hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 30 June 2014

Berlin, Brussels and Europe’s Peripheral Fission

Brussels, Belgium. 30 June.  Last week was a big week; Jean-Claude Juncker was imposed by Germany as European Commission President and a landmark free trade deal was signed between the EU and Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.  It also marked the true birth of Berlin-Brussels as a power.  This morning Berlin is desperately trying to pour balm on troubled British waters but it is too late.  Taken together the three events crystallise the new power reality of Europe in which there is a consolidating core centred upon Germany and the EUrozone and a periphery comprised of Europe’s strategic losers - Britain, Russia and Turkey.
At the core of the core is Berlin-Brussels or B-Squared (B2).  I could call it an ‘Axis’ but modern Germany is not old Germany and I will not fall into the history trap.  As of Friday Europe’s periphery now includes Russia, Turkey and Britain all three of which were once core powers but are now very much on Europe’s/Germany’s periphery.

Let me take Britain first.  No-one should under-estimate the structural fracture that took place Friday between the EUrozone (the real EU) and Britain.  This morning Berlin is desperately trying to pour balm on troubled British waters but it is too late.  In fact, the British now find themselves in the most invidious of positions with the relationship between costs and benefits absurdly perverse.  The British people pay over €6bn per annum for membership of a club over which it has no influence and which does it more harm than good in terms of imposed regulation and lost national sovereignty. 

Then there is Russia.  Moscow reacted with predictable fury at the signing of the partnership agreements in Brussels last week with much talk of dark “consequences” and even “Nazis”.  For the Russians this accord is but the latest sign that the EU is challenging what Moscow believes to be the Russian sphere of influence. Moscow also sees the EU as less institution devoted to preventing extreme state behaviour and ever more a ‘state’ with its own interests and thus a threat to Russia.  To the Russian strategic mind all and any states must seek a sphere of influence and in Europe given history it must be at Russia’s expense.  Indeed, to Moscow many Central and Eastern Europeans have simply swapped the Red Star for the Yellow Star. 

Turkey is another matter entirely.  For almost fifty years the EU and its many precursors have been implying eventual Turkish membership and Ankara has pretended to believe them.  This promise has led Turkey to orient its foreign and security policy towards Europe and to slowly align its constitution and governance with the ‘democratic values’ EU membership demands. The game is now up.  Turkey will never be offered EU membership and now knows it.  Germany and France do not want it and in any case the cost of enlargement to Turkey is too much and Prime Minister Erdogan knows that too.  That is why Ankara is pursuing an increasingly robust domestic policy and an ever more autonomous and assertive foreign policy that looks south and east not just west.

But here’s the rub.  Whereas Moscow, Ankara and to a very much lesser extent London still think in terms of a classical balance of power B2 sees power in much more in terms of the balance of money.  When Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine sign accords with the EU they do so partly to escape Moscow’s influence.  Equally, they do so also in the belief that eventual EU membership is implied and along with with it the bucket-loads of European taxpayer’s cash needed to save their basket-case economies. 

However, it is precisely the issue of money where the B2 strategic calculus falls apart. The sums simply do not add up.  There are only ten countries that actually pay for the EU, three of which are so deeply in debt (France and Italy) they they are or soon will be net recipients and another Britain could well soon leave.  Merkel advisor Michael Fuchs said this morning that a Brexit would be a disaster.  What he means specifically is the loss of British taxpayer’s money.  

Therefore, either an intolerable European ‘tax’ will need to be imposed on the German, Danish, Dutch, Swedish et al taxpayers or B2 will fail .  In other words, it will be impossible for Berlin-Brussels to continue to pay “mountains of gold” to ‘transfer junkies’ such as Poland, save the Euro and EUrozone banks AND pay for membership aspirants such as Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.  Europe’s defence has already been sacrificed so maintain the illusion of a Europe that can afford both to widen and deepen. 

Sooner or later the promise of EU membership and the oodles of European cash that goes with it will dry up and disappointment will set in.  At that point Russia’s influence will increase sharply and with it Moscow’s ‘interference’.

Europe’s peripheral fission has profound implications for the transatlantic relationship.  Indeed, such fission will undermine not only the EU but also NATO and in time render the Baltic States in particular indefensible in the face of a Russia that is likely to become more aggressive not less so.  That is what a political settlement between B2 and Britain is so important.

There is a further danger; the eclipsing of German leadership.  If push comes to shove German leadership is vastly preferable to some form of falsely-democratic federal Europe and yet that is precisely the battle to come at the heart of B2.  At some point Juncker will likely defy Berlin.  He will claim that his nomination and confirmation as European Commission President by the European Parliament establishes the ‘political legitimacy’ for the transformation of the European Commission into a European Government.  Indeed, he will claim a solemn duty to represent the ‘will’ of Europe’s peoples vested in him even if they did not actually vote for him.  At some point B2 will collapse and a Europe the sum of which is already less than the sum of its parts on the world stage will fall apart.  Germany will at some point have to make some hard choices.

Britain, Russia and Turkey may not appear to have much in common on the face of it.  However, all three are profoundly unhappy with their respective relationships with B2.  For its own sake Berlin must move to end Europe’s peripheral fission.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 27 June 2014

What are you going to do now Berlin?

Bucharest Airport, Romania.  27 June.  It is not my normal practice to devote three blogs in one week to the same subject.  However, when a development takes place that justifies a third missive I will so do from time to time.  Yesterday I had a very constructive conversation with a senior German who clearly understands the gravity and the implications of Jean-Claude Juncker’s disastrous appointment as European Commission President which will be confirmed in Brussels today.

There is much talk of Cameron’s ‘failure’ but this is a political disaster of Germany’s making. Chancellor Merkel is the real author of this mess.  She has demonstrated herself to be unreliable, irresolute and all too willing to impose German domestic politics on the rest of Europe.  Worse, she has been aided and abetted by the appalling lack of backbone by the political invertebrates/amoeba who claim to 'lead' other EU member-states.  Many of them are quietly and equally concerned by the Juncker appointment but switched sides the moment Merkel wobbled in the face of an assault by Bild.

True to form I have just heard the new Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb calling for Britain to “wake up and smell the coffee” and be more ‘pragmatic’. That is Euro-speak for the abandonment of all political principle and the unquestioning acceptance of all and any Brussels diktat.  Stubb, who I know, suggests that the EU is good for Britain.  What are you putting in your coffee, Alexander?  A report out today by respected think-tank Civitas demonstrates that there are few economic benefits for the UK from EU membership and there has not been for a long-time. 

Stubb went on to warn of a complete shut-out from the EU market if Britain left the EU.  Not only would that be illegal it reflects the just how dishonest EU leaders are at such moments.  Take Liberal Democrat and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander. As Cameron left for Ypres this week he cited a Treasury (Finance Ministry) report claiming the loss of three million jobs should Britain leave the EU.  This was an extreme scenario cited in the report.  Sadly, the use of false statistics typifies the method of federalist’s like Alexander who seek to mask their true political ambitions.  In fact Danny Alexander used to be the leader of a group called Young European Federalists something which he now tries to hide from the very people he is seeking to con.  

Over coffee here at Bucharest Airport my German colleague conceded to me that this is a very dangerous moment.  However, he also said rightly that very few Germans want either an EU Government or a German Empire.  Indeed, not one sensible German with whom I have spoken recently wants either.  Most of them would rather England won the World Cup than, although the likelihood of an EU Government is the greater.

One reason that this has happened is that European leaders have not had an honest conversation with each other about the finalit√© of the EU in Euro-speak.  It is a conversation that is urgently needed.

My proposal will infuriate smaller EU member-states but then again Luxembourgeois Juncker’s pending appointment is but the latest piece of EU small state tyranny.  However, it is vital the leaders of Britain, Germany, France and Italy sit down and discuss both the limits of ‘Europe’ and a programme of real reform rather than the pretend ‘thing’ that will emerge today.  In any case other leaders have simply demonstrated the EU’s “and me too” tendency – whatever Germany wants goes.

The first aim of such a chat would be to establish the nature and extent of the disagreement between the big four member-states.  Talking to my German colleague my sense is that in fact whilst disagreements about the role and size of Brussels do exist they really are not that great. 

Equally, if as a result of this debate there is indeed an enormous gap in both ambition and principle between Britain, France and Germany then at least leaders can begin to start considering sensibly the practical nature of a changed British relationship with the EU. 

The Juncker appointment means the EU and its member-states must finally answer the question that has been long in the making but which can no longer be fudged by ‘pragmatism’; is the EU a tight collective of partner states or a proto-European government?  My sense of my German colleague is that whilst Berlin might disagree with aspects of Britain’s position Germany still wants the former rather than the latter. If so, Berlin must say that loud and clear.  Indeed, unless an honest discussion takes place between the Big Four over the finalit√© politically devious federalists will continue to exploit the silence between them and we the voters will be ignored again and again.
This is a political mess of your making Germany.  If the EU is reduced to a tawdry debate between domestic German politicians and federalists fanatics Britain will indeed leave and rightly so.  In time the EU will fall apart as bureaucracy, false legitimacy and false democracy rot its institutions from within.  Do you want that Berlin?

As for Jean-Claude Juncker; given the more free-trade, less bureaucracy ‘reform’ agenda today being discussed by EU leaders Juncker is completely the wrong man with the wrong beliefs in the wrong job.

What are you going to do now Berlin?

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Euro-Realism: We Simply Cannot Go On Like This

Bucharest, Romania. 25 June.  Europe from the other end.  My reason for coming to Bucharest is to address the 16th Partnership for Peace Conference.  One gets a different perspective of European security from Romania.,,and a different perspective of the EU.
EU leaders will tomorrow gather for a very tetchy meeting in Ypres during which they will appoint Jean Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission. I am not one of those hoping for a Juncker appointment because it will make a bad situation worse.  My instinct is always to try and make things work.  However, it is now clear that Juncker’s appointment will lay the ground for Britain’s historic and pending departure from the EU.  Given that two things are now clear.  First, the EU needs a new political settlement.  Second, Europeans must somehow separate the dispute over the future governance of Europe (for that is what it is) from the security and defence of Europe, hard though that will be. 

The Juncker Affair reflects a structural split between those in the Eurozone who by joining the single currency wittingly or unwittingly signed up for some form of European Government and those who did not.  The seeming principle (as much as it exists) behind those supporting Juncker who are not die-hard Euro-federalists is they accept the loss of national sovereignty necessary to make the Euro work.  What this group seemingly fail to see is that inevitably means some form of European Government.

For the British (and all those not yet in the Euro) this dawning reality is simply recognition that the EU and the Eurozone are one and the same thing. Henceforth it will no longer be possible to be in the EU but outside the Eurozone unless a state is willing to bear a disproportionate cost.  In reality Britain left the EU the moment it rejected membership of the Euro.  Indeed, as Churchill might have said; we have established where we are now all that is left is to decide where next to go. 

Therefore, Britain’s pending ‘defeat’ in Ypres will mark an irreparable breach with the Eurozone countries that will inevitably lead to some form of Brexit.  It might be delayed for a time by a Labour Government but the destiny is set because the British people will never accept a European Government.
Which is why EU leaders must find a political settlement before the crisis (for that is what it is) pollutes further Europe’s security and defence.  Without such a settlement Europe could remain trapped in its own eternal, internal debate as the world around the EU (and NATO) becomes steadily more dangerous.  Therefore, it is far better to start thinking now about an equitable relationship between Britain and the German-led EU.  If not the Fourth Battle of Ypres will be re-fought over and over again as it is one about structure and principle, rather than personality. 

The huge ramifications of permitting the European Parliament to dictate to the elected political leaders of the EU’s member-states are becoming clearer by the hour.  Social-democrats in the European Parliament are already using the precedent the Juncker appointment will set to demand the right in November to replace the European Council President Herman van Rompuy and High Representative Cathy Ashton with their own appointees.  Hitherto these appointments have been the strict preserve of national leaders.

Which brings me to Partnership for Peace or PfP.  PfP was a 1990s NATO initiative designed to help stabilise Europe in the post-Cold War period.  As evident from the tragedy in Ukraine Europe is still not “whole and free” in the then words of President George H.W. Bush.  Many today equate “whole and free” with the EU and “ever closer union”.  However, it is now clear a new way must be found and fast.  Indeed, with Islamism marching across the Levant and the entire Sykes-Picot system of Middle Eastern states tottering between autocracy and fundamentalism on Europe’s doorstep a new big picture strategy is urgently needed.  That will mean nothing less than a Strategic Partnership for Regional and Global Peace.

However, that will only happen when and if a new EU political settlement is reached.  Therefore, it is time for a pan-EU conference to enable leaders to establish a new European political order that offers an alternative to “ever closer union”.  Yes, that will mean a new treaty and yes that will mean several ‘Europes’.  However, a new treaty be needed in any case for the Eurozone to move towards the deeper political integration necessary to save the benighted currency. 

The cost to individual liberty will be high and the gap between the citizen and power will increase which is precisely why deeper political integration is unacceptable to the British. However, only with a new political settlement will current pressures be eased and order restored to an EU political system that is under intense, growing and paralyzing pressure.  And only then will proper consideration begin of Europe’s place in the world and its future security.

We simply cannot go on like this.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 23 June 2014

Europe Juncked: The Fourth Battle of Ypres

Alphen, Netherlands. 23 June.  They called it “Wipers”.  Tens of thousands of British and Commonwealth troops died in the three battles of Ypres in the fight against tyranny.  54, 389 of them have their names inscribed on the famous Menin Gate, one of four such memorials across the Ypres Salient.  Each evening the local fire brigade dutifully and honourably play Britain’s homage to its fallen “The Last Post”.  On Thursday and Friday this week EU Heads of State and Government will meet to rubber-stamp a German-imposed anti-British federalist fanatic Jean Claude Juncker as President of the ever-more-powerful European Commission.  It could well be the Fourth Battle of Ypres… and it will be short.

British Prime Minister David “less Europe, more member-state” Cameron understands the huge political significance of this watershed moment and has fought an honourable battle to stop “more Europe at any cost” Juncker.  Cameron also understands that failure means he is political toast.  For once rather than listen to supine advisers who always say Britain must accept the unacceptable “to avoid isolation” Cameron is taking a stand.  And. for the first time Cameron will try to force a vote on Juncker (it is normally decided by consensus) to make his fellow European leaders justify their decision.  Unusually, Cameron is also backed by all the main British political parties, and he is right.  Too often national European leaders concede long-term strategic principle for the sake of a short-term political fix.  Sadly, in time they will all pay (or rather their respective peoples will pay) for this appalling decision.

Sadly, Cameron will be out-voted in Ypres by weak-willed, sycophantic national leaders who do not see the bigger federalist picture.  Naturally, they will do all they can to avoid a vote because none of them want their fingerprints on this absurd appointment.  However, they are voting for Juncker because Queen Angela wants it and she in turn is concerned more by the German Press and its obsession with imposing Spitzenkandidaten than the future of Europe (see this week’s edition of The Economist on an ever-more unprincipled German Press, “An Unwelcome Nexus”). 

The tragedy for the European people is that many leaders privately share Cameron’s concerns about Juncker, even Merkel.  Instead of standing on principle they are instead tying to cover their sorry political backsides by claiming Juncker is precisely what the European voter asked for knowing full well they are hijacking my vote and that of millions of other Europeans.  It is the EU at its very undemocratic worst.

The most spectacular piece of political dissembling came from the Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski.  Now, I rate Sikorski but he can stretch credulity to its limits at times.  In an attempt to tell BBC listeners that Juncker’s appointment is democratic he suggested the Polish voter knew a vote for his party in the 22 May European Parliamentary elections was a vote for Juncker.  With a straight face he said there had been “billboards”, implying the smiling face of Juncker was plastered all over Poland in the run-up to the elections.  If any of my Polish friends can confirm the existence of such billboards I stand to be corrected.  However, a recent opinion poll suggested 90% of Europeans had never even heard of Juncker prior to this piece of EU political shenanigans. 

This is a power struggle between true democratic legitimacy which is at the national level and the pretend legitimacy of the almost-elected European Parliament. It is yet another case of successful federalist 'interpretation' (manipulation) of the disastrous Lisbon Treaty. The very first time I voted was in the inaugural elections to the 1979 European Parliament.  At the time one sage commentator warned there would come a day when this new Parliament would challenge the sovereignty of the Mother of Parliaments.  “Not in my lifetime”, I thought. And yet that day has come.  A day when a faction in a barely elected parliament claims the political legitimacy from my vote to demand more power than elected national heads of state and government most of whom were elected by their peoples on far stronger mandates.  As political precedents go this is just about as dangerous as it gets and federalist fanatics like Juncker know it.  Indeed, such events are precisely how and why the EU is slipping towards federalism.

True to form this past week Juncker has been making secret, backroom deals to consolidate his hold on the Commission presidency.  These are the anti-transparency deals for which he is infamous and which will mark his Presidency.  For Juncker the people are the enemy.  We are too ignorant to see his ‘vision’ and must therefore be forced to accept deeper European integration.  Suddenly we the citizens will wake up one day to find we ‘agreed’ to a more Europe something about which we were never informed or to which we never gave our consent.

Juncker like all fanatics is a believer in totalitarianism-lite masked in the empty rhetoric of empty liberty.  Totalitarianism is a political system where a state holds total, distant authority, believes it is always right irrespective of the views of the people, sees all disagreement as dissent and seeks to control all aspects of public and private life.  It hides its real political objectives behind mantras such as ‘efficiency’ and ‘solidarity’ whilst talking endlessly of ‘the people’ it despises.  For Juncker and his like the only way to create the European Government in which they believe is to defeat the member-states by whatever means possible.  It is a long-term project and Britain must and should have no part of it.

The first indicator of bureaucratic totalitarianism-lite is when elites begin to manipulate the vote.  On 22 May millions of voters across Europe voted for reform whether they voted for radical or moderate parties.  That was certainly my intention when I cast my moderate vote.  And yet a “business as usual” man who is the very essence of EU uber-elite insider-ism, anti-reform and anti-transparency is to be imposed on me as President of the European Commission.

Sadly, my last hope that balance could be restored between the insatiable appetite of Brussels for power, the nation-state and the will of the people will be smashed come the end of this week.   That hope was that David Cameron’s sensible reform proposals could have provided a basis for an EU reform agenda that all could rally round – both those in the German empire, sorry Eurozone, and those without. 

Power to flow away from Brussels not towards it, national parliaments to be given the power to work together to block unwanted legislation, businesses to be liberated from federalist red tape designed not to enhance efficiency but integration for integration’s sake, managed mass movements of peoples, and an end to the presumption of ever closer union.  Had I seen such an agenda overseen by a reformer I would have campaigned for Britain to stay in the EU.  With Juncker’s appointment I will instead campaign for Britain to leave.  Juncker represents a threat to both my country and democracy. 

There will of course be a ‘reform agenda’ agreed at Ypres if only to offer Cameron a political straw to clutch.  However, it will be as usual a lie, a pretend ‘reform’ agenda.  And, of course, Juncker will work in the political darkness using the considerable power of the Commission to initiate legislation together the false political legitimacy he will claim from the European Parliament to block any reform that prevents “more Europe”.  They very man who will be responsible for implementing “Ypres” will be the very man determined to destroy it; Jean Claude Juncker,

The EU is not the Soviet Union and I would not betray the people who had to live under that awful regime by suggesting it is.  However, if not checked by national legislatures the EU will continue down a path that eventually leads to the enforcement of conformism.  The fanatics will of course laugh this off.  That is how they dismiss all and any dissent but they know I am right.  And, as per usual the federalists will talk much about ‘the people’ whilst completely ignoring their views every time they disagree with ‘The Project’.  Yes, elections will go on but they will become ever more like Soviet ‘elections’ – pre-ordained and irrelevant.   In time people will not bother voting anymore because it simply will not be worth it.

I was witness to the fanaticism of the federalists at a recent dinner party at which I was the guest speaker.  I will not say whom or where because the senior EU official was speaking in a personal capacity and I would not wish to embarrass my hosts.  However, as I made my reasoned concerns about the EU clear I was suddenly met with a torrent of federalist rhetoric that lightly-masked real anger that I could possibly voice such concerns.  She even had the gall to suggest she represents me.  As I patiently de-constructed her arguments on European political and monetary union and, of course, that old federalist favourite a European Army she was left to simply repeat the federalist mantra; “more Europe is better Europe”.  She was so extreme French and German officials in the room sided with me.

One of my favourite philosophers is the seventeenth century English writer John Locke.  Locke challenged the then idea of patriarchy.  To Locke power did not come from God but from the people.  With the appointment of Juncker we are witnessing a new form of patriarchy, a new Leviathan whereby distant power claims power not in the name of God but the manipulated name of the very people who did not vote for them.

So what will happen?  By appointing Juncker power will shift markedly from the member-states to the Commission and the Parliament.  The federalists will use this political precedent to push for ever greater control over all appointments at the expense of the member-states.  In so doing they will not only dilute further national sovereignty but seek to shift the centre of ‘democratic’ gravity from the national parliaments they do not control to the European Parliament that they do. 

Worse, the voice of the citizen will be lost.  In most national parliamentary elections 50,000 citizens vote on average for one deputy or MP (and in the case of Britain someone who acts directly on behalf of each citizen), in the almost-elected European Parliament the European voter ‘elects’ one Member of European Parliament for every 450,000 to 500,000 of us.  A clearer dilution of democracy one will never find as the link between power and the people is steadily broken in the EU.  Henceforth the federalists will be free to use an unaccountable and undemocratic executive overseen by an almost-elected rubber-stamping Parliament to drive untrammelled over democracy and liberty confident that national leaders will be unable to stop them.  And all of this because Chancellor Merkel has a little local difficulty with her local Press. 

UKIP and their like? They are so much froth and foment who will make a lot of noise, spend too much time disagreeing with each other about how bad the EU is whilst they sit on the side-lines of real power.  Indeed, they will afford Juncker and his allies a strange form of legitimacy as they will give the impression of checks and balances that simply do not exist.

Germans should also be careful what they wish for. Queen Angela thinks Juncker will be her man in Brussels and that he will help consolidate the Eurozone as a German Zollverein.  If Juncker gets his way Germany end up like the rest of us; reduced in time to a ‘lande’ or province in the United States of Europe of which he dreams.  Talk about turkeys voting for Christmas! 

For Cameron and Britain the Fourth Battle of Ypres will mark the end of any pretence that Britain or the British people have any influence over the EU.  Wipers will thus mark the place and the time when Britain faced a choice; free state or EU province? 

The Ypres European Council meeting was meant to mark reconciliation between Britain and Germany one hundred years after the outbreak of World War One.  The three battles of Ypres a century or so ago were part of a huge violent struggle about who runs Europe.  Make no mistake, although thankfully far more peaceful and civilised the Fourth Battle of Ypres this coming Thursday and Friday will also be about who runs Europe. Or, to be more exact, who runs European countries; the people we know we elect or those distant people like Jean Claude Juncker who pretend we elect them but only tell us afterwards.

As the firemen gather to play “The Last Post” on Friday night they could well be lamenting not only Britain’s fallen but the slide of Europe away from democracy towards a new form of bureaucratic totalitarianism and the EU super-state which Jean-Claude Juncker is determined will prevail.

Democracy? Wipers indeed!

Julian Lindley-French 

Friday, 20 June 2014

Iraq: What to Do

Alphen, Netherlands. 20 June. When I first started working on the derelict garden I had just bought some six years ago I discovered lurking under the chaos the most pernicious of weeds.  The Dutch call it Sevenblad, in English it is known as Ground Elder.  My first approach was to try and remove it root and incredibly long-branch.  Having cleared away overgrowth of jungle-like proportions I began patiently pulling up great underground pipelines (not Russian) of weed. Sometimes the branches extended for metres/yards and soon my garden resembled the map of the London Underground.  I could even identify King’s Cross/St Pancras!  However, I soon realised that my root and branch approach would only work if I destroyed the garden, which hardly seemed the point. 

There was a time when I simply did not know what to do.  In my nightmares the beast was running amok and I had visions of it consuming everything.  Then I discovered an amazing treatment that attacks the dreaded weed when it surfaces and prevents it from spreading.  It worked!  Suddenly everything that I had wanted to grow began to grow.  Well, almost everything because I am a seriously crap gardener.  

The West’s response to the violent advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq strikes me as the strategic equivalent of my clueless moment between the root and branch and the surgical treatment of my spreading Ground Elder.  It is as though having failed to eradicate extremism root and branch in either Afghanistan or Iraq any considered action is doomed to fail.  This is even though British Prime Minister Cameron said on Wednesday that ISIL poses a real if limited threat.  Such policy paralysis reflects a loss of strategic nerve. strategic imagination and a lack of a coherent and well-considered strategy rather than the absence of options.

Sound strategy is normally divided into short, medium and long-term actions themselves based on certain principled questions: What is the threat? Who is the threat? What strengths and weaknesses does the threat possess? What courses of action are available? 

What is the threat? ISIL comprise some ten to fifteen thousand core fighters.  They are regarded by Al Qaeda as being so extreme as to be beyond even their Pale.  As such they face in the words of Adnan Khan “ideological isolation”. 

Who is the threat?  One reason for the sudden advance of ISIL is that they are currently in league with a group that styles itself the Military Council of Iraq Revolutionaries or MCIR.  MCIR appears to be led by senior Iraqi Sunni leaders many of whom were senior Iraqi military officers under Saddam.  As such they see themselves as fighting against Prime Minister Maliki and his Shia-dominated government rather than for a new Caliphate from which to launch Global Jihad.  There are also signs that this unlikely coalition is fraying.  This week the MCIR described ISIL as “barbarians”.  Critically, the Association of Muslim Clerics (AMC) supports MCIR and have warned ISIL to curb its violence towards civilians.

What strengths and weaknesses does the threat possess?  The current strength of ISIL is the disenchantment of the Iraqi Sunnis with the Maliki Government in Baghdad.  Although the Sunni’s are a minority they represent powerful tribes/clans to the north and east of Baghdad that was once Saddam’s power-base. As such they know how to organise to effect.  The main weakness of ISIL is their paucity of numbers and their extreme violence which renders them capable of violence but incapable of government should they ever take Baghdad.

What courses of action are available?  A coherent strategy would have the following elements:

First, it is vital Western leaders properly quantify the threat and stop the successful exploitation of the worst nightmares of ordinary westerners.  It is precisely such exploitation that paralyses European governments in particular. 

Second, the evolving nature of fundamentalism must be understood.  Al Qaeda is mutating and its many off-shoots are indeed now active across a great belt of instability from Afghanistan to Mali.  However, there is no coordinated Global Jihad and there is unlikely to be.  The massive majority of responsible Muslims both in the region and in Europe utterly reject such extremism.  Not only are they a key constituency they must be respected as such.

Third, the overt use of Western, i.e. American military power would undoubtedly give ISIL ‘street cred’ across much of the Arab World which they currently lack.  Indeed, the greatest danger is that the West turns ISIL from a mutation of the Syrian tragedy into a pan-Arab movement as a consequence of ill-conceived military action. Indeed, Western over-reaction is precisely the aim of the strategic communications campaign being conducted the extremist trolls on the Internet who support ISIL.

Fourth, an accommodation between Iraqi Shia and Sunni must be sought.  In effect this means implementation of the existing Iraqi constitution. 

Fifth, whilst an alliance with Iran might seem appealing Tehran seeks the consolidation of Shia (and thus Iran-friendly) control over Iraq and thus the confirmation of sectarianism.  That is precisely why senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Al Quds leaders act as advisors to the Maliki Government.  co-operation should be sought but under strict conditions.

Specific courses of immediate action should include the following: 

a) the construction of a clear intelligence picture of the key personalities; 
b) preservation of the seat of Iraqi Government via the bolstering with advice those elements of the Iraqi armed forces still loyal to Baghdad as well as the Kurdish Peshmerga;
c) contact with MCIR leaders to understand their grievances and to see if the MCIR/ISIL link can be broken; 
and d) engagement with and on the Maliki Government to ensure governance in Iraq is re-established on non-Sectarian lines.

The wider lessons of post-2001 Western engagement are that a) it is vital to understand the specifics of any threat.  The devil is in the detail; b) ideological or evangelical desires to spread democracy are no basis for action per se; c) threats that are loosely affiliated are not necessarily part of a globally-capable conspiracy; d) such ‘threats’ must not be ‘legitimised’ by ill-conceived action; e) act to prevent and separate domestic grievances from foreign struggles; f) isolate the irreconcilables through the use of law; g) military power should be used only in support of political strategy not as a punitive act in and of itself; h) the support of local people is critical to any Western strategy of engagement and thus respect for their beliefs and customs must be a given of strategy; i) good governance should be at the heart of all political strategy; and j) strategic patience is critical to effective engagement along with all means and tools of influence.

There is one final question; why should the West act?  Unlike many other states round the World in this struggle of the state versus the anti-state ISIL has declared the West to be its enemy. 

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Tony Blair: Pantomime Villain

Alphen, Netherlands.  18 June. Every Yuletide when I was a kid my parents would haul me off to see a particularly perverse form of British theatre called the Christmas Pantomime.  Usual stock included Jack and the Beanstalk, Aladdin and Robin Hood, normally in cahoots with varying and often suspiciously merry clown-like henchmen.  Such ripping yarns tended to have two things in common which can explain a lot about we English. The lead ‘man; was invariably played by a woman whilst the inevitable ugly woman had to be played incontrovertibly by a man.  However, it was the pantomime villain who reigned supreme (at least until the last scene).  A character so steeped in comic evil that his (on occasions her) appearance would elicit a storm of high-pitched booing.  Watching the visceral destruction of Tony Blair this week by the British political class and Press as he tried to say something sensible about Iraq I was reminded of those long gone innocent days when anything seemed possible.  Tony Blair made some appalling mistakes but he is no pantomime villain.

Now, I must start with a disclaimer.  I was a big fan of Tony Blair and from what I understand from one piece I wrote back in 1998 for the “New Statesman”, entitled “Time to Bite the Eurobullet” he was a bit of a fan of me.  Put simply, Blair was a leader who still eclipses many of the current crop of politicians who clog the upper echelons of British politics with pretend leadership.

Now, do not get me wrong Blair made big mistakes.  First, he over-estimated and then under-estimated the impact of globalisation.  His cynical use of hyper-immigration to ram diversity down the throats of the right (in the infamous words of a Downing Street memo of the time) and assuage the left of the Labour Party was irresponsible in the extreme.  Not only did he render all immigration toxic in the minds of much of the British population the self-serving left liberal London elite which he led refused to see the damage such a large and rapid influx did to English urban society in particular. 

Blair then compounded that error by imposing ‘multiculturalism’ rather than integration on the British people.  This led to patent absurdities such as the tolerance of extremism at home which today sees so-called ‘British’ jihadists fighting with ISIS in Syria and Iraq whilst at one and the same time sending British troops to Afghanistan to keep radical Islam at ‘strategic distance’.  Indeed, tens of thousands of people from the poorest, most radical and traumatised parts of the world entered Britain under Blair even as British troops were fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban.  It was shaming that under Blair London became known as Londonistan.

Second, Blair failed to realise that Britain could never be at the ‘heart of Europe’ whilst being outside the Eurozone (and even then probably not).  The imposition on the British people of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty and the systematic misleading of the British people about just how much sovereignty he was handing to Brussels without their permission was unforgiveable.  This was compounded by Blair’s refusal to let the British people have a referendum on an issue of fundamental constitutional importance. 

Third, he should have sacked Gordon Brown in 2001 when he won a second landslide electoral victory.  The endless battles between Blair and Brown added to a sense of a country being held to ransom by Labour Party politics which emasculated effective government.  Moreover, the paralysis of government at the highest levels helped turn ‘light-touch’ banking regulation into an open invitation to criminal bankers to create the 2008 banking crisis which has damaged so many ordinary lives including my own.

And then there is interventionism.  Afghanistan and Iraq are today deemed to be disasters because of American and British intervention.  Certainly, tens if not hundreds of thousands of people have died as a consequence of those events.  However, it is utterly unfair to say that is all the fault of Tony Blair or that both countries would have fared better if no action had been taken.  No-one knows what would have happened if Saddam had stayed unchecked in Iraq or if the Taliban/Al Qaeda had consolidated their hold on Afghanistan.  Saddam clearly had ambitions to create weapons of mass destruction even if he had not attained them by 2003 when the coalition invaded.  Saddam’s Baathist regime was sustained by violence and war.  Sooner or later the Saddam regime would have either exploded or imploded under the weight of its own violent inertia. 

Al Qaeda in 2001 Afghanistan was trying to do the same as ISIS today in Iraq; create a base from which to launch global Jihad.  To suggest that ISIS is an unintended consequence of the US-led invasion of Iraq is perverse.  ISIS is a further mutation of violent Islamism that is apparent across the globe from Nigeria to Afghanistan and beyond.  Why are the French in Mali and the Central African Republic? 

Tony Blair also enjoyed noted historic successes.  It was Blair who brought peace to the streets of Belfast and across Northern Ireland.  It was Blair who used British forces to successfully stop genocide in Sierra Leone.  It was Blair who rightly moved European defence forward in 1998 with the St Malo agreement.  It was Blair who believed that Britain, Europe and the West had to engage in a dangerous world and could be a “force for good”.  It was Blair who was the passionate advocate of Responsibility to Protect and a United Nations that was more than a talking shop.  Indeed, it was precisely the belief that Saddam had ritually flouted UN-sanctioned international law that led Blair to believe intervention was necessary.

Tony Blair failed not because he was too cynical but because he was too much the idealist.  He failed at home because his attempts to prepare Britain for the twenty-first century and the concept of ‘modernisation’ he championed were far more radical than the British people realised or were prepared to accept.  However, his prescriptions were essentially correct.  Sadly, Blair’s abject failure has accelerated Britain's exaggerated decline.  He has also left Britain a broken place, possibly about to break up, bearing an unacceptable level of Brussels intrusion at an appalling price and with little sense of itself or its place in the world. 

Blair failed on the international stage because he found himself trapped between an uncompromising American president and a France and Germany which disagreed profoundly.  He had to make a choice all British prime ministers have since 1973 strenuously tried to avoid; the choice between America and Europe.

However, perhaps Blair’s true failure was to open the door to Britain’s non-leaders of today.  People who believe in nothing, believe nothing is possible and worse do not believe in Britain or its future.  Stalk the corridors of Westminster and declinist cynicism oozes from every nook and cranny. 

Tony Blair failed as a prime minister.  However, he is not the villain he is so often painted.  And, from time to time he still has something to say that is worth listening to.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 16 June 2014

The Hollow Men (and Women)

Eurosatory: Paris, France. 16 June.  T.S. Eliot wrote “We are the hollow men, we are the stuffed men…shape without form, shade without colour, paralysed force, gesture without motion”.  Eurosatory is the largest international military security and defence exhibition of its kind.  Hugely impressive it conveys a sense of power; it is in many ways an illusion.  My reason for coming here to Paris is as a guest of IFRI, a leading French think-tank, to speak on a pivotal question; is Europe militarily dead?  Perhaps there is an even bigger question that I should answer; is the West strategically dead?

This is a big strategic moment.  This past week Russian T-72 tanks entered Ukraine and Moscow conducted a snap exercise of forty thousand troops in Kaliningrad on the borders of Poland and Lithuania.  In Iraq the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant now threatens not just Baghdad but the entire Sykes-Picot system of states set up (for better or worse) in 1916 as they seek to create an anti-state, a Caliphate from which to launch global jihad.

Washington talks vaguely about some sort of action and has sent the aircraft-carrier USS George W. Bush into the Gulf but rules out serious military action.  Tony Blair has rightly warned Europeans to wake up but is excoriated for it.  Instead, Europeans find ever more complicated ways to ‘understand’ Russian aggression and by and large ignore what is happening across the Mediterranean as the Levant from Lebanon to the Gulf totters in the face of extremism. 

The West has become a self-indulgent strategic void led by the hollow men (and women) for whom short-termism and parochialism is the stuff of politics.  A decade or so ago the Americans believed anything was possible.  Today, strategically-inept Americans and their strategically-illiterate European allies believe nothing is possible.

Instead government has reduced foreign and security policy to pop culture. British Foreign Secretary William Hague cavorts with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt because his advisors tell him it makes for good politics.  Sure, ending violence against women in conflict is important.  Would it not be more important to deal with the bloody conflicts in the first place?  
This is not just a British phenomenon.  Across the EU politicians tell me that public opinion would never accept another foreign quagmire.  The same politicians who then ignore public opinion as they appoint the elitist, federalist, faux democrat Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission President (and they will).  Sadly, with Europe about to embark on the great struggle between democrats and federalists over the fate of the nation-state there will be little if any political energy left to engage the terrifying array of challenges amassing on Europe’s doorstep. 

Europe has been a strategic void for a long, shameful time, but worryingly Washington is also a strategic void with the Obama administration looking and sounding ever more like the EU.  President Obama came into office promising to get America out of foreign wars.  He has certainly done that but only at the cost of creating the very strategic void that the likes of Russia, Islamists and others are now exploiting.  Like Europe’s hollow leaders Obama talks the talk of power, values, interests and engagement but it is empty, meaningless and without purpose or direction…and America’s allies and adversaries know it.  The Obama administration is a study in strategic weakness.

And, as the world rearms the US will cut its defence budget over the next six years more than the entire European defence budget – a plague on both our houses.  So what, the hollow men (and women) tell me the 2020 US defence budget will still be as big as 1999.  So what, the hollow men (and women) tell me crises cannot be resolved with military power alone.  ‘Soft power’ must be applied.  The world of 2020 will be very different to the world of 1999.  As for oxymoronic ‘soft power’ it has become the hollow metaphor of hollow men (and women) for hollowed out power.

Western leaders must get a strategic grip and now.  All the ingredients exist for a very nasty world and yet Europe in particular has gone on an extended strategic vacation.  Politicians must stop putting electoral politics before sound strategy.  They must face down the growing pacifism that sees the death of even one professional soldier as a signal for withdrawal.  They must stop talking of defence merely in terms of cost rather than investment and ignore its immense value in a dangerous world.  It is the fate of those without strategy to see only cost and never value.

Action is needed now.  Something that looks like a coherent strategy is needed to re-engage jihadists and expansionists the world over. That means Western leaders re-discovering their strategic mojo.  Much has been made of the NATO Wales Summit due to take place 4-5 September and yet the draft agenda lacks both the ambition and the scope to generate the big picture politicians will need if strategy is to replace hollow rhetoric.

Sadly, the hollow men (and women) are all too predictable.  For them strategy is to be avoided at all cost because it means commitment and in Europe at least accountancy has replaced strategy.  Therefore, we the citizens will go on listening to the strategically-hollow talking big, empty platitudes about values and the ‘critical’ and ‘vital’ interests upon which freedom and stability are built as they quietly abandon the very principles upon which liberty is based. 

And we will want to believe them as the hollow men (and women) ‘lead’ us all down into the great strategic void in which they live.  The non-place in which everything is talked about but nothing is possible.  The non-place where all options are considered but none are taken.  The non-place where the long-term is ‘championed’ but only the short-term is ever discussed.  The non-place where we the people sleep the sleep of fools at peace with ourselves whilst the hollow men (and women) feed us political delusions and illusions we are only too happy to swallow ‘safe’ in our own hollowness.   

And the world will fail as the vacuum created by the West’s strategic withdrawal will unleash all hell sooner or later.  Indeed, until the West’s responsible leaders face up to this dangerous world as it is not as they would like it to be strategy will be reduced to a series of ill-connected expressions of often glossy impotence. 

There is a new geopolitics afoot that sees autocrats and extremists the world over threaten not just the West’s values but its fundamental freedoms.  And yet the hollow men (and women) dither strategically-exhausted, strategically-unsure and strategically-depressed.  So, sleep on my friends.  Slumber whilst you can because soon you will be awakened by the chirp and Twitter of the hollow men (and women) as they blame each other for having appeased reality.  Or seek the scapegoat for their inaction.  Tony Blair are you listening?

“Why did you not act” we shall cry.  “We knew what to do”, they will eventually tell us, “…but if we had done it your sleep would have been disturbed and you would not have re-elected us.  And you looked so peaceful”.  The hollow reply of the hollow men (and women) who are paid to lead but never do.

“Between the desire and the spasm, between the potency and the existence, between the essence and the descent, falls the shadow”.

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Canada in the World?

Ottawa, Canada. 12 June.  Two hundred years ago in 1814 what was then British North America burnt down the White House and with the help of British Regulars re-arranged much else in Washington.  The Americans had launched an ill-advised and haphazard invasion of British territory and were rightly taught a lesson about manners and neighbourly relations.  Today, Canada is one of the world’s richest, most secure and most neighbourly countries on the planet.  There are few if any threats that Canada faces and the American behemoth to the south offers Canadians protection by extension.  So, what role does Canada’s aspire to play in a rapidly changing and potentially very dangerous world?

My purpose in coming to green, leafy Ottawa has been to engage in two days of talks with senior Canadian foreign and defence officials on a range of strategy and security-related topics. My welcome is typically Canadian – honest, friendly and open.  Indeed, I make no attempt to mask the fact that I like and admire this country which has always ‘done its bit’ either as a faithful British dominion in former times, as a close American and British ally in two world wars or as an under-stated and yet effective NATO member.

Canadians have turned modesty into a strategic doctrine ‘oftentimes’ (as the say here) being at the very forefront of American and British-led campaigns.  Given little credit for their immense but under-stated sacrifice Canadians have seemed content to let others decide their strategic direction of travel.  Indeed, one only has to look at last week’s D-Day 70 commemorations to get a sense of the pivotal role played by Canada in Europe’s freedom and yet their determination not to make a fuss about it.  This was something reinforced in my mind during a visit to Ottawa’s magnificent war museum in which I had the honour of meeting two Canadian veterans.

And yet as I contemplate my visit I am still left with a very big question mark in my mind about Canada’s role in the world.  Indeed, it would be easy for Canadians to sit back and leave world peace to others.  Unlike many Western countries Canada need not fret about energy security as she sits on vast reserves of oil and gas.  However, that is not the Canadian way and one can feel the ‘what next’ question hanging over Ottawa.

Neither is there a willingness here to really confront just ‘what next’ could mean.  And. looked at strategically it is clear that the world and the political realism which again defines it will not leave Canada in peace.  Canada is a three ocean state two of which will be contested – the Arctic and the Pacific.  
The problem for Canada is that Ottawa has no tradition of looking at the world for itself and making the big, strategic choices such an analysis would force upon Canadians.  For so long others have either made Ottawa’s strategic choices or provided the strategic context for Canadian action.  However, with a US as uncertain and as uncertainly-led as at any time since the 1930s and with Europe in self-imposed, self-obsessed steep decline Canada must now think strategically for itself. 

Specifically, Canada must decide what it needs to do to renovate the crisis-ridden rules-based, institution-framed system Canada helped to build and which Canadians have done so much to maintain. The alliances and unions of the twentieth century are in danger of becoming rapidly parochial in the twenty-first.  Moreover, in the emerging world-wide web of democracies security will no longer pivot on Europe but on North America with Canada occupying a key position in a new West no longer a place but an idea.

Given the inherent modesty of this most congenial of countries the pragmatic, civil-military ethos that has infused much of Canada’s external engagements in the past fifteen years (and which have suited Canada and its sense of itself) will need to be replaced by something much more ambitious.  My sense however is that Canada will need to break out of the self-defeating denial about the scope and pace of strategic change if Ottawa is to meet the coming challenges of what is fast becoming a hyper-competitive strategic age.

This is not so much because Canada itself will be threatened but because the values that define Canada will need defending.  And here I see some very European complacency, particularly in defence policy.  With Canada’s defence expenditure down at around 1.1% GDP (in reality) almost half the NATO target of 2% GDP Canadians like to suggest that it is not how much one spends on defence but how one spends it.  That is of course right to a limited point.  However, it is equally true that 2% well-spent is better than 1% well-spent and Canada needs and can afford to set an example to other allies. However, the controversy here over the purchase of the F-35 fighter demonstrates a very profound uncertainty about just what the Canadian armed forces are for and by extension Canada’s level of strategic ambition (which is really what the politics of F-35 is all about).

Last night unable to sleep I read the 2008 Canada First Defence Strategy.  It is a decent albeit relatively light defence-strategic effort and certainly helped me back into unconsciousness. However, having read the Strategy I still could not work out what role Canada aspires to play.  Indeed, the Strategy seemed to start with a question that to my mind is wrong for such a serious, grown-up country - where does Canada fit in to the plans of others, particularly the United States?  Surely, the question Canadians need to answer is what role Canada in the twenty-first century? 

There is a also a deeper question Canada must again answer.  It is the question those marvellous Canadians answered very clearly on Juno Beach; to what are extent Canadians prepared to defend the liberal values which define this great country, where and how.  To answer that question Ottawa will need strategy, not just politics.

Julian Lindley-French