hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The EU Migrant Ferry Service

Alphen, Netherlands, 31 August. The website of the EU External Action Service states that the “mission core mandate” of the EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia “…is to undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and dispose of vessels and enabling assets used or suspected of being used by migrant smugglers or traffickers, in order to disrupt the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean and prevent further loss of life at sea”.  In the past twenty-four hours European naval forces, together with up to forty other agencies, have rescued close to 10,000 migrants, many from sub-Saharan Africa.  Most have been picked up only 12 miles/20 kilometres off the Libyan coast as the traffickers are now putting just enough fuel in their horribly overloaded boats to get them outside Libyan territorial waters.

It is of course vital all such souls are rescued. No-one should have to endure a slow, lonely, drowning death in the middle of an alien sea and some 3000 people have already died in the attempt. Nor should Europe try to erect a Trump-like and frankly unworkable wall to keep migrants out. Equally, the strategic implications for European society of this seemingly endless flow of human misery must be gripped, reduced and its effects understood and mitigated.

Let me deal with the strategic implications for European society first because that is what this blog does, however uncomfortable. Those picked up off Libya are but the latest of 110,500 migrants who have crossed the Mediterranean Sea between Libya and Italy this year. Most of them are decent people who arrive in hope. When they arrive in Italy will be given a medical check-up, registered, and then sent to a migration centre where the process of seeking asylum begin. However, most migrants do not want to stay in Italy, and in any case the process is so lengthy many lose patience. They then drift northwards or sink into enforced Mafia-manipulated petty criminality on the streets of Rome and other Italian cities. Others get trapped on the Italian border with Austria, France and Switzerland, whilst many eventually make it through with the help of local traffickers. They then head further northwards towards Germany, the Netherlands and other Western European countries, whilst others end up in ‘The Jungle’ trying to reach Britain.

The essential problems are of scale and pace. Take those 110,500 who have made it to Europe this year. By year’s end that means at least 150,000 migrants will have reached Europe. Add this to the 1.1 million who went to Germany last year, together with those entering Europe via other routes, some 2 million people will have entered the EU illegally in the past two years. At least 80% will remain in Europe either legally or illegally, which means some 1.8 million people.

Experience suggests that over time there will be political amnesties and almost all will be granted the right to remain as European politicians buckle under the weight of human rights legislation and ‘community’ appointed human rights lawyers. The migrants will then be allowed to bring their families over, which means the European population will grow by at least 8 million over the coming years simply as a result of two years ‘business’ by traffickers. Given Turkey could well break the deal agreed last March with the EU that figure could climb rapidly.

Now, look forward twenty years. Experience of mass imposed immigration does not suggest the creation of harmonious multicultural societies. Trevor Phillips, former head of the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission, even went as far this year to suggest that ‘multiculturalism’ has failed. Rather, recipient societies become progressively destabilised as migrant ghettoes form often with people who hold very different values to liberal Europeans. This destabilisation is made worse by the fact that the migration is so concentrated with most migrants wanting only to go to some six Western European countries. These are societies already grappling with the threat posed by ISIS as Chancellor Merkel admitted last month when she said that ISIS fighters had entered Europe in the migration flow.

So, can the humanity and security square be circled? Most reasonable Europeans understand that migration cannot be completely stopped and that what Europe is witnessing is an historic, structural shift in migration. However, Europeans do expect their leaders to better manage the crisis, which they are not. Better ‘management’ would need leaders to recognise first and foremost that the threat to European society from such uncontrolled immigration is as great as that posed by ISIS, not least because it is part and parcel of the same threat. Unfortunately, not only is there a complete absence of any attempt to ‘manage’ the crisis, Europe’s leaders would prefer Europeans pretend it was not happening, even if the implications for Europe’s future are grave. It is in the political vacuum in between which Trump-like populists exploit.

Europe’s leaders must thus come together and craft the following agenda for systematic action: establish a Europe-wide refugee policy (not a ‘common’ policy) that sees genuine asylum seekers assessed quickly and distributed across the entire EU; open new routes for legal, managed migration to Europe; deport humanely those that do not qualify to remain, the message of returnees will act as a powerful deterrent to those thinking of making a perilous journey; used language and dialect experts to identify the home country of those who have deliberately ‘lost’ identity papers; massively increase aid and development to those countries which are the main source of economic migrants, and include education programmes and media campaigns about the perils of making such a journey; do far more to integrate those migrants that remain into European society so they begin to feel part of it; face down the racists and their nostalgia-fuelled appeals to an ideal Europe that never existed; and, above all, go after the traffickers wherever they are with whatever it takes. These criminals are a clear and present danger to Europe’s security.

The other day, in yet another example of crass political naiveté, Chancellor Merkel pleaded with Turks not to import their current rivalries into Germany. Sorry, but that is precisely what happens when huge numbers of immigrants enter a liberal society. There is every reason to believe that ten years hence if the current migration flows continue at the current pace and scale Europe will look ever more like the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa complete with all the same tensions and hatreds. Plus, of course, the anger that will be felt by many Europeans as they wonder how on earth their leaders allowed things to get so bad.

Operation Sophia is yet another example of all that is wrong with Europe’s pitiful attempts to deal with big, dangerous, strategic change. Whether it be the ongoing Euro crisis, the threats posed by Russia and ISIS, or society-bending hyper-migration they all require grand strategy – the organisation of massive means in pursuit of grand strategic ends over time and distance. The failure to generate such strategy has already led the British to quit the EU (immigration was the main driver), the effective failure of the border-free Schengen Zone, and a profound loss of faith in Europe’s by and large incompetent and spineless leaders.    

Sadly, far from disrupting the ‘business model’ of traffickers or protecting the external borders of the EU, EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia aids and abets criminals, and as such is little more than a migrant ferry service between Libya and Italy.

Julian Lindley-French          

Thursday, 25 August 2016

European Defence: The In-Betweeners

Alphen, Netherlands. 25 August. Calls for a European Army are a bit like my school bus of old; it could normally and tediously be relied upon to turn up regularly, but never went anywhere interesting. Indeed, ever since I wrote my doctorate on the subject many years ago Groundhog Day calls for the creation of a ‘common’ European force have surfaced and re-surfaced every time pressure mounts for Europe to do more to defend itself. The problem is that no ‘common’ as opposed to a ‘collective’ force can exist without a European government, and unless the French have suddenly become fans of scrapping France in favour of ‘Europe’ that ain’t going to happen anytime soon. The latest calls emerged this week and, as is now traditional for Europe’s leaders, Brexit is to blame. I never cease to be amazed at the power of we British to be responsible for all of the EU’s woes these days, from the anaemic, for that read no economic growth in the Eurozone, to failure to develop a common asylum policy, to Europe’s inability to defend itself. Fool Britannia!

This week’s Franco-German-Italian meeting demonstrated all too clearly just how far Europeans are from creating a European government AND thus a European Army. Prime Minister Renzi wanted more ‘security’ i.e. help with the refugees flooding into Italy, but as a friend of Russia seemed little interested in defence. President Hollande, like all French presidents when in trouble, called for more Europe’ to ward off Eurosceptic challenges to his political left and right, but not too much more ‘Europe’. Like all French presidents of the Fifth Republic Hollande does not actually want more Europe if it means less France. Chancellor Merkel benignly (and it is benign folks) and deliberately confuses more ‘Europe’ with more ‘Germany’ as she desperately seeks to use the EU to separate much-needed German leadership from not-much-needed German history. The one thing that they could all agree upon is that we British are appalling.

Indeed, it was interesting to watch the body language of the three of them on the Italian aircraft-carrier Garibaldi, soon to be massively and mightily eclipsed by the first of the new ‘ours are far bigger than yours’ British Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft-carriers. This was the theatre of togetherness replete, complete and ‘deplete’ with symbolic adherence to the federalist thinking of Rossi and Spinelli and the 1941 manifesto for the creation of a federal European state in which none of them actually believes. Only Jean-Claude Juncker believes in such nonsense, as his comment this week about borders being the worst political invention ever attests. I assume Juncker means borders within Europe?

However, it is European defence again where all this ‘faux-Europe’ nonsense is really being played out. This week Bohuslav Sobotka, prime minister of the essentially Eurosceptic Czech Republic, called for the idea of a ‘common’ European Army to be put on the agenda of October’s post-Brexit EU summit, because unlike Renzi he really is worried about Russia. Put aside for the moment Sobotka’s now common confusion between a ‘common’ force and a ‘collective’ force. In a speech he also called for a ‘joint’ European force, which is different from a common and to some extent a collective force a la NATO. His argument appears to be that such are the security and defence challenges faced by Europeans be it from mass uncontrolled immigration, Russia or a combination of the two only a European ‘force’ could possibly help control unwanted movement within the EU, and even more unwanted movement into the EU.

Add ‘President Trump’ to that mix. Whether it be President Clinton or President Trump, but especially if it is President Trump, the days of Europeans free-riding on the Americans for their security and defence are soon to be over. Add to that equation the coming loss of Europe’s strongest military power from the EU’s Common (there they go again) Security and Defence Policy and a form of mild panic is setting in in some quarters.

The problem is that the EU can be either vaguely solvent or vaguely defended, but it cannot be vaguely both. The EU’s monetary and budgetary stability rules prevent the realisation of NATO’s Defence Investment Pledge. As I wrote in my big paper for the NATO Warsaw Summit “NATO: The Enduring Alliance: 2016” “Given that 18 EU member-states are…far beyond the 3% budget deficit to GDP ratio enshrined in EU law…if the next US administration demands that NATO Allies move towards the 2%/20% goals far more quickly than the ‘within a decade’ specified in the Wales Summit Declaration…NATO and EU members will likely find themselves trapped in a kind of political no-man’s land between German-demanded austerity, EU deficit to GDP laws, and American-driven demands for all NATO members to spend 2% GDP on defence”.

In reality, calls for a European Army are not driven by the strategic imperative to increase Europe’s military capability in the face of threats. Rather, they are a desperate attempt to find a way to increase defence investment without actually spending more money and thus breaking (again) EU rules. The idea is by ‘eradicating’ duplications and the inherent inefficiency of having 28, soon-to-be 27, separate national European military establishments money could be found at the cost of sovereignty.  All well and good on paper, but does not work in the current reality is unlikely to work in future reality.

European defence is lost in-between Europe’s in-betweeners: between the EU and the member-states; between ‘common’ and ‘collective’; between strategy and politics; between the EU and NATO; between capability and capacity; between soft and hard power; between deficit, debt and defence; between the strictures of the European currency and the needs of European defence; and between Europe’s past,  present, and politically-uncertain future.

At one level Merkel, Hollande and Renzi are right to recall Rossi and Spinelli; the EU cannot stay where it is right now and continue to function – it must either integrate more deeply or disintegrate ever so gently. And, it may be that once we pesky Brits are no longer sitting at the table in Brussels telling the rest of the EU a ‘common’ defence simply will not work without a European government, at least in President Putin’s lifetime, then Europeans will decide in time to handover the whole Kitten Caboodle of Europe’s defence to the EU. However, until then the whole debate on a European Army will be trapped between strategic reality and political pretence, and Europe will remain trapped between ISIS, Russia and a possible President Trump, and will thus be far more insecure than needs be.

Of course, the alternative for Europe’s national leaders is right between their eyes; spend more bloody money now on defence! Now, where’s that bus.

Julian Lindley-French               

Monday, 22 August 2016

London, Rio & Brexit

Alphen, Netherlands. 22 August. Sixty-seven Olympic medals, of which twenty-seven are gold, with Great Britain second in the medals table ahead of China. Anyone who thinks sport and politics are somehow separate does not live on this planet. However, there is and must always be a distinction made between the two. Equally, I am not going for a moment to suggest that Team GB’s astonishing success at the Rio Olympics denotes some moral and political superiority of the British nation, not least because there is no such thing. It is precisely the making of such false connections, and the nationalism it engenders that leads illiberal powers such as Russia to engage in the state-sponsored doping of Olympic athletes. However, there are two sets of strategic lessons that I believe must be heeded from both the London and Rio Olympics. The first set concerns strategic lessons for the British government to learn about strategy and performance in the coming post-Brexit world. The second set concerns how Britain’s European partners deal with Britain in the coming Brexit negotiations.

First, the strategic lessons for Britain. The decision to improve Britain’s Olympic performance was utterly political. In 1996 at the Atlanta Olympics Britain finished thirty-second in the medals table with a paltry single gold medal. The nation of plucky losers had again pluckily lost. Enough was enough! When Tony Blair came to power in 1997 his attempt to recast Britain as ‘Cool Britannia’ (remember that?) led to some £300 million of mainly lottery money being invested in British elite athletes to improve Britain’s Olympic performance.

This strategy was bolstered in 2005 when London was awarded what was to become perhaps the most successful Olympics in the modern era. The London Olympic Park was delivered on time and to budget with a clear legacy plan enshrined at the core of a well-designed and well-implemented strategy. Although the aim to get more people engaged in sport has proven slightly more challenging, particularly for younger generations bought up on computer games that an oldie like me, brought up on the playing fields of sporting battle and Oxford, does not get.

There are six specific lessons for the British government. The first lesson is an old one. When in a political corner the British remain very good at fighting their way out of it. Second, given a good strategy and belief in an objective Britain is very good at delivering. Third, Britain succeeded at both the London and Rio Olympics by going out and hiring the best coaches irrespective of from where they came. Fourth, the elite performance programmes for British athletes were utterly ruthless funding only those people and sports who continually delivered. Fifth, Britain set out to achieve Olympic success for itself, not to diminish anybody else.  Sixth, Britain’s exit from the EU must be for Britain and not against ‘Europe’. Indeed, Brexit must not be about leaving the EU, but re-building Britain’s place in the world as a top five economy and military power (which Britain will need).

Second, the lessons for Britain’s European partners in managing divergence; if Brexit is FOR Britain, further European integration must be FOR ‘Europe’, and not AGAINST Britain. This morning Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel and Matteo Renzi will meet on the tiny Italian island of Ventotene. The symbolism could not be more pointed. As Britain basks in a patriotic, nation-affirming Olympic moment the leaders of what is soon to be the rump EU will endeavour to recapture the spirit of European integration the loss of which Brexit has highlighted. Divergence is inevitable but how that divergence is managed will shape the future of Europe.

In 1941, whilst imprisoned by Mussolini, Ernesto Rossi and Altieri Spinelli wrote “The Manifesto of Ventotene”, which called for the creation of a European federal state.  Today, the the three leaders will need to consider how to promote further integration without punishing the British for a democratic choice to reject it. It is a serious point because such is the extent of pan-European euro-scepticism that failure could see the entire current crop of European leaders swept aside weakening an already pitifully weak Europe at a dangerous strategic moment. The pressure to ‘punish’ Britain will be hard to resist. The greatest fear in Brussels is that the British actually make a success of Brexit.

Therefore, it is time for cool heads all round. Let Britain enjoy its moment of Olympic glory with the clear understanding all round it is sport, not some alternative metaphor for war. The three leaders on Ventotene could help set the tone for the forthcoming Brexit negotiations and political reconciliation by jointly congratulating Britain on its Olympic success, even if it is through gritted teeth.  In return Britain must re-commit itself to being a good partner. That means first and foremost an absolute British commitment to the security and defence of Europe in the twenty-first century.  

The alternative is one in which all Europeans lose. Before the great battles with France of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries English and Welsh longbowmen, armed with the decisive strategic weapon of the age, would stand before ranks of French knights holding up the two arrow-pulling forefingers of the left hand to demonstrate their defiance and their firepower. Even today ‘two fingers’ is a mark of English defiance and there will be part of the English character this morning that sees Olympic success as ‘two-fingers’ to those who say Britain cannot thrive outside of the EU. That sentiment must be resisted and its further stoking avoided – Britain is too important to Europe and Europe too important to Britain for a serious set of negotiations to be based on defiance…on either side.

So no, I am not going to make a spurious connection between British sporting excellence and national superiority, because there is none, except perhaps for a moment in the organisation of some Olympic sports (football?). However, I am going to enjoy a bloody good, momentary gloat!

By the way, was Australia at the Rio Olympics?

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Time to Block Barrel Bomb Bashar

“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is if we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised. That would change my calculus. That would change my calculation”.

President Barack Obama, August 2012

Alphen, Netherlands. 17 August. To be effective statecraft must consider all options if strategy is to realise outcomes. Yesterday, at least nine civilians were killed in Aleppo, and others died on the outskirts of Damascus, as a result of the regime’s use of barrel bombs filled with life-crushing chemicals. Yesterday’s victims, alive when I had breakfast, now join the at least 300,000 who have perished in Syria’s ghastly war. Last week I argued in this blog that if the West is not prepared to do anything more than write hand-wringing op-eds in well-known newspapers then it must talk to Assad and his Russian backers. Indeed, for Assad and his backers are responsible for most of the killing in Syria. However, what would induce Assad and Putin to talk given they clearly believe they are winning and can act with impunity?

In fact Assad, Putin and their Iranian allies are not winning the Syrian war which is in stalemate. Even with limited Russian support the regime in Damascus is not strong enough to win. However, as long as Russia and Iran continue to back Bashar Assad he cannot lose. The stalemate is made worse by a weak and incompetent West. Like the Grand Old Duke of York of old in 2013 President Obama marched his troops and those of other Western powers up the hill of ill-considered action, only to promptly march them down again.  Today, Assad and Putin are betting the US will take no action beyond counter-ISIS missions before the November US presidential elections.

So, what did President Obama mean by ‘red lines’ back in 2012? The White House said that if the regime or others used chemical weapons against civilians the US would deem the regime to have crossed a red line. It is not too late even now to reinvest those ‘red lines’ with presidential political capital by warning Assad that the red-lines are still in place.  In other words, if the regime continues to use barrel bombs against Syria's civilian population filled with chlorine, napalm and other chemicals as part of a truly deadly fuel-air mix there will be consequences…and mean it.  

What could be the consequences? Between 1991 and 2003 America and Britain declared and enforced no fly zones over Iraq to protect the Kurdish and Shia Arab peoples in Iraq from the vengeful actions of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad. Over that period both the Americans and British undertook air and missile strikes against Iraqi military targets to deter, prevent and punish Saddam.

What would the no fly zones restrict? It is now time to establish no fly zones over all Syrian cities. To ensure proportionality the American-led coalition could first agree that current air operations over Syria against ISIS would be expanded to attacks on the slow-moving regime helicopters entering self-declared zones and which are responsible for carrying up to eight barrel bombs per mission. If that fails to deter the regime following due warning a complete no fly zone could then be established banning all aircraft from the zones.

How would the no fly zones be enforced? Given President Erdogan’s rapprochement with Moscow it is unlikely that he would permit the use of Turkey’s Incirlik air base to enforce the no fly zones. Therefore, RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus would need to be the hub for air operations, reinforced by the US Sixth Fleet and the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. At present there is no US fleet carrier in the Mediterranean but operations could also be launched from the Gulf. The ability of the West to undertake such operations will be significantly enhanced over the next few years by the commissioning of the two large British aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.       

Why would no fly zones force Assad to talk? First, it would flush the Russian role out into the open and force Moscow to make a choice. Last week Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov suggested Russia and the US were close to undertaking joint actions over Aleppo. If this is the case ‘joint actions’ could only take place if the Russian’s themselves stop applying the tactics of Grozny to Aleppo. Second, Western action would remind Assad just how fickle Russia’s support for him actually is. If Moscow was to be offered a deal that would preserve Russian influence in the region without Bashar Assad he would be dropped by Putin faster than an empty vodka bottle in a Russian government dacha. Third, commitment to no fly zones would at last communicate not only Western resolve, but a reasoned course of Western action. Faced with a West that is finally resolved to act Assad would talk and the stuttering Geneva talks might finally begin to make headway.

This week Assad flew several Mi-24 Hind helicopters right through President Obama’s red lines. It is time for the West to block barrel bomb Bashar and for President Obama to step up to his own lines.

Julian Lindley-French     

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Decline and Fall 2016?

“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.”

Edward Gibbon “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”
Alphen, Netherlands. 10 August. The West is in trouble. Whatever one might think about President Erdogan’s post-coup power grab he understands the ebb and flow of power. This week Erdogan went to St Petersburg to meet Russia’s President Putin less than a year after Turkish aircraft shot down a Russian plane. The implications of the trip are clear; given Turkey’s difficult geopolitical and geographic position Ankara’s best option is to back the ascendant power. Ever since Turkey joined NATO in 1952 Ankara has taken the view that alliance with the West affords Turkey the best chance of security. That assumption would appear to be changing.  Why?

There are many afflictions undermining the power and influence of the contemporary West. The very fact that an insurgent such as Donald Trump is so close to the White House is already profoundly shaking the confidence of America’s allies and partners in the value of US leadership. The obsession of European leaders with Project Europe at the expense of all else is doing real damage to the West’s strategic brand. It is now obvious that the EU far from aggregating European power on the world stage is accelerating the retreat of Europeans into an obsession with values and legalism. However, it is the focus of to many elites in the West on short-term political and/or financial gratification at the expense of long-term strategic probity that is doing the real damage.

Let me highlight the point by citing two examples of this problem over the past week or so from my own country Britain; the stalled deal with China to build a new nuclear power-station, and a leaked report on the relative capabilities of British and Russian armed forces.

Last week new British Prime Minister Theresa May ordered a review of a deal under which China would have funded the construction of an as yet untested French-designed nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in return for China being able to build another showcase reactor at Bradwell in Essex. This desperate deal was the brainchild of the strategically-illiterate Cameron-Osborne duopoly.

The fact that such a deal could have ever been contemplated reflects the political stupidity of what passes for British energy policy. When I was a kid I used to work in a pub at Oldbury-on-Severn right next to a nuclear power station at a time when Britain was the world leader in civil nuclear power. However, the ‘power’ of the green lobby, and the political obsession of several governments with renewables when it was clear such technologies could never meet Britain’s energy needs led Britain down an energy dead-end. It also highlighted the cost of the 'little politics at the expense of big strategy' problem that has dogged Britain for years.

As for China there is nothing in Beijing’s behaviour of late in the South and East China Seas or in the levels of Chinese state cyber-hacking or Chinese espionage that would suggest Beijing is ever going to be a real strategic partner of either Britain or the West. London must understand that Chinese state funding for such projects is only undertaken as part of what Beijing perceives as Chinese state, i.e. geopolitical interests. What are Chinese interests? To weaken Britain’s ability to act as an independent strategic actor by imposing a level of British dependence on China, and in particular to weaken London’s still vital strategic partnership with the United States.

Even on commercial grounds this deal is madness, on strategic grounds it is full on insanity.   To then compound the problem by giving an illiberal power such as China unheralded and utterly unwarranted access to key components of Britain’s critical nuclear energy infrastructure simply demonstrates the retreat from sound ‘strategy-fying’ which has afflicted London for far too long.

And then there is Russia. This morning a leaked report from the British Army’s Land Warfare Centre publicly confirmed something of which I have been aware of for some time – Russian forces could now out-think, out-manouevre, and out-fight British and all other European forces. General Sir Richard Shirreff, NATO’s former military No. 2, and for whom I had the honour of working briefly when he was commander of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, is a friend and colleague. He was attacked by London’s chattering classes earlier this year for publishing a book entitled 2017: War with Russia.  His assailants had clearly not read the book.

What is really interesting was why Shirreff was attacked. The general thrust of the criticism seemed to be that Shirreff was a warmongering general who was bothering people with an uncomfortable reality and that he really did not understand that the idea of war has been banished because it is neither politically-correct nor politically-convenient. Indeed, the abuse, for that is what much if it was, was little more than strategic and political decadence from a political and intellectual class in London too many of whom seem unwilling or unable to comprehend that really, really bad things can still happen in world affairs. And, that it will fall to states like Britain to stop it and if it happens do something about it. Syria?

So, decline and fall? Not quite. The good news is that Prime Minister May seems to have adopted a far more sober view of British strategic interests than the strategically-illiterate Cameron and the mercantilist Osborne. The fact that the British Army is beginning to properly address the issue of relative power suggests strategic realism might be returning. And, Prime Minister May is surely right to review the Hinkley Point deal and hopefully kill it; the French reactor does not work, the Chinese must not be able to use energy as a geopolitical lever on Britain, and the British taxpayer is being screwed by both.

It is time the West got a strategic grip and that can only happen when leading powers like Britain start again to put strategy before politics. Then the likes of Turkey will again believe that their security can only be afforded by allying with the liberal powers against the illiberal powers for that is the choice all of us must now make.

As for Mr Trump???????????

Julian Lindley-French  


Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Syria is the new Chechnya

Alphen, Netherlands. 3 August. August always fills me with geopolitical foreboding. With the democracies on vacation it is this month that is traditionally the moment for dirty geopolitics. This August is doubly concerning because it coincides with the Brazil Olympics. True to form our old friend Vladimir Putin is using both to ruthlessly pursue his strategic ends in Syria. Remember the Beijing Olympics back in 2008 when he invaded Georgia? This August he is applying the same tactics against Aleppo that he used against Grozny during the two Chechen Wars. The shooting down of a Russian Air Force helicopter some 8 km from where a barrel bomb had just been dropped is eerily reminiscent of the destruction of Grozny. As is the offer to ‘assist’ with humanitarian efforts, but only so long as such efforts are under the complete control of both Damascus and Moscow.

What is the West doing about it? Next to nothing. Limited coalition raids are being mounted against ISIS targets, but nothing to resolve the situation in Syria. There was an interesting piece in the British digital newspaper The Independent last week by Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders. Sad to say it was all too typical of the ‘something must be done, but not too much, and not by me’ nonsense beloved of Europe’s handwringing, strategically-inept political elite.

Entitled Aleppo must not become synonymous with global inaction the title was carefully worded, particularly the use of the phrase, ‘global inaction’. Of course, Koenders should really have said ‘Western inaction’ or to be more precise ‘European inaction’. Why? Because as a foreign minister he knows all too well that without UN Security Council agreement ‘global’ action is a non-starter. Yes, the piece likens Aleppo to Srebrenica and the dark chapter in UN and Dutch peacekeeping when Dutchbat permitted the Bosnian Serbs to murder thousands of Bosnian Muslims. Yes, Koenders makes the valid point that most Syrians want to live neither under the murderous Caliphate nor under the equally murderous Assad regime, and their cynical Russian and Iranian backers who see the Syrian people as no more than very small pawns in a great geopolitical game.

What he suggests as a solution is both clever and disingenuous. Koenders calls for a stepped up campaign against ISIS and a much greater humanitarian effort. However, what he wilfully fails to point out in the piece is that in Syria humanitarian action cannot be effective without strategic action. In other words, any alleviation of suffering and/or defeat of ISIS is not possible without either confronting Russia and removing Assad, or accommodating Russia and talking to Assad. It is a stark choice that has been obvious for some time but which Koenders and his fellow leaders have pretended they need not make.

Confronting Russia and Assad at this stage would require the West to threaten a major military land, sea intervention, involving both Western and Arab forces. That is not going to happen. Turkey is now close to being a failed state and no longer a sound base from which to launch such an assault. President Obama is a lame duck president who can at best order a few air strikes against ISIS in Libya. Europe has become strategic prey and abandoned all pretence of engaging danger at distance and simply waits these days for danger to come to Europe, mitigate the effects, and/or pretend no danger exists.

Thus, there is only the alternative? If the West/Europe is not prepared to act against Assad and Putin it must talk to Assad and Putin if there is to be any chance of an alleviation of the suffering of the Syrian people. There are many factors that have led Syria to this point but Western, in particular European, weakness is a major factor. Sadly, it is weakness typified by a European political elite of which Koenders is a part.  

So, as America blusters the summer away in what is perhaps the worst US general election in American history, and Europe slumbers on what is now a permanent strategic vacation Assad and Putin will continue to act with impunity. No amount of hand-wringing articles by impotent foreign ministers from small European states who have decimated their own ability to influence big, dangerous events will matter a jot.

Let me be clear; Syria is the new Chechnya and Aleppo is the new Grozny. In the two Chechen wars Putin believed that the only way to break the secessionist movement was to destroy Grozny. Assad, with Russian backing, is now determined to wipe Aleppo out. And, like Chechnya, both Assad and Putin will give the West just enough excuse to turn away and do nothing.

The consequences? Many thousands more will die and in October at the latest President Erdogan of Turkey will abrogate the March 2016 deal with the EU and open the floodgates to hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking to escape to Europe. Then, Europe will again see the folly of being too weak to stop what is happening in Syria.

Still, there is always the Olympics to watch.

Julian Lindley-French