hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 31 October 2016

The Riga Test 2016

Alphen, Netherlands. 31 October. I have just returned from this year’s outstanding Riga Conference in the beautiful and historic Latvian capital. My sincere congratulations to Toms Baumanis and his team of young professionals and volunteers at the Latvian Transatlantic Organisation for putting on such a great event.

Some years ago I established the Riga Test. It is a simple test; can the good citizens of Riga sleep soundly safe in the knowledge that their liberties and freedoms are protected and defended? When I established the test some ten years ago it was a very different world. My purpose was to say to NATO and the Allies that this is the real test of Alliance defence and deterrence. To be frank, I did not expect at the time the Riga test to become active. Now, I am not so sure.

Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, the shooting down of Malaysian Airliner MH17, the cyber and ‘hybrid’ harassment of Baltic allies, the interference in Western elections, and the soon-to-be unleashed massive Russian assault on Aleppo, quite possibly on Wednesday, the deployment of treaty-busting nuclear weapons into central Europe, all suggest a Moscow that believes Machtpolitik and Weltpolitik are one and the same thing.

However, in saying that I must also confront a dilemma. To what extent does my Riga Test actually contribute to the unease, even the fear that those charge with Russian propaganda clearly want to instil in the people not just of Latvia, but wider Europe?    One of my best friends, a senior Latvian diplomat, reminded me over the weekend that the Riga Test also imposes responsibilities on me. He is right and there is a point for me to answer.

In fact this is a responsibility which I take very seriously indeed. You may have noticed that for a bit of fun I style myself a ‘strategic hooligan’. This is to demonstrate my fearless determination to confront power with hard realities, and believe me I did not hold back in Riga.  However, the only real strategic hooligan around at present is Russia. My overriding feeling about this is one of sadness as I have great respect for Russia and Russians. Still, Russia’s strategic hooliganism is an observable fact.

There are three things that really worry me about the Riga Test today. The first two are European elite complacency and Russian economic weakness.  The third issue I will come to in a moment. Too much of Europe’s leadership simply do not lead when it comes to the defence of Europe. They are utterly complacent about all the challenges Europe now faces, and not just from Putin’s Russia. It is that complacency which creates the space for Putin to cause strategic mischief.

My second worry is not Russian strength, but Russian weakness. For all Russia’s appalling behaviour of late it is no Soviet Union and we are not about to enter a new Cold War. For all the military sabre-rattling Russia’s economy is about half the size of Britain’s economy. Unfortunately, like the Soviet Union before it, Russia’s military-industrial complex is consuming an ever-greater amount of the Russian economy.

In the 1980s Europe ‘got away with it’ because Gorbachev came to power in Moscow and tried to reform an unreformable Soviet state. One of Gorbachev’s aim was to open the Soviet economy up which eventually rendered Moscow amenable to a new relationship with the West. President Putin seems intent on driving the Russian economy in the opposite direction, which will not end well.

Which brings me to my third worry; Brexit and NATO. Britain is committing a significant force to the defence of the Baltic States and rightly so. And yet at the conference there was a distinctly anti-British tinge. Indeed, I became increasingly irritated by the disrespectful tone of many comments about my country. People may not like the democratic decision the British people have taken to leave the EU, and on balance I agree it was a mistake, but that is democracy. Get over it!

There is an even more serious point at stake here. If people expect and want one of the world’s top five powers to go on defending them, to put the lives of their young people on the line in pursuit of their defence, then at least show some respect! There seems to be a disconnect in the mind of many Europeans between Brexit and NATO. The two are entirely connected. If EU member-states who are also NATO members believe they can drive a hard bargain over a soft Brexit AND expect the British to continue to defend them; think again. There could well come a point when the British people get so fed up at the attitude of certain allies that they will begin to ask why Britain should bother. To use the language of my native Yorkshire, the British people might invite them to bugger off and defend themselves! 

What is really needed is a new relationship between Britain and the EU as quickly as possible. This will end the uncertainty, the growing irritation, and prevent Brexit becoming an almighty strategic distraction. Britain, after all, is not the enemy!  

Ultimately, it is my job to call it as I see it. After all, informed citizens speaking their minds should be how Western democracy functions, however inconvenient oft-too-distant, elites find such challenge. My purpose is to not to make such elites weaker, but better. Therefore, I will of course continue to consider carefully what I write and how I write it, as I do all the time. However, I will not, nor will I ever, demur from my citizen’s right to speak hard truths to lacklustre power. Especially when it concerns the freedoms and liberties of my friends in Latvia and the other Baltic States.

After all, that is ultimately why I established the Riga Test.

Julian Lindley-French          

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Is 'Rome' About to Fall Again?

“…the vicissitudes of fortune, which spare neither man nor the proudest of his works, which buries empires and cities in a common grave”.

Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Rome, Italy. 27 October. It is eerie.  The extent to which contemporary Europe appears to look much like the Roman Empire on the eve of its demise. Rome’s fall began with the loss of Britannia in 383 AD, Rome’s decline took far longer. Over many years the Empire became de-stabilised by Visigoth hordes driven from the east by horse-mounted Hunnic warriors pushing into Europe from Central Asia. For a time Rome tried to integrate the Goths, or at least work with them. Alaric, the great Goth king famously forged an alliance, and indeed a friendship, with Roman General Flavius Stilicho. However, when Stilicho was murdered in 408 AD by those close to the Emperor Honorius it was the last straw and Alaric broke completely with Rome. Alaric’s willingness to work with a perfidious Rome had been declining for some years. He tired of being promised a homeland within the Empire that never came to pass, and he grew bitter that his forces were used as front-line cannon-fodder in Rome’s seemingly interminable border wars. Finally, in 408 AD Alaric marched on Rome, and in 410 AD he sacked the Eternal City.

Rome never recovered. Between 410 AD and 455 AD the weakened Empire faced repeated attacks by the fearsome Huns, culminating in the massive Battle of the Cataulanian Plains in 451 AD, in what is today modern day France. It was an unlikely alliance of Roman General Flavius Aetius and Goth King Theodoric I that defeated Attila the Hun. However, for the Empire it was a Pyrrhic victory. Rome lost six of its best legions in the battle which effectively sealed the Empire’s fate.

However, it was not military might alone that defeated Rome. In October 439 AD the Vandal King Gaiseric, one of the most under-estimated strategists in history, captured Carthage in what is today Tunisia. Back then Carthage was the bread-basket of Rome, supplying the vast bulk of the city’s food. For years Rome had been suffering economic shocks. Without Carthage Rome simply starved.       
Why did Rome decline? There were many reasons. Edward Gibbon put it down to the adoption of Christianity as the ‘state’ religion and the loss of Roman virtues. However, perhaps the most compelling reason was that by the fifth century Rome was politically decadent, led by a deeply divided and utterly self-obsessed elite totally focussed on the inner politics of Rome. It was arrogance that brought Rome down reinforced by a firmly held and misplaced belief that it was superior and thus destined to rule.

In fact, Rome’s decline had been evident for at least a century. In 286 AD Emperor Diocletian had split Rome into an Eastern and a Western Empire because it had become effectively ungovernable. The East and the West then went their own ways even fighting civil wars with each other.  Rome’s day was done.

Now, scroll forward some sixteen hundred years to modern day Europe. Look at a map of Europe and even today the borders of many European states still reflect the tribal borders carved out with blood in the fifth century AD. The similarities do not end there. ‘Europe’ has been the dominant world grouping for some 500 years. Even the US was, and is, created in Europe’s image. The ‘Empire’ today is, of course, the EU. Like Rome before it the EU is about to lose ‘Britannia’. And, like Diocletian Brussels is simply unable to govern effectively the whole of a Europe that remains very different from one end to the other. Today, the ‘barbarian hordes’ (the word barbarian derives from the Latin word meaning to ‘babble’, i.e. not speak Latin) come not from the east but from the south. And, like Roman citizens before them, many Europeans see such illegal mass migration as akin to an invading horde.

Then there is the latter day Geiseric, President Putin, who seeks to control much of Europe’s power and energy supplies (look who sponsors the Champions League – Gazprom). For Putin, like Gaiseric before him, control of a vital commodity is simply a means to a strategic leverage end.  Like Gaiseric, Putin seeks at the very least an inflated ‘tribute’ from ‘Europe’, or like Attila the freedom to ‘sack’ bits of it when and as he so pleases. Attila would have fully understood the Putinian concept of ‘changing facts on the ground’ because that is what he did.   

The EU? Like Rome Europe’s latter day ‘senators’ seem obsessed with the inner-workings and politics of Brussels, are utterly divided over the future of the EU, ever more subject to repeated economic shocks, and unable or unwilling to see the dangers lurking beyond Europe’s borders. Chancellor Merkel as Caesar Augustus? I don’t think so.

In fact history does not repeat itself, because by definition it cannot. Europe today is very different from is fifth century predecessor, and in any case we Europeans are not organised into tribes, are we? Moreover, to condemn all migrants as being part of one almighty invading horde would not only be inaccurate, it would also be utterly unfair. But then again the Huns, Vandals, and Visigoths were themselves very different, and in the early days at least sought very different relationships with Rome.  Critically, if Europe is to cope with massive immigration surely the first duty of those in power is to separate good people from bad people, irrespective of race, creed, religion etc.

What do repeat themselves are patterns of power, and it is the ‘pattern’ of Rome’s fall that is perhaps most germane to contemporary Europe. President Putin’s Weltmacht and the growing challenge of illiberal power to the Western liberal order, and the other-worldly fanaticism of IS and its ‘fighters’ both reveal one great weakness that is shared by modern Europe and pre-medieval Rome. They both refused to face up to reality. In Rome’s case by the time Aetius eventually convinced the imperial family to face the precarious reality Rome was facing it was far too late. In any case, like Stilicho before him, Aetius was murdered by the Emperor for becoming too powerful.  Rome lost its last great general.

It is not yet too late for modern Europe to face reality. However ‘tempus’ does indeed ‘fugit’.

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Demons and Dragons: A Marshall Plan for the Middle East?

“We are in the middle of a world revolution, and I don’t mean Communism. The revolution I am talking about is that of the poor, little people all over the world. They’re beginning to learn what there is in life, and to learn what they are missing”.
General George C. Marshall

Alphen, Netherlands. 25 October. With the Battle of Mosul in full swing the next stage of the war between the Middle Eastern state and anti-state IS forces is about to begin. This stage could well see more attacks launched around the periphery of the Middle East, most notably in Europe. On Saturday I listened to US General John Allen speaking on BBC Radio about what he warned could be a potentially ‘interminable conflict’. General Allen has kindly written the foreword to a new book William Hopkinson and I have written entitled “The New Geopolitics of Terror: Demons and Dragons” (Routledge) which will be published in January 2017.

The book is sub-titled Demons and Dragons because it refers to the range of multifarious and nefarious actors (demons) involved in the war and which make the struggle for Mosul just one, albeit deadly element, in what is a generational struggle over faith, ideas, territory and power. It is a struggle that will not only shape the future Middle East and much of North Africa, but also much of the geopolitics beyond.
And then there are the dragons. This is not simply a war between Iraq, Syria, IS, and a host of other rebel groups. As the involvement of Iran, Turkey and other regional power attests; the current struggle could simply be the prelude to a general Middle Eastern war between states. And, beyond the dragons there are the super-dragons, global powers for which the Middle East is again a theatre for geopolitical competition, and not just between Russia and the West.
What to do? Perhaps America’s biggest-thinking and most considered military man what General Allen told the BBC might surprise some and should be a lesson for all Western leaders.  There will be no military solution to the conflicts in the Middle East and terrorism will never be defeated. What matters instead is a sustained coherent, cohesive grand strategy, and billions of dollars of investment to partner forces for good in the region (and there are many) that could offer the region’s millions of people some hope for their future. In other words, what is needed is thus a new Marshall Plan for the Middle East it could well be the defining foreign policy mission of the coming US Administration.

The European Recovery Program or Marshall Plan (named after its architect General George C. Marshall) was launched in April 1948. Eventually Washington pumped some $12 billion dollars (about $50 billion in today’s money) into a European economy shattered by World War Two. Critically, the Plan was not simply an act of American altruism. Rather, it was a crucial ‘weapon’ in the early Cold War with the Soviet Union because it was an investment in European freedom and future prosperity. That is precisely why Stalin and Molotov rejected the Plan.

Now, one can argue about the efficacy and wisdom of Western-inspired plans to impose democracy on Middle Eastern societies. However, if one looks at global mega-trends that are also driving conflict in the Middle East the need for socio-economic reform looks ever more critical. This means at the very least improved education, prospect of jobs, reduced corruption and the just rule of law.
Here is where the challenge really begins. Of late the approach of the US and the wider-West to the grand challenge posed by the Middle East has been little more than a hand-wringing counsel of despair. If Western leaders really want to end conflict, humanitarian suffering and the seemingly endless flows of society-bending migration flows into Europe then a radical policy shift is needed in which they invest political, as well as real capital, over the short, medium and long-run. This is after all a generational challenge.

Paradoxically, for such a plan to work it would also need NOT to be a Western plan, with a name that was of the Arab people not of the West. There would also be a vital need to link local community-based activism to grand strategy via grand policy in much the same way as the European Recovery Program. The role of charities and other legitimate agencies that make life bearable in the region would be pivotal, many of which are Muslim. Work would also be needed to support regional states and institutions such as the Arab League to see the money regional powers invest are matched and that political reforms bolster rather that weaken partner states. Iran and Russia? Like the Marshall Plan Moscow and Tehran would be invited to participate to demonstrate the Plan favoured neither Shia nor Sunni, neither East nor West. If, like Stalin and Molotov, Moscow and Tehran refuse to co-operate then they would be frozen out.

The consequences of failure? Yet another Western failure in the Middle East would be disastrous, most notably for Europeans, but above all the people of the region itself. Indeed, the Plan would be as much about securing the citizens of Berlin, Paris, London et al as those in the Middle East. And it is this bigness of vision that would perhaps be the greatest challenge to a generation of post-Cold War European political leaders long on rhetoric, very short on action and delivery, and even shorter on political vision and courage.  

For such a plan to work it would need to be very big and very long. For, as General Allen said on the BBC, such a Plan would in turn require politicians to “embrace enormity of newness of thinking, planning and structure and think very differently”. Is the West up to it? If not the twenty-first century will be a very cold and a very dangerous place. What alternative do we have?

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 20 October 2016

What is the State of the Russian Navy?

“Any ruler that has ground troops has one hand, but one that also has a navy has both”.
Peter the Great

Alphen, Netherlands. 20 October. What is the state of the Russian Navy? Many years ago at Oxford I wrote a paper entitled, “The Development of the Soviet Navy as a Blue Water Fleet with the 1956 Appointment of Admiral Sergei Gorshkov”. Snappy title, eh? As I write a ‘blue water’ power-projection Russian fleet is sailing towards the English Channel having been escorted in turn by a Type-23 Royal Navy frigate HMS Richmond, and two Type-45 destroyers HMS Duncan and HMS Daring. At the core of the eight-ship Russian task group is Moscow’s one aircraft-carrier the 1980s built, 43,000 ton (standard load) Kuznetsov. Ironically, the Kuznetsov has just steamed a few nautical miles from where Britain is fitting out and completing the new 72,500 ton aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.

The Russian task group certainly looks impressive. It left Severomorsk Harbour on Saturday to sail round the North Cape into the Norwegian Sea. The Kuznetsov is supported by the nuclear-powered missile cruiser Petr Veliky, and the anti-submarine cruiser Severomorsk, together with five other units. Two further Russian ships are at this moment off the French coast heading north seemingly to rendezvous with the task group.

Some distance off Severomorsk the carrier’s air wing arrived and included Mig-29/KUB, Su-27 and Su-35 fighters and fighter-bombers, together with Ka-52K helicopters.  From the exercising that began in the Norwegian Sea and continued south past the Orkneys it appears the group is preparing to undertake air strikes against Syria (most likely Aleppo) from the sea when the group arrives in the eastern Mediterranean.
This year the Russian Navy celebrated its 320th birthday. Whilst much younger than the Royal Navy, the Russian Navy remains one of the world’s most celebrated. From its founding by Peter the Great for much of its history the Russian Navy, if not a blue water fleet – a force capable of operating globally – could still project Russian might far and wide. After the disastrous loss of the 1905 Battle of Tsushima to the British-aided Japanese, and the subsequent 1917 overthrow of the Tsar, the Soviet Navy for a time became little more than a coastal protection force. That limited role ended with Gorshkov. In the 1960s and 1970s the Soviet Union constructed a powerful global reach force of cruisers, destroyers and nuclear attack and ballistic missile submarines, culminating in the enormous Typhoon-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines.

The Soviet strategy was pretty much the same as today. The strategy had four elements: to create protected bastions or spaces from which Soviet ‘boomers’ could launch ballistic missiles in relative safety; to protect the approaches to the Soviet Union; to provide an outer-layer for a multi-layered defence; and to harry and stretch Western navies through the aggressive deployment of fast nuclear hunter-killer submarines, particularly Western ‘boomers’ and surface forces.

For much of the 1990s the Russian Navy fell into a terrible state of disrepair, eventually resulting in the tragic loss of the new nuclear attack submarine Kursk in 2000. The loss was due to a highly-dangerous experiment into the use of a form of torpedo propellant that the Royal Navy had also tried and abandoned in the 1950s. With the 2000 arrival in power of President Putin the Russian Navy has been steadily reclaiming its strength. Now armed with the new Iskandr family of missiles the Russian Navy is fast developing again the capability to exert power, influence and effect far beyond Russia’s borders.

Admiral Viktor Chirkov said recently, “The Russian Navy is being equipped with the newest weapons, including long-range strike weapons, and has big nuclear power. Naval forces today are capable of operating for a long time and with high combat readiness in operationally important areas of the global ocean”. It is true that the Russian Navy can deploy an impressive array. However, and even though President Putin has prioritised naval construction to an extent, Russia’s difficult fiscal situation means that the Navy has far fewer platforms than in the past, and they are required to do far more tasks by Russia’s aggressive foreign policy. Equally, the ships the Russian Navy does possess have seen a step-change over the last decade in a whole suite of capabilities from weapons, to sensors, to enhanced command, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

It is in the design and construction of submarines where the Russian are making particularly impressive progress. Since 2010 the sixty strong Russian submarine fleet has been augmented by the commissioning of 8 new Borei-class nuclear-powered, ballistic/long-range nuclear cruise missile submarines, 10 Graney-class nuclear hunter-killer submarines and 20 super-quiet diesel-electric submarines of the Varshavyanka class. By way of comparison the Royal Navy’s seven Astute-class nuclear-attack submarines have been under construction since 2001 and only three have yet been commissioned.

That said, for all the impressive appearance of the Kuznetsov group the Russian Navy of today is a work-in-progress and still enjoys nothing like the strategic reach or operational flexibility of the United States Navy. It is also open to question whether the Russian Navy will continue to receive the necessary investments needed to meet its impressive post-2010 build programme. Moreover, Russia lacks key shipbuilding capabilities which has limited the expansion of the Navy. The loss of the two French-built Mistral-class assault ships has also reduced the maritime-amphibious capacity of the Russian Navy significantly.

However, Moscow remains utterly committed to developing a twenty-first century navy that can properly fulfil its three core missions of deter, defend and demonstrate Russian power. The West must therefore grip the strategic challenge implicit in today’s Russian Navy because it is first and foremost a weapon being honed for possible use against the West.

Julian Lindley-French  

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

“Cyber is Scarier than You Think!”

“The idea that the future will be different from the present is so repelling for our conventional way of thinking and for our behaviour that, at least the vast majority of us, if not all, pose a great resistance to acting on it in practice”.

John Maynard Keynes, 1937

Alphen, Netherlands. 18 October. The other day in Poland I watched one of those ‘power films’ beloved of armed forces showing full throttle military ships, aircraft, and camouflaged, armour-clad soldiers in action, backed by typically stirring modern, martial music. In fact, it was ‘faux power’ because for all the impressive military platforms and systems on show, and vital though they are, making the citizen really secure in the twenty-first century will demand much, much more.  ‘Security’ now demands far more than big, metal bits that go bang.

One of the many highlights last week in Toronto at Julie Lindhout’s ATA General Assembly meeting was the chance to chair a panel of real experts on the challenge posed by new technology to defence strategy. Too often those of us who float high in the intellectual ether of policy and strategy fail to properly grasp the very real danger that future shock could well emerge from the shadows of our own ignorance. Jon Lindsay of Toronto University, Brigadier-General Henrik Sommer of Allied Command Transformation, and Duncan Stewart of Canada’s National Research Council helped put me straight.

Duncan Stewart warned of the dangers posed by ‘disruptive technologies’ that threaten to negate billions of dollars of defence investment and the linear thinking that drives much of it. Brigadier-General Sommer considered the role of force in the face of such threats. The modern military force will need to be ‘agile’, one part of a system of systems that can defend as much against cyber and hybrid attacks, as against enemy aircraft, ships and tanks.
However, it was Jon Lindsay was raised what for me was the existential question of the session. Are Western states any longer intellectually, technically, militarily, and politically agile enough to defend themselves? When I think of my own country Britain I really wonder. Look at any major project in which the British Government is currently engaged and two words spring immediately to mind; utter incompetence. Let me add a third word; utter bloody incompetence! Most of this incompetence is due to the lack of leadership, vision, and joined-upness at the very top of government for which London is sadly now ‘renowned’. It also reflects a lack of understanding as to what is needed.

The need for such joined-upness is self-evident. The application of such technologies to the contested security space is not limited to realm of cyber. Nanotechnologies, micro-biology and a whole host of hitherto ‘exotic technologies’ are entering, or about to enter, the geopolitical fray. Such technologies could act as the Great Leveller enabling ever smaller actors to generate ever greater strategic effect as the price of mass destruction and disruption falls.

Sadly, for all the strategic talk (most of it blah, blah), and for all the investment being made in intelligence, policing and armed forces in an effort to strengthen the home base and thus protect the ability of the state to project power, much of it is nonsense. The level of holistic thinking needed to craft strategy and policy in such a complex environment demands at the very least a proper understanding of what is out there, what could be out there, and what we in the West need to do to ensure and assure our own security. From my experience such understanding simply does not exist. Worse, there is insufficient understanding at the policy level of those capabilities and capacities which already exist and which could render Western societies more affordably secure.

Far from crafting the grand strategy (the organisation of immense means in pursuit of even greater security and defence ends) necessary to prevail Western society suffers instead from grand vulnerability. The bottom-line is this; the central nervous systems of Western states ever more dependent on cyber and information as the flowing corpuscles of governance, are ever more vulnerable to catastrophic penetration. They must be hardened and protected if those same states are to retain the power to protect people AND project power.
Therefore, to use American parlance, the defence and the offence must become far more joined-up, as must security, defence and society. Above all, those charged with the responsibility for security and defence must have a far better understanding of the relationship between emerging technologies and future shock.

There was once a time when I would have said a country like Britain would have been able to withstand such shock. My sense now is that like so many Western societies British society is ripe for the taking. Yes, intelligence services prevent a lot of attacks, both state-sponsored and otherwise. However, to paraphrase Winston Churchill modern Western ‘one-hit’ societies are fast becoming egg-shells that whilst able to hurl huge rocks fall apart if hit even once. Indeed, the very emphasis on prevention masks the woeful investment in societal recovery vitally needed if resiliency is to mean anything when, inevitably, a really major attack succeeds.
Thus, the challenge to the West from disruptive technologies becomes greater by the day as society retreats from hard reality into soft denial. A successful cyber, bio or other such attack would test the last vestiges of solidarity between and within ill-prepared states. Social cohesion is at best fragile, and societal resilience highly questionable.  And, until governments stop treating citizens like children they will be complicit in the very insecurity they seek to prevent.
No Western government, with the partial exception of the US Government, has any real clue about the threat posed by disruptive, penetrative, destructive non-military technologies to open societies. In fact, lagging governments are far more concerned with hiding how little they know, than properly crafting a sound defence, building robust resilience, and preparing for effective response and recovery.  As Duncan Stewart said, “cyber is scarier than you think”. In fact, it is all scarier than we think.

Armed forces are pioneering joint force commands. What is really needed is a Joint Security Command charged with considering security and defence in the round.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 14 October 2016

Rocky Canada

“There are no limits to the mighty future of the majestic expanse of Canada with its virile, aspiring, cultured, and generous-hearted people”.
Winston S. Churchill

Toronto, Canada. Canada is a great country with which I have a great affinity. However, its Ottawa Establishment suffers from the same affliction from which most Western elites suffer; talking grand talk whist walking little walks. This affliction is most un-Canadian as unlike its noisy neighbour to the south Canadians pride themselves on having their feet firmly on the ground. At the excellent 62nd General Assembly of the Atlantic Treaty Association organised by Hugh Segal and Julie Lindhout and their team at the NATO Association of Canada the grand talk, little walk affliction was sadly all too apparent. Whilst there was much talk of defending freedom and values, there was little willingness to pay for that defence. Sadly, strategic denial is all the rage here in Canada.

The most obvious denial concerns Russia. The Ottawa Government like many of their Western Europe counterparts suffer from a full-on dose of the “Putin could not really do that, could he?” syndrome. The assumption of the Canadian Government is that the self-declared enemy of the West would not dare risk a force-on-force confrontation with NATO by attacking/subverting the Baltic States. This is ‘hope-for-the best’ strategy-fying at its worst, and ignores or simply reflects an ignorance of the scenarios the Kremlin are considering for a lightning land grab in the Baltics. Right now Russia has both the capability and the opportunity to undertake such a strike and there is little the Alliance could do about it if Russia simply stopped at the Polish-Lithuanian border.

To be fair to Canada Ottawa is sending some 450 troops to Latvia to establish an ‘enhanced forward presence’ in order to bolster NATO deterrence. Many NATO nations have declined to offer such assurance to its Baltic partners – France and Italy to the fore (or is that rear?). However, Canada at best can send only half a battlegroup because it armed forces are either insufficiently equipped or insufficient of deployable number to send more, better-armed troops.

Part of the reason for this is the current Canadian Government under Prime Minister Trudeau is locked in a strategic time-warp. Ever since Lester Pearson joined two other “wise men” sixty years ago to produce a report into the non-military aspects of NATO Canada has prided itself on its pioneering role in military support for soft power. It is a badge of honour for Canadians that they are one of the world’s great peacekeepers, and rightly so.

However, that was then and this is now. To hear Canadian after Canadian line-up to tell me how they are going to better perfect a peacekeeping art that belongs to another age smacked of a ‘stop the world we want to get off’ view of matters strategic. There is clearly little or no willingness on the part of official Canada to recognise that Canada is a three-ocean power all three of which are now contested in a new great power geopolitical age.

Canadian defence spending (or lack of it) revealed strategic hokum at its smelliest. Indeed, I was deeply impressed by the ingenious but utterly disingenuous ways senior Canadians seem to convince themselves Canada is spending enough money on defence when Canada plainly is not. One senior Canadian said that Canada spends better than other Alliance member-states – nonsense. Another Canadian told me that other states fiddle the books to get to the agreed 2024 NATO Defence Investment Pledge of 2% GDP on defence of which 20% of that is to be spent on new kit – sort of nonsense. There is a NATO mechanism for calculating defence expenditure which Canada simply chooses to ignore.

None of this bodes well for the Trudeau defence review. Indeed, it looks likely to be yet another of those politics dressed up as strategy reviews which implies an increase in defence expenditure when in fact defence cost inflation will see yet another real terms cut in Canadian defence expenditure. The most likely victim will be much-needed major procurement programmes. Result? If the balloon really goes up over the next decade the people who will bear the brunt of Ottawa’s defence out-of-touchness will be the superb but under-equipped ordinary airmen, seamen and soldiers of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Maybe these figures (based on SIPRI 2015 estimates) will wipe the smile off Prime Minister Trudeau’s face.  Cut through the flannel and the fact is that Canada spends $478 per capita on defence. This compares with the US which spends $1859 per capita on defence, the UK $1066, France $977, and the Netherlands $759.             
The worst failing is that Ottawa thinks that defence expenditure is discretionary. Worse, that Canada can engage in geopolitics as Ottawa so chooses. This is nonsense. If there is one country that is totemic for globalisation it is Canada. One only has to see modern Canada to understand that. To think that Canada can opt-out of the really dark side of globalisation was perhaps the greatest conceit of all here. And yet that is precisely what rich Canada seems determined to do.  

End the strategic denial and get strategic real Canada!

Julian Lindley-French   

Thursday, 6 October 2016

The Global West is All at Sea

By Julian Lindley-French
(This article has just appeared the October-December 2016 edition of The NAVY: The Magazine of the Navy League of Australia". It is reproduced with kind permission of the Editorial Board. The article has been adapted to fit the technical constraints of the blog).

"Britain now had world empire because she was the preeminent sea power; the lesson for Tirpitz was that if Germany wished to pursue Weltmacht, only possession of a powerful navy…could make it possible".
Castles of Steel, Robert K. Massie

The NAVY set this author an interesting challenge; to consider the maritime positioning of Australia,
Japan and the United States with regard to China. The challenge is interesting in two ways. First, my
first thought was that ‘maritime positioning’ was some form of dynamic navigation device. Second, my very British keel is firmly anchored in Dutch waters. And then I got to think. One of my theses is that the West is no longer a place but a set of liberal values, interests and strategic assumptions centred on the United States and shared by partners the world-over. And, that the very idea of the liberal West is being challenged by illiberal power the world over with much of that challenge emerging on, under, and above the sea. It is in that geopolitical context one must necessarily consider the ‘maritime positioning’ of Australia, Japan, and the United States with regard to China.


First, let me deal with what I mean by maritime positioning. It is the role of the respective navies of the three countries in relation to their own defence, all-important and evolving US grand strategy, and China’s own burgeoning geopolitical ambitions. This brief article will thus consider all three issues in turn before concluding by considering them all within the context of the global West.

The core message of the piece is direct; China’s naval challenge is not untypical of emerging illiberal powers. Beijing places much store on a powerful People’s Liberation Navy not just because such a force is a legitimate weapon for the world’s number two economy to possess. Powerful navies have always played well to the strategic egos of emerging powers – liberal and illiberal. China is little different from Imperial Germany at the turn of the last century in this regard. Like it or not, unless there is an unlikely new treaty that would limit naval armaments the likes of China and Russia will determinedly draw the liberal West into a naval arms race that in its scale and strategic implications will look a lot like that between Britain and Germany in the run-up to the First World War. The regimes in Beijing and Moscow simply cannot help themselves. So, where do Australia, Japan and the United States fit into this changing strategic maritime picture?


The Royal Australian Navy is a small, modern western force. Traditionally, whilst designed first and foremost to safeguard Australia’s national interests in and around Australian waters, the RAN has always played a wider geopolitical role as a strategic adjunct to other navies. For many years the RAN was in effect a farflung flotilla of Britain’s Royal Navy. As Britain declined in the wake of World War Two the role of lead force was steadily usurped by the United States Navy. Today, with a force of fifty commissioned ships focused mainly on frigates and conventional submarines, augmented by some amphibious and mine countermeasure capabilities, the RAN is again playing an important strategic role reinforcing the United States Navy (USN), particularly when it comes to the latter’s role in protecting the global commons vital to the well-being and security of the global West. Contrary to what some in Australia seem to think the RAN is not a strategic force in and of itself and future planning would not suggest any real ambitions on the part of Canberra for the RAN to play such a role any time soon.


The Japanese Navy is not dissimilar in role and function to the RAN, even if it is markedly larger. Since the defeat of the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1945 and the adoption of the post-war Japanese constitution the role of Japan’s forces as self-defence forces has severely circumscribed any autonomous strategic role for Tokyo. This restraint has been applied rigorously to the Japanese Navy precisely because the Imperial Japanese Navy was at the very heart of Japanese power projection during World War Two. Like the RAN the Japanese Navy has for many years contented itself with guarding Japanese home waters and supporting the USN in maintaining a balance of power in East Asian waters and the wider Asia-Pacific theatre. So long as that balance was maintained the Japanese were content to play a purely defensive role as part of US naval and wider grand strategy. However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s planned revision of the Japanese constitution would permit Japanese forces to play a more assertive role in defence of a wider understanding of Japan’s interests. This revision of Japan’s strategic stance ultimately reflects Abe’s own belief that the postwar balance of power in Asia-Pacific could at some point collapse. Abe has good reasons to be concerned.


One reason for concern in both Canberra and Tokyo is the growing global overstretch of US forces, in particular the USN. As the world’s only global power the United States looks increasingly like Great Britain in the 1890s when the naval challenge from Imperial Germany began to take shape. The Americans remain strong on paper but their forces are stretched thin the world over. Consequently, the illiberal powers now control the timing, the location, and indeed the manner by which they can choose to complicate American strategic calculation. It is a situation made worse by the political gridlock on Capitol Hill which for some years has been driving sequestration which in turn has badly damaged the US ability to undertake the long-term planning vital to strategic navies such
as the USN.

Worse, the threat to global power projection navies from smaller, regional actors is growing. The advent of super-silent submarine technology, navalised ship-killing drone and missile, and other technologies is making it ever easier to disrupt power projection and increase the cost and risk of effective sea control and sea presence. Such technologies are placing at risk the big, expensive platforms upon which a global reach navy like the USN rely upon to fulfil the global power policing role which has been thrust upon the Americans, not least because of the strategic and political
weakness of many key allies, most notably in Europe.


The big change-agent in maritime affairs is China which today is playing a role very similar to Germany in European waters prior to World War One and Japan in Pacific waters prior to World War Two. China has been growing its defence budget at double digit percentage figures since 1989. The People’s Liberation Army Navy is developing a form of joint extended-reach strategic defence force with blue water capabilities that is fast tipping the balance of power in the South and East China Seas.
This change has profound implications for Australia, Japan and the United States when the now highly-likely confrontation eventually happens.

Chinese strategy is clearly designed to establish exclusive control over much of the South China Sea, to force Japan into subordination in the East China Sea, and by demonstrating that China not the United States will determine the strategic shape of much of Asia-Pacific force Australia and other regional powers to treat with Beijing on Chinese terms. If successful China would successfully reduce both the influence of US forces in the region and the value of strategic partnerships with the US for regional powers. The stakes raised by the Chinese challenge are thus very high indeed, with particular implications for Western navies.


So, what to do about it? Let me take contemporary Britain as an example. There has been a lot of nonsense written about the state/fate of the Royal Navy. Some of the misplaced Schadenfreude about the Royal Navy borders on self-mutilation. However, the Royal Navy is actually showing the way forward for all non-American western navies. Yes, there are short-term investment, technological, equipment, and personnel challenges faced by the Royal Navy. This is hardly surprising for a country that provided the second largest force in support of US campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq over thirteen long, attritional land-centric years. A country which had to endure a banking meltdown at the same time. Britain is roughly where the world’s fifth largest economy and top five military spender would expect to be after the last decade. Australia needs Britain to be strong – period!
The good news is that sea blindness in Britain is at an end.


By 2023 the Royal Navy will again be one of the strongest power projection navies in the world. The commissioning of the two large 65,000 ton power projection carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales is proceeding. The Type-45s suffer from technical problems that are in the process of being fixed, and the new Astute-class nuclear hunter-killer submarines are powerful reinforcements of the British fleet, and for political reasons if nothing else the Type 26 frigates will eventually be built. 

What matters is the place of the Royal Navy in the British future force concept which is by and large correct given the nature of the coming global challenge. The mistake of the critics is to make false comparisons with the Corbettian Royal Navy of Empire or the not-at-all customary Mahanian moments of the 1914-1918 Grand Fleet or Sir Bruce Fraser’s 1945 British Pacific Fleet when the Royal Navy deployed seven fleet carriers to support a hard-pressed, Kamikaze vulnerable Nimitz.

No, the twenty-first century fleet the Royal Navy is constructing will sit at the command hub of future coalitions of Europeans and other navies. It will leverage the naval power of others with the strategic aim of helping to keep the USN strong where the USN will need to be strong at moments
of crisis. As such the future strategic Royal Navy will again buy Britain influence in Washington and elsewhere that no other ally will match. The RAN and Japanese Navy will need to play a similar role in Asia-Pacific if they are to remain relevant to the power game that is afoot. And, if Australia can overcome its sniffy attitude towards the Royal Navy and focus on the positives rather than routinely seek the negatives then there are a lot of lessons for both partner navies to learn from each other.


Security and defence are today globalised and Australia is part of the global West. If the likes of China and Russia continue to attempt to throw their illiberal weight around as they seem destined to do then India and other powers will no doubt seek the comforting embrace of
the Global West.

However, the Global West will not happen by itself. It needs partners like Australia, Japan, the US, Britain and others to see the role of navies therein for what they are; power projection forces of an American-centric global liberal community committed to maintaining a just balance of power. And, if needs be have the capacity and capability to project power via a necessarily blue water concept that affords influence, effect, and deterrence for ALL of its members.

Then, only then, will the new strategic arms race China and Russia are driving be seen to be folly and both Beijing and Moscow realise that such policy is simply the road to strategic and financial folly. That aim would in turn help re-institutionalise global security from which the two illiberal
powers are currently breaking out.

The navies of the Global West will have a vital role to play in such strategy precisely because alongside the USN they can project power, exert influence through sea presence and project power discreetly and decisively through sea control. In other words, the strategic role of Global
Western navies will necessarily need to merge both Corbett and Mahan
and organise to that effect.

Therefore, Australia needs to realise the vital role of the RAN in such a strategy and seek the strategic partnerships – new and old – equally vital to realising such a role. If for no other reason than for the sake of Australia’s own security in a world where nowhere is a strategic backwater and in which no-one can free-ride. In other words, this author’s Yorkshire worldview of navies must be little different from the Australian world-view.

Professor Dr Julian Lindley-French is Vice-President of the Atlantic Treaty Association, Senior Fellow of the Institute of Statecraft, Distinguished Visiting Research Fellow at the National Defense University, Washington DC, and Fellow, Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Brexit Norwegian Blue Debate

Oslo, Norway. 4 October. “This parrot is dead. It is an ex-parrot”, says parrot-purchasing Monty Python’s John Cleese in the famous parrot sketch. “No, no, he’s not dead. He’s resting. Remarkable bird the Norwegian Blue”, replies parrot-vendor Michael Palin. Watching what passes for Britain’s Brexit debate reminds me of the parrot sketch, not least because I am in Oslo. Actually, I am in Oslo to help launch a new book entitled “Ukraine and Beyond” which considers what to do about an aggressive Russia (which is of course brilliant and very reasonably-priced). However, parrots, Brexit and Norwegians seem to go together these days.   

Reason is the dead Brexit parrot, with truth lying mangled in the corner.  It is an ex-reason that is no more and has gone to meet its maker. On one side of the debate the Brexiteers suggest that exiting the EU will be straightforward when in fact it is plainly in the interest of so many powerful vested interests to make it as hard as possible. To suggest that post-Brexit Britain will have full access to the Single Market AND impose restrictions on free movement is pure Norwegian Blue (or is that bull). If agreed to by the EU the entire post-Lisbon edifice of an already shaky EU would crumble. On the other side, Remaniacs remain wedded to the falsehood that the poor little dears who voted for Brexit had not a clue what they were voting for and should be ordered to do it again, but this time get it right.

For all that being here in Norway does shed some light on Britain’s possible future. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not one of those lunatics who suggests a Norwegian model for post-Brexit Britain. Britain is a top five world power with a population 65 million people, Norway is not. However, Norway is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) which is a kind of EU-lite for those who want access to the EU’s Single Market, but do not actually want to join it. In Norway’s case one can see their point. EU membership for rich Norway would be utterly punitive as Brussels would almost certainly remove Oslo’s massive oil and gas-fuelled sovereign wealth fund in the name of ‘solidarity’ and to keep the eternal Euro disaster brewing.

And yet there are some pro-EU Norwegian politicians who will tell you what a terrible position Norway finds itself in. This is because to their mind Norway must pay but has no say. In fact, that is only partially true. Norway and the other three EEA members have proved remarkably adroit at getting EU directives amended. The real point about Norway’s relationship with the EU is a sovereign point. Norway has indeed chosen to pay a price for access to the Single Market, and part of that price is adherence to elements of the Free Movement Directive (FMD). But it is not the whole Norway-EU story.

As I was travelling this morning on the train from Oslo airport to Oslo Central Norwegian television was showing a criminal from Eastern Europe being deported. If that criminal had been convicted in Britain under the FMD the British would not have had the right to deport him as an EU citizen unless he posed an immediate threat to British (i.e. other EU) citizens.

Which brings me back to the Brexit dead parrot debate. This morning the normally sound Rachel Sylvester wrote in The Times: “The truth is that when nations prosper, by interacting with the rest of the world, it is impossible because of globalisation for any country to “take back control”. On the face of it Sylvester’s argument is sound. However, her use of the phrase ‘take back control’ is disingenuous. That phrase is a Brexiteer phrase and refers to their desire to remove Britain from the European treaties. Sylvester is instead referring to normal international treaties and quite deliberately conflating the two, when in fact there is a world of sovereign difference between them.

An international trade treaty is made between two or more sovereign states. They agree constraints upon their sovereign action to make the treaty work. However, they still remain sovereign actors free to make or break treaties as they so choose. The EU treaties, particularly (in sequence) the Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon treaties have become progressively different in both scope and ambition to traditional international treaties. EU treaties were and are designed to replace and thus abolish the nation-state by progressively transferring the legal international identity of said state across a whole range of competences (acquis) to the EU in order to eventually make the EU ‘Europe’s’ sole ‘sovereign’ legal international entity. Thus, whilst international treaties constrain the sovereignty of the state in the name of mutual benefit, EU treaties destroy the state and in so doing seeks to create a new and alternative form of government.

The reason that sovereign Norway bemoans its lack of influence over the EU is the same reason Norway has always bemoaned its lack of influence over the rest of Europe. With the possible exception of the Viking period Norway is simply too small and thus too lacking in power to exert much influence – period. Britain is not Norway and its relative power would afford a sovereign Britain far more influence over the rest of Europe – EU or no EU – than Norway precisely because Britain is a powerful state. Chancellor Merkel acknowledged as much last week when she said that it was far too early to write the British off because Britain remains a “formidable” economic and military power.             
At the end of the parrot sketch when farce has finally turned into complete absurdity Cleese says, “I’m not prepared to pursue my line of inquiry any longer as I think this is getting too silly”. The same could be said for Britain’s dead parrot Brexit debate.

Julian Lindley-French