hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Saturday, 31 May 2014

The NATO Club

2BS Conference, Budva, Montenegro. 31 May. Budva lies cupped in the clasped hands of a rocky giant nestling in a deep bay alongside the azure Adriatic.  This is a beautiful place in a beautiful country waiting its patient turn to take its full and definitive place in a Europe whole and free – something the rest of us too often take for granted.  Indeed, the powerful 2BS (to be secure) conference at which I am writing this blog is by its very existence a reminder of a Europe as yet unfinished.  Something of which the stupor-awakening fate of Ukraine this year is all too eloquent.  Montenegro waits in hope and expectation that along with three other aspirant states membership of NATO will be offered at the Wales Summit in September. So, what does it mean to be a member of NATO in 2014?

Perhaps the best way for me to answer that question is to admit something I have been trying to keep secret; I am a golfer. Now, I am not a very good golfer.  Indeed, I am probably what one might term a Scud missile golfer – good range, no direction.  In fact I play what can best be described as Beatles golf with each round a Magical Mystery Tour that takes me to exotic places on courses hitherto undiscovered.  Indeed, if I got a pound for each shot I hit I would be a very rich man indeed.

NATO is a kind of golf club.  There is the one really rich bloke who has the money all the latest golf kit and can indeed play.  However, he tends to wear loud trousers (or ‘pants’ which to the rest of us are a form of underwear) and talks a lot.  Then there are a couple of newly-rich who have gone out and bought the kit, but cannot play and rarely turn up.  For them what matters is being seen alongside the rich bloke from time-to-time even if they find golf rather distasteful.
There are one or two old, snobbish formerly rich members who can still play (although they are getting on a bit).  However, they do not like the way the club is changing and in any case can no longer really afford to play.  For them hiding the fact of their decline is what matters even if the state of their ageing kit is a dead giveaway. 

The bulk of the paying members are made up of the aspirant middle class for whom membership is all about, well, membership.  They cannot really play at all and can only afford a few clubs. However, membership gives them a real sense of social standing denied their parents.  

Finally, there are a few young members who are absolutely broke, hang around the club house but given half the chance would be all too happy play with a bit of tuition.  Sadly, they are routinely ‘bumped’ by the older, richer members who hog the course, make a mess of it, a nuisance of themselves and turn golf into a form of trench warfare.

Then there are the people who would love to get into the club if only the committee would deem them worthy of access.  These poor people are placed on interminable waiting lists and often given long, stern lectures about the club’s values, traditions and ‘standards’ which members are 'required' to uphold.  Of course not one of the members actually uphold the values or the standards of the club. And, if one took a careful look at the true financial status of not but a few it would reveal the dangerous relationship between snobbery, bankruptcy and golf. 

NATO faces a choice.  The great age of enlargement is ending and a new age of strategic engagement is beginning.  One only has to see how Russia is extending its soft influence again into places like Serbia to realise the relationship between Open Door enlargement and strategic engagement.  Those seeking membership cannot be kept waiting indefinitely to join either the NATO or EU clubs, although the EU club has so many rules and regulations that no-one actually ever plays golf - they just talk about it.  

Some of these aspirants may be a bit rough round the edges and have table manners that may leave something to be desired.  That said, one only has to see the manners of the rich, loud bloke with the loud pants to realize that the great uncouth can also be found within the club house.  However, because he has real money he is routinely forgiven.  Where did he get those 'pants'.

The Wales Summit was meant to be the Partnership Summit.  It has been hijacked and rightly so by the Ukraine crisis.  However, partnership must mean something and if the Alliance is to be a club made fit for the twenty-first century it will need young, new members.  Indeed, once membership is offered then not only will the ability of the Montenegros of his Europe to play improve but a whole host of other manners will also be finessed – democracy, governance, rule of law and anti-corruption.

For all the hypocrisy and hubris at my golf club at the end of the day we are all golfers – good, bad, rich, poor and utterly rubbish. We are also members of the same club. If we fail to offer membership to the young and upcoming there is always the danger they will go and join another club which observes no rules at all!

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Europe: A House Divided…

Vienna Airport, Austria 29 May. On June 16, 1858 Abraham Lincoln made a prophetic speech.  “A house divided against itself cannot stand.  I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half-slave, half-free.  I do not expect the Union to be dissolved…but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other”.  I have taken a few days to consider the implications of last week’s elections to the European Parliament.  Indeed, amidst the exaggerated talk of ‘earthquakes’ and ‘revolutions’ only two votes are of real significance. First, some 70% of those Europeans who did vote cast their ballot for pro-EU parties.  Second, 52% of Britons who voted cast their ballot for Euro-sceptic or Euro-rejectionist parties.  Therefore, there will be more political integration and the great British reckoning will soon be upon us in which the choice for the British people will be surrender or leave.

No clear theme emerges from a close analysis of the voting patterns.  Yes, the Front National made stunning gains in France but the French are not about to abandon the EU. Yes, AFD, a small German party made a splash but they are anti-Euro, not anti-EU.  Yes, there were significant gains for various extremists, bigots and zealots across the political spectrum.  However, taken together there is nothing that could be said to be the basis for a reasoned and reasonable opposition with the European Parliament save (ironically) for some of the more modern and grown-up members of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).

That said the EU is at a crossroads. However, it is perhaps not the one that much of media is somewhat hysterically claiming.  The EU political elite is right to claim that much of the opposition is driven by a lack of economic growth but criticism also goes beyond that to issues of governance which of course the elite do not want to consider.  It is not surprising that they are happy to look again at policies but not at themselves. 

The voting patterns also reveal a profound split between the relatively few northern and western European taxpayers who fund Project Europe and those across the rest of Europe who benefit from such largesse.  Given that these transfers will continue for many years to come such discontent will also persist.  However, it is unlikely to reach a level where the existence of the Union itself is threatened.  Even though such transfers are in effect a tax on western European growth the EU elite make sure the Eurozone voter has nowhere else to go.

The EU elite also refuses to acknowledge the economic and social friction caused by huge numbers of poor eastern and southern Europeans arriving en masse in western European societies. Wages have been suppressed and cultural frictions have been generated.  Equally, those against free movement frequently shoot themselves in their collective feet by trying to paint migrants as a host of barbarians.  From first-hand experience I can confirm such a caricature is not at all fair.  However, to dismiss such concerns as racism is not just plain wrong but highlights and deepens the profound gap between the elite and the people the EU has come to represent for millions.

Where the vote really does matter is in the UK.  This reflects not just the growing gap between Britain and the Eurozone but also a lack of trust between political leaders and the British people. It is a lack of trust reinforced by the utter impossibility – political and financial- of the UK’s current position in the EU. 

The bottom line is this; Britain sends £8.6 billion per year (net) to the EU and gets precious little back in return.  The London political elite say such transfers give Britain access to the Single Market.  However, not only does Germany block the completion of a Single Market in Services the one area where Britain is strong but under World Trade Organisation rules the British are in effect paying for access to what should be free markets. 

Indeed, if anything the mass of EU Regulation makes the Single Market not only less ‘single’ but also not at all free. Therefore, that £8.6bn per annum is in effect a foreign tax on the British people and reflects what has been for too long blind faith in the EU on the part of the London political elite. As the EU and the Eurozone becomes one and the same thing the British will sooner or later have to face reality; join the euro or leave the EU.

So, what is going to happen? First, a mainstream Continental Christian Democrat will become President of the European Commission in November. Berlin wants that and the Eurozone is in effect a zollverein (customs union) built on and for Germany. It will probably not be arch-federalist Jean-Claude Juncker as that would indeed be red rag to John Bull.  Second (and however) the British will become even more euro-sceptic.  The current EU is just about defensible by the likes of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband.  However, as the Eurozone inevitably moves towards real monetary and political union the gap between the benefits of Britain’s EU membership and the costs will become even more apparent. 

Third, the various new factions in the European Parliament will spend more time fighting each other than holding the Commission to account.  Fourth, a hybrid form of political union will emerge as the Commission in effect becomes Germany’s proxy and continues its efforts to undermine and eventually replace every other EU member-state as the effective Government of Europe.  

Given that set of scenarios the likelihood that Cameron can persuade Eurozone governments of the need to go back to a kind of pre-Maastricht EU built on state-led structural ‘subsidiarity’ is extremely unlikely.  Indeed, structural subsidiarity would not be possible without the scrapping of both the Lisbon Treaty and the euro and that ain’t going to happen.

As for Europe’s people – they will continue in their current state; half slaves, half free half served by the half democracy that the half Parliament of the EU has become.  And, when all the brouhaha has died down elite business in the EU will continue just as elite usual.

Ho hum!

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 26 May 2014

HMS Victory and Europe's Strategy Crisis

Alphen, Netherlands. 26 May.  She is quite simply the most famous warship in the world.  Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship at the epoch-making 1805 Battle of Trafalgar Victory sits at the heart of Portsmouth naval base, a “wooden wall of England” even today exuding power and naval majesty. Half her one hundred and four guns point protectively, poignantly and defiantly towards the Continent.  Still the Fleet Flagship of the First Sea Lord (Head of the Royal Navy) Victory is the very symbol of both British naval power and Britain's past grand strategic influence.  As such Victory is so much more than a ship.

Dining Friday on Victory with First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas at the Chiefs of European Navies (CHENS) conference Victory spoke to me.  Whatever the politics of Europe (and there has been a distinct outbreak of politics this past week) unless Europeans can together face the hard strategic reality Nelson’s grand old ship was built to confront Europe could in time face disaster in this fast-coming, fast-dangerous age. 

In that spirit I put four questions to the assembled Band of Brothers.  Are we Europeans credible as a strategic community?  Are European navies ready and able to fight a war?  Have European governments and their armed forces gripped the sheer pace and scale of change?  Can Europeans embrace the mind-set change twenty-first century grand and defence strategy demands?  To each question the response was a deafening and very strategic silence, save for two British senior officers who perhaps felt I was rocking the boat just a tad too much.  Moi?

Strategic logic would suggest that as the balance of military power begins to shift decisively away from Europe and if European governments are not prepared to spend more on defence (which they are for the mostpart not) they must do more together.  Unfortunately, the meeting revealed all too clearly the barriers to such co-operation and the extent to which politics is polluting strategy. 

To open the meeting Britain’s Secretary-of-State for Defence Phillip Hammond made all the right noises.  Future threat will be demanding and the maritime component vital.  He rightfully talked about the challenge of affording cutting-edge capabilities. It is indeed impressive how Hammond has in a short space of time re-established some level of prudent financial discipline and sound project management in Britain’s infamously inept and shambolic defence procurement process. 

However, whilst celebrating the launch of the new British super-carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth on 4 July (Independence Day?) Hammond was strangely quiet about the fate of the second super-carrier HMS Prince of Wales.  Moreover, that very day Hammond engaged in a spat with the Labour Party that I may have triggered over Britain’s (an island) lack of a capable and vital maritime patrol aircraft.  Instead of focusing on how best to close this dangerous capability gap the Secretary-of-State wrote to The Times to engage in an utterly pointless debate about who actually was responsible for cutting the programme and when.

Next, EU Commissioner Maria Damanaki made a speech in which she called for a “European Maritime Security Framework”.  On the face of it such a Framework makes perfect sense.  In reality this was yet another attempt by the European Commission to marginalise the European nation-state and use insidious function to expand the EU’s power footprint and the Commission’s power.  The debate over where co-operation should take place has added to the paralysis that is affecting the vital need for European defence cohesion.  Indeed, in the Commissioner's remarks there was a clear whiff of a future European Navy.

There was however another HMS Elephant in the room – trust.  The wonderfully-named HMS Elephant was Nelson’s flagship at the 1801 Battle of Copenhagen at which the Danes had their fleet somewhat deconstructed for failing to unequivocally understand that Denmark needed to be on the British side in the Napoleonic Wars.  Silly people!  If Victory is an historic metaphor for decisive leadership Elephant is a metaphor for trust, or rather the lack of it.

For European armed forces to be credible across the twenty-first mission spectrum from the low-end to the high-end and across time and distance a profound and radical shift in strategy, ambition and posture will be required.  And yet I saw no evidence of such a fundamental mind-set shift in the making. Put simply, Europeans will only invest in each when they are certain that it really is all-for-one and one-for-all rather than the current 'after you please' approach to crisis management.

Worse, after a bruising decade of struggle in Afghanistan and Iraq, a massive economic crisis and deep, deep defence cuts military leaders in many European states are simply despair of their political leaders and at a loss of what to do about it.  This week the chiefs of France’s armed forces threatened to resign en masse if Paris added cuts of a further €2bn per annum to those already agreed in 2013.  On the brand-new state-of-the-art destroyer HMS Dragon I had lunch with Admiral Rogel, Chief of Staff of the French Navy.  The Admiral struck me as a very sensible man with both vision and drive.  For French Service Chiefs to threaten such a step there is clearly something very badly wrong.

What to do?  If Europeans are to shape the twenty-first century rather than become victims of it they must together return to strategic first principles. That means a focus on the development of advanced military capabilities whilst at the same time preserving a modicum of political flexibility such capabilities would afford.  

Critically, for all the whingeing and wining of other Europeans Britain and France remain the key European powers.  If the two countries can forge a real strategic partnership then there is a chance that other Europeans will begin to organise themselves around such a pole of military power whatever flag such a force operates under. 

Leadership by example will be vital.  Therefore, both countries must fulfil all their capability pledges and London and Paris must make the funding available to do so however hard that might be.  Indeed, if London really does cut or simply park HMS Prince of Wales indefinitely then the British can effectively say goodbye to the defence leadership of Europe.  Like Victory the 2 ‘QEs’ are not just warships they are symbols of strategic ambition and influence. 

There were two other elephants in the room which by their presence suggested an increased need for effective European defence co-operation.  Two senior American admirals reminded the Europeans present of the deep paradox at the heart of transatlantic relations; the more strategically-irresponsible Europeans retreat from sound defence the greater their dependence on an increasingly over-stretched and despairing United States. 

Sadly, I am not hopeful.  Such is the strategic and political denial of the political elite and the endemic short-termism with which they are afflicted that defence under-investment in Europe is now the very DNA of declinism.  Indeed, one would have thought given Russia’s aggression in Ukraine that European leaders would finally be ready to wake up and smell the defence coffee.  Not a bit of it.  Europeans politicians are fast retreating from any such ideas firm in their fantasy that the Americans will always be there to protect them.  In future there is a very good chance they will not.

HMS Victory is famous for what she represents – strategic ambition, political will and fighting power. Nelson’s victory ushered in two centuries of not just British naval power but British and American grand strategic power.  And in time the values the two countries came to espouse as they eventually forged the West.  Today, that supremacy is being ended before my eyes with history on steroids.  This is partly due to the emergence of China and the military re-emergence of Russia.  However, the main culprit is a European refusal to confront the implicit grand strategic test of which Victory speaks and which in reality CHENS was about. 

Europe will not find its place in the world until Europeans face up to the world as it is, not as they would like it to be. For that to happen Britain, France and the rest of Europe must really decide what kind and level of actor they want to be and if they really want to play power any more.  My sense is not.  Prove me wrong.

Julian Lindley-French  

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

China and Russia: Wind, Gas and Strategy

Alphen, Netherlands. 21 May. In 1957 at the height of Soviet power Chinese leader Mao Zedong made a prediction.  “It is my opinion that the international situation has now reached a new turning point. There are two winds in the world today, the East Wind and the West Wind. There is a Chinese saying, "Either the East Wind prevails over the West Wind or the West Wind prevails over the East Wind." I believe it is characteristic of the situation today that the East Wind is prevailing over the West Wind”.  Behind the civilities of Russian President Putin’s state visit to China this week is hard grand strategic calculation by both Beijing and Moscow that will shape the adversarial grand politics of the early twenty-first century.

This week’s gas supply deal with Russia and the hard bargain China has driven demonstrate two important Chinese strategic principles.  First, China accepts that implicit in Russia’s use of Machopolitik in Ukraine is a new East-West Machtpolitik stand-off.  Second, Russia is no equal but part of China’s growing sphere of influence.  Indeed, with Russia having abandoned the West China is fully aware that Russia is in a weak strategic position in desperate need to reduce its reliance on Europe for 80% of its energy sales. 

Moscow is at a strategic crossroads.  Russia could at this point still seek to mend its relations with the West, Europe in particular.  Moscow could signal that what has happened in Crimea was forced upon it by circumstances and that Russia is still open to a political settlement that would confirm Ukraine’s sovereign rights but protect both Russian-speaking minorities and the fleet base at Sevastopol.

Instead Russia is further upping the anti-Western ante and signalling by the nature and the tone of Putin’s visit to China that the breach with the West is structural and permanent.  This is reinforced by Russia’s deployment of state-of-the-art Bastion P 330K anti-ship missiles to Crimea. By so doing (and given the recent cruise of the aircraft-carrier Kuznetsov) Moscow’s ambition is to rebuild the Russian Navy into an anti-Western blue water fleet albeit focused on the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.  This was clearly the message in the joint naval exercises conducted this week with China. 

China has different motivations.  Whilst Moscow shares China’s classical balance of power, sphere of influence world view the respective levels of ambition of the two powers are markedly different.  Russia’s strategy is inherently defensive in its far east and regional-strategic in its near-West.  China on the other hand is preparing to take on the US and its allies in South and East Asia.  Russia is attractive as a satellite because it forces an America with a declining defence budget to look two ways at once thus complicating US strategic calculation.

Equally, China is still willing to bide its time until what it sees as the correlation of forces are more in its favour.  However, Beijing’s sharp response to US charges of cyber-espionage against five Chinese military officers is indicative of what is to come.  Chinese state cyber-espionage against all Western powers (civil and military) is rife and getting more so.  For the time-being China is satisfied to extend its sphere of influence through the use of intimidation of its East and South Asian neighbours testing American resolve and tiring capabilities.  However, it is clear; in the Chinese strategic mind a day of reckoning with America will come.

For the West these shifting strategic tectonics imply profound dilemmas.  First, only the United States (and only part of the US) is prepared to see the new order for what it is – big, dangerous and adversarial.  Second, America’s key allies are in utter denial about the implications of such strategic shift over the medium-to-long term. 

Even Britain, long America’s staunchest strategic ally continues to view defence as a function of accountancy rather than strategy.  This week’s crisis in the Atlantic has revealed just how hollowed-out the Royal Navy in particular has become.  According to Global Firepower the Royal Navy, a century ago by the far the most powerful navy is now the world’s 36th largest force – modern ships but not enough of them.  And the lack of a capable maritime patrol aircraft that could have assisted in the search for the lost British sailors was cut four years ago by the Government even as it was being built. For Britain not to have a capable maritime patrol aircraft is not only absurd it is perverse.

As for the rest of Europe they are either incapable, unwilling or both.  Indeed, a poll this week of German public opinion revealed just how difficult Europe’s most important power finds facing up to the new strategic realities.  The German public are still essentially pacifist.  Consequently, there is a strategic black hole in the heart of Europe that will continue to mean Europeans punch well below their respective weight on the twenty-first century world stage.  And all this just as America really needs allies.

Not without irony it is perhaps the Russians who need most to understand the price they are about to pay.  There may be patriotic hoopla in Moscow today over the annexation of Crimea but over the longer-term it could prove to have been a disastrous move.  China will certainly not hesitate to exploit a needy Russia.  As he was welcomed by President Xi Putin described China as Russia’s “reliable friend” and pointedly referred to China as Russia’s major trading partner.  Any analysis of history reveals the first statement to be untrue – China has never been Russia’s reliable friend.  And, whilst the second statement is factually correct the gas deal reveals the fundamental tension in the Chinese-Russian relationship; China no longer regards Russia as an equal let alone a leader. 

If Western politicians could stop confusing politics with strategy they would realise the importance of the moment and what it means for longer-term world stability and defence.  America cannot continue to cut its defence budget and if NATO is to mean anything to Americans nor can Britain or the rest of Europe. 

That is the message carried on the east wind from Beijing and Moscow.  And it is a bitter wind that will blow only harder in what is a slowly gathering storm.

Julian Lindley-French 

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

SOS: Thank you America...Now Britain and Europe Must Act!

Alphen, Netherlands. 20 May. I have just been given the wonderful news that the US Coastguard will resume its search for our four British lads lost at sea.  Thank you, America!  You are a great friend to have. And my sincere thanks to those brave USCG crews who in the coming hours will risk their lives to save four of my compatriots.  My heart will be with you on this difficult and dangerous mission.

Now it is the turn of Britain and Europe.  Britain - we must get all and any assets we have out there and fast.  Spain, please make the bases on the Azores available and join the search.  France; a few of your enhanced Atlantiques would be deeply appreciated to help lead the search.  These men are after all EU citizens and now is a chance for Europe to prove it!

Let me conclude with Sir Francis Drake's prayer (no offence to my Spanish friends):

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

God speed and good hunting!

Julian Lindley-French

SOS: Save Our Sailors

Alphen, Netherlands. 20 May.  As I write somewhere, out in mid-Atlantic four Britons could be tenaciously clinging onto the last lease of life firm in their belief that someone is searching for them. They are probably wrong and have been left to die.  

The thought of Andrew Bridge, Paul Goslin, James Male and Steve Warren struggling for life as they slowly die of dehydration and hyperthermia whilst governments on both sides of the Atlantic 'have consultations' but publicly say and do nothing is not only appalling it is utterly inexcusable. 

The petition for a resumed search now runs to over 100,000 signatures.  Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health has joined the call.  Legendary solo round-the-world sailor Sir Robin Knox-Johnson says they could still be alive and has joined the call. And yet the silence of the American and British Governments is deafening.   

Yes, a search would be difficult because the four men's yacht Cheeki Rafiki appears to have lost its keel some 1000 nautical miles off Cape Cod.  And yes there is a chance the men have already perished. However, the search falls in the area of responsibility of the United States Coastguard part of the world's most advanced military.  

Moreover, all the evidence suggests these four experienced sailors managed to get into their state of the art life-raft and engaged not one but two rescue beacons.  The US Coastguard says that it uses a sophisticated model that considers age, experience, time and conditions to decide survivability.  Sod the model!   There are several tales from World War Two of torpedoed sailors with far less survival equipment surviving for longer in even more inclement weather.   

What is particularly galling is that both the American and British Governments put an immense effort into trying to find the lost Malaysian airliner MH370 when all hope was lost.  London sent a nuclear submarine and HMS Echo to help with the search even though no British citizens were involved.

Calling off the search after three days in mid-May smacks not of impossibility but bureaucratic and political indifference to the fate of four British citizens. It is tragically ironic how willing British governments are to get involved in MH270 type incidents when foreigners are involved.  It is after all good for strategic communications.  However, London seems indifferent to the fate of four Britons.  And I really wonder if the US would have called off the search so early if the sailors had been American.

I hope I am wrong and things really are being done behind the scenes to try and find these four men. And I have been assured at the highest levels that such efforts are being made to save the men. However, over the past 24 critical hours I see absolutely no evidence of that.

If it transpires that the search was abandoned simply because the fate of the crew of Cheeki Rafiki fell either in the 'not our problem' or the 'too difficult to try' box then someone, somewhere should and hopefully will pay a price.  I doubt it.

To call off the search so early is utterly unacceptable.  The search for the four men must be resumed forthwith!

SOS: Save Our Sailors!

Julian Lindley-French  

Monday, 19 May 2014

NATO: Standing Up for Freedom and Security

Alphen, Netherlands. 19 May.  “The aim is clear”, said NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen in a speech I attended Friday in Bratislava. “Russia is trying to establish a new sphere of influence.  In defiance of international law and fundamental agreements that Russia itself has signed. This has profound, long-term implications for our security. And it requires serious, long-term solutions”.  Are the NATO Allies up to the radical changes in strategy, posture, capabilities and mind-set implicit in Rasmussen’s call?

Calling a spade a spade is Yorkshire for simply stating fact. Joseph Devlin, in his 1910 book “How to Speak and Write Correctly” poked fun at the politically pompous and their use of circuitous language writing “…you may not want to call a spade a spade.  You may prefer to call it a spatulous device for abraiding the surface of the soil.  Better, however, to stick to the old, familiar simple name that your grandfather called it”.  On Friday Rasmussen did something very rare for a leader these days; he called a “spade a spade”.  There were no eloquent but empty ‘ifs’, no dissembling, emergency exit ‘buts’; just a plain statement of fact that Europeans and North Americans together must grip if the world is again to be made secure for freedom and democracy. 

Unfortunately, the West is looking at the Ukraine crisis from the wrong end of the strategic telescope.  Russia’s action is not simply a one-off function of an opportunist, expansionist, acquisitive regime, although it is clearly all of the above.  It is also a symptom of the long and dangerous retreat from strategic first principles by the European democracies.  Sadly, this retreat into a wannabe world is not simply confined to Europe’s smaller powers.  It is the central theme in my latest book Little Britain: Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power (2014:  

Re-establishing the place of credible and affordable military power at the heart of legitimate and stabilising influence is the nub of the challenge the Secretary-General has rightly identified.  However, the realisation of such “solutions” will not be easy and require the kind of strategic vision and political courage noticeably absent amongst Europe’s current political elite. 

Shortly after Rasmussen spoke I had the honour to share a panel with my good friend US Marine Corps General (Retd.) John Allen.  General Allen is a very balanced man; a fighting, thinking, humane soldier.  He warned of the growing global gap in military power between the mature democracies and the emerging acquisitive oligarchies such as China and Russia.  It is a warning worth heeding.  Beijing and Moscow have replaced democratic legitimacy with what might best be termed growth legitimacy by which the elite hold power in return for improved living standards.  Void of democratic checks and balances such regimes are inherently hyper-competitive with military power the central pillar of state influence.    

Against the backdrop of this shifting grand strategic scheme of things there are five solutions the NATO Allies must urgently and collectively consider at the September 2014 Wales Summit: re-engaged strategy, a new type of defence, a new type of military, new partnerships, and above all a new strategic and political mind-set.  Each and all of these changes are vital if NATO and its members are once again to credibly engage dangerous change.  Time is running out.

NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept provides more than enough strategic guidance but lacks sufficient political investment.  Implicit in the Concept is the need for the Alliance to generate influence across the mission spectrum.  That means a NATO able to offer continuing support to a fragile Afghanistan beyond the ISAF mission and at the same time act as a credible conventional deterrent and if needs be war-fighter to prevent the kind of adventurism in which Russia is currently engaged.

NATO’s Article 5 collective defence architecture remains the bedrock of Alliance credibility.  However, collective defence is in urgent need of modernisation based on three elements: missile defence, cyber-defence and deeply-joint, networked advanced expeditionary forces. 

However, it is the twenty-first century balance between protection and projection which is the key to NATO’s continued strategic utility.  It is vital that NATO pioneers a new type of deep, joint force able to operate across air, sea, land, cyber, space and knowledge.  It is a force that must also be able to play its full part in cross-government civilian and military efforts building on the lessons from the ISAF campaign.  To realise such a vision NATO’s command structures need to be further reformed, with transformation and experimentation brought to the fore.

Freedom and security in this age means the rejection of spheres of influence and a commitment to the right of sovereign states to make sovereign choices.  First, NATO must move quickly to formalise the strategic partnerships it has fostered in recent operations with democracies the world-over to reinforce the emerging world-wide web of democracies.  Second, NATO must offer a Membership Action Plan to Georgia at the Wales Summit.

Above all, NATO’s European allies need to undergo a profound mind-set change if they and the Alliance are to deal with the harsh realities of the hyper-competitive twenty-first century and the harsh strategic judgements it will impose.  NATO European Allies must finally reinvest the agreed 2% per annum of their national wealth (GDP) in their armed forces and drive forward with military reforms, as well as pooling, sharing and some defence integration.   

For too long European leaders have refused to call a spade a spade and instead retreated into weakness-masking metaphors and strategic spin.  If NATO is to be rendered fit for twenty-first century grand purpose a level of strategic unity of effort and purpose will be needed that has been utterly lacking of late.  Only then will the Alliance’s political mechanisms in such urgent need of reform and streamlining render the Alliance a credible actor in crises. 

Thank you, Mr Secretary-General for calling a spade a spade.  It was about time. NATO is a political alliance and standing up for freedom and security its core mission.  That means action and now. Do we collectively have the ambition and are we up to the challenge?  Can we really call a strategic spade a spade?

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 16 May 2014

GLOBSEC: Mario Monti’s Malaise

Bratislava, Slovakia. 16 May.  Oops! I am in the doghouse again. I have just been told off by EU uber-elitiste and Senator-for-Life Mario Monti here at GLOBSEC for raising an ever-so-tedious question about democracy, legitimacy and accountability in the EU.  How very uneducated of me.  GLOBSEC is truly one of the great conferences but the last panel on the “EU After the 2014 Vote” demonstrated not only all that is wrong with the EU elite, but also the danger to democracy posed by the elite-assumed over-concentration of power in the hands of an unelected few.

In response to my impertinent question (how dare citizens question the powerful) Mr Monti (Senator-for-Life) told me that whilst democracy and accountability were important they were not the only way to get things done.  At one point he embarked on a wholesale attack on the very principle of referenda by using a historical case to demonstrate why the people are invariably wrong and that elites should be left to run matters.  The last decade of elite-created disaster suggest otherwise.

The language of the session was typical of the cosy elitist love-in Brussels insiders enjoy at such events.  Euro-realists (such as I) and Euro-sceptics are suspect for fear we might offend elitist sensibilities.  All and any opposition to the ‘European Project’ is dismissed as ‘populism’.  All and any of us expressing concerns about the growing distance between power and the people are condemned as populists. 

To protect them from any ‘unpleasantness’ the elite invariably surround themselves with their intellectual flunkies and other fellow travellers drawn from the Brussels think-tanks.  And, as ever, my country Britain is routinely insulted as the ‘devil island’ because we British even dare to raise fundamental questions of political principle.  “Shut up and pay us your money” seems to be the essential message from Mr Monti (Senator-for-Life).

Best (or worst) of all Mr Monti (Senator-for-Life) questioned whether national democracy was any more legitimate than EU ‘democracy’.  After all, he said there were British ministers in the House of Lords.  He forgot to mention that there is one big difference between British democracy and EU ‘democracy’.  In Britain I know who my MP is and if I have an issue I can go and see my representative.  On one such occasion the MP in question happened to be a minister and helped to resolve quickly an obvious injustice.  Sadly, for too many in the EU elite ‘the people’ exist only in the abstract and ‘democracy’ only matters when the people agree with them.  If indeed further integration is to take place and more power is handed to Brussels such concerns cannot simply be brushed aside by the kind of elite dissembling as I witnessed today.

The next European Parliament could have a lot of people elite who do not buy into Project Europe.  Some of whom will be nasty extremists but by no means all.  Nor will they be as one of Mr Monti’s colleagues on the panel called them a ‘distraction’.  Indeed, such arrogant nonsense just demonstrates how detached the EU elite have become from real democracy.  Rather, they will be what we in Britain call the loyal opposition and their ‘dissent’ will make the EU more not less democratic because they have been elected by the people.  Annoying that, eh?

Perhaps the strangest aspect of this emperor-has-no-clothes debate was the discussion over the so-called spitzencanditaten. These are three EU uber-elitists, uber-insiders Junker, Schulz and Verhofstadt one of whom the European Parliament will likely put forward as the next President of the European Commission.  Now, I know we British are meant to shut up and just pay but for what it is worth not one of these three will have any legitimacy or credibility whatsoever with the people of Sheffield.  They will be seen for what they are; foreign politicians with too much power over their lives and so far distant from them that a Brexit will become almost inevitable.

The bottom-line is this; as power moves ever further from the people if the issues of democracy, legitimacy and accountability are not addressed properly by the elite the EU will fail. 

So, as the EU elite move to deepen political integration (as they will) legitimate criticism must not be dismissed as Mr Monti dismissed me. My concerns are neither populism nor some British disease.  Instead the elite must accept the judgement of the people and for once climb down from Mount EUlympus and engage with real issues that concern real people about real democracy.

For the record my aim is not to scrap the EU but to create a Union that I can genuinely feel is representative of and sensitive to my concerns and those of fellow EU citizens.  Today’s EU aint!  Sorry, Mr Monti you are wrong and dangerously so.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

GLOBSEC: The Road to Bratislava

GLOBSEC, Bratislava.  14 May.  In his famous book Danube Claudio Magris wrote, “History shows that it is not only senseless and cruel, but it is also difficult to state who is a foreigner”.  As the GLOBSEC security policy conference bustling and bristling around me the high-rollers are rolling up in their Rollers (well - and inevitably - BMWs these days).  Outside the Danube makes its majestic and serene way.  The river runs through Europe defining both the place and the idea as much as the Rhine albeit with a sense of the East, a corridor as ever between peace and struggle  Indeed, in this new and dangerous age of Machopolitik nowhere in contemporary Europe’s history has a place more defined peace and freedom than Bratislava.  Once on the wrong side of a fearsome border between liberty and oppression the Cold War was about ten thousand Bratislavas.  Today Bratislava is a city of peace on a river of hope.  Will it stay that way or will history again judge Europe with harsh cruelty?

Last night I made a remarkable, unremarkable thirty minute journey from Vienna Airport to Bratislava.  As is befitting my lowly station in life I made the trip not in the back of a luxurious limo but in the back of a minibus trying (as ever) to explain why we British are not ‘mad’ to French and German colleagues.
When I was a kid back in the strategic ice-age of the Cold War when politics and life seemed ever so sepia-tinted that thirty minute journey would have crossed from one world to another and would probably not have happened at all. Indeed, the Bratislava border crossing was so notorious it was a scene in John Le Carré’s spy masterpiece Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  Back then the Danube was a tangled metal ribbon of mine-laden fear and mistrust; a place where trigger-fingers trip-wired the world for destruction.  It was East glaring at West and the West glaring back.

As Russia seemingly endeavours again to define its ‘greatness’ through the fear and intimidation it can impose on other Europeans perhaps the journey I made last night was more pilgrimage than passage in the hope history really can be changed through partnership and inspired leadership.  Today, Bratislava is a charming capital of a small central European country that has found its own place but it is only because big leaders held to big values in the face of big pressure.  Peace was built it did not simply happen.

This is not just a lesson for Machopolitik Moscow.  Living as I do just down the road from Brussels the smell of cynical self-interest dressed up as ‘Europe’ wafts daily over me.  To discover ‘Europe’ today one has to come here and then move east.  Western Europe has become such a ‘whatever’ place; tired of itself, tired of its leaders and their endless pointless drivel and tired of the false hope and false ideas so many of them peddle. 

‘Europe’ today has become so IKEA.  Instead of confronting change and crisis little people struggle instead with little flat packs of little problems hoping against hope that heat rather than light will lead Europe forward. They spend their time on trying to put together little things that do not fit very well with screws loose and nuts missing. 

Sadly, the ability and the will of political leaders to see the real issues and act on them are rare.  They simply lack the requisite vision and courage to confront crises and instead lose themselves in a welter of self-justifying spin so dense that the distinction between truth and falsehood is lost in a thousand sound-bites. 

Today, the road to Bratislava is no longer blocked by checkpoints of chastising ideological chill but it is still pitted with the potholes of short-term, self-interested pretence.  The current crisis in which a European country is again being dismembered by pitiless power has demonstrated that there can be no IKEA fix.  This is a big moment demanding big leadership.

Therefore, if Europe is to win its new battle with Machopolitik Europeans must again remember the road to Bratislava.  Europeans must instead return to the first principles of freedom that in the end made that journey possible driven the will to defend them.  

History is only senseless and cruel if the politics and strategy that make history are driven by short-term prescriptions in which the easy politics of the moment trumps strategy and security.  In standing up to Greater Russia it is time for all Europeans as Europe to stand tall and resist the precedents of macho power Moscow is seeking to re-establish in Europe.  Fail and it will not simply be the poor people of Ukraine who suffer the consequences.  The very idea of ‘Europe’ will have been demonstrated a hollow, empty lie – a good-time gamble unable and unwilling to stand up for the very values and interests it claims as its heritage.

Then indeed history will be cruel in its judgement everybody will again be a foreigner.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 12 May 2014

Machopolitik: Why America Still Needs a Strategic Britain

Alphen, Netherlands. 12 May.  Seventy years ago to the day on 6 June 61,715 British troops landed on the Normandy beaches alongside 57,500 Americans and some 21,500 Canadians. The liberation of Western Europe from Nazism had begun.  On 9 May, as President Putin enjoyed his ‘Triumph’ in annexed Crimea and on what the Russians call Victory Day the 1990 commissioned Ukrainian-built aircraft carrier Kuznetsov together with six escorts sailed provocatively through the English Channel and into the North Sea on her way back from a port visit to Syria.  Whilst this is not the first time the Russians have sailed through the Channel the Russian mission and the timing against the backdrop of the current crisis was clearly designed to send a message about Russia’s new Machopolitik and Moscow’s determination to project twenty-first century military power and influence.  And yet far from trying to rebuild the strategic military relationship with Britain after years of British sacrifice in support of US policy the Obama administration is doing all it can to end the strategic partnership with Britain.  In the new age of Machopolitik it could prove to be a profound strategic mistake.  Why?

The tragedy of Obama’s foreign policy is the extent to which it has been captured by EU sympathisers who see Germany as the only state that matters in Europe.  Quite a few of the people around the White House and in the State Department (who I have known for many years) have long been firm advocates of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).  This is driven by the misplaced belief that an EU policy would not only lead to the creation of a European strategic culture but also solve the age-old Kissinger riddle; which European to call during a crisis. For these people Britain is just so passé a view the EU is quietly trying to foster in Washington.  What they fail to understand is that for the EU to be an effective security actor at the grand strategic level there would need to be a European Government.  Anything less than a European Government simply renders the EU less than the sum of its national parts.

The Obama administration has always reflected an American ambivalence about Britain.  Indeed, it is an ambivalence that was exploited by EU Commission President Barroso in a recent speech in Washington on receiving an award from the Atlantic Council.  In a deliberate snub to Britain Barroso implied that the only transatlantic relationship that mattered was that between the EU and the US and it was notable that Chancellor Merkel joined the gala dinner by video-link to congratulate Barroso.   The Atlantic Council is always sensitive to the prevailing power in Washington and the implicit message was all too clear; the ‘Special Relationship’ with Britain is dead.

Sadly, what the Administration fails to realise is that by ‘strengthening’ the EU at Britain’s expense Washington is also killing NATO.  Moreover, by adopting such a position the Administration is abandoning sound strategy for political and ideological posturing.  This misplaced emphasis on German leadership in Europe simply fails to understand the nature of modern Germany and its strategic orientation. Do not get me wrong, Germany has made an amazing non-military contribution to post-Cold War European stability but Berlin will never be a reliable American partner.  Indeed, the current crisis has revealed all too clearly the deep ambivalence in the German elite about Berlin’s relationships with both Moscow and Washington.  And, whilst Berlin is at least talking about Germany once again becoming a ‘normal power’ replete with capable military forces the Germans are a very long way from being America’s indispensable strategic partner.  

Equally, London must also take responsibility for Britain’s loss of influence in Washington.  At a recent event in Washington the British Ambassador had to remind his American audience that Britain for the moment at least is still actually an independent country.  And yes some of the overly rapid and at times ill-thought through defence cuts in the 2010 British Strategic Defence and Security Review were rightly condemned by the US.  A mistake that could be compounded by the 2015 ‘Silent’ Defence and Security Review as London again confuses politics with strategy by killing public debate on Britain’s big strategic defence choices.  Sadly, one of the reasons for London killing public debate is that the now age-old argument that Britain needs strong armed forces to be a trusted ally of the United States is being systematically undermined by the very people who need a strategic Britain – the Americans.

Equally, the presence of the Kuznetsov also reveals some other strategic realities to which the ideologues of the Obama administration need to awaken.  First, Britain will be Europe’s strongest economy alongside Germany and one of the world’s top ten for years to come.  Indeed, with the euro-free British economy now growing at over 3% per annum London is next month going to wipe out all the losses suffered as a result of the American-inspired 2008 sub-prime loans banking crisis.  Second, Britain will also strengthen its position as Europe’s strongest military power over the next decade and remain one of the world’s top five.

Furthermore, for all its failings SDSR 2010 also got some things spot on in the search for a balance between military capability and affordability even if the tortuous way Britain got there can only be described as well, er, British.  Implicit in the new Royal Navy is a switch from the twentieth century land-centric forces deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan to a new type of twenty-first century deeply joint core force able to operate successfully at the high end of missions across six global domains – air, sea, land, cyber, space and knowledge.  And, if successful Britain's novel new concept for reserves could see the British create a high-end professional force embedded in British society able to reach across and beyond government to civilian partners.

9 May also demonstrated Britain's re-emerging strategic capability.  Sailing alongside the ageing Russian aircraft-carrier was the 2012 commissioned HMS Dragon one of a series of new Type 45 destroyers with capabilities that impress even the United States Navy.  Indeed, with the first of two fleet aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth about to be launched in the summer and new Astute-class nuclear attack submarines now joining the fleet by 2025 the British will be America’s strongest military ally anywhere combining unrivalled experience with real capability and knowledge.

Contrast that with continental Europe.  The current geopolitical crisis with Russia is once again revealing the deepest of splits within Europe together with a profound lack of political realism across much of Europe. The enduring lack of any meaningful shared strategic culture has helped to devastate defence spending across the EU.  This is profoundly damaging the ability of Europeans to shape their own region let alone anywhere beyond it.  Worse, the implication that President Obama believes he can build a new soft power West with the EU and Germany by downplaying the importance of Britain is reinforcing Europe's retreat from sound defence.  With the US defence budget falling from its current $640bn to $450bn by 2020 and with US forces likely to be stretched thin the world over the Americans will need strong military allies more not less. 

So Mr President, in this new age of Machopolitik get over your anachronistic dislike of a past Britain.  A strategic Britain remains a vital US interest because only such a power with real capability will be able to help lead Europeans and others to operate effectively in the field alongside hard-pressed US forces.  Just like on D-Day.

America still needs a strategic Britain.

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Nigellus Tiberius Farageus?

Alphen, Netherlands. 8 May.  Last night Nigel Farage and UKIP held their last and purposely multicultural pre-election rally in London.  The British Electoral Survey also confirmed yesterday that 60% of those who intend to vote for UKIP in the elections to European Parliament on 22 May will also vote for the Party in the May 2015 British general election one year hence.  UKIP is clearly a political force to stay in British and indeed European politics.  Farage is essentially engaged in a battle over power and legitimacy in twenty-first century Europe.  It is not the first time this has happened in European history.

Recently I have been re-reading a history of the Roman republic (as I am wont to) and I am struck by the striking similarity between Farage and one of the great, tragic figures of Roman history Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus.  Tiberius took on the Roman patrician establishment between 138 and 133 BC to fight for the right of landless peasants, particularly the veteran legionnaires who were the backbone of Rome’s famed armies.

The struggle of Tiberius was essentially between the rights of the ‘plebeian’ citizenry and what patrician aristocracy regarded as their natural ‘right’ to lead and indeed to benefit from Rome’s then expanding empire.  Like today both groups campaigned publicly under the banner of ‘freedom’ and again like today’s EU elite Roman patricians demanded the ‘freedom’ to govern in the name of the republic and by extension the people.  Indeed, for the patricians that was the implicit meaning of SPQR – Senatus Populus que Romanus

Like Farage Tiberius was no man of the people.  Indeed, Tiberius was just about as blue-blooded a Roman aristocrat as one could find.  His mother Cornelia was the daughter of Scipio Africanus who had defeated Hannibal and Carthage in the Second Punic War at the Battle of Zama in 202 BC.  Tiberius was also the cousin of Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus who destroyed Carthage in the Third Punic War which finally confirmed Roman power in the Mediterranean.   

Tiberius was particularly concerned about the growing distance between patrician power and the people and the abuses of power such distance was generating.  This is not unlike Farage’s concerns about the growing distance between the citizen and power in the EU as law-making authority is now routinely transferred to Brussels without popular assent or consent.  Nor, judging from the huge amount of very deliberate dirt (and worse) being flung at Farage and UKIP by establishment politicians and their friends in the establishment Press is today’s response much different from that of Rome’s patricians.  It is a mark of people’s concerns in Britain that Farage’s popularity increases with each smear. Today’s patricians have clearly lost the confidence of huge swathes of the people and rightly so.

It was the issue of broken trust that Tiberius championed and which Farage is successfully exploiting.  The EU is simply not seen as being politically legitimate by huge numbers of British people.  Worse, they feel their ability to influence power is being systematically threatened by the EU.  What is the point in voting for national politicians with no power?  That is little different to how Roman citizens and veteran legionnaires felt about Roman patricians in the second century BC.

Therefore, if the political Establishment, be it in Britain or elsewhere across the EU is going to stave off the growing popular revolt Farage is leading they must for once honour their word. They must openly and publicly stop the ever onward and insidious march of the illegitimate European federalists and return control of the EU’s destiny to the member-states and the people where it belongs.  That means doing not merely talking.

The stakes then and now were and are enormous. Like Farage today the struggle Tiberius engaged in over power and legitimacy was enormous.  By the second century BC the patrician class had successfully eroded the rights of the Roman citizen in much the same way the EU has successfully diluted the ability of the average European citizen to exert influence over Brussels. 

The tragedy for Tiberius was that his struggle far from saving the Republic paved the way for its destruction.  His eventual defeat confirmed the patricians in power and over the following century led to the dictatorships (Roman legal term) of Sulla, Pompey the Great and eventually Julius Caesar and Augustus.  All of whom claimed falsely to be acting in the name of the Republic and betrayed it.  The claims of the current EU patrician elite (and Brussels insiders really are a patrician elite) has a strikingly familiar ring at times when they claim to act on behalf of democracy, Europe and the people.  Indeed, I used to be a great fan of the EU until I worked for it and saw too many of today's self-serving patricians (not all) at close quarters.

And hopefully Nigel Farage will not suffer the same grizzly fate as Tiberius.  In 133 BC he was clubbed to death in the lee of the Capitoline Hill by a mob set on him by his arch-enemy (and cousin) Nasica.  His headless body was then tossed into the Tiber.

It is precisely the distance of distant power that patricians exploit - then and now. 

Nigellus Tiberius Farageus?

Julian Lindley-French