hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 30 September 2013

Iran: Speak Softly BUT...Mr President

Alphen, Netherlands. 30 September.  On 26 January, 1900 US President Theodore Roosevelt wrote a letter to Henry L. Sprague of the Union Club of New York in which he wrote, “Speak softly and carry a big stick and you will go far”.  The US Press seized on the phrase and a new US foreign policy doctrine was born – ‘Big Stick Diplomacy’.  Last week in New York Iran’s President Rouhani signalled a desire to open a new chapter in US-Iranian relations.  There are however two ways of looking at Iran’s demarche – an optimistic and a pessimistic view.
The optimistic view is that President Rouhani is genuine in his desire to improve relations.  The 27 September telephone call between the two presidents and the meeting between the US and Iranian foreign ministers were indeed important political landmarks in an otherwise barren landscape of mutual mistrust.  At the very least President Rouhani’s style is a welcome change to the cartoonish anti-Americanism of his immediate predecessor President Ahmadinejad.  Moreover, Rouhani’s suggestion that Iran would re-start nuclear talks “without preconditions” is also an important break with the past. 
There is also clear evidence that Western-led sanctions are damaging both Iran’s economy and society and thus undermining the regime’s grip on power.  Moreover, President Rouhani was met with protests from hard-liners upon his return from New York which suggests the shift in policy is genuine.  Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayotallah Khamenei has also issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons and their use.
However, even the optimists must prepare for a long haul.  A former British ambassador Sherard Cowper-Cowles recently said that in any diplomatic dealings with Iran form is almost as important as substance.  Therefore, President Rouhani’s New York demarche is at best a prelude to a play of many acts.  Dealing with Iran will thus require patient engagement with all the diplomatic niceties and conventions observed if there is to be any chance of an enduring political settlement.
There is also a pessimistic view to be had.  President Rouhani is a seasoned diplomat and a sophisticated and considered leader.  However, his assertion that Iran is not seeking, nor has it ever sort the development of nuclear weapons is simply not credible.  Rather, the pessimists believe Iran has noted the West’s difficulties over Syria and has concluded the US and its European allies no longer have the will to use force.  With 'Big Stick Diplomacy' dead now is the time to sow confusion between the US and its allies.
Specifically, Tehran sees the 3 September vote of Britain’s Parliament not to authorise force against the Assad regime and President Obama’s own problems with Congress over Syria as further indicators of a lack of Western resolve.  Critically, after a bruising decade Europe in particular has abandoned any pretence to coercion in foreign and security policy and Americans are retreating into sequestration-driven isolationism.
Therefore, the suggestion by President Rouhani that Western-led sanctions are damaging the life-quality of Iranians simply tells Western politicians and publics exactly what they want to hear.  If that is correct Iran could be seeking to isolate the US in the so-called ‘E3+3’ meetings at which Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US discuss Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  The US and its allies will thus awake one morning to an Iranian fait accompli announcing to the world it has become a nuclear weapons power which will irrevocably change an already unstable balance of power across the Middle East and beyond.
In that light President Rouhani’s comments then take on an entirely different strategic hue.  Even the carefully staged protests upon President Rouhani’s return from New York would be part of an attempt to de-stabilise US policy.  Indeed, President Rouhani’s very reasonableness could thus be a greater threat to US and allied policy than President Ahmadinejad’s hysteria as conflict-weary Americans and Europeans are suckered by a smile and a wave.  Sadly, in the hard reality of international politics there is a world of difference between appearance, intent and action.  Tehran is simply buying time. 
Why now?  According to several Western intelligence agencies Iran is about to enter a critical phase in the the development of a nuclear weapon.  Iran has much to gain by speaking softly as it develops a big stick. Therefore, President Obama would be wise to recall the sage advice of President Theodore Roosevelt as he contemplates the US response to Iran’s charm offensive. 
Speak softly but carry a big stick and you could go far, Mr President.
Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 27 September 2013

Would Someone Please Sink HMS Margaret Hodge!

Alphen, Netherlands. 27 September.  It is not often I am moved to write two blogs in a day.  And, I am afraid for those of you not of an island persuasion this is one of those British moments of mine when I really do sound like ‘Irritated of Alphen’.  This is because I am ‘Irritated of Alphen’.  The reason for my irritation is that I have just finished reading the report of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee on Carrier Strike 2012.  The report reads for what it is; a politicized piece of nonsense from an over-bearing and self-serving out-of-control politician who bangs on about the cost of everything but understands the value of nothing - Margaret Hodge.
In characteristically bombastic style she thundered; “When this programme got the green light in 2007, we were supposed to get two aircraft carriers, available from 2016 and 2018, at a cost to the taxpayer of £3.65 billion. We are now on course to spend £5.5 billion and have no aircraft carrier capability for nearly a decade”. 
Just for once Mrs Hodge please take the long, strategic view and consider the British interest rather than the narrow electoral ambitions of the Labour Party.  Yes, the carriers have cost more than planned but show me a major engineering project that has not and does not.   Yes, mistakes have been made switching between the types of F-35 the carriers will carry – that is what happens when programmes get politicised.  Yes, Britain’s defence procurement system needs sorting out.  Yes, the aircraft planned for the carriers might not be complete as yet and some other systems still need to be perfected.  However, these problems will be overcome.
Equally, (and just for the record Mrs Hodge) HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales are the most advanced engineering projects Britain has ever embarked upon.  Indeed, the cutting-edge way in which the Aircraft Carrier Alliance has approached the project has generated engineering vision and skills vital to the future British economy at a critical juncture.  When they are complete the very fact of them will force you politicians to think strategically for once about Britain’s role in the world.  Indeed, over the life of these two ships their value will be proven to Britain, Europe, NATO and the wider world many times over.
Look at the facts.  By 2030 the world’s population will be well over 9bn people compared with today’s 6bn.  50% of them will live in cities and over 80% will live 100kms or less from the sea.  The hyper-competition for energy and life fundamentals that such pressures will generate allied to the emergence of powerful but instable states will create all the conditions for dangerous and violent instability.
For once Britain is ahead of the curve with the future force it is beginning to build and the two aircraft carriers are central to that.  This is because the two ships are not simply aircraft carriers, something the defence-strategic Neanderthals who wrote the report clearly do not understand.  Rather, the ships will be powerful projectors of influence able to prevent conflict upstream and deal with conflicts downstream from humanitarian and rescue missions to outright national emergencies.  They will be the centre-piece of a new military central to British national strategy with a joint force credibly influential across five 21st century domains – air, sea, land, cyber and space.
Furthermore, the ‘QE’ and ‘PoW’ will provide British leaders with the flexible discretion to intervene or not to intervene until the very last moment a decision must be made.  They will also act as a critical nexus between land, sea and air operations and as such signal Britain’s strategic intent to ally and adversary alike.  Critically they will help re-establish Britain’s strategic brand in the dangerous world ahead and enable Britain and its partners to prevail in the conflicts to come. 
Clearly you do not understand that Mrs Hodge and like so many of your colleagues who are meant to lead the rest of us you are putting your head in the strategic sand. Or, you simply believe Britain should no longer aspire to such a role and you are using the report to create a very different Britain - Little Britain.  Indeed, it is precisely the kind of narrow-minded, short-sighted, non-strategic thinking of which the report reeks that has brought Britain low.  Were the rest of the committee asleep or has Margaret Hodge now completely taken over?
HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will afford Britain real strategic influence in their fifty year service lives in a world full of friction.  The report of the Public Accounts Committee does nothing to recognise such strategic value. 

Would someone please sink HMS Margaret Hodge!
Julian Lindley-French

Defence Strategy and the Turing Test

Paris, France. 27 September.  Ah, Paris in springtime!  Well, it is September but it feels like spring. I flew in from Rome where I had spoken on the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy, which is the strategy equivalent of talking paint dry.  My reason for being in Paris was to talk grand strategy with senior managers of Thales, a defence-industrial giant.  As I spoke I could not but help think of the test Alan Turing once established for artificial intelligence to pass if it was successfully to mimic human thought and action.  Europeans need a similar test for the many EU, NATO and national defence strategies which plaster the walls of Europe’s rickety and ageing grand villa – do they at least mimic reality?
Defence strategy in Europe is a sort of ‘Strategic Reverse Half-Nelson’.  This is achieved by turning the strategic telescope around so every threat looks much smaller than it is and then halving the number by putting the telescope in front of Nelson’s blind eye.  To that end, most European states decide first how much of a military they wish to afford then write strategy to fit.  This is not exactly how strategy works.
Technology is the future of defence strategy.  Take the soon to be ‘flooded’ 65,000 ton British aircraft carriers.  The Royal Navy no longer launches ships but ‘floods’ them, which strikes me as somewhat nautically oxymoronic.  HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales (good names eh?) will be in service until 2070 if that is someone else has not ‘flooded’ them both long before!  And that’s my essential point; by 2070 who knows what technologies will be out there and who will have access to them.  It is therefore vital technological redundancy is central to both strategy and technology design. 
Unfortunately, strategy is written by liberal arts majors (such as your blogonaut) under the command of liberal arts politicians.  ‘Strategy’ talks much of ‘futures’ together with ‘power’, ‘history’, ‘partners’ and ‘responsibilities’. ‘Change’ is also mentioned a lot.  However there is little real understanding of what really drives change, mainly because change costs money.  Therefore, as guidance for planning most defence strategies are not worth the paper upon which they are written.  Indeed, they are invariably about the political moment not the strategic future.
Just look at some of Europe’s recent great works of strategic art.  ‘Strategy’ for Paris and London goes something like this. “For some strange reason Johnny Foreigner cannot forgive us for being strong in the past and being horrid and would love to give us a good kicking.  Moreover, given we your leaders have made a complete mess of your society everyone hates us both at home and abroad.  However, we will list all of the things we should be doing to secure you but as we are basically broke and have no idea what to do we will also talk a lot about aspiration.  To make you feel better we will however build a few extremely expensive big, floaty things or even more expensive small, fast flying things and put lots of flags on them.  Sorry”. 
For the rest of Europe strategy goes like something like this.  “We have horrible neighbours who are now our ‘friends’. However, you really cannot trust these people.  We also have formerly strong allies who once promised to defend us from our horrible neighbours but did not.  Therefore, both our neighbours and allies must now pay for our defence.  However, as a sign of good faith we will send one doctor to support the strategic flights of fancy beloved of the formerly strong so long as she is nowhere near the front line”.  And then there is Germany the strategy of which can be thus summarised: “We upset everyone in the past but now we are back.  However, we really promise to be very nice this time and we will call ourselves ‘Europe’”.   
Strategy in Europe has thus become the antidote to strategy – a way of avoiding strategic reality by either pretending the world is not as it is or by recognising only as much threat as somebody else can afford – the Americans. 
Henry Kissinger once complained that he could never call Europe in an emergency as there was no telephone number.  Today there are a myriad of telephone numbers but all dear Henry would get if he called is the same Ansaphone message.  “We value your partnership but we are sorry all of our leaders are busy right now building ‘Europe’.  However, do leave your name, rank and telephone number and we might one day get back to you.  Please go on defending us and have a nice day”.
There is some good news.  Neither of Britain’s new aircraft carriers will be called HMS Invincible as this would certainly guarantee their 'flooding'. 
Strategy, capability, technology and affordability are intimately intertwined and defence strategy must thus be established on a proper understanding of all elements.  Too often it is not.   Something Alan Turing would have all too readily understood.
Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 23 September 2013

The Dutch Cut NATO!

Alphen, Netherlands. 23 September.  Last week in a “Defence Note” carefully buried in an announcement on the wider national budget The Netherlands cut some €370m (c$400m) from an already straitened defence budget.  At the same time I gave a speech to senior NATO commanders in Riga, Latvia during Exercise Steadfast Pyramid and Pinnacle designed to test the credibility of the Alliance’s twenty-first century collective defence.  My core message was blunt; the true test of NATO was that the good people of Riga could sleep soundly in their beds. However, to pass such a test NATO would need a twenty-first century defence built on twenty-first century forces.  Even as I spoke I could feel the rug being pulled from under my feet by the Dutch decision. 
The cut was sweetened by an announcement that the Netherlands will purchase 37 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) worth some €4.5bn ($6bn) to replace ageing F-16s.  Back in 2010 I wrote a report entitled “Between the Polder and a Hard Place” together with Col Anne Tjepkema, formerly of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, for the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London.  The report charted 14 Dutch defence cuts since 1991.  One of the report’s findings was that each Dutch defence cut has been sweetened by a commitment to purchase a new piece of military equipment.  However, that commitment was either broken or watered down in a subsequent defence cut.  Expect the same.
Since the end of the Cold War Dutch defence spending has fallen from 2.8% of gross domestic product (GDP) to 1.4% GDP and is planned to fall to 1.14% GDP by 2015.  Indeed, if one removes Dutch Gendarmerie forces from the defence budget the figure is nearer 1% GDP or half of NATO’s agreed defence investment level of 2% GDP.  Moreover, according to the CIA the Netherlands ranks 92nd in comparative world military expenditure out of 173 states and 15th out of NATO’s 28 members. To be fair ‘superpower’ Germany comes in at 102nd and Canada 120th, but the rest comprise mainly minnows such as Albania, Belgium, Iceland, and Luxembourg. 
The Dutch Government likes to hide behind the ‘little country’ alibi.  However, contrast the defence ranking of the Netherlands with its economic ranking and the extent to which the Dutch are defence free-riding becomes all too apparent.  According to the CIA the Netherlands is Europe’s 6th largest economy, the world’s 24th largest by power purchase and the 7th largest trading power on the planet utterly reliant on open global sea and air lines of communication which have to be defended.
With the Americans stretched thin the world over NATO Europe must either be capable of going with the Americans or must credibly be able to act autonomously in and around Europe’s rough neighbourhood.  Indeed, to keep NATO strong and America engaged Europeans must help the US to remain strong wherever and whenever.  This is why the British will next year launch the first of two large aircraft carriers to project strategic power.  If Europeans fail that test NATO will fade and eventually fail. 
Defence Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plaeschart uttered forth the usual political platitudes whilst Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans suggested that in a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry the Americans had expressed satisfaction with the Dutch decision to buy JSF.  My well-placed Washington sources tell me the Americans also expressed concerns about the defence cuts and their impact on NATO.
The only way for the Netherlands to squeeze military credibility out of their future force will be to enact radically deep synergies between the Royal Netherlands Army, Navy and Air Force.  In effect they will need to become a single service.  The Hague will also have to seek defence integration with other states in a similar position, most notably Belgium.  This will effectively mark the end of Dutch defence sovereignty. 
Furthermore, given the rise in the cost of defence equipment the continual cuts to the Dutch defence equipment budget makes the size of the force the enemy of the cost of the equipment the force needs – a capability-capacity crunch.  Indeed, the Dutch are now struggling to afford any military capabilities hence only 37 JSF which is not a viable force.  ‘Not a viable force’ is an accusation that can now be levelled against the entirety of the Dutch armed forces as The Hague drives them below an irreducible level. 
With proliferation of strategic weapons across a world full of friction the Dutch Government seems all too happy for the American, British and French taxpayers to bear the true cost of defending the Netherlands and its interests.  This is a tragedy because having worked with the Royal Netherlands Armed Forces I have witnessed first-hand the outstanding quality of Dutch personnel.
Will the people of Riga sleep sound in their bed?  Yes for now but not for much longer if countries like the Netherlands think their defence is someone else’s problem.  The Dutch are cutting NATO.  
Julian Lindley-French   

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Can Germany be a Civil Superpower?

Alphen, Netherlands. 18 September.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘superpower’ as a “very powerful and influential nation”.  On 22 September democratic Germany will go to the polls.  Some commentators and politicians are posing what they believe to be a fundamental and existential question implicit in the election – a German Europe or a European Germany?  “The Economist” in a rather silly editorial from an increasingly silly newspaper called upon Chancellor Merkel to ‘rule’ Europe.  Not only has Chancellor Merkel not yet been re-elected but to most Germans the very idea of ‘ruling’ Europe is as abhorrent as it is absurd. Germany has no aspirations to be a military superpower but can she become a civil superpower?  And will the elections make any difference?
Germany of course does not only have recourse to soft power.  Any analysis on the role and utility of German force since the mid-1990s suggests a country that is slowly reconciling itself to the use of limited military power.  However, the tragic narrative of German history means the use of German military power remains and will remain heavily prescribed.  The use of such power for both Germans and others still demands super-legitimacy before the use of arms can be said to be proportionate to German political aims.  Indeed, if one compares the future military plans of Britain, France and Germany it is clear that Berlin will remain by far the weakest of Europe’s three significant military powers.
Can Germany be a civil superpower?  Germany will always try to exert legitimate influence via civil means long before it considers recourse to military action.  To such an end Germany will embed much of its efforts in institutions such as the EU, OSCE, NATO and the UN.  In a sense this makes Germany a balanced unbalanced power.  Germany is balanced in the sense that military action remains the very last resort in the minds of the German leadership and people alike.  However, she is an unbalanced power in the sense that every other power around Germany believes that power and influence requires a very different combination of civil and military power. 
Moreover, Germans actively seek European integration as an alternative to German leadership.  Most object to the idea of German leadership in principle precisely because of history and would rather Germany shape Europe from within the EU rather than lead Europe from within or without the EU. 
Will the elections make any difference?  No.  Chancellor Merkel is a here and now politician, a scientist who prefers to deal with the dilemmas and challenges that demonstrably confront her rather than sortie out into the kind of strategy beloved of London and Paris.  The SPD’s Peer Steinbruck is a pragmatic social democrat which he demonstrated to effect when he was finance minister during Merkel’s first term grand coalition.  Therefore, both are likely to focus on a quiet managerial approach to solving the Eurozone crisis, although Steinbruck might favour deeper European political integration and be less demanding on Greece, Spain and Italy as they struggle with austerity.  This would undoubtedly create friction with Britain.
The only real difference between a Merkel-led or a Steinbruck-led Berlin government could be that the former might move to find a special place for Britain in what is inevitably going to become a very different EU.  A Steinbruck-led government is far less likely to cut Cameron any slack and re-consolidate the Franco-German partnership with fellow social democrat Francois Hollande. 
Therefore, moments of German rhetorical strategic flourish such as the recent call for an EU permanent seat on the UN Security Council will remain precisely that.  The real danger to political balance in Europe is a Germany that becomes more influential politically but in so doing will seek to become less powerful militarily.  If that happens then any real hope that Europe can influence its world will be lost.
There is another factor which might confound those who envision the emergence of a German civil superpower.  To most Germans Germany does not feel that powerful.  They recall all too easily that a few years ago Germany was deemed to be the sick man of Europe.  The hyper-inflation that wrecked so many of their great-grand-parents’ lives in the late 1920s and early 1930s is still one of the most powerful warnings from a history still replete with warnings. 
Germany is a “very powerful and influential nation” but no superpower – civil or military.  Therefore, German power will matter but more important will be the face of German power and how Germany is perceived.  Indeed, Germany can only ‘lead’ with the consent of others. That after all is the very essence of modern Europe.
Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 16 September 2013

A House of Cards Society

Alphen, Netherlands. 16 September.  Three issues dominated the media during my stay in England last week – the break-up of the United Kingdom, Europe and hyper-immigration.  Today the politics of Britain seems essentially about how long British politicians can deny the English a say on all three vital issues. 
The impact of hyper-immigration is what strikes the visitor.  Last Thursday I sat on a London Underground train shuddering, juddering and clattering my way out to Stanmore from London’s Far East. As I cast my eye around me I was the only indigenous English person in the carriage.  In one of those little moments of humanity I love I struck up a conversation with the lady next to me.  She was delightful.  Born in Bangladesh she had moved to England ten years ago and was now working in the City of London as a secretary doing the ‘grind’ every day.   
We talked about immigration.  The first thing I had to say was that I too am an immigrant having made my career for many years in foreign lands and that I have nothing but respect for good people trying to make a better life elsewhere.  Equally, I also admitted to her my deep sense of loss.  It is a sense of loss I told her that politicians tell me I should not have because it is closet racism.  However, I cannot help it – it is loss I deeply feel.  The England that I was born into in 1958 is long gone and I grieve for it.  Indeed, sometimes I feel like a foreigner in a country that had once been my own.  And I freely admitted to anger with the left wing zealots, right wing exploiters and the Euro-fanatics who had taken my country away from me without my permission.
As I left England news was announced that a decent family from Pakistan who had come to England to give their children an Islamic education had been murdered in Leicester in what police believe could be a revenge killing.  A revenge killing in England?  What is happening to my old country I thought as I silently shook my head in angered disbelief like so many millions of perfectly tolerant, decent English people who are open to balanced immigration but simply want England to remain England.
And yet by the end of the week I began to feel something different – a strange smidgeon of hope.  From the professional Eastern European women who served me in my hotel, to a West Indian lady with whom I had a giggle on the tube, to the Sikh gentleman who let me off with a smile because I had inadvertently bought the wrong ticket, to the Muslim police officer who helped me with my bag, what came across was nice people showing unfailing courtesy to each other.  And, I suppose it is that sense of common decency I take away from this trip – for society to work nice people must be nice to each other.
Furthermore, what point is there in nostalgia?  Yes, hyper-immigration has destroyed my England because it has imported not just the best of elsewhere but the very worst.  Moreover, minority-obsessed politicians close their eyes to the dangerous social frictions that hyper-immigration has caused or seek an alibi for the mess they have created by pointing pointlessly to the unproven economic benefits of immigration whilst ignoring the appalling social and cultural cost England is paying.  Even the most casual of observers can see England for what it is; a house of cards, vulnerable, on the edge society the slightest shock to which could bring the whole rickety edifice crashing down.  
And yet out of this kaleidoscope of identities and cultures I hope a new England can emerge.  My generation will not be a part of it as we are the lost generation, alienated strangers in what had once been our own country.  However, I hope something, somehow English will emerge – colour-blind, race-blind but I hope neither values blind nor heritage blind - an England always open to the best and brightest from all over.  However, a new socially-coherent England will be impossible to realise if England continues to import the world’s myriad hatreds and intolerances which has done and is doing so much to destroy the country I once loved.    
A London taxi driver put it most succinctly.  Being a taxi driver he had a view or two about the meaning of life which he thought I needed to know.  “England”, he said “is finished.  There are too many foreigners”.  He was from Poland.
For the record, the Scots alone will decide the fate of the UK; there will be no referendum on Europe; and immigration ‘controls’ are a farce. And of course the English as usual will be denied their say.
How I weep for thee my country; how I hope for thee my country.
Julian Lindley-French


Thursday, 12 September 2013

Britain's Defence of All the Talents

London: A Small Island to Which No-one Pays Attention. 12 September.  DSEI is the world’s leading defence equipment show.  The hall stretches before me like some latter day modernist, Mondianist cathedral. It is pot-marked with large bits of military equipment laid out in a kind of military feng shui.  This week I have had the honour of chairing various conference sessions and meetings.

The message I take away from the week is that Britain is to pioneer a radical approach to defence. Indeed, it will be national defence driven by all the talents - official and non-official, national and international. Given that ambition the best and the worst of official Britain was on show here. 
Britain’s armed forces were the best of it.  The centre-piece of the week was the RUSI Maritime Operations Conference at which the Head of the Royal Navy, the impressive Admiral Sir George Zambellas, laid out what he called “Britain’s Maritime Renaissance”.  Zambellas might have well called his statement “Britain’s Strategic Renaissance”.  In many ways the Royal Navy is the litmus test of Britain’s strategic ambition and the re-forging of a truly national strategic force.  One does not build large bits of floating national defence infrastructure (why are bridges counted and funded as infrastructure and not warships?) if one lacks strategic ambition.
Divided into three ‘epochs’ the Navy’s renaissance will stretch out to 2040.  Right now two large aircraft carriers are being built with a new class of frigates about to be built.  A class of new destroyers has just been completed with a new class of nuclear-attack submarines rolling off the stocks.  A decision will soon be made to purchase a like-for-like replacement of the Trident nuclear deterrent and a host of support ships are also being procured. 
This year Britain took delivery of its first Lightning 2 Joint Strike Fighter a version of which will operate off the carriers and the Navy is beginning to replace its entire stock of helicopters.  Britain’s Secretary-of-State for Defence Philip Hammond also announced here a further £250m investment in a new weapons system for the Navy and a radical new approach to defence-industrial partnerships.  
And then there was the worst of official Britain.  It is not the scale of the reinvestment in the Royal Navy that matters but the radicalism implicit in it.  From the Secretary of State down through his staff the message was the same – Britain’s defence is open to new business and new ideas.  And yet the body language from the Secretary-of-State down could not be more different.  Those of us who may have a tad of a reputation for thinking ‘outside of the box’ are still too often treated as though we are a bad smell.  For all the talk of new beginnings the new Ministry of Defence (MoD) looks just like the old MoD – open to new ideas as long as they come from within. 
It is not the people that are the problem but the culture and the climate of fear all too evident in the MoD.  The MoD has been under intense pressure these past few years but ‘openness’ must not simply mean another tired reincarnation of the closed and self-serving iron triangle of defence, industry and politics.  Indeed, if the ambition and enthusiasm evinced by Admiral Zambellas is to be realised (and it must be) the political and civilian side of the house needs to stop so obviously holding their noses when the supportive awkward squad make a challenging point.
New thinking requires risk and yes a few bad journalists will write a few unfair headlines because they are fully paid up members of the Little Britain mafia which is so pervasive in this town.  However, leadership is not telling people they cannot take questions at sessions I chair for fear they might be misinterpreted.  Leadership and effective defence engagement is about trusting people and maintaining the commitment to the exciting defence strategic vision Britain is pioneering whatever the headlines.  Once again bad politics in London is in danger of confounding good national strategy.
If Britain’s radical defence strategy is to be realised orthodoxy will need to be challenged because Britain’s strategic business will never go back to ‘usual’. London’s Excel Centre from where I write this blog is but a broken banker’s bonus distant from the City where four years ago this week Lehman Brothers collapsed sparking Britain’s worst financial crisis for a century because government got it so wrong. 
There is a really good news story to talk about Britain’s strategic defence renaissance. However, I fear it could well fail because of narrowness of mind and spirit in the Ministry of Defence.  If the MoD simply talks the talk of culture change but refuses to walk the walk it will be the same old, same old – big talk, poor delivery.  Culture change starts at the very top, Mr Hammond.
Julian Lindley-French

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Europe, Syria and the Crisis of Global Governance

Riga, Latvia. The Riga Conference is a highlight in my annual calendar and an antidote to the eternal self-obsessed ‘westerneuropeanitis’ which passes for strategy in Europe these days.  Sharing a platform with the Belgian, British and Latvian defence ministers I fulfilled my now traditional role as Europe’s strategic hooligan.  Dangerously I also sent my first tweet – Yorkshire finally enters the twenty-first century!  My plea was simple and heartfelt - do not confuse the defence of Europe with the deepening of the EU.  If the former has to wait for the latter it will die of political old age.

The final panel of the conference did what the European elite loves most – talked about itself.  President Ilves of Estonia was joined by Europe’s two most impressive foreign ministers – Sweden’s Carl Bildt and Poland’s Radek Sikorski to consider the strategic outlook of the EU. A more oxymoronic session for a conference one could not imagine as Europe these days rarely looks out and does not do strategy.  And yet it must!
The brilliant Celeste Wallander the token American on the panel tried valiantly to intrude on Europe’s private grief but she was far too optimistic.  And to be fair to her fellow luminaries they are the most real world of all European leaders these days.  Indeed, the idea that ‘new Europe’ should hold ‘old Europe’ to account was refreshing, depressing and ironic (when will 'new' Europe simply become Europe).  I say ironic because in a few days the brand new HMS Daring will visit Riga, Britain’s and one of the world’s most advanced warships.  This is 'old' Europe investing in new military kit.

Syria was the elephant in the room demonstrating yet again Europe’s disconnect from the world and from each other.  In St Petersburg the Germans had just failed to sign the declaration of the several western powers present at the G20 meeting condemning Assad’s use of chemical weapons.  Now, Berlin could be forgiven for making a mistake given the thousand diplomatic shocks to which political flesh is heir to during an election campaign.  However, the Germans had demurred because Europe’s ‘President’ Herman Van Rompuy had prevailed on Berlin to wait until an EU meeting in Vilnius so as not to upset ‘les petits’.  Talk about tail wagging the elephant!
Overcoming my natural and habitual reticence I ploughed into the debate by suggesting that the Syria crisis is in fact far more than an issue of to intervene or not to intervene.  It is an essential struggle over the very nature of global governance with profound implications for those who believe in values and functioning international institutions.  Indeed, Syria reveals the most strategic of fights over the future of global governance between the ‘sovereignty at any cost’ lobby led by Russia and the ‘humanity at lowest cost’ lobby led by the Americans.

Now, there are a whole host of reasons why the strike the Obama administration is proposing will not work.  However, the crisis also reveals the extent to which whilst the Americans, Chinese, Russians and Indians et al play power poker Europeans continue to play integration chess.  What Europe refuses to understand is that the truly strong do not need strategy; it is the weak that need strategy.  However, the politics of European integration today makes Europe unique in international politics; weakness without strategy.  The whole process is making Europe's big powers behave like little ones. Someone even proffered the idea that the Eurozone crisis is deepening European integration,  If so it is the integration of despair. 
The bottom line is that Europe could do far more in the world. However, Europe lacks the shared vision, will, both soft and hard power and the willingness to share risk at the point of contact with danger upon which strategy is made. 

This brings me back full circle to my panel of defence ministers (plus little old me).  Philip Hammond the British Defence Minister rightly said there will be no new money for European defence but Europeans must do more together.  However, there also needs to be strategic investment in twenty-first century military capabilities such as HMS Daring if Europe's soft power is to have a vital hard edge.  Sure that will involve some cost.  However, a world that drifts back to the politics of grand cynicism will prove far more costly. 
There is a crisis of global governance today and European weakness is partly responsible.  Riga and its history attest to the consequences when European democracies choose to be weak.
Julian Lindley-French


Thursday, 5 September 2013

Is the Special Relationship Dead?

Alphen, Netherlands.  5 September.  Is the Anglo-American special relationship dead?  In the wake of Parliament’s 29 August decision to block the use of British forces in any US-led strike on Syria British officers were ejected from planning meetings at US Central Command (CENTCOM).  At this week’s G20 meeting in St Petersberg President Obama will pointedly have a private meeting with France’s President Hollande, but not with David Cameron.
To understand the special relationship it is necessary to go back to its origins.  Not surprisingly it was the product of Winston Churchill’s fertile and febrile strategic imagination.  In a famous March 1946 speech in Fulton, Missouri entitled “Sinews of Peace” Churchill said, “Neither the sure prevention of war, nor the continuous rise of world organization will be gained without what I have called the fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples ...a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States”.  At the time Churchill was set on re-casting the victorious Anglo-American alliance of World War Two to confront Soviet expansionism.
That was then this is now.  Britain is no longer an imperial power but still retains one of the world’s leading economies and one of the world’s most capable armed forces, albeit one in which the link between capability and capacity is now dangerously tenuous. The relationship also tends to vary depending upon who is in charge in London and Washington and the extent to which British leaders determine they must align the British interest with the American. 
Equally, there are indeed areas of co-operation between the countries that can be said to be ‘special’ by international standards.  The co-operation between American and British Intelligence is certainly ‘special’ as Edward Snowden has revealed.  Moreover British Intelligence has been particularly effective in Syria which may explain Obama’s muted response to Parliament’s nay say.   
However, the true foundation of the special relationship is first and foremost the relationship between the armed forces of the two countries.  As retired US Army Four Star General Jack Keane said this week of the proposed Syria operation, "We operate side by side with the UK and we know who our closest ally is. We certainly would much rather do this with the UK side by side, that's how the military feels,[and] I really think the leaders of the country feel”.
Giving evidence before the Senate over the summer the new US Ambassador to the Court of St James said, "We are committed to working with that strong relationship [with Britain] to ensure that they [the British armed forces] remain full-spectrum capable, that they remain operable with us and also that they are able to continue to lead missions on behalf of NATO.  It is an area of critical concern."
My own conversations with American leaders underline the damage that was done to Britain’s influence in Washington by London’s 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).  The damage was not simply a question of the cuts per se but the way London failed to manage American expectations.  Some of that damage has since been offset by the large equipment programme announced for the British armed forces.  Sensible people in DC also understand that the British Government had to close a £38bn ($59bn) funding gap in Britain’s defence budget at a time when failing banks had brought Britain’s economy to its knees.
However, Washington does not do sentimentality.  A close friend of mine who is a very senior American said to me recently that the relationship works so long as Britain does not test it.  Critically, there are no blocks of hyphenated British-Americans with a US vote, in the same way there are Jewish-Americans and Polish-Americans.  Therefore as Churchill fades into the far-past it is British power that will define the scope and extent of British influence in Washington and the Americans will measure that power as being first and foremost military. 
Therefore London has some ground to catch-up which will not have been helped by this week’s Parliamentary vote.  Moreover, the Anglo-American relationship has been diluted in the American political mind over the years by a rather sordid and sorry mix of over-needy British politicians desperate for American presidential blessing, London’s retreat from big thinking about strategy and massive cuts to Britain’s armed forces.  For all that America and Britain still enjoy the closest strategic relationship of any two sovereign states on the planet. And, the relationship is not a beauty contest.  If America operates with others from time to time as it will London needs to be mature about it.   
However, if SDSR 2015 does not re-set the British armed forces back onto a path towards an ability to lead coalitions then not only will the special relationship wane further in the American mind but the value of NATO with it.  Indeed, British military capability is a key factor in keeping NATO relevant in Washington.  Therefore, SDSR 2015 must be strategically substantive and sold well in Washington.  One of the big mistakes the British made in 2010 was to under-estimate the influence of DC think-tanks over both White House and Pentagon thinking. 
The special relationship is not dead but if SDSR 2015 fails in the American political mind Britain will simply become yet another of those pesky European allies forever demanding, offering little by way of return and all too willing to fight to the last American.  There is nothing special about that.
Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 2 September 2013

Syria, Obama and the Value-Interest

Alphen, Netherlands. 2 September. President Obama’s 31 August decision to authorise but delay a military strike against Syria’s Bashir al-Assad’s regime in the wake of the alleged use of chemical weapons is an important moment.  Taken together with the 29 August decision of Britain’s Parliament to deny Prime Minister Cameron permission to use force two changes are apparent.  First, an evolution is taking place in both America and Britain over the use, utility and place of force in strategy.  Indeed, what is striking about Obama-Cameron is how far they are from Bush-Blair, even if their respective peoples fear otherwise.  Second, the now traditional confusion between values and interests is morphing in the presidential mind into a new Obama doctrine - the value interest. This is a place where Justus Lipsius meets Machiavelli (not to mention Talleyrand).  
The problem for Obama is that the subjectivity implicit in the value-interest and the law of unintended consequences to which it is heir makes it hard to discern any relationship between ends, ways and means.  Would an Assad regime with the blood of tens of thousands of its people on its hands feel a slap on the wrist?  Would cruise missiles slamming into empty command and control bunkers and arsenals degrade the regime?  Would the action in and of itself send a message to other tyrants not use chemical weapons?  Would such a strike open up new avenues towards a regional political settlement? 
It is precisely the cracks in the American (and British) strategic mind between punishing Assad and sending a broader message into which ends, ways and means are falling.  The punitive strike Obama has on offer is neither intervention nor punishment, something Senator John McCain has rather pointedly alluded to by suggesting there is neither plan nor strategy.
The value-interest is the strategic sibling of democratic legitimacy in that it beautifies the national interest.  This is particularly important now that international law is in crisis and the UN Security Council has once again been reduced to the theatre of big power cynicism.  
A Washington power struggle is now taking place between values and interests with the President casting himself as arbiter rather than leader.  Whilst the slaughter of innocents should indeed cause deep moral indignation it is not enough of and in its own right to act as the basis for American grand strategy.  The language of US Secretary of State John Kerry has at times come close to being a statement of values masquerading as interests.  This is precisely what made the Bush 2 years so unpredictable.  Getting the balance right between values and interests is absolutely essential at such moments and thus a pause for reflection is no bad thing.
Equally, the very hybridity of the value-interest makes it an uncomfortable partner for strategy given that it occupies an indeterminate and ill-determined space between Western liberalism and Realpolitik.  At one end of the spectrum the value-interest leads many on the left to call for Western intervention in all the world’s conflicts under the UN’s tattered and sovereignty-flouting Responsibility to Protect.  This is Tony Blair’s view.  However, given the experience of Afghanistan and Iraq and cuts to Western armed forces the value-interest simply makes a mockery of ends, ways and means. 
At the other end of the spectrum the Chinese and Russians uphold the utterly cynical view that the national state interest is the only test of intervention and sovereignty the sovereign coin of the realm.  Indeed, 'sovereignty' is the new fault-line in international politics.  This does not suggest a rosy international future should China ever dominate.     
The value-interest has also masks a deep fault-line between Americans and Europeans over the ends, ways and means of geopolitics.  Americans believe in the value-interest because it is part of American ‘moral exceptionalism’ whereas Britain and France still retain just a smidgeon of global reflex, albeit one that it is fast-eroding.  However, for many other Europeans national sovereignty is simply an empty shell in which the remains of the national interest occasionally twitches but is now by and large dead.  For them the dystopian uplands of legalism offer a false refuge against the imperatives of the age.  With the UN Security Council stymied that means utter inaction.
The only way for Obama to some restore balance between ends, ways and means and the value-interest would be a return to American statecraft.  This is clearly what President Obama was referring to when he said “...this mission is not time-sensitive; it will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now”.
Statecraft demands a balanced package of co-option and coercion in pursuit of ends that are both desirable and achievable.  It requires strategic judgement, sound intelligence, the patient building of coalitions but above all a political strategy supported by credible national means – political, economic, diplomatic and finally military - applied consistently over time and distance. 
In Syria and the wider Middle East it is the absence of statecraft that has done so much damage and the confusion of values with interests could be about to make the situation a whole lot worse. 
Julian Lindley-French