hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 30 March 2015

The Fourth Gulf War

Alphen, Netherlands. 30 March.  At the Arab League Summit this weekend in Egypt’s swanky Sharmh-el-Sheikh resort Egyptian President al Sisi said, “The Arab Nation has passed through many phases, none of which has posed as much a threat as the one we’re experiencing now”.  He chose his words carefully.  The leaders of Pan-Arabism and the states they represent believe they are facing two potentially existential threats – anti-state Sunni fundamentalism in the form of Islamic State and Iran’s Shia-inspired regional-strategic ambitions.  The rebellion of Yemen’s Shia Houthi people may on the face of it appear to be a small war in a faraway country about which we know little.  In fact, it could mark the start of the fourth Gulf War and a reckoning of power between Arab states and Iran that has long been in the making. Why now and what are in the implications?

There have been three Gulf Wars thus far. Between September 1980 and August 1988 Iran and Iraq fought out a bloody stalemate that cost at least 600,000 lives and possibly as many as a million.  In 1991 a US-led coalition retook Kuwait from Saddam Hussein after he had invaded the small desert sheikdom in August 1990.  In March 2003 the US led another coalition that defeated and occupied Iraq ostensibly to prevent Saddam acquiring weapons of mass destruction. The 2003 invasion proved so controversial that together it led in time to a profound loss of western self-confidence, a crisis in US leadership and the effective end of Britain and other Europeans as serious military powers.

Today all of those strands of ambition and irresolution are coming together to create the conditions for a new general Middle East war focused on the Gulf but with consequences that would reach far beyond it.  Ever since Ayatollah Khomenei overthrew the Shah in 1980 the Islamic State of Iran has had ambitions to dominate the Middle East.  However, as an essentially Shia Persian state in a largely Sunni Arab region Tehran found it difficult to export its creed of pan-Shia Islamism/statism. 

To generate ‘credibility’ on the Arab Street Iran made Israel its target of choice and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict its casus belli.  Tehran has been conducting a long proxy war against the Jewish State via Hezbollah in Lebanon and by supporting the Shia-leaning Alawhites in Syria to which President Assad belongs.  With the 2003 collapse of Saddam’s Sunni-dominated Baghdad regime, the 2011 withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and the emergence of a Shia-dominated regime Iran has been able to extend its reach across much of Iraq and by extension the Gulf region. 

On the face of it Tehran seems willing to accept a de facto, non-declared ‘alliance’ with the West and its allies to defeat Islamic State. However, the current struggle with Sunni fundamentalists only delays the coming power struggle for regional-strategic dominance in the balance-of-power tinderbox that is today’s Middle East.  It is against that shifting kaleidoscope of power, weakness and allegiances that the Yemeni strikes must be seen.  At the core of this struggle is the deepening stand-off between Iran and Saudi Arabia.  

In 2014 Saudi Arabia surpassed Britain to become the world’s fifth biggest defence spender.  For many years Riyadh’s expensive military was seen as boutique force, a plaything for the super-rich Saudi royal family. No more.  Riyadh’s 2013 intervention in Bahrain to suppress discontent and the use of predominantly Saudi air power now to check Yemeni rebels suggest this powerful force will be at the forefront of an emerging Saudi-led coalition as Arab nationalists seek to both expel Iran from Iraq and Syria and defeat Sunni fundamentalism.

It will be an unlikely coalition with some even more unlikely fellow travellers.  First, the Saudi-led the Gulf Co-operation Council is openly aligning itself alongside Egypt and Jordan.  The purpose is twofold – to construct a coalition and to buttress weak states in the struggle against the Islamic anti-state and Iranian subversion.  Second, although no such tie would ever be admitted, Israel is by extension a de facto fellow traveller with this group, at least until the Iranian threat is diminished.

It is in such a strategic context that this weekend’s Saudi air-strikes in Yemen, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent speech to the US Congress warning about an Iranian nuclear deal, and today’s critical talks in Geneva over that self-same deal must be seen.  If the Geneva talks succeed there is a small, just a small chance that other regional arms control agreements could be fashioned that will help to ‘build-down’ tensions and de-escalate the growing military confrontation.  Of course, such a ‘vision’ pre-supposes that a Geneva deal would also see a profound shift in the direction of Iranian foreign and security policy.  As yet no such shift is apparent.

The West?  Explicit in Riyadh’s use of air power in Yemen is an implicit move by Saudi Arabia to establish regional-strategic leadership.  Riyadh is acting partly because like many Arab states that lean towards the West they have lost confidence in the United States to prevent Iran, its nuclear programme and its regional-strategic ambitions.  As for the British and French, the former power-brokers in the Middle East, a conversation I had recently with a very senior Jordanian revealed the extent to which Amman believes London and Paris have lost the regional-strategic plot and the rest of Europe with them.  Therefore, it is not just the battered peace of the Middle East that is hanging in the balance in Geneva today, but the tattered banner of the US and the wider West.

If the Geneva talks fail, or the ‘agreement’ to halt the Iranian nuclear programme is a temporary sham to provide President Obama with some form of foreign policy legacy, the strategic consequences will be profound.  Indeed, if Iran moves to build the bomb the pressure on the GCC, Egypt, Syria, and even Israel, to launch a pre-emptive war against Tehran could become irresistible.  That is the implicit message in the Arab League decision this weekend to create a new Arab Rapid Reaction Force.

Furthermore, a fourth Gulf War could well involve nuclear weapons and more likely than not drag in Russia, the West, and possibly even China.  

Have a nice day!

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 27 March 2015

Serbia and the New Game of Thrones

Belgrade, Serbia. 27 March. As I arrived in Belgrade this week to speak at an excellent event organised by the George C. Marshall Center Serb Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić recalled the 1999 Kosovo War and the NATO bombing: “We remember, and everybody else should have in mind, we Serbs have a long memory and will never forget. Each of the 78 days, each of the victims will be remembered”.  Radical nationalists then ritually burnt EU, NATO, US and Kosovar flags in a show of defiance and to underline the Prime Minister’s point.  Europe is losing Serbia in a new and very dangerous Game of Thrones because of Russia, unresolved history and strategic indifference.  Indeed, unless Europe and the wider West re-engage properly and quickly with Serbia the Western Balkans could again descend into chaos.  

Serbia sits at a pivot of the emerging Game of Thrones between Russia and the West.  As I left Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport on my way to the hotel I drove past a very prominent Gazprom-sponsored sign showing the Serb and Russian flags entwined in mutual and historic embrace.  During my visit I spoke to two Serb friends, one so senior that he must remain nameless, and the other Dejan Miletić, President for the Center for Globalization Studies, a redoubtable, patriotic but pragmatic Serb.  In both conversations the deep, enduring ties between the Russian and Serb peoples were immediately apparent as was the desire of Serbs to forge closer ties with the EU.  Finding a balance between the two sets of relationships is as vital as it is difficult.  

Russian money is everywhere apparent in Belgrade.  And, with Serbia this year facing a €2bn/$2.16bn black-hole in its national finances Belgrade is clearly vulnerable to expanding Russian influence.  It is equally self-evident here that Moscow seeks to extend such influence for geopolitical reasons and it would be naïve in the extreme if Europeans did not realise this. President Putin and his Game of Thrones concept of power – succeed or die – envisions extending Russian influence in the Balkans to keep both EU and NATO leaders politically and strategically off-balance.  

Nor can there be regional peace without an accommodated Serbia and yet such an accommodation will also be hard to realise.  Indeed, today’s Game of Thrones is about far more than Serbia’s place at today’s grand strategic seams.  As I glanced through various glossy tourist brochures each and every one showed a map of Serbia that determinedly included Kosovo, which remains a vital part of Serb history, identity and the Orthodox faith. 

Furthermore, Belgrade also sits at the nexus of a series of regional-strategic fissures forged during the wars of the 1990s which whilst papered over remain deep and dangerous.  As the Serb-centred former Yugoslavia imploded then President Milosëvić tried to reinvent Tito’s realm in the form of a Greater Serbia.  The subsequent wars with Croatia, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and over Albanian-leaning Kosovo, whilst brought to an end by NATO firepower, have never been resolved politically and Serbia retains a powerful influence network across the region.

My respect for Serbs and Serbia is deep and abiding but I am also utterly conscious how easy it is for Serbs to cast themselves (and their politics) as the victims of others  However, with Montenegro now independent, Croatia and Slovenia in the EU and Albania, Croatia and Slovenia members of NATO Serbia must be brought into the Western fold or lost to it, with all the possible consequences such a loss could entail.  In mid-January this year NATO and Serbia agreed the new Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP). Whilst Belgrade observes a strict policy of military neutrality it is vital that this plan is acted on and every opportunity used to make Serbia feel a partner of NATO rather than a victim of it.  

However, it is EU membership that remains the Holy Grail for Serbia.  EU accession negotiations finally began on 21 January, 2014 but it is going to be a long road before Belgrade takes its rightful place at the European Council.  This is not least because of the status of Kosovo will need to be resolved before membership is possible.  Therefore, in the interim it is vital that the EU and its member-states continue to support Serbia and be seen to do so.  ‘Support’ means helping Serbia overcome the endemic corruption that still pot-marks Serb politics and life in general.  It will also mean countering the large Russian investments in Serb civil society, particularly in the political and social sciences as Moscow buys influence and sways intellectual opinion in Belgrade as part of its Game of Thrones.

With the right commitment from fellow Europeans in particular I am still confident that this most important of Balkan powers can find its proper place in the region, Europe and the wider world.  Prime Minister Vučić said that Serbia sought to be: “A decent and well-ordered country”.  “Every factory we build”, he said, “…is our victory. Every Serb who can work peacefully in Kosmet is our victory.  Serbia in Europe is our victory”.

Shortly after the 1999 Kosovo war I went to Belgrade to attend a high-level meeting to discuss the future.  The meeting place was well-chosen for the team of which I was a part was invited to sit at a table over-looking the old defence ministry which had a large hole punched in its façade by an American cruise missile.  Serbia has come a long way since I sat looking at the burnt-out shell of the old defence ministry. However, Serbia still has a long way to go if the new Game of Thrones is not to see the return of Serbia’s history of tragedies and deny the Serb people their rightful place in an ordered European order. 

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 23 March 2015

Operation Plunder: Combined, Joint and Engineered

Alphen, Netherlands. 23 March Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower said; “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”.  Seventy years ago this morning as I write Operation Plunder was underway as the 51st Highland Division (Dempsey’s 2nd British Army) & Crerar’s Canadian 1st Army stormed across the Northern Rhine River into Germany. The airborne operation in support of Plunder was the largest airborne operation of World War Two, far bigger than the failed Operation Market Garden of September 1944 and the attempt to cross the Rhine at Arnhem.  1625 transport aircraft were deployed, together with 1348 gliders escorted by 889 fighters and 22,000 airborne infantry dropped into Germany. 2,163 fighters supported the ground operations in support of the 80,000 British and Canadian troops that crossed a twenty-mile stretch of the Rhine between Rees and Wesel.

In a sense Operation Plunder was a mini-Overlord, a re-run of the June 1944 Normandy landings, although the US and British-led crossings were not simultaneous.  The US 9th Armored Division had famously captured the Ludendorff Bridge near Remagen on 7 March. On 22 March, Patton’s Third Army crossed the Rhine into Germany and on 23 March, the US First Army broke out of the Remagen bridgehead.

What is interesting about Plunder is that the operation demonstrated that for all the frictions that existed between American and British military commanders the allies had finally perfected the military art of combined (multinational) and joint (tri-service) operations.  However, whilst the experience gained in previous operations was to prove invaluable the role of military science was vital. Since 1943 experiments and preparations for just such an operation had been underway in Yorkshire on the River Ouse and helped foster a much greater understanding of the challenges such a contested operation would face, the specialised equipment but above all the innovation that would be vital if such operations were to succeed.

Critically, for Operation Plunder 8000 Royal Engineers came under the command of the Spearhead Force XXX Corps (Lt. General Sir Brian Horrocks).  Moreover, 22,000 tons of assault bridging was brought forward, together with 25,000 wooden pontoons to get armour across the river quickly, 2000 assault boats, 650 storm boats, 120 river tugs, 100 kms of balloon cable and 340 kms of steel wire rope.  The balloons were used to help winch the ferries and rafts across the river and came under RAF command, whilst the Royal Navy constructed an anti-mine boom upstream of the landings to help prevent the Germans from floating mines downstream.   And all of these preparations were achieved in almost total secrecy.

Such planning and preparation was vital.  The 500 metre front XXX Corps attacked was defended by the German 8th Parachute Division, with elements of the 6th and 7th Parachute Divisions covering their flanks and with the 15th and 116th Panzer Divisions in reserve.  Whilst weakened these elite forces put up fierce resistance after they recovered from their initial shock and repeatedly counter-attacked in the classic and highly-effective manner the Wehrmacht employed during World War Two.

What are the lessons for today?  Operation Plunder was in effect an inland multinational, air-maritime-amphibious operation in support of a major land offensive.  With the creation of the Readiness Action Plan at the NATO Wales Summit last September NATO is again considering how it would conduct major combined, joint combat operations in defence of the Alliance.  Now, by its very definition NATO is built around a concept of force that is both combined and joint. However, years of campaigning in Afghanistan and elsewhere have to some extent denuded the combinedness and jointness of the multinational formations at NATO’s core.  Such formations must be re-built.

Furthermore, with the investment in military power by illiberal states and actors, weapons-technology proliferation and the disinvestment of liberal states in their military capacity and capability a radical solution is needed to maintain the military balance and thus credible defensive and offensive capabilities.  Indeed, if the growing gap is to be closed between NATO’s shrinking military capability, military capacity and the range and widening scope of possible and likely future mission and campaigns then radical solutions must be embraced.

My core message is this: NATO must forge a ‘force singularity’, a tight force focused on tight, effective deployable command and control in which ‘combinedness’ and ‘jointness’ becomes much more organic i.e, a reflex, with forces far better able to rotate in the battlespace and across the mission spectrum and thus offer commanders capability, capacity and flexibility. 

Such a new NATO ‘force singularity’ will not come without much effort. Naturally, concept design and force planning will be to the fore.  However, the key element will be a change in strategic mind-set from political leaders through to commanders.  Indeed, such a force will only be realised if leaders and commanders are really willing to “think outside of the box” (instead of uttering that now tired phrase as a tired mantra) and properly embrace radical experimentation, exercising and education.

Operation Plunder was forged on the battlefield and emerged only after many disasters but it also reflected a willingness to try new approaches and methods.  NATO forces are going to have to reinvent themselves in peacetime for a possibly very different but equally dangerous future.

On 24 March, Winston Churchill crossed the Rhine and came under fire.  As ever with an eye for history Churchill wanted to be the first foreign leader to cross into Germany in over 140 years and some 241 years after his illustrious ancestor Marlborough had defeated the French at the Battle of Blenheim in Austria in 1704.  As he met General Eisenhower Churchill said, “My Dear General, the German is whipped. We’ve got him. He is all through”. 

The rest, as they say, is history. Planning is indeed everything, but so is thinking!

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 20 March 2015

Revisiting the Funky Gibbon

Rome, Italy. 20 March.  “The five marks of the decaying Roman culture: concern with displaying affluence instead of building wealth; obsession with sex and perversions of sex; art becomes freakish and sensationalistic instead of creative and original; increased demand to live off the state”.  Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a master-piece.  It is also a hideously-long, bloody pompous master-piece, a pomposity was the academic mark of his eighteenth century age. Of course, there is absolutely no academic pomposity whatsoever in the twenty-first century world, anywhere.  Sitting here on the Aventine Hill close to where the Temple of Diana once stood my mind is cast back to those carefree days when I was an Oxford undergraduate studying Modern History.  A time of long, greasy hair punctuated by long, greasy Genesis albums and occasional bouts of ‘study’ during which I was forced to read the long, greasy Gibbon. And yet when I now re-read my Gibbon from the lofty heights of perfect wisdom and maturity I am struck by what insights the man had on the eternal human political condition and our enduring and not-so-endearing ability to eternally screw things up.

The EU and its member-states have become far too focused on displaying affluence rather than building wealth.  Europe’s refusal to properly prepare its economy for the hyper-competitive twenty-first century means decline and decay is inevitable.  Early signs of that are all around me here in a Rome that has not been troubled by economic growth since 1999. However, it is Greece rather than Italy that really reveals the dangers of perpetual self-delusion.  Athens is still resisting any proper reforms to its economy in spite of promises to get real.  Sadly, Greece is not alone. Whilst Ireland and Portugal have undertaken serous reforms other southern European states still hanker after a return to the Mezzogiorno lifestyle that can no longer be afforded.

Gibbon was a curmudgeon when it came to matters of sex and art.  However, I am struck by how much the politics of sex dominate discourse these days.  It is my firm belief that the rights of all minorities should be protected, and I am a firm supporter of gay marriage.  However, be it the politics of race, gender or sex so many in the European elite seemed to have forgotten that whilst minority rights must be protected a society can only flourish if the majority are respected.  As a white, fifty-something male I sometimes get the impression I am the font of all evil and that it is my duty to be discriminated against ‘positively’ and routinely to ensure ‘equality’, even if that is at the expense of quality and the promotion of mediocrity.

However, for me Gibbon’s most striking suggestion was that Rome was lost because people simply came to believe that living off the state was their right.  In Europe ‘living off the state’ takes two forms.  At the European level it manifests itself in the belief that the taxpayers of eight EU member-states are expected to pay for the tax and non-taxpayers of the remaining twenty.  The transfer of funds from the North and West of Europe to the South and East of Europe, most evident in the Greek bailouts, was meant to be a temporary phenomenon to help bring economies up to a level of mutual enrichment. And yet, as I make my way around Europe I am struck by how many EU member-states now see such transfers as permanent and theirs by right.

At the popular level the battle over the welfare state in its various incarnations across socialised Europe suggests a culture of entitlement that is now so ingrained in Europeans that they believe their well-being to be somebody else’s problem and at someone else’s cost.  This is not something that the creators of the Welfare State in the years after World War Two ever envisaged, nor is it sustainable.  Berlin is right about this; it is not German meanness to suggest that Europeans reform and prepare to succeed in a competitive world.  Is is simply the harsh, unforgiving reality of a harsh, unforgiving world.  Europeans either modernise together or fail together.

What makes Gibbon still so funky is precisely his understanding that what killed Athens and Rome ultimately was that their desperate desire to protect themselves from change doomed them to change.  As Gibbon wrote, “In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security.  They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all – security, comfort, and freedom.  When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.”

Gibbon also offered another warning.  Rome fell because its ancient civic virtues were eaten away from within by competing religions to the point where society and governance collapsed.  Europe?

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 16 March 2015

BBC: State within a State

Alphen, Netherlands. 16 March. As Britain has declined as a world (and European) actor, it has become the pre-eminent world (and European) commentator. If there is one post-imperial British complex that persists, it is the firm belief amongst Britain’s elite Establishment that whilst it might be useless at running Britain, it still knows best for everybody else.  At the pinnacle of British self-delusion sits the BBC – Britain’s master strategic communicator.  However, over the past twenty years the BBC has shifted from commentator to social engineer and been steadily captured by the left-liberal elite in the process.  Today, the world’s most famous broadcaster is a failing state within an increasingly uncertain state.

Last week a scandal broke that demonstrated not just the extent to which “Auntie Beeb” has shifted to the political Left, but the gap that now exists between the leftist elite that run the BBC and the mass of the British population.  “Top Gear” is the world’s most profitable documentary programme which the BBC very profitably exports to over 100 countries world-wide.  Until last week it was led by an irreverent Yorkshireman called Jeremy Clarkson who specialises in winding up the Metropolitan liberal-left elite who run the BBC. 

Now, I get Clarkson, even though at times I find him childish and nauseating. He was born one year after me and 10 miles/18 kilometres from me.  We both share a strong Yorkshire culture which is essentially an inbuilt distrust of power and its many conceits, and a willingness to say so.  The comparison ends there. Whilst Clarkson has turned his irreverence into a multi-million pound empire I am a bloke who writes blogs.

At the heart of the dispute is the relationship between the BBC’s oh-so politically-correct elite management and their oh-so politically-correct left-liberal world view, and the mass of ‘blokes’ for whom Clarkson is their champion and whom the BBC by and large despises.  Now, let me pause at this juncture, and provide some hard detail of the spat.  Clarkson is alleged (alleged) to have punched a producer during a row and has been suspended as a consequence.  If Clarkson did indeed commit violence then I have no sympathy for him.  He must go.  However, the BBC leadership has been out to get Clarkson for years because he does not accept the left-liberal bias the BBC now routinely presents as ‘fact’.  As of late over 1 million people (most of them ‘blokes’ no doubt) have signed an online petition to have Clarkson re-instated. I suspect many of them see this as the perfect opportunity to attack the BBC.

Normally I would not have considered this material for my strategy blog. However, given the high-global profile of the BBC as a strategic communicator the capture of it by one political mono-culture is in danger of making it little different to RT (Russia Today) – a purveyor of sophisticated (and not-so-sophisticated) propaganda rather than impartial analysis. 

The drift to the political Left is revealed in the BBC’s editorial policy and the move towards social engineering implied therein.  For example, over the past month the BBC has been running a trailer for its flagship radio news programme “Today” featuring artist Grayson Perry.  Mr Perry delivers a two-minute leftist rant which the BBC then presents as ‘fact’ under the rubric “To see the world clearly…”  Moreover, all of the BBC’s comedians are of a left-wing persuasion with open-season declared by the BBC on anyone with a centrist or centre-right viewpoint.  The BBC openly champions feminism and all forms for ‘positive discrimination’ as a matter of course and fact. 

Now, as a social progressive I happen to believe in many of these issues.  Indeed, I have little sympathy for nostalgia, Britain is a multicultural country and such a country will only survive and prosper in this world if it is open to all the talents irrespective of race, gender, orientation, etc.  And yet the BBC is not only closed to at least half of the talents, it is actively championing the other half and that is not its purpose.

Worse, the BBC sees itself as a state within a state.  For example, Britain has a hybrid system of measurements which incorporates both the metric and imperial systems.  For longer measurements, such as road signs, miles are still used as the official measurement.  Now, one could argue that as a European country Britain should switch to kilometres, but that is not government policy. And yet the BBC now routinely refers to ‘kilometres’ in its domestic news programmes, which a mass of the population simply does not understand. In other words, the BBC is deciding national policy.

Two of my friends are senior BBC reporters.  They have both told me of occasions when key elements of their stories have been ‘pulled’ because senior editors feared that the facts might offend an ethnic minority or another group.  Indeed, the BBC routinely refuses to discuss issues of race, religion. and indeed Europe, that might in some way be deemed to offend left-wing sensibilities.  Consequently, trust in the BBC has plummeted.

The BBC’s decline into factionalism is a salutary lesson of what happens when a broadcaster is captured by a political mono-culture.  The BBC of today is a far cry from the broadcaster that became the voice of freedom during World War Two.  Indeed, it was the BBC which broadcast two lines of a Verlaine poem which informed the French Resistance that D-Day was imminent. 

Rather, the BBC today is a left-wing advocacy organisation that wants to make left-wing programmes for left-wing people at the expense of everybody else.  There is nothing wrong in that per se but because the BBC has abandoned impartiality it must at the very least re-discover balance.  Above all, the BBC must learn again to be modest.  It is a broadcaster, not a state within a state and it could again if properly led be a broadcaster of which Britain, and indeed Europe, could be proud.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 13 March 2015

France Throws a Waterloo Wobbly

Alphen, Netherlands. 13 March. On 18 June, 1815 Arthur, Duke of Wellington, with minor support from assorted Johnny Euros, gave some diminutive Frenchman with ideas decidedly above his station in life, and whose name escapes me, a dashed sound thrashing at the Battle of Waterloo, just off the autoweg/autoroute south of Brussels.  Belgium, which in 1839 was formed partly as a consequence of the massive, total and complete British victory over assorted French wallahs on the field of Waterloo, had wanted to prepare a commemorative two euro coin to mark the occasion of Britain’s complete and utter confounding of the French.  Sadly, the heirs of the Frenchman, whose name I forget, have reacted to the idea very badly and, sad to say, not untypically. 

Clearly, some senior bod in Paris, who apparently suffers from a self-righteous hot baguette up his backside, and not for the first time, has objected to the idea of the coin and the Belgians, not for the first time, have surrendered…rapidly.  In a letter the French Government, commenting on Belgium’s submission of a coin design to the Council of the European Union, said that the proposed coin, “could cause hostile reactions in France”. And?

The aforesaid baguette-afflicted senior French official went onto suggest that the coin would carry, “a symbol that is negative for a fraction of the European population”. That must mean the French ‘fraction’…that lost.  The rest of us are having a scream.  Moreover, M. Baguette said, “…the coin would risk engendering hostile reactions in France”.  What 200 years on?  However, the clincher, and I really wonder if M. Baguette was at this point suppressing Gallic humour, “The Battle of Waterloo is an event of particular resonance in the collective conscience, going beyond a simple military conflict”.  You bet it is, and indeed, was.  Britain, and not for the last time, and with the support of European allies, defeated the dictatorial imposition of someone else’s idea of how Europe should be organised and who should organise it. I wonder what Napoleon Juncker thinks about all this?

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I have a profound respect for France and the French. My years working in France not only convinced me of the generosity of spirit of the French people. but France’s capacity to think big, which I deeply admire.  However, the French Establishment can on occasions turn self-righteous pomposity into a theatre d’absurde and this is one such occasion. 

The Battle of Waterloo was one of those ‘Europe’ forming moments in history.  It led to the 1815 Congress of Vienna which one could argue was the first true attempt to envision the idea of ‘Europe’ as a voluntary association of states.  The Great Congress rejected the idea that European order could be imposed by any one state, something which not only led to Napoleon’s demise, but in time that of the Kaiser, Hitler and Stalin. 

Therefore, Belgium is right to seek to commemorate this great European moment, and wrong to cave into French pressure. Waterloo was a great moment in the development of contemporary Europe and France should stop allowing its absurdly romantic view of Napoleon to block the minting of the coin.  Unfortunately, so absurdly romantic has the French view of Waterloo become that on the anniversary of the battle one French re-enactor wants to re-stage the battle and pretend that Napoleon won.  He did not - Napoleon lost, Wellington won. Period!

Sensibly the British have stayed out of this spat.  The last time Britain and France went head-to-head over Waterloo was when some wag in London decided the new Eurostar trains should end their journey from Paris at London’s Waterloo Station.  Upon the announcement a French deputé rose in the Assemblée Nationale to threaten the renaming of the co-terminus Gare du Nord after a French victory over the British.  In what was his finest parliamentary moment then Prime Minister John Major rose in the House of Commons to announce that helpfully he had instructed ‘his people’ to find a French victory over the British. Sadly, they failed and the most they could come up with was the 1745 Battle of Fontenoy, “which was an honourable draw”.

The coup de grace during the Battle of Waterloo was the moment when Wellington shouted, “Now Maitland! Now’s your time!”  Maitland’s Brigade of Foot Guards, having outflanked the French Imperial Guard, rose as one to fire volley after volley into the Guard.  The Imperial Guard broke, Boney lost the battle and the war, and the rest is history.  He was then shuffled off to see out his days on the windswept island of St Helena at His Majesty’s Pleasure.

Thankfully, France need not despair.  London has decided to produce a new five pound note to commemorate Waterloo.  As Wellington said to Picton as the Imperial Guard advanced, “Picton, they’re coming on in the same old style”.  To which Picton replied, “Ay, Wellington. And we will have to meet them in the same old style”.

Get a life, France!

Julian Lindley-French 

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

European Defence Juncked?

Alphen, Netherlands. 11 March. He is at it again. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, JC to his friends, called this week for an EU Army to a) stand up to the Russians; b) demonstrate that Europeans are serious about defending their values; and c) pave the way to a genuine Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).  JC is clearly employing a classic Euro-Federalist tactic known in the trade as neo-functionalism. This is where external crises are exploited politically by federalists to wrest power from the member-states in the name of efficiency with the aim of creating an EU super-state by dismantling the state step-by-step.  And yet for all that JC might have a point, although as per usual for all the wrong reasons.  If Europeans are to balance strategy, affordability, military capability, but above all credibility, they either spend more, integrate more, or find a credible balance between the two. Indeed, Russian military adventurism has clearly been encouraged by European military weakness and the appeasement of reality it implies.

It is not the first time a Russian threat has led to calls for a European Army. With the Korean War straining US forces and with over 300 Soviet divisions facing NATO, the European Defence Community (EDC) Treaty was signed on 9 May, 1952.  The Treaty called for the creation of a European military force overseen by a European Commission.  Moreover, on 10th September, 1952, it was agreed by the then six signatory states to move towards a European Political Community (EPC), which in time became CFSP.  Indeed, on 15th December, 1952 then West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer said that a common defence policy without a common foreign policy would not work.  Roll on 63 years and the issues are not that different.  US forces are stretched thin the world-over, Russia poses a resurgent military threat to both NATO and the EU, and Europe is just beginning to emerge from a financial cataclysm. 

One of the many complex reasons for the Eurozone crisis is that its members are in denial about the political logic of the single currency and the single governance such a structure needs.  The logic of the Eurozone was and is ever closer union, and such union includes foreign, security and defence policy. And yet, most Eurozone members are in complete denial about the consequences and contradictions of their stance.  The result is Europe’s strategic paralysis.

Furthermore, with some 16 EU member-states spending less than €4bn per annum on defence (and badly) JC is also correct when he asserts that an EU Army would lead to economies of scale, particularly when it came to defence procurement.  By making each euro go further through defence integration the “significant savings” he claims would indeed be realised. 

However, behind the apparent logic of JC’s call (which is not at all new) is the same divide that ultimately killed the EDC – collective defence versus common defence.  Collective defence is a gathering of like-minded nation-states that decide collectively over the use of force, i.e. NATO. It is not efficient, rarely fully effective, but it is legitimate because the forces involved come from national members and remain under national control.

Common defence means, implies, and would require a common government.  Indeed, one could not have an EU Army without a common government and any attempt to create some form of hybrid governance would probably mean force could only ever be used in absolute extremis.  To put it bluntly, who would send my fellow-Sheffielder to his or her death who was part of such a force?  Without an EU government such a force would look pretty but in effect be useless – much like the euphemistically-named EU Battle Groups.

However, if European nation-states continue to cut their defence budgets or fail to meet their defence-spending commitments the logic of a common defence and by extension an EU super-state will become irresistible. Indeed, it would be the only way to balance military effectiveness with military efficiency in a world in which illiberal military power is fast out-stripping liberal military power.

This week the US Ambassador to the UN Susan Power also called on Europeans to spend more on defence.  The message was clear; Europe’s retreat from defence-sanity will not only force Europeans to live with far higher risk, it also risks in turn the effective end of a meaningful transatlantic security relationship.  The US taxpayer will not go on endlessly subsidising the defence of the European taxpayer. 

So, JC is right.  Europeans must decide – either their states spend more on defence or they integrate their forces more closely and abandon any pretence to defence sovereignty.  For some defence integration makes perfect sense, for others not.  Therefore, the balance to be struck between ‘collective’ and ‘common’ defence is Europe’s quintessential twenty-first century strategic challenge.

As for the European Defence Community it collapsed on 29 August, 1954 when the French Parliament refused to ratify the EDC Treaty unable to accept the end of French defence sovereignty and concerned that German power would be significantly enhanced.  However, Adenauer was right then as now; a common defence cannot work without a common foreign and security policy, and that in turn means a European government.

Plus ça change, plus la meme chose!

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 9 March 2015

Britain in Danger

Alphen, Netherlands. 9 March. Britain is in danger.  It is in danger from a revanchist Russia, determined to turn back the clock of history.  It is in danger from Islamic State and Al Qaeda determined to turn back the clock of civilisation. It is in danger from Jean-Claude Juncker and his fellow EU-federalists who want to replace the European nation-state with an EU super-state.  Yesterday, Juncker opportunistically sought to capitalise on Russia’s aggression by calling for an EU Army.  It is in danger from the seemingly interminable Eurozone crisis.  It is in danger from irresponsible immigration and those on the political Left and Right who for their own reasons refuse to recognise the very clear link that exists between some aspects of mass-immigration (by no means all) and insecurity.  However, the greatest danger Britain faces is from its own political class who seem to become daily more detached from any sense of the national interest or the vital role Britain still has to play in Europe’s security, and that of the world beyond.

In my now many years on this planet I have endured many British general election campaigns.  The current ‘campaign’ is quite simply the worst, most unworldly, most cynical, I have ever endured – on both sides of the political divide.  Indeed, whilst most elections are fought out as a rush to occupy the political centre-ground, the May 2015 General Election seems to be a rush by both Labour and Conservative leaderships to evacuate the middle ground…and sod reality in the process.  Indeed, Britain’s increasingly radicalised, professional political class bring to mind former Irish Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald who when confronted with a particularly irate Margaret Thatcher at the height of difficult negotiations for the 1985 Anglo-Irish agreement said, “That is all very well, Prime Minister.  What you say may indeed work in fact, but does it work in theory?”

Neither Team Cameron nor Team Miliband seems to have any sense of the national interest, or the real and very dangerous world which exists beyond the Westminster/Whitehall bubble, and which is getting daily closer.  Cameron has tried to effectively kill any debate about Britain’s security and defence and has absolutely no interest in discussing Britain’s place in the world.  Miliband and the Left simply trot out the unworldly mantra that aid and development IS an investment in security, implying that ring-fencing the aid budget should be seen as an alternative to defence investment. 

When I wrote my new paperback Little Britain? Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power (five-star reviewed at it was a cri de coeur, a plaidoyer (and other French words) for London’s High Establishment – both political and bureaucratic – to return to effective statecraft, and to craft Britain’s still not inconsiderable soft and hard power into coherent national strategy.  Critically, the book pleads with politicians to for once put strategy before politics and defend Britain’s vital national interests at a vital time by re-embracing political realism.  And yet, later this year, be it Cameron or Miliband, Britain will abandon the minimum NATO commitment of 2% GDP on defence – the foundation upon which all British influence and effect is built. 

This will happen not because of sound strategic analysis, although national and defence ‘strategies’ will be prepared to provide some form of political alibi.  It will happen because both Cameron and Miliband are isolationists who for their respective reasons are locked into their respective ideological positions both of which in some way involve and require the abandonment of political realism.  Cameron is committed to deficit-busting cuts at any cost whatever is happening in Britain’s strategic environment.  Miliband is committed to transferring as much national wealth as possible into the National Health Service, social care and welfare.  Given the balance to be struck between strategy, security and affordability it is Britain’s defences that will inevitably be raided.    

So, in the vain hope reality may at some point break-out in Britain’s High Establishment let me point out Britain’s hard realities.  President Putin by 2020 will have injected some £700bn in new armed forces.  Between 2015 and 2020 the US will cut its defence budget by more than Europe’s entire collective defence investment. According to a Home Office report leaked this weekend of the 700 or so Islamists who left Britain to fight with Islamic State, over 300 have returned to Britain many of whom are actively planning terrorist attacks.  This weekend it was announced that Islamic State had established a strong presence in Libya.  There are some 200,000 refugees waiting in Libya to cross into Europe.

In an ideal world Dave, George and Ed could indeed raid Britain’s defences to bribe their respective sets of core supporters.  Sadly, the world is anything but ideal and like it or not Britain is a security anchor-state. If Britain abandons political realism for political fancy it is not just Britain that will suffer, but Europe, and much of the world beyond.

How I weep for thee my country. What did we British do to deserve these politicians?

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Is Obama Decoupling Israel?

Alphen, Netherlands. 5 March. The great historian A.J.P. Taylor once said of Winston Churchill, “If he could not do something effective, he would do something ineffective”.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clearly has a similar view of President Obama and the latter’s efforts to secure a permanent P5+1 treaty with Iran that would prevent Tehran arming itself with nuclear weapons.  In what was a brazen intervention into US politics, and a deliberate snub to President Obama, Netanyahu warned the US Congress Tuesday that any permanent deal with Iran “could pave Iran’s path to the bomb”.  Netanyahu’s high-risk gambit was clearly a brazen attempt to boost his political standing prior to the 17 March Israeli elections.  Equally, his Washington intervention not only shows the extent to which the world views of Netanyahu and Obama diverge, but a dangerous fragility in the US-Israeli “strategic partnership”, and at a dangerous moment. Certainly, an imperfect agreement would tip the balance of power in the Middle East at several levels, a prospect that worries the Saudis just as much as the Israelis.

In May 1976, shortly after President Carter had taken office, senior State Department official Leslie Gelb wrote that the deployment of Cruise and Pershing missiles to Europe would create a Eurostrategic balance and thus have the effect of decoupling the US strategic arsenal from the defence of Europe.  Consequently, the credibility of the US strategic deterrent would be reduced and with it US extended deterrence of Soviet aggression.  Europeans also worried that as the Americans closed in on a warhead-limiting SALT 2 treaty with the Soviet Union the US nuclear deterrent would be further decoupled from the defence of Europe. Such an aim was clearly part of Soviet strategy at the time and the European Allies were particularly concerned by Washington negotiating over Europe's security with Moscow, and yet over their collective heads.  Netanyahu’s Washington speech echoes those concerns.

Netanyahu’s view of Obama is also reminiscent of then West German Helmut Schmidt’s view of President Jimmy Carter. A March 1977 editorial in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said, “Bonn is concerned that Jimmy Carter is a man ruling the White House whose moral and religious convictions are incompatible with the demands of world politics”.  Contrast that with what Netanyahu said of the proposed P5+1 treaty, “We’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well this is a bad deal, a very bad deal. We’re better off without it”.  

Netanyahu’s world-view is that one only deals with states such as Iran through strength and enforced denial.  Netanyahu’s fear is that as Obama approaches the end of his presidency he will become ever more focused on his legacy. And, that consequently, Obama might agree an imperfect nuclear deal with Iran over Israel’s head from which Iran could defect with relative ease and face little effective sanction. 

The Iranian negotiators seem to be betting on the same outcome.  In the Geneva talks they are negotiating particularly hard (the Iranians are hard negotiators) over on-site inspections and the extent and scope of the verification regime at the heart of the proposed treaty.  Their tactic seems to be based on the apparent hope that as time runs out on the Obama presidency the Americans would concede sufficient ground to enable Iran to continue clandestine development of an Iranian bomb. 

There are of course differences between Israel in 2015 and Europe in the late 1970s.  Back then the Soviet Union threatened the destruction of Continental North America. Iran could not possibly hope to strike America with a first generation nuclear capability.  However, given Iran’s missile arsenal  Tehran, at least in theory, could attack America’s allies, either in the region or in Europe.

Furthermore, Israel has some 450 nuclear warheads in its arsenal at Dimona as an independent guarantee against attack. Like the British and French nuclear systems the Israeli nuclear capability is designed as much to tie the Americans in as keep the Iranians out. And, although the US and Israel do not share the kind of formal commitments to nuclear deterrence and defence as those between Washington and its European allies, there is an implicit understanding that the US will afford Israel extended nuclear deterrence.  That implicit agreement is the ‘strategic’ in the US-Israeli strategic partnership to which Netanyahu referred.

However, an imperfect P5+1 permanent treaty could permit Iran to suddenly break-out of its commitment and announce to the world that it did indeed possess the capability to destroy the State of Israel.  If that happened much of Israel’s (and indeed America’s) conventional military capability in the region would be instantly stalemated.  Moreover, Tehran would have successfully crafted the strategic and political space to continue with its hybrid, proxy war against Israel, Saudi Arabia, and by extension decisively tip the balance of power in the Middle East.

Therefore, for all Netanyahu’s politicking in Washington this week he does have a strategic point.  A P5+1 treaty with Tehran, and any subsequent easing of economic sanctions, must be linked to a change in Iran’s regional strategy.  Netanyahu fears that Obama will focus instead on a narrow, rules-based approach and simply concentrate on the modalities of the proposed treaty without linking a final agreement to a shift in Iran’s wider foreign and security policy behaviour.

In 1975 Amos P. Jordan, the US Principal Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Security Affairs, wrote, “The thing that is troubling our European allies in particular is not our military capability but what they perceive to be shaky coherence and national unity which may make it impossible to use those military capabilities. It is the credibility of our commitment, not the existence of our commitments or the strength of our forces that is the doubt in their minds”.  These concerns were also held in Europe.  On August 20, 1978, The Economist wrote, “Some Europeans have always doubted whether the Americans would fight a nuclear war for Europe; and even the trusters are beginning to think that what might have been true when the United States had a commanding lead [in nuclear capability] is not necessarily true now”. 

Some say Netanyahu over-played his political hand in Washington this week. Given Israel's precarious strategic situation it is hard if not impossible for an Israeli leader ever to over-play a political hand given the possible alternative. Iran clearly has its own strategic interests as do all states and they must be respected. Equally, such interests remain driven by Tehran's determination to destroy Israel to confirm Iran's regional-strategic dominance. Therefore, whilst the Obama Administration has tended to emphasise an America that speaks softly, and not without effect, Washington must never forget its big stick.  Indeed, when it comes to matters nuclear it is always better to do something effective than something dangerously ineffective.

Of course, Tel Aviv's ultimate deterrent is that for all the current friction with Washington Israel enjoys something the British, for example, do not enjoy - a real Special Relationship with America. Any decoupling would only ever happen by mistaken strategic calculation and it is that which clearly worries Netanyahu.   

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 2 March 2015

Putin’s Nemesov?

Alphen, Netherlands. 2 March. What does the murder of Boris Nemtsov’s murder mean for Russia and Europe’s security? A few years ago I met Nemtsov at an event in Geneva.  Unfailingly courteous, even self-deprecating, he was highly-intelligent and offered a fascinating glimpse into a better Russia, a different Russia.  Indeed, my impressions of the man and his ideas suggested that his great country still had a real chance of transitioning from autocracy to democracy, and through that transition, Europe could finally become whole, free, and at peace. 

Sadly, all that Nemtsov stood for was blown away on Friday by four bullets in his back - the cynical act of that other, all-too cynical Russia.  Many are blaming President Putin.  However, this is simply not his style, and is in any case far too close to home.  Why murder a leading opposition figure on the approach road to the Kremlin?  It is pure speculation on my part but it is more likely to have been the deed of the now-multiple ultra-nationalist groups that stalk Russian politics.  Well to the right of even President Putin such groups have tentacles that reach far into the so-called Siloviki, the security apparatchiks who run an increasingly powerful security state.  

The other day I had dinner with Putin opponent Mikhail Khordokovsky, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linus Linkevicius, Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak, former Swedish Prime and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, and NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow. Now, I am not at liberty to reveal the content of our discussion (and I will not).  However, I was struck by Khordokovsky’s concern for and about his Motherland.  Indeed, having listened to Khordokovsky I tore up my prepared remarks and put it bluntly to the gathered dignitaries; Europe’s strategic vacation is over, all the comforting self-absorbed assumptions about peace, stability and security we Europeans have clung to since the end of the Cold War will be torn up over the next decade…and Russia will do much of the tearing.

You might say my motivation was fairly obvious given the tragedy in Ukraine.  However, I was also driven to speak by the unworldliness of Western European politicians in particular.  Too many of them seem to believe that what is happening TO Russia, and what is happening IN Ukraine, is unfortunate, but remains a side-show to the ‘real’ issues of debt and ‘Europe-building’.  In fact, what is happening in Russia is extremely dangerous and concerns us all.  This weekend here in the Netherlands Gary Kasparov, the former Russian chess master, said that President Putin regards the West as weak and divided. He is of course right.  However, what is not understood is just how weak and divided Russia is itself, and just how dangerous such divisions are for Europe’s security. 

When he started his third term in office in 2012 President Putin set out to fulfil three parallel and connected strategic missions: to centralise power on the President’s office via the National Security Council; to marginalise all opposition to his rule; and to re-establish Russian influence over the states on Russia’s so-called ‘near abroad’, be they EU/NATO members or not.  Most commentators have assumed that the primary mission is the re-establishment of Russia’s influence over its ‘near abroad’.  In fact, President Putin is using that mission, and the appeal to nostalgic Russian patriotism it generates, to justify absolute control over the sprawling Russian state apparatus and, by extension, Russian society.  To President Putin the need for a stable Russia on his terms is far more important than a free Russia on our terms.

It is in that context that Nemtsov and his supporters have been portrayed as a threat to the Kremlin, because Nemtsov espoused the kind of European civil society which would see a Russia emerge that would indeed be on our liberal democratic terms.  It should be noted that in Ukraine Maidan was triggered by an EU agreement, not a NATO agreement.  

However, for all his concerns about Nemtsov and his ilk he is equally concerned about forces to his political right and the ultra-nationalist movements which could tear Russia apart, and by extension Europe, if they ever gained power.  Not versed in political reform as other Europeans would know it Putin sees the greatest danger to Russia as the ‘chaos’ that would emerge if a power struggle were to break out into the open between liberals and ultra-nationalists.  In that light Putin sees the focusing of power on himself as a move to stabilise Russia and thus prevent Russian fracturing under the triple pressures of nationalism, globalisation and Europeanisation.

Therefore, Nemtsov’s assassination is clearly a function of the very profound tensions that exist at the heart of Russian politics and society, and such tensions are likely to get worse. President Putin has manoeuvred himself into a political dead-end.  He offers Russians no political vision, no political development, and no political evolution which would over time help ease such tensions and create a Russia with state institutions of sufficient strength to cope with pluralism.  Rather, he is trying to divert such tensions by appealing to Russian nationalism, wrapping himself in the Russian flag, and by centralising all power on himself and using an assertive displacement policy.  Consequently, Putin himself has nowhere to go but more of the same assertive displacement policy.  If he fails Putin will be swept aside by the tides of change that are indeed boiling away below the surface of the Russian body politic.   Putin’s ‘strategy’ may not make sense to many strategically-illiterate western European politicians.  However, it makes ‘perfect’ Russian sense to the Baltic states, and indeed all states across Central and Eastern Europe who have ‘benefitted’ from past Russian rule.

Contrast all of the above with the utterances of last week of British Prime Minister David Cameron.  Amidst growing and justified concerns about further cuts to British defence spending (and blatant attempts by Downing Street to shut down any defence debate prior to the May general election) Cameron assured the British people that the UK can defend itself against the Russians.  That is precisely NOT the point, Dave, and you know it.  The real issue is whether the British armed forces will be able to fulfil their treaty commitments to NATO and provide critical forward deterrence to Britain’s allies. Today, the answer is just about yes. Any more defence cuts to the British defence budget and the answer will be an emphatic no as Britain effectively ceases to be a major power (see my new paperback – Little Britain? Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power.

Here’s the strategic cruncher. President Putin is looking at NATO anchor-states such as Britain to see if they have the resolve to contain him.  Indeed, if I want to be really provocative (and why not) I would suggest that in the absence of any meaningful strategic partnership Putin NEEDS the West to contain him so he can concentrate on consolidating power in Russia, and in his very narrow terms maintain political stability therein.  However, as Gary Kasparov pointed out, Putin certainly does not believe countries like Britain, or indeed any other European state, are up to the strategic task he has set them.  Sadly, I have to agree with President Putin.

So, will the murder of Boris Nemtsov be seen one day as Putin’s nemesis?  No.  However, it reveals a Russia that combines immense, over-centralised power with dangerous instability. And, if what is happening in and to Russia is not seen through the cold light of political realism Putin’s Russia could one day be the nemesis of us all.

Wake up!

Julian Lindley-French