hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday 28 March 2016

Easter 1916: A Terrible Beauty was Born

“MacDonough and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearce
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born”

“Easter 1916”, by W.B. Yeats

Alphen, Netherlands. 28 March. One of the many things my English teacher gave me was a love of the work of the Irish poet W.B. Yeats. Yeats’s grand poem “Easter 1916” does not simply tell the story of the the Rising against British rule. It speaks for Yeats about the unwanted, often unintended, ambiguous place of violence in politics and history. It also speaks of how love and hatred so quickly wrap themselves around and within the sinews of history to create myth. The pain Yeats suffered as an Irish nationalist who rejected violence also taught a young English historian at an ordinary state comprehensive school in 1970s England a lesson. It was a lesson at least as powerful as his later formal Oxford education; history has many sides, many faces, and many contradictions. Indeed, Yeats taught me to try to see myself in the other, even if the other seems at times beyond understanding.

“For England may keep faith; For all that is done and said, We know their dream; enough To know they dreamed and are dead”. The facts of the Rising and which peers through Yeats’s grand poem are indeed dramatic, although not epic. On Easter Monday 1916, on the eve of the great World War One naval battle of Jutland and the bloody Somme offensive, as tens of thousands of Irishmen rallied to the call of the King-Emperor and duly paid with their lives, a simple Morse code message emitted from Dublin. It stated that the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army had seized several sites across Dublin and the rest of Ireland, most famously Dublin’s post office, the GPO building.   

The British Government reacted with fury. For London the rising was an armed insurrection, not a struggle of freedom fighters for independence; a stab in the back in the midst of an existential war of survival. The Rising lasted some six days in Dublin. However, it was not until 29 April, five days after the Proclamation of the Republic was issued that Patrick Pearse agreed to an unconditional surrender of Republican forces to the British. Some 3500 were taken prisoner, with some 500 people killed on both sides, and up to 3000 wounded. Tragically and ironically more Irishmen died over the period of the insurrection fighting for the British in France and Flanders. Sixteen leaders of the Rising were quickly tried by court martial and executed by firing squad.

A century on what does the rising say of Ireland today? Critically, it was the manner by which the leaders of the insurrection were executed that turned a Republican defeat into an eventual victory.  However, the Rising also set the tone of division on the island of Ireland that continues to this day. Yes, it led to Irish independence in 1922, but it also cemented armed struggle at the heart of Irish politics. Worse, the triumphalist 50th anniversary of the rising in 1966 led some Unionist leaders in the North of Ireland to conclude that the leaders of the Republic remained committed to armed struggle.

“Too long a sacrifice, Can make a stone of the heart”. Fifty years later a further 3000 lie dead. Read Yeats and it is precisely what transpired that he feared. ‘The troubles’ which tore Northern Ireland apart between 1969 and 1998 owed much of the brutality of both sides to the very nature of the 1916 insurrection and its crushing. As the armed struggle became stalemated it turned into a dirty war with splits within the Republicans and Nationalists being matched by splits within the Loyalist and Unionist. Over time the armed struggle came to look less like a fight for freedom and more like criminal terrorism.

The ‘war’ ended with a grand truce that is just about holding. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement which was then further solidified with the creation of the Power Sharing Executive in the north, and has been further cemented by good Anglo-Irish relations, evident in the sensitivity with which the Republic has approached the centenary of Easter 1916. However, the hatreds that fuelled the Rising and those who rejected it are never far from the surface on the island of Ireland.    

“All changed, changed utterly”. A century on how does the rising speak to me? With the tragedy of Syria and the massacres in Paris and Brussels black roses upon roods of time it speaks not only of struggle, of vanguards, but in time of reconciliation, and the never-ending work needed to balance security, legitimacy and respect. However, the Rising still speaks to me of Yeats’s ambivalence, of (to coin the phrase of another poet) roads not taken and, sadly, of wrong roads wrongly taken.

However, this weekend and the manner in which Easter 1916 was celebrated by the Republic also speaks to me of hope.  That those whose hearts are not cast in stone can still desire something others fear without the one descending into hatred of the other... Above all, it shows me that with respect over time even the most hateful of hatreds can be replaced by understanding and tolerance…but only if legitimate power stands firm and only over time.

“I have met them at close of day, Coming with vivid faces, From counter or desk among grey Eighteenth century houses”. The Rising also offers three insights into today’s terrorist threat. First, Easter 1916 was an armed insurrection, not terrorism. However, it also shows that violence over time can destroy the most noble of movements. Second, whilst the insurrectionists were Irish, not all Irishmen and Irishwomen were insurrectionists, even if many had sympathy with the aims of the Rising. Today’s terrorists maybe Muslim, but not all or even many Muslims are terrorists. Third, whatever the nature of struggle when ideas descend into carnage any claimed moral equivalency between terror and legitimate power is lost, whatever romantic poets may later write.   

“This man had kept a school, And rode our winged horse”.  Irish President Michael D. Higgins asked that all traditions affected by Easter 1916 commemorate/celebrate the Rising “with generosity”. Peace is not yet assured on the island of Ireland…but a century of from the Rising peace is at least a “shadow of cloud on the stream”. Yeats helped me to my ‘generosity’, by helping a young Briton to try and see himself in an Irish other, even when my country and by extension me were somehow painted as the font of all Irish troubles. Will I ever be able to see myself in the madness of an Islamist other? No, but I will continue to honour Islam and my Muslim friends, and the society of the decent to which we all belong; Irish, Muslim, Briton et al.
2016: from terror a beauty must be re-born.

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday 24 March 2016

How Many More Must Die, Leaders?

“All the rest was merely the proper application of overwhelming force”
Winston S. Churchill

Kiev, Ukraine. 24 March. Last week I asked a blunt but tragically relevant question. How many more Europeans (and others) have to die before Europe’s political leaders get a strategic grip? Sadly, I now have my answer. As I was beginning my presentation on how to craft national strategy to the Committee of National Security and Defence of the Ukrainian Parliament news began to spread of the attacks in Brussels. A further 31 people who were alive last week when I posed that question are now dead, murdered by terrorists.  A further 60 or so are fighting for their lives. Sadly, be it the rape of Ukraine by Russia, the terrorism-reinforcing migration crisis, and/or the threat posed by IS/Daesh Europe’s political leaders talk but never act.   

Strategic failure #1: In the corridor outside the official meeting room in which I spoke I asked a senior Ukrainian politician his view about the multi-faceted EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. He just laughed contemptuously. “Stalled’, came his diplomatic reply, and yet his tone suggested the contempt in which he holds the EU. Then I asked how he viewed the Minsk 2 Agreement crafted by Germany and France to help bring an end to the Russian-driven conflict in eastern Ukraine. “Stalled”, came the same reply. It is a deadly stall as both Ukrainians and Russians continue to die in what is fast becoming another ‘frozen conflict’. That same day Ukraine’s only female military pilot, Nadiya Savchenko, was sentenced in a Russian court to 22 years of imprisonment. Even a cursory examination of the charges given the timing of events suggests trumped up charges for propaganda purposes.

Strategic failure #2: This morning it has also transpired that one of the Brussels attackers returned from Syria by posing as a migrant. At the same time the EU-Turkey ‘deal’ to manage the flow of migrants also appears to be stalling, whatever the official propaganda states.  The EU, Greece and its supporting agencies are scrambling to find the 4000 border guards, police asylum officials and 60 judges needed to protect the EU’s external borders and process the migrants. The minimum 1000 troops needed to manage the return of failed migrants to Turkey are also proving hard to find. Worse, the very process of returning migrants under the deal is beset by a whole host of practical and legal problems. Meanwhile, across the Mediterranean in Libya it is reported that up to 500,000 migrants are waiting to cross to Europe.

Strategic failure #3: Perhaps the most damning indictment of the failure of Europe’s leaders to get a strategic grip came this morning from Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of Britain’s MI6.  In an article in Prospect Magazine Sir Richard said that the EU “leaked like a colander” and that, “though the UK participates in various European and Brussels-based security bodies they are of little consequence”. Dearlove went on with his critique of the now many EU-focused agencies and ‘clubs’ that comprise badly-flawed intelligence-sharing in Europe: “With the exception of Europol, these bodies have no operational capacity and with 28 members of vastly varying levels of professionalism in intelligence and security, the convoy must accommodate the slowest and leakiest of the ships of state”.

Europeans are lions led by donkeys surrounded by lackeys. Taken together these three strategic failures when set against this week’s Brussels outrage shows all too clearly that Europe’s endemic weakness goes to the very top of power. European leaders lack a shared European strategic culture, strategic rigour, and there is little or no a transmission between words and deeds. For too long ‘solidarity’ has placed being united in appearance before being united in action.  The result is the strategic disconnect between strategy, politics and security self-evident at the top of power in Europe today and which both the Kremlin and IS/Daesh are exploiting.   

At a recent European Council meeting Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel was not for the first time lecturing Europe’s assembled ‘great and good’ about the need for ever closer political union. In a rare flash of humour Chancellor Merkel suggested to Michel that if he wanted ever closer union he might start with ever closer Belgium.

Sadly, one reason why Belgium is dysfunctional (and believe me it is) is because too much of its elite spend too much time lecturing the rest of us about the need to scrap our own nation-states to create their fantasy Europe rather than modernising and leading Belgium. My solidarity with the Belgian people is total. However, I am equally contemptuous of much of the Belgian political class which must bear much responsibility for what has happened this week.

In fact there is more than enough capability and capacity in Europe to face-down a weak Russia, help give Ukraine a future, manage the migration crisis, and help defeat IS/Daesh without having to rely excessively on the over-stretched US taxpayer. However, to unlock that power European leaders must first embrace strategic realism. That in turn will mean facing hard truths not avoiding them, engaging in strategic planning not strategic pretence, streamlining structures rather than their pointless proliferation, and the investing of real resources and political will over time, space and distance to prevail.

Forgive me if I sound angry, but I am angry. I am angry with the terrorists who kill my fellow Europeans and other friends. I am angry with a Russia that condemns its own people and others to unnecessary hardship and danger. And, I am angry with the entire edifice of pretence that enables Europe’s political elite to too often place their own futures before that of the security of the people who elect them. Above all, I am angry with the politicians who continue to trot out the same, old tired mantras and wring their carefully-manicured elite hands after each failure before rushing off to Brussels for yet more consultations from which little or no positive change ever seems to emerge.         

When I rejected Brexit I did so for strategic reasons in the face of danger. However, in return I want a strategic Europe, founded on unity of purpose, built on close collaboration between Europe’s states, and led by its most powerful; Britain, France and Germany. For too long the European elite has fiddled whilst parts of Europe have burned. This week ‘Brussels’ fiddled whilst Brussels burned.

As Churchill said when strategy and power are properly aligned all that then matters is the proper application of overwhelming force. Until then how many more have to die, leaders?

Julian Lindley-French                    

Thursday 17 March 2016

Is Security and Humanitarianism Compatible in 2016 Europe?

“…it is a matter of plain common sense that we cannot totally abolish frontier controls if we are to protect our citizens from crime and the movement of drugs, of terrorists, and of illegal immigrants”.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the Bruges Speech, 20 September, 1988.

Alphen, Netherlands. 17 March. Is security and humanitarianism compatible in 2016 Europe? Listen to European leaders and the answer would appear to be no. Yesterday Dick Schoof, the Dutch Counter-Terrorism Co-ordinator, said that security was the first imperative and that open borders and mass irregular migration were undermining security. However, the night before Bert Koenders, the Dutch foreign minister, speaking from Brussels as part of the current Dutch EU presidency, told a BBC current affairs programme that the humanitarian imperative must come first. Sadly, both irregular migrants and European citizens are now trapped in the muddy wasteland of elite European ‘thinking’ about the balance to be struck between security and humanitarianism that this week’s double Dutch has revealed.

Schoof also drew a direct link between the massed irregular migration Europe is facing and the growing threat posed by IS/Daesh which he said was preparing mass casualty terrorist attacks in European capitals. He also warned of the growing instability of European societies caused by the increased influence of extreme leftist and rightist groups emboldened by the current crisis.

The evidence of crisis is clear. On Tuesday Belgian police shot dead an Algerian illegally in Brussels who was a member of an IS/Daesh cell. Yesterday, French police arrested four Islamists believed to be preparing further attacks in France, the latest of 74 such arrests since the November 2015 massacre.  On 8 March, a leaked German police report predicted “…a surge in drug and sex-related crimes by migrants and an increase in radicalisation against the state”.

And yet, in the wake of the political drubbing she received in last Sunday’s German regional elections Chancellor Merkel refuses to change course remaining committed to her ‘she can do this’ open door policy. This morning I listened to a migrant on the BBC saying precisely that he had been given the ‘right’ to come to Europe by Chancellor Merkel. The rest of Europe’s elite demurely and meekly follow Queen Angela towards disaster like the tragic children in the Pied-Piper of Hamelin. 

In a desperate effort to extricate themselves from the mud of their own desperate thinking Europe’s leaders are instead placing their faith in a desperate deal with an increasingly authoritarian Turkey. Not surprisingly, as European leaders sit down today for yet another desperate EU summit it is a deal which this morning is unravelling…desperately. 

In fact, the deal was a non-starter from the outset, not even coming close to passing the Thatcher ‘common sense’ test. Naturally, Turkey would be happy to take €6bn of my Dutch taxpayer’s money by pretending to take migrants back. However, in reality there is little incentive for the Erdogan regime in Ankara to retain such people given the 2.5m migrants and refugees already in their country, and the threats to its own security Turkey faces. Moreover, hopes that Ankara could leverage visa-free travel across Schengen for its citizens, or engineer a fast-track to EU membership, are fast disappearing. In any case Cyprus is about the veto the deal for internal reasons.

The sad truth is that Europe’s leaders are simply too wedded to ideals and preserving structures that belong to another age. Therefore, Europe’s leaders will go on pretending to take action that gives the appearance that Schengen has an external border. For example, by sending large NATO warships to the Aegean to ‘monitor’ human trafficking, but in effect do nothing. They will continue to try and hide the extent of their collective failure from citizens by hoping that intelligence services and law enforcement agencies can continue to prevent the many attacks IS/Daesh and their cohorts are planning in Europe. However, whatever the élan of such services they can never hope to protect European citizens from a failure of policy and leadership.  And, Europe’s leaders will continue to justify a lack of effective action through excessive legalism. However, neither UN humanitarian law and/or Council of Europe/EU human rights legislation were designed to cope with the society-bending influxes Europe is facing.

Therefore, increasingly detached from the reality of the voters who elected them leaders will continue to put pretend humanitarianism before actual security. It is not as if Europe's leaders are doing muh if anything to help the desperate people stuck on the Greek-Macedonian border. Above all, Europe’s leaders will continue to place maintaining the dangerous façade, the Potemkin village that is Schengen, before the security of their citizens, even as the idea' of 'Europe' collapses under the weight of leader inertia.  

Can Europe’s leaders escape from the policy vacuum in which they are trapped? Yes, by being tough enough to apply the existing rules rigorously, and be seen to do so by their exasperated citizens. Syrian refugees must be helped, but they must also be properly-controlled and monitored. Moreover, all of those with no right to protection must be returned to their home countries and quickly. Above all, asylum policy must mean again what it was originally meant to mean; a temporary refuge. Not, as it has become, an open door to society-bending permanent resettlement.   

Through their collective failure and inaction European leaders are setting a time-bomb a-ticking particularly in Western Europe. They are wilfully importing criminality from the Middle East, North Africa and beyond, as German police confirm. They are also importing huge numbers of people many of whom reject Europe’s liberal culture of tolerance. Most dangerously, they are importing into European society the many wars and hatreds that make the Middle East the dangerous place it is, with dangerous implications for the future stability of European societies.

Therefore, ‘plain common sense’ today in Brussels European suggest leaders need to urgently answer a critical question; how many European citizens have to die before they understand that their first duty is the security of the people who elected them? Do you understand that Meneer Koenders?

Is security and humanitarianism compatible in 2016 Europe? Not at the moment.

Julian Lindley-French   

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Syria: Putin Shakes the Tree

Alphen, Netherlands. 15 March. His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan said that Russia’s September 2015 intervention in the Syrian war “shook up the tree”. With yesterday’s decision by President Putin to withdraw at least part of Russia’s forces from Syria President Putin gave the tree another good shaking. Why?
First, the facts. Since September 30th last year 48 Russian aircraft have flown over 9000 sorties and ‘liberated’ 400 communities over some 10,000 square kilometres. These operations have been supported by 2400 military personnel, comprised of armoured infantry, artillery, marines (naval infantry), Special Operating Forces (SOF), and reconnaissance units. In spite of the announced withdrawal it is clear that Russia will continue to maintain its strengthened naval supply base at Tartus on the coast to project power across the Mediterranean. The Russian Air Force will continue to operate an air-bridge to Russia from its airbase at Latakia to enable rapid reinforcement of President Assad’s forces. Russia will also continue to conduct cyber operations in Syria, and use its long-range bombers from their base in Dagestan.
Grand strategy I: Russia has succeeded in humiliating the West the political leaders of which have been reduced to impotent political hand-wringing over Syria (and much else). Not only has President Putin seized the agenda by revealing the weakness of the West he has in his mind helped renovate Russia’s wider strategic credibility.
Grand strategy II: Western sanctions on a fragile Russian economy are impacting the strategic room for manoeuvre of the Kremlin. By withdrawing forces from Syria and being seen to support the cessation of hostilities (and perhaps the Geneva peace talks) Moscow might convince Germany and France in particular to lift EU sanctions. In March 2015 EU leaders linked the lifting of sanctions to the implementation of the Minsk II agreement in Ukraine. If Moscow now moves to implement Minsk the pressure to lift the sanctions will grow.     
Regional strategy: President Putin has markedly enhanced Russia’s influence across the Middle East. As King Abdullah implied President Putin has also succeeded in getting most regional leaders to look to Moscow as well as Washington, whilst Brussels has been revealed as a toothless paper tiger. President Assad is in Putin’s pocket. Russia has established a de facto alliance with Iran. Russia is also helping to de-stabilise Turkey, a cornerstone NATO power. King Salman of Saudi Arabia is also understood to be keen to visit Moscow, but only when the bombing campaign is over.
Oil politics: As part of its regional strategy Russia also needs to see a marked increase in the price of oil. For President Putin an increased oil price is a critical Russian national interest. This goal is shared by other oil-producing states in the Middle East, including Iraq and Iran. That aim is also implicit in the planned visit of King Salman to Moscow.
Military Over-stretch: Russia wants to withdraw its force from Syria before its limitations are revealed. Even deploying a limited force over medium time and distance has proved challenging for Russian military commanders and planners. If the extent of those challenges were revealed it would undermine the entire cold hybrid warfare strategy Russia is engaged with in Central and Eastern Europe. The deployment is also proving expensive at a time when Russian public finances are stretched.
Ukraine: As a corollary to the military over-stretch challenge, and if President Putin so decides to act, the military campaigning season is about to begin in Ukraine. Critically, Russian forces can only conduct one medium-sized campaign at any one time. It is well-established that the taking of Mariupol by Russian-backed forces would in effect seal off much of eastern Ukraine and the Donbass from the control of Kiev. The seizure of Mariupol would also enable the separatists to negotiate a ‘peace deal’ from a position of strength.
Avoid another Chechen war: The Kremlin is acutely sensitive to the concerns of the Russian public about Russian forces once again becoming trapped in a military quagmire. Afghanistan in the 1980s, and the two Chechen wars of the 1990s, one of which was the personal responsibility of a newly-minted President Putin, remain painfully strong in the Russian popular-political consciousness.
Pressure on Assad: President Putin wants President Assad to hold presidential elections in Syria. President Assad has resisted the proposal because he knows that Moscow has a candidate in mind to replace him who is controlled by Russian military intelligence, the GRU, which is extremely active in Syria and environs.
Just shaking the tree: President Putin’s over-arching strategy concerns the playing of a relatively weak but coherent strategic hand to maximise Russian influence, against a far stronger but far less cohesive group of powers – the West.  Part of the strategy involves seizing every opportunity to appear to be the equal of the United States. Another part of the strategy is to keep European powers permanently off-balance, eternally unsure as to what an unpredictable Russia might do next…and where. This decision fits neatly into such a strategy.
Conclusions: First, President Putin remains wedded to an aggressive strategy of promoting Russian prestige at the expense of the West focused on extending influence around the entirety of Russia’s borders. Second, President Putin is prepared to act pragmatically in the short-term by shifting deployments, engagements, and rhetoric in an effort to keep the West divided by hinting at the prospect of co-operation. Third, when President Putin sees a chance to advance his influence strategy he will not hesitate to act decisively. And, if needs be, he will resort to force if an opportunity avails itself to him.
Recommendation: The West must speak softly, but carry a bloody big stick. Danger: The West, particularly the European West will engage in a lot of talk, but carry a little stick...or no stick at all!
Julian Lindley-French 

Wednesday 9 March 2016

Why I Reject Brexit II

Alphen, Netherlands. 9 March. Over the past month I have been approached by a considerable number of people asking me to tighten up and re-post my arguments for rejecting Brexit. Over that period I have become more convinced than ever that my decision is the correct one for a raft of strategic reasons. Critically, I am convinced that Europe stands on the edge of several strategic and political precipices and could well see more change in the next five years than in the preceding fifty. Therefore, it is vital that Britain not only help prevent disaster, but seize the opportunity now afforded London to better shape Europe's future.  

Strategy not Politics

My decision has nothing to do with the political chicanery of late. David Cameron's so-called 'reforms' are at best minor tinkering and at worst pretence. First, there will be no reform of the EU per se under the Cameron plan. Second, with a few window dressing minor adjustments most of the so-called ‘new’ arrangements actually exist under current treaty provisions. Third, the agreement confirms that Britain will not at any point be part of EU structures of which it is already NOT a part, most notably the Euro, Schengen, and ever closer political union.

In other words, this agreement is a least possible on offer agreement to get a line of least resistance politician out of a domestic political corner entirely of his own making. Not only has David Cameron missed a very real opportunity to show real leadership and push a real EU reform agenda, history will now judge him as one of Britain’s lesser prime ministers.   

There will certainly be days when I will regret this decision as there is much about the EU I really do not like at all, most notably the threat to democracy posed by Brussels and ever closer union. The European Parliament is a rubber-stamping supreme soviet packed full of federalists and enjoys little or no popular legitimacy.

However, while I remain a confirmed EU-sceptic I am not, nor have I ever been, a Euro-sceptic. Indeed, I have long been firm in my belief that it is vital European states work closely together in a dangerous world that is getting more dangerous by the day. Nor am I particularly bothered by some of the issues that excite many of the ‘outers’. For example, I see freedom of movement within the EU as one of the freedoms for which Britain fought the Soviet Union during the Cold War. 

Therefore, as a strategist, analyst and historian, some say a good one, I simply believe that this is NOT the moment for Britain to leave the EU. Moreover, even though I am only an individual British and EU citizen, which means I count for very little in today’s EU, I still believe that all of us must at times show leadership. This is one such moment, not only for my country, but for the community of which it is a part, be it within the EU or without. 

Strategic Judgements

The simple truth is that I am confronted by a complex set of interacting realities from which no clear course of action is apparent, in a strategic environment which is markedly more dangerous than back in 2010 when I called for Britain to leave the EU.  At such moments the good strategist weighs up the factors, considers their implications over the medium to longer-term, and then relies on strategic judgement to reach a decision. The critical strategic judgements supporting my decision are based on the following assumptions:

The integrity of the United Kingdom: It is clear that the UK remains a fragile political edifice in the wake of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. If England voted to leave the EU at the 23 June Brexit referendum and Scotland did not the separatists in the Scottish Nationalist Party would again call for Scottish independence. For those of us who believe it is vital the UK endure for both strategic and political reasons the SNP regime in Edinburgh, which is now fully empowered with devolved authority, must be given both time and opportunity to fail. 

The shifting balance of power within Europe: In December 2013 the Centre for Economic and Business Research suggested that by 2030 Britain could emerge as Europe’s strongest economic power. Britain is already on track to regain its position as Europe’s strongest and most capable military power. The CEBR position may well be over-stated and ever-so-slightly hubristic.  However, it is clear that fears of German hegemony have been over-stated. Germany’s poor leadership of Europe’s now many crises, and the eclipsing of Chancellor Merkel’s political star, allied to the inevitable decline of an unreformable France that simply wants more ‘Europe’ to save itself from itself, clearly point to a shift of power within the EU. If correct the critical future power relationship within the EU will be between London and Berlin.  

Pressure for EU reform will grow:  In his September 2015 “State of the Union” address European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker confirmed that in 2017 the EU will begin the long-process towards a new Treaty on European Union to be completed by 2023. Juncker clearly thinks a crisis-hit EU will automatically lead to Europeans wanting more ‘Europe’ and thus less democracy. In fact, a new treaty is more likely to lead to a balancing of powers within the EU between common and inter-governmental structures in favour of the latter. Therefore, if Britain is to leave it should do so in 2023 not now. Indeed, given the so-called 'constitutional lock' that is now enshrined in British law ANY further transfer of powers to Brussels would in any case trigger another referendum. The irony for the British is that whether they vote for or against Brexit Britain will probably end up in the same political place - a kind of associate membership. 

The end of political union: The dream of euro-federalists such as Juncker have been dealt a real blow by the Eurozone, Russia, and migration crises. His efforts to find ‘common’ solutions, i.e. more power for Brussels, have repeatedly foundered on two simple facts of European life: a) there is growing EU-scepticism across Europe; and b) a majority of Europeans and their leaders still remain firmly wedded to their nation-states. Clearly, there are now limits to just how much power Europe’s states, or more importantly Europe's increasingly savvy peoples, are willing to hand over to the distant Brussels elite. 

The Eurozone v non-Eurozone: When I called for Britain to leave the EU back in 2010 it was because I believed at the time that the only way to save the Euro was for the Eurozone to deepen economic, political and fiscal union. Those outside the Eurozone I feared would be forced to 'pay without say' in a Union in which the EU and the Eurozone were effectively one and the same. In fact, efforts to deepen the Eurozone have proven to be extremely complex and difficult causing much resentment amongst the taxpayers of the six western European states who in reality pay for it. Six years on and it is clear that the EU is dividing into a Eurozone and non-Eurozone bloc. Britain’s relative power if used properly (a big ‘if’ given the poor quality of Britain’s leaders) should ensure London emerges to lead the non-Eurozone bloc. Power and the need for Europe to compete or fail will afford the City of London the protections the British seek from the ‘ambitions’ of the Eurozone bloc, and the stifling regulations of the European Commission.
Democracy, sovereignty & subsidiarity: The Dutch have a saying, “Europe where necessary, the states where possible”. English political culture has always rightly distrusted distant political power. Born of the likes of Burke, Locke and Mill the English (and dare I say Scots – Hume & Smith?) have traditionally mistrusted continental Colbertian grands dessins which somehow always end up affording excessive power to distant executives at the expense of local legislatures. However, Britain is not alone with such concerns. Dutch Prime Minister Marc Rutte has said openly that the idea of a super-state is now dead. Therefore, in alliance with partners Britain’s growing power and influence could help protect all Europeans from the democracy-crushing ambitions of ‘we know best’ politicised Eurocrats, treaty-pushing Euro-judges at the European Court of Justice, and centralising Euro-bankers at the European Central Bank.

Political distraction: The run-up to the September 2014 Scottish referendum took Britain strategically off-line for two full years. Had the Scots voted to quit the United Kingdom London would still today be mired in squabbles about the minutiae of disengagement and Scottish independence. An easily distractable London that is all too ready to sacrifice strategy for politics would be locked into a process that would be weakening not just itself, but Europe and the wider West at a critical moment. Endless squabbles would doubtless be creating deep mistrust between the English and Scots that no amount of political blandishments could hide. If Britain votes for Brexit not only would London and Brussels also become mired in an extremely complex set of negotiations (the never-meant-to-be-triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty), such squabbles would also cause rancour between Britain and others at a time when Europeans must vitally stand together to face major crises to their south, their east and from within.

Solidarity: The other day I was standing in the snow not far from the Russian border in Lithuania. I had already begun to shift my position on Brexit in the wake of the November 2015 Paris massacre, and in the face of the challenges posed by Russia, Islamic State, and massed irregular migration, none of which existed in 2010. My final strategic judgment is this; the need to stand firm with my Baltic and French friends, and indeed my Greek, Italian and other under pressure European friends, FOR THE MOMENT outweighs my concerns about the future governance of Europe and Britain’s place therein.  Critically, I fear Brexit could also undermine NATO and the wider transatlantic security relationship at a critical moment.

Britain Does Not Quit

There is one final reason why I will not be voting for Brexit: Britain does not quit. Throughout Britain’s history London has never run away from a fight over who controls Europe. The control and direction of Europe is simply too important a critical national British interest. Phillip II of Spain, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Kaiser Bill and Hitler were all seen off because England (and then Britain) stood firm.  Therefore, precisely because Europeans today face serious dangers from without Europe (and serious question within) and because a new fight for the control and direction of Europe is about to begin I believe it vital Britain stand firm and stand tall to deal with them, as Britain has always done, and I hope always will.

To sum up, I am rejecting Brexit precisely because Europe is in crisis. The decision I have made is a big one and a part of me is really uncomfortable with it. Moreover, I have absolutely no doubt that once over the stress of break-up my old, great country possessed of the world’s fifth biggest economy, and a top five world military power, could and would flourish. Moreover, I am also fully aware that I am gambling on Britain’s future. It may well be that the moment the British people vote to remain in the EU Brussels will seek to tear up the Cameron agreement and behave as if nothing had happened to challenge their cherished goal of a European super-state. 

What really matters is that my important decision is a decision arrived at freely by a free-born Englishman. Henceforth, I will fight in all and any way I can to ensure the EU is properly reformed so that my birth-right is protected. No-one has got to me, I have not lost my political nerve, nor am I seeking to assuage political masters as I have none. Moreover, I am in no way seeking to gain opportunistically from this decision. However, on balance (and it is on balance) I am now of the opinion that if Britain really wants to reform the EU it must stay within it and fight for it.  

Julian Lindley-French

Monday 7 March 2016


“Let thunder rumble! Let lightning spit fire!”
Act 3, Scene 2, “King Lear”, William Shakespeare

Alphen, Netherlands, 7 March. In September 2014 I had the distinct honour to accompany General Mick Nicholson, then commander of the legendary US 82nd Airborne Division to the British war cemetery at Oosterbeek, Arnhem, here in the Netherlands. The event was to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of Operation Market Garden and the massed airborne assault by British, Polish, US and other Allied troops in what proved to be a failed attempt to secure three major bridges and thus open the door to Germany for Field Marshal Montgomery’s XXI Army Group. It was a great honour and deeply moving to be amongst the veterans of so many nations, including Germans – a day of respect and of reconciliation – organised wonderfully by the Dutch. Towards the end of the ceremony a murmuring thoroughbred thunder echoed across the respectful throng. It was a sound that for most Britons of a certain age immediately sets hairs on the back of necks a-tingling. Suddenly, the signature Rolls-Royce Merlin engine soared high in salute. Spitfire!

Eighty years ago this weekend the first prototype Spitfire took to the skies from what is today Southampton Airport. K5054 was the genius of Supermarine Aviation’s Chief Designer R.J. Mitchell, who would be dead from cancer a year later. Thankfully, development of the Spitfire was taken on by the equally brilliant Chief Draughtsman Joe Smith. The Spitfire went on to play a crucial role in the RAF’s victory in the 1940 Battle of Britain against the Luftwaffe, and to play a vital role in establishing Allied air supremacy later in the war.

Much has been written about the Spitfire, and a lot of myths made. Indeed, propaganda dictated that the Spitfire was already a legend early in its lifetime. In fact, the Spitfire really was one of the greatest single-seat fighters ever built; the ultimate symbol of British defiance, brilliance, innovation, and power.  However, whilst the combination of Mitchell’s brilliant design, the Rolls Royce Merlin engine, and eight Browning 303 machine guns made it a powerful weapon the ‘Spit’ was by and large matched by the Messerschmitt Bf-109E, its primary adversary in the early stages of World War Two. Indeed, armed with heavier cannon and a fuel-injected engine the Me109 was in many ways a superior aircraft.

What made the Spitfire truly great was the flexibility of its design airframe. Whilst in 1940 the Me109 had just about reached the limits of its design upgrades the Spitfire was just getting started. By the end of World War the Spitfire Mk XXIV was a wholly different aircraft to the Spitfire MkIIa which fought the air battles of the Battle of Britain alongside its more rugged companion the Hawker Hurricane.

German fighter ace Adolf Galland tells an apocryphal story in his memoirs. In early 1943 he dived to attack what he thought was a squadron of Spitfire MkIXs. Armed with the new Focke Wulf 190, which had been specifically designed to negate the advantages of turn the Spitfire held over the Me109, Galland expected an easy victory.  Suddenly his targets not only began to out-turn him at one point. as he climbed to escape a Spitfire piloted by fellow ace Stanford Tuck, his enemy rose alongside him. The new Spitfire Mk XII he had just encountered looked pretty similar to a Mk IX, but was to all intents and purposes a new more powerful, and more agile fighter. Indeed, from June 1940 onwards Spitfires had been progressively re-armed with harder-hitting cannon.

22,759 Spitfires and Seafires were constructed between 1936 and 1948. The last production Spitfire –F Mk XXIV VN496 - left the production line at Castle Bromwich on February 20th, 1948.   Between 1936 and 1948 the Spitfire was re-engined with the more powerful Rolls Royce Griffon power-plant, and spawned a host of spin-offs, most notably the Seafire, a navalised Spitfire, and the Spiteful which bestrode the piston-engine and jet engine ages. 

There has also been much movie-induced myth-making about the role British technology played in the winning of World War Two. One key myth is that British technology was consistently ahead of German technology and that the Spitfire was proof of that. This is patent nonsense. There were key areas of innovation, such as rocket, missile and jet technology, in which the Germans held a distinct advantage. However, when I was writing my Oxford thesis on British policy and the coming of war I found the cabinet minute that would lead to the Spitfire. It sat in the record close to 1934 decisions that would also eventually lead to the Chain Home radar system, the Lancaster bomber, and key decisions to better prepare British industry for war.

Therefore, placed in its proper policy context the Spitfire demonstrated one vital British advantage over Nazi Germany; the British better allied policy, strategy, and technology than their German counterparts. When a proven design was found it was exploited to the full as part of realisable strategy. Whereas the German approach was too often hampered by fantasy strategy that led to competing designs by competing factions resulting in fabulous technologies that were ultimately marginal to the winning of the war.

Not far from where I live there is a single, lonely grave in a provincial Belgian cemetery. It is cast from the same white Portland stone that marks the final resting place of hundreds of thousands of British servicemen who gave their lives for the freedom of the part of Continental Europe in which I live. It is the grave of a young RAF Spitfire pilot who died in October 1944 for the liberty of Belgium, the Netherlands…and Luxembourg.


Julian Lindley-French    


Friday 4 March 2016

A Tale of Two NATOs

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Brussels and Milan. Week commencing 29 February. This week has for me been a tale of two NATOs. It has also been very sobering. On Wednesday I spent the day at NATO Headquarters in Brussels being briefed by senior NATO officials on Alliance planning in my capacity as Vice-President of the Atlantic Treaty Association and in support of our president, my good friend Fabrizio Luciolli. Yesterday, I had the honour of chairing someone hundred senior officers from across the Alliance at the Eagle Eye Seminar for NATO Rapid Deployment Corps, Italy (NRDC-ITA) near Milan.

Let me be clear. The job of this blog is to speak truth unto power. My aim is to do so in a respectful manner and to respect the insights into policy and planning I am given. This responsibility is something I take very seriously indeed. And, for obvious reasons I cannot and will not go into details. Equally, as a NATO citizen and taxpayer I will not stay silent when I witness dangerous nonsense. Indeed, I have a duty to my friends in the east and south of our Alliance to speak out. Frankly, this week I witnessed an enormous and growing chasm between what NATO HQ thinks is happening at the military sharp-end of the Alliance, and the reality.  

What is causing this chasm? In a private conversation one officer said to me that there were not only two NATOs, but three. The NATO political structure seemed to exist in one bubble, the NATO command structure in another bubble, whilst the NATO force structure existed in an entirely different bubble of its own.  

Let me illuminate this point. At NATO HQ the emphasis was on preparing a successful Warsaw Summit in July. This is not the first time I have witnessed the ‘summits for summits sake’ culture that permeates NATO’s upper political and policy corridors. It is not the fault of those charged with the mission of preparing. The fault lies as ever with the Alliance’s (mainly European) strategically-inept politicians. They are driving a retreat from the uncomfortable but necessary culture of worst-case policy planning, into a culture that can best be described as ‘we only recognise as much threat as we can politically afford’.

Let me put my concerns in my strategic perspective. Much will be made by Alliance political leaders at the Warsaw Summit of the progress made since the benchmark NATO Wales Summit of September 2014. There will indeed have been some progress. Specifically, much will be made of the development of the so-called Spearhead Force or Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) and the enhanced NATO Response Force. However, it is all too little, and possibly too late.

For example, critical to the development of those two vital forces is the exercising and training vital to render then credible as forces (and thus deterrents). At NATO HQ in Brussels I was told that the exercising of those forces was not just a central policy plank, but that it was being driven forward at speed and to effect. In Milan a day later I was told the complete opposite by the people on the front-line. The exercise planners were being starved of funding and the lessons-learnt from each major exercise was not being properly acted upon across the Alliance force structure mainly due to issues of cost. Worse, whilst NATO’s cutting edge forces looked good on paper they lacked critical elements, particularly key enablers and logistics. This is nonsense!

Critically, the planning assumptions behind the forces seem to bear no relation to what an adversary, such as Russia, could bring to bear in the early phases of a rolling and aggregating hybrid warfare campaign against the Baltic States. Again, I will not reveal details but the bottom-line is this; Russia could bring far more forces far more quickly into action than NATO. As I remarked yesterday; if deterrence fails NATO is faced with the option of either fighting a long war, or accepting the de facto loss of the Baltic States. This is again absolute nonsense!

Furthermore, there seems to be absolutely no global situational awareness at NATO’s upper levels or little appetite to really consider just how dangerous the situation is across the Middle East and North Africa. Specifically, the implications for Europe of wholesale state collapse across the region are enormous. What if a conflict breaks out in Asia-Pacific in parallel? Would an over-stretched America be able to continue to fill the gaps in Europe’s defences caused by the strategic indolence of its leaders? Again, this is nonsense!    
Political irresponsibility at the highest level is fast turning NATO into the strategic equivalent of a Potemkin village, a beautiful façade that hides a vacuous reality. Therefore, if the Warsaw Summit achieves anything it MUST begin to close NATO’s yawning strategy-reality-capability-affordability gap by refocusing all Alliance structures on the worst-case. If not our enemies and adversaries will drive a big red London bus (or perhaps a Russian tank) straight through the enormous chasm that now exists between what the political and policy leaders seem to think military NATO can do, and what military NATO can actually do.  This is really nonsense!

The bottom-line is this; effective NATO deterrence will only be established if NATO’s forward presence is in strength, reinforced by a properly enhanced NATO Response Force, which in turn is allied to a credible ability of Alliance forces to overcome Russia’s growing and impressive anti-access, area denial (A2AD) capability. And that said NATO forces are able to deploy in sufficient force and time to match Russian deployments. At present that is not the case. Indeed, it is still far from being the case.

Do you get that leaders?

Julian Lindley-French