams of the future, better than the history of the past”.  To nowhere does this Jeffersonian aphorism apply more than contemporary Japan.  With Sunday’s clear victory of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party in elections to the Upper House of the Diet, Japan’s Parliament, Japan maybe about to cross a threshold between a challenging past and a challenging future.  Japan must be set free to play its full role on the world stage where it belongs. Why Abe and why now?

More than any other country Japan is still seen by many through the lens of the apocalyptic political settlement imposed upon Tokyo by the victorious Americans in 1945.  That must end.  World War Two’s other aggressor power Germany is steadily and rightly emerging as a respected leader on the European continent.  Berlin has earned the right to play such a role because Germany has transformed itself into a model democracy and a vital pillar of the liberal international order.  Japan is also a long supporter of the same liberal order and as competition grows between those that justify power via prosperity and those where the people still get to have a say Japan stands as a beacon for liberal democracy in the world’s strategic centre of gravity - East Asia.
History as ever remains eloquent.  In 1902 Britain and Japan signed the Anglo-Japanese Naval Treaty.  Britain then worked with Japan to build the Imperial Japanese Navy.  Of course, history will also recount that in December 1941 Britain’s support for Japan backfired spectacularly when the self-same Japanese Navy sank HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse off what was then Ceylon.  However, Britain’s 1902 strategic logic was impeccable.  Faced with the rise of the Kaiser’s Imperial High Seas Fleet the security of the eastern British Empire could no longer be secured by even the mighty Royal Navy.  Modern day sequestered America looks ever more like over-reaching 1902 Britain as the sun began to set on the British Empire.  
Frankly, America’s Asia-Pacific-centric grand strategy and the new global balance of power that is driving change needs a strong but responsible Japan.  Japan is already the world’s fifth biggest defence spender and this year Prime Minister Abe ordered the first increase in Japanese defence expenditure for a decade.  Like it or not Japan faces a China that has been growing its defence budget by over ten percent per annum since 1989.  European liberals may hate it but it is power that is driving change in Asia not ideas.  Therefore, whilst the US plays a key role in Japanese security, Japan plays an ever-more-important role in American and world security.
Prime Minister Abe clearly understands the new strategic balance.  However, if he is to realise his ambitions for Japan and finally escape the shackles imposed on Tokyo in 1945 Abe will need to strike a balance between strength and responsibility.  He will also have to tread carefully.  Abe has already indicated his desire to scrap the pacifist elements of the post-1945 constitution imposed upon Japan.  He may well be advised to follow Germany’s step-by-step approach to ‘normalisation’.  Rather than radically alter the German constitution, which is still based on the 1949 Allied-influenced Basic Law, Berlin chose instead to progressively re-interpret the constitution against the background of change in contemporary international relations.  Germany’s Constitutional Court has played a crucial role in the legitimisation of the use of German force which started in the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia.  Japan has taken similar but very limited steps in support of humanitarian objectives in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. 
However, the challenge maybe Prime Minister Abe himself.  He is often accused of being a nationalist although that is much exaggerated by those who would use history to further constrain Japan’s international role and influence.  However, he is a radical and a patriot and can at time use intemperate language forgetting that for the powerful there is no such thing as a domestic audience. 
Equally, with majorities in both the Upper and Lower Houses of the Diet Abe now has an opportunity to move Japan and its international relations into the twenty-first century.  Critically, at least three years of stable government is in the offing together with an end to the ministerial merry-go-round which has helped make Japan an at times mercurial and unreliable partner.  
L.P. Hartley once wrote, “the past is another country”.  Germany has earned the right to lead because both the country and its people confronted a painful past.  Japan has never and will never confront that past in same way as Germany and Japan’s past may not quite be the foreign land it is to Germany, but it is today a distance place. 
Therefore, it is finally time to free Japan from the past…and for Japan to free itself.
Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Operation Irresolute Support

Alphen, The Netherlands. 17 July.  In 1842 Sir Charles Napier wrote perhaps the most succinct telegram in military history to mark his success at the end of the First Anglo-Afghan War - “Peccavi”, he wrote, “I have sinned”.  It was a play on words as Napier had just conquered what is today the Pakistani province of Sindh.  In another play on words NATO is ‘planning’ Operation Resolute Support to replace the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan in December 2014 at the end of major combat operations.  Resolute Support is vital if Afghanistan is to have any chance of a future that is other than ghastly.  Without full American and British backing Resolute Support will be a non-starter because they remain the West’s signature powers. 
Sadly, all the mood music I am picking up at a high-level in Washington and London is that if this mission goes ahead at all it will be neither resolute nor offer much in terms of support to Afghanistan’s tottery government.  The US and British Permanent Representatives (ambassadors) to NATO’s North Atlantic Council are rebutting perfectly sound military guidance on the grounds of cost.  Indeed, the political reflex now is to get out at any cost. 
The cost is indeed prohibitive.  Afghanistan costs the US taxpayer $110bn per year and it costs $1m simply to keep an American soldier in Afghanistan for a year.  Clearly, that burden will need to be reduced drastically. 
In January 2012 I wrote a piece entitled, “Beaufort: Why We Must Leave Afghanistan Now, Not End 2014”.  My sense then was that support for the mission at the highest political levels in both Washington and London was very soft and consequently the campaign was not embedded in a meaningful regional-strategic political, diplomatic and economic strategy.  Indeed, I recall a conversation with a very high-level British official shortly after I had published “Plan B for Afghanistan” for the International Institute for Strategic Studies.  From his remarks it was clear men and women were dying simply to keep an arbitrary December 2014 date with political failure. 
The US now says it will only stay in Afghanistan if the Kabul Government enters into “bilateral security arrangements” that offer American forces immunity from prosecution.  President Karzai will enter into no such agreement because he does not want to be seen to be accommodating the soon-to-be departed Americans as he faces potentially life-or-death elections in April 2014. 
Washington is locked into sequestration and with relations between Presidents Obama and Karzai close to breaking point the US is threatening a “zero option”; the withdrawal of all US forces by end 2014.  Meanwhile, and not for the first time, David Cameron is demonstrating yet again an inability to grasp the strategic implications of his political short-termism.   
Even if Resolute Support does finally go ahead for the first such time in NATO history Britain will lose the deputy commander slot of a major Alliance mission.  Incredibly Germany and Italy are offering to take the lead in Britain’s absence.  In fact Berlin and Rome are also playing narrow politics with Resolute Support as they have no intention of leading anything.  It is simply an attempt to mask their respective failures in Libya and Mali. 
London says that whilst it will support the new Afghan army training academy (‘Sandhurst in the Sand’) it will do no more.  Britain “has done its bit” according to Downing Street.  The timing could not be worse.  Britain is about to make NATO the centre-piece of its 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review.  London once again will be seen to be saying one thing and doing another. 
The Taliban are watching on with deep satisfaction as Western ‘strategy’ collapses and see no reason to enter into meaningful peace and reconciliation talks.  Indeed, their attacks are increasing in both scale and volume. In spite of real progress on the ground over the past two years Afghanistan today looks increasingly like 1989 on the eve of the Soviet withdrawal. 
A desperate race is now on to establish credible Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) prior to NATO’s departure.  Indeed, whilst the Afghan National Army (ANA) is making real progress it still looks and acts nothing like a modern army.  Without training, mentoring and above all credible air power there are real questions as to whether the ANA will stand and fight in the coming struggle.
The greatest honour both Obama and Cameron could afford the thousands of their men and women in their national uniforms who have been killed trying to make flawed Afghan strategy work is to properly commit to Resolute Support.  Indeed, if Napier were alive today he would send London an entirely different and far less succinct telegram. He would remind his political masters just why sacrifice was necessary. “Stamus contra malo” - “We stand against evil”.  If that is not the case then why on earth did we go to Afghanistan in the first place?  
As for the cost; what will be the cost of complete and utter failure?
Julian Lindley-French  

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Chapeau France!

Alphen, The Netherlands. 10 July. A very senior British general said of Operation Serval in Mali that France had “set the standard” for crisis military interventions.  Praise indeed and not easily given. One can always tell when a crisis is being managed to effect as the press lose interest.  The challenge Paris faced when four thousand French troops arrived in Mali in February was complicated to say the least.  Tuaregs had taken control of northern Mali and sought separation.  They were supported by a  particularly nasty bunch of Islamists (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Mujao) who had profited (literally) from the chaos in neighbouring Libya.  To make things worse the Malian Army, or what was left of it, was in meltdown and the country’s political system with it.  Now, with the Tuaregs having signed a June peace deal, last year’s military coup leader having apologised and elections planned for 28 July Mali has at least a chance of a future.  How did the French pull off this genuine military success?
Critically, Operation Serval was built on strategic unity of effort and purpose underpinned by speed, mass, precision and sustained political and military momentum.  French forces, operating alongside unexpectedly effective Chadian colleagues, drove back the Tuareg separatists and their Islamist partners.  The very shock of the French intervention opened-up very deep divisions between the two insurgent groups.
French commanders proved particularly effective in co-ordinating both logistics and a range of allies and ad hoc partners under French command.  Critically, France was unequivocally in the lead and for the first time US and other allied forces operated to effect under French operational command.  This success is testament to the years of joint training and efforts to improve interoperability between French forces and those of its allies.  Indeed, Operation Serval is now a model for the force generation and command of a complex coalition, something that far from being a one-off is likely to become the norm.
French forces were also willing to recognise where they needed support, particularly for strategic air-lift (Americans, British and interestingly Russians), air-to-air refuelling and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (the Americans and others).
However, for all the undoubted military success two other factors proved critical.  First, speed of reaction.  Within hours of President Hollande’s go-decision French aircraft took off from Saint Dizier air base and flew ten hours to strike key targets in Northern Mali.  These strikes knocked the Islamist/Separatist coalition off-balance from which they never recovered.  These strikes were followed rapidly by the deployment of particularly effective French Special Forces.  Like the British in Sierra Leone in 2000 the shock of a front-line Western military force interceding was sufficient to influence events decisively. 
Second, the application of political and military tools took place against the backdrop of deep French historical knowledge of the Malian people, the country and the wider Sahel region.  Knowledge and contacts were vital factors in Serval's success.
In other words, France’s strategic 'brand' allied to expert use of force proved decisive.  It was not simply ‘what’ was intervening, but ‘who’ was intervening and how.  This is something the British political leadership might wish to contemplate as they replace strategy with austerity as the key driver of Britain’s defence strategy.  For the moment Britain’s armed forces still have a well-deserved reputation for excellence but any more cuts will render both them and their strategic brand broken.
However, perhaps the most decisive factor in Operation Serval was the joined-upness of a French government in crisis.  From President Hollande at the top of the power pyramid through the foreign and defence ministries and onto the service and intelligence chiefs and down to the force and operational commanders Serval was well-conceived, soundly planned, expertly generated and effectively executed.   
France was assisted by the strategic and tactical incompetence of their adversaries, as the British were back in the 1982 Falklands War against Argentina.  And, in reality one rarely gets the chance to choose one’s crises.  Mali was ‘doable’, whereas Afghanistan and Iraq were at the very limits of ‘doability’ and Libya on the edge.  It may be that future crises will not be so accommodating to either France or her allies.
Furthermore, with the conclusion of this first crisis phase the political battle for Mali is still to come.  The 28 July elections will at best be flawed even if they go ahead.  And of course Serval has not stabilised the Sahel as a whole, partly because the West thinks states, Islamists peoples. Therefore, not too much strategic should be read in to Serval.
Equally, the French military success in Mali should not be under-estimated.  Mali is a big and desolate place and as an example of both statecraft and military craft France has every right to be proud of Serval whatever happens next, wherever it happens.
Chapeau France!
Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 5 July 2013

Egyptian Democracy 2.0?

Alphen, Netherlands.  5 July.  In a master-class of under-stated British diplomatic fudgery Foreign Secretary (and fellow Yorkshireman) William Hague said of the Egyptian Army’s ‘soft coup’, “It’s happened, so we will have to recognise the situation will move on”.  Implicit in that statement is recognition that if Egypt is to create Egyptian democracy 2.0 one would not ideally start from here to paraphrase that old Irish joke. So, what should the West now do?
Four principles should be adhered to: the Army return to barracks as soon as possible; a real process of political transition begins; the EU and US closely coordinate their support for the Egyptian people; and Egyptian democracy 2.0 is given every chance to succeed.  
What is happening in Egypt is fundamental change.  One in four Arabs is Egyptian.  What happens in the most populous Arab state reverberates across the Middle East.  However, Morsi’s removal opens a very uncomfortable question for those in the West who believe in democracy at all and any cost.  Moreover, whatever one thinks of the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi he was elected with 52% of the popular vote, passed a constitution with the support of 62% of the electorate and has been forcibly removed from power by the Army after one year in office.  And, do not be misled by television pictures of Cairo’s Tahrir Square – 70% of a conservative Egyptian population ascribe to some form of Islamism. 
Although there is clear evidence that the now former President Morsi was resorting to ‘majoritarianism’, i.e. ruling (not governing) in favour of those who supported him and not the country as a whole, he remains the only legitimately elected president in Egypt’s history.  Morsi’s crucial mistake was his November 22nd, 2012 edict granting himself almost unlimited powers.  However, even given that mistake President Morsi should not have been removed from office after only year and for many of the 85 million Egyptians he remains the elected president.  Like it or not the Muslim Brotherhood must play a role in any future political settlement.  The alternative is unthinkable.   
However, sustainable democracy can only flourish when a) the majority of the people across the political spectrum share sufficient commonality of values; and b) all the political parties that represent them are prepared to live by democratic rules.  In Egypt neither of those preconditions for stable democracy exists.  There is no apparent common ground between the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood and the many secularists and others who occupy Tahrir Square and who now ironically see the Egyptian Army as their political saviours.  In other words Egyptian democracy will take time.
So, where does Egypt go next?  There is a curious political phenomenon in the Middle East.  In those Arab states experimenting with democracy almost everywhere anarchy is close to breaking out or killing people in large numbers.  Whereas those Arab states that have retained a monarchy are for the moment relatively (and I stress relatively) stable.
How does this apply to Egypt?  The first order principle is to put aside scruples about perfect democracy and work with those in power to stabilise the situation. Specifically, that means helping the process of political transition towards enduring political institutions, a free press and an independent judiciary.  Nor is Egypt Syria even if experience of the past two years would suggest that unless the West pulls what levers it has Egypt too could descend into violence and no Egyptian deserves that.  And the West does have some economic and military levers.
Therefore, instead of investing in recreating another ‘democratic’ version of a Nasser, Sadat or Mubarak, the strong man who becomes part of the problem, political transition should focus on making the Egyptian Parliament the centre of political gravity.  Parliaments have rules for democratic engagement and those that flout those rules can be sanctioned as in any other parliamentary democracy.  Here the EU could play a pivotal role. 
The US has a critical role to play with the Egyptian Army leadership as Washington provides $2bn of military aid each year and it would be fanciful to believe the generals will not have a significant political role to play.  However, some legitimacy for its role could be derived if its call for national reconciliation leads to the stability upon which parliamentary democracy rests.  The Army would swear allegiance to a constitutional head of state but in whom little political power is invested even if such a leader needs to be a statesman recognised both nationally and internationally.  Mohammed ElBaradei comes to mind. 
It is of course up to the Egyptian people to decide their future.  Critical to any successful transition will be sufficient people of an Islamist political bent willing to support Egyptian democracy 2.0.    
What is the alternative?  There can be no democracy without stability and instability in the Middle East can be murderous.
Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Snowden: Why France is Angry

Alphen, Netherlands. 2 July.  It was as predictable, subtle and French as a first tasting of a Chassagne Montrachet Premier Cru – full of hidden complexity and fascinating ‘notes’.  French President Hollande’s condemnation of Edward Snowden-alleged American spying in Europe was dramatically shrill.  “We cannot accept”, the President thundered, “...this kind of behaviour between allies and partners”, before going onto suggest that France might now scupper talks on the proposed EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).  One could be forgiven for taking French ‘hauteur’ at face value were it not for the fact that my well-informed sources tell me that DGSE, the French external intelligence service, runs one of the most effective foreign intelligence operations in North America.  So, why is France angry?
Many in the French elite still believe that more Atlantic means less Europe and that the next five years or so will be critical for the European Project.  It is a zero sum game view of West-West relations that could potentially cripple the TTIP and which is already doing damage to NATO. 
The first evidence that France was seeking to block the TTIP came on the eve of the recent UK-hosted G8 Summit when Paris raised the thorny issue of French ‘l’exception culturelle’.  Paris demanded, in that ‘take it or leave it’ way that France’s partners find so endearing, that French cinema and other artistic endeavours be exempted from any transatlantic free trade agreement.  British Prime Minister David ‘Short-Term’ Cameron, desperate for a diplomatic success, failed to see (or chose not to see) that this was the very French end of a very French wedge.
Chancellor Merkel is also upset by alleged US spying.  This is partly because the state abuse of information is a sensitive issue given Germany’s past and she is in the midst of an election campaign.  However, German ‘irritation’ will soon pass.  First because most US spying on and in Germany takes place in partnership with German intelligence.  Second, because Chancellor Merkel believes the TTIP could help the Eurozone economies to become more competitive by creating a single market big enough and safe enough for export-driven growth.  Third, a transatlantic single market would potentially be big enough to make it in Britain’s economic interest to stay in the EU.   Fourth, the TTIP would provide a free market alibi for further German-led European integration.

The Paris elite buy none of that.  Anti-Americanism still runs deep along the banks of the Seine.  On the statist Left French political leaders have long cut their teeth on an abiding loathing of what they see as the rampant, inhumane and unfettered capitalism of the American model.  On the Gaullist Right American power in Europe has long been seen as an affront to French honour and a barrier to French ambitions to craft Europe around France. 
This anti-American reflex comes to the fore at moments of political and economic stress such as today, often in combination with a none-too-subtle ‘faux grandeur’.  President Hollande’s recent assertion that France would not be dictated to by the European Commission was at the very best political irony and at worst hubris.  Paris seemed to be saying to the Commission – by all means tell all other 27 EU members what to do...but not France.
In fact it is the Germans who most concern Paris.  France is only publicly going along with the TTIP because that is what Angela wants.  And yet implicit in the Merkel Plan is a free-market world view much closer to that of the dreaded and perfidious ‘anglosaxons’ than the statist traditions upon which France is built.
Sadly, the Paris elite simply cannot face today’s revealed truth; France’s ‘social model’ view of Europe is dead.  ‘Europe’ will only have a long-term future if the EU helps Europeans to earn their way in the world.  The EU will fail if it remains as it is today, a failing, ageing coffer dam creaking under the growing weight of a flood of change.  This is precisely what many on the French Left want the EU to be - 1950s analogue political engineering in a digital age.  The creation of the TTIP would be the first step on the road to a Europe competitive in a hyper-competitive world.
The bottom-line is this; if France continues to seek excuses to block TTIP talks Paris is aligning itself with the forces of the past rather than the forces of the future.  The irony is that it is forces from America's past that will probably in the end kill off the TTIP.  An Unholy Alliance is forming between American and French farmers all of whom demand protectionism. 
There is a final irony.  France and the US tried to agree a ‘no-spy’ deal similar to that which exists between the US and UK but they could not agree what constitutes spying.  That means the Americans could at any time reveal the extent of French spying on them. 
This whole episode reveals the Snowden story for what it is; a tragi-comic farce.  Jacques Tati meets Groucho Marx - now that would be fun!
Julian Lindley-French