hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 30 January 2017

The Re-ordering of Europe

“Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright,
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Dylan Thomas

Alphen, Netherlands. 30 January. “I was a small man in big events”. It was late afternoon when I arrived at Hamburg Hauptbahnhof on a train from somewhere, nowhere in the early 1970s. Like many English teenagers I was ‘doing’ Inter-rail. And, after nearly three weeks travelling, eating, and often sleeping on trains, I was by then the very caricature of a vintage 70s English yob. And yet, on that cold German station, I was shown kindness by an old Hamburg gentleman whom I have never forgotten. We just got talking. He had fought in World War One, the trenches of that struggle marking the front-lines of his aged face. However, it was his story of one night in July 1943 that left such an indelible impression upon me, and which in some ways drove me to where I am today.

On that clear night standing with his family on the outskirts of the great hanseatic city he had seen Hamburg burn as Operation Gomorrah was unleashed by the Allies. Transfixed in horror he watched as above him wave after wave of some 800 uncontested RAF heavy bombers had turned in unison, lined-up, and then began their bombing runs before systematically dropping cascade after cascade of death upon Hamburg, accelerating and then wheeling away in a crescendo of full-powered Merlin-engined defiance to the north and west of the city.  That night was just the beginning of the Hamburg hell, part of a re-ordering of European power that also destroyed much of Europe. 

Europe has been re-ordered many times throughout its long history. Such change has normally been triggered when one power has sought to dominate Europe. Today is no different. It is simply that European leaders refuse to look squarely at the causes of change, just like they refuse to look at so many dangers Europeans face, face on. Political correctness is the cancer of analysis.

What change? Europe today has a problem with all three of its major peripheral powers – Britain, Russia, and Turkey? On the face of it these are three very different countries with different leaders facing very different problems. In fact not. All three have a problem again with German power. Now, before many of you throw a PC fit and accuse me of Germanophobia let me set my record straight. The problem is not Germany, but power.

The problem with power in Europe is threefold. First, no state can hide from power, even its own. Second, power has its own narrative. In Europe ‘power’ and ‘history’ are two sides of a Roman coin, and have been ever since Gaius Julius Caesar defeated the Gallic hero Vercingetorix at the Battle of Alesia in 52 BC. Third, Europe has an automatic re-balancing mechanism that prevents the emergence of new Caesars. However, it is a mechanism which in history has often been as deadly as the power it seeks to re-balance.

The EU is itself one of those mechanisms. Since its inception in 1950 the European Union has basically been about Germany. Monnet’s 1943 ‘idea’ of Europe was essentially a French attempt to both embed and embrace German power in representative pan-European institutions. For many years not only did the European institutions help achieve and maintain an essential balance within Europe, ‘Europe’ also acted as a magnet for its peripheral powers, even in time Russia. However, the Eurozone crisis, the neo-pacifist German concept of soft power, and now Brexit, allied to the re-emergence of hard power as a currency of influence in Europe, is beginning yet again the age-old re-ordering of Europe. 

The paradox and tragedy of contemporary Germany is that the more it seeks to safeguard the new European liberal order it now dominates, the more the old German ‘order’ somehow re-appears. Berlin now faces a dilemma that is quite possibly impossible for it to resolve. For the European Project to survive the ‘thousand natural shocks’ that Europe is naturally heir to Berlin has tried to impose order and discipline through the European institutions. Visit any major EU institution and you will more likely than not find Germans in key positions of power. However, as Brussels has failed the EU has become to look less like a Union and more like an Empire, and thus the flame that has always re-ordered Europe has re-ignited. 

What to do? The re-ordering of Europe cannot be stopped, but it can be shaped. Much will depend on the future relationship between Europe’s now and future strongest powers, Britain and Germany. Prime Minister May’s trip last week to Washington was about far more than Britain’s vital ‘special relationship’ with the Americans. It was also about strengthening her negotiating hand with Germany prior to the March triggering of Article 50 and Britain’s Underground line to Brexit. However, May must be careful. Like it or not, she is by extension aligning Britain with illiberal Europe in the form of presidents Erdogan and Putin. That is a place Britain most certainly does not belong.

Can Britain and Germany do a deal? It is unlikely soon. Last week Axel Schäfer, one of Berlin’s Brexit negotiators, gave an interview to BBC Radio Four that was both train wreck and car crash combined. He lectured the British that Brexit was a “great illusion” and that a trade deal with Trump’s US was “delusional”. This was bombastic Germany at its very worst, not the considered German power I have come over the years to like and respect. You see, as a Briton, I do not fear the power of contemporary, liberal Germany. However, because I do not fear German power I will contest it. Above all, I will never accept being told by a German leader that ‘resistance is futile’. As I wrote in an email to Herr Schäfer too often in the past Germany has made the mistake of underestimating Britain, and paid a heavy price.

My point is not to suggest that Europeans are about to go to war with each other, but rather that small leaders like Herr Schäfer are part of big events that they do not understand, and through ignorance make worse. That is certainly the impression I have of many of today’s European leaders as they fail to grasp the enormity of the change again taking place in Europe. One of the blessings of my Oxford education is that it gave me the intellectual courage to see deep into big pictures, to understand the change behind events, not just the events themselves. Brexit, Putin, the Trump administration, Turkey, the Eurozone crisis, terrorism, the immigration crisis, and the teetering Middle East are all part of another re-ordering of power in and around Europe.

For the sake of Europe, and for the sake of that nice, old, proud German who offered his help and friendship in Hamburg’s cold, grey station all those years ago, both Britain and Germany must not under-estimate what is again happening to Europe, and most certainly must not under-estimate each other. We are friends, not enemies.

And I never did get to know my German friend’s name, even as he went gentle into the good night.

Julian Lindley-French       

Friday, 27 January 2017

May-Trump: The Dawn of the New Western Realism

“Covenants without the sword are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all”.
Thomas Hobbes

Alphen, Netherlands. 27 January. Today, Maggie May meets Ronald Trump. As per usual much of the British political Establishment and most of the Fourth Estate have got the wrong end of the stick. They want her to talk trade, institutions, and torture. These things are indeed important but they are second order issues and not what today is about. Rather, today’s meeting has exactly the same purpose as the meeting at Argentia, Newfoundland in August 1941 at which the Atlantic Charter was agreed between Britain and the United States, and the February 1981 meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; a chance for a supplicant Britain in need of the support of a powerful Washington to reset a relationship that remain important to the Americans but vital to the British. Whilst much will be said today about shared values and culture today is about power and, if it succeeds, quite possibly the dawn of the new Western Realism.

International relations are driven by three forces; values, interests, and power-prejudice. For too long Europeans have retreated into the vacuous pursuit of powerless values. Consequently, as structure either collapses (Middle East) around them, or threatens to be imposed upon them (Putin’s Russia) they are in many ways powerless to shape their own vital interests. Part of Britain’s contemporary tragedy is that so much of the London political class also believe in this nonsense. This profound confusion of values with interests has damaged profoundly the ability and the willingness of one of the world’s major powers to actively shape its world.

Last night in a speech to Republican congressional leaders May stated, “The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over”. However, she went on, “Our values will endure. And the need to defend them and project them will be as important as ever”.  In other words, May, who is fast growing into the job, seems to be abandoning the world policeman nonsense of Tony Blair’s liberal humanitarian interventionism and re-positing British foreign policy back towards power and realism. If that is indeed her ambition then she is not only making the case for a new twenty-first century Special Relationship, but a new world-wide West centred on the Anglosphere.

The first challenge for May is not just getting America to back her vision. She also needs to overcome a force every bit as dangerous as the strategic inertia caused by the empty words of European leaders; the power-prejudice of President Trump. The flurry of executive orders over the past few days are about far more than meeting the expectations of his US electoral base. Almost all of them seem to reflect the many prejudices the President himself holds about the world. As with most things Trump there is a kernel of truth in his argument but his prescriptions and solutions are disproportionate to the challenge he seeks to address. Be it on NATO, Mexicans, Muslims, and a host of other issues President Trump’s analysis lacks balance – the very definition of prejudice. The paradox is that the President is also clearly prejudiced about the Brits – to (for the moment) Britain’s advantage.

Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT one of those Europeans who dismiss President Trump simply because he is not a failed European liberal living on a planet that is clearly not this one. Look at all the great American presidents of the last century; Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan. They were all Machiavellian out-sized characters, reinforced by out-sized and often brittle egos, who shook the status quo. If she wants an enduring relationship with President Trump Theresa May will have to do exactly what Russia’s President Putin seems to be doing – manage President Trump’s many prejudices and the brittle ego that underpins them. She will also need to understand Trump in much the same way Churchill understood FDR, or ‘Maggie’ understood ‘Ronnie’ and play to his vanity. This is a vital British interest.

At the beginning of this blog I stated that today’s meeting is about the theatre of power. However, even a ‘theatre’ of power must also reflect and showcase power. In other words, for last night’s prime ministerial words to actually lead to policy and influence Britain will need to regain a reputation for power that it has lost in Washington over the past twenty years. A loss of influence which has been underway since at least Churchill sat down with Roosevelt on the USS Augusta.

Where to begin? On May 29th President Trump is due to be alongside Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will be aboard the brand new 75,000 ton British super aircraft-carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth as she sails for the first time into one of the Royal Navy’s historic fleet bases at Portsmouth.  The sight of an enormous warship that flies the White Ensign and not the Stars and Stripes is precisely the kind of Britain Trump needs to see. However, for Prime Minister May to succeed in reinvigorating the Special Relationship one ship visit, however spectacular, will not be enough. Having re-created the prospect and image of Britain as America’s power partner ‘leading the world together’, as she suggested in a mildly hubristic moment last night, May will need to follow-up theatre with reality by re-investing in all the tools of influence that underpin Britain’s strategic brand – intelligence, diplomacy, and the armed forces.

Britain undoubtedly has an opportunity to forge a new relationship with President Trump and his America, and in so doing help to adjust his world-view from power-prejudice into the New Western Realism. However, it is power and power alone that impresses Donald J. Trump and Prime Minister May had not only better understand that, but quickly demonstrate that her words are not yet more covenants without the sword.

Julian Lindley-French    

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

NATO-EU: Squeezing Big Change into Small Boxes

Alphen, Netherlands. 24 January. The new US Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, made an overnight phone call to his British counterpart and new/old bestest friend, Michael Fallon. During the call Mattis reaffirmed his and the Administration’s “unshakeable commitment” to NATO. Late last week I had the honour of addressing leaders and parliamentarians of the Baltic States at the outstanding George C. Marshall Center in Garmisch-Partenkirchen on matters strategic. What struck me as I spoke (brilliantly of course) was how the West is managing change the wrong way round. Rather than properly adapting our ‘boxes’ – NATO and the EU – to meet change, we are trying to squeeze big change into what in relative power terms are ever smaller boxes. Why?

Leadership must be judged by outcomes and if you’re a European, or an American the outcomes of late have too often been rubbish. Now, I know it is fashionable in Chicken Little Europe to condemn everything the new #POTUS says, and yes not only does #POTUS sound like a domestic vegetable but Washington’s new Tweetocracy does indeed risk reducing one of the great offices of great state to little more than a strategy-free, reactive, angry tag-line. However, the simple truth is that the so-called Euro-Atlantic ‘community’ DOES need a bloody good kick up the many well-upholstered arses of the politics before strategy leaders who claim to lead it, but frankly too often do not.

Trump has a point. At some levels NATO IS obsolete and the EU IS dysfunctional. This makes all of us UNNECESSARILY weaker and poorer at one and the same time. The reason for this decline is essentially simple; as the various Euro-Atlantic powers have diverged in their respective world views maintaining the appearance of unity has become more important than trying to agree on the real change both the Alliance and the Union desperately need if they are both to remain credible. In other words, preserving the appearance of structure has become more important than adapting structure to change.

NATO is at least having a go at change. The 2014 Wales Summit and the 2016 Warsaw Summit agreed a programme of ‘adaptation’ that is on the face of it impressive. Indeed, I have the honour of sitting on a steering committee of a group of very distinguished colleagues committed to examine NATO adaptation. We are charged with the challenge of finding a ‘One NATO’ adaptation vision for the Alliance that will not only reinforce the credibility of NATO deterrence and defence posture, but also future-proof the Alliance. We are making very good progress. However, the mission is not an easy one as it is clear to me that such is the strategic divide within the Alliance we have at least three NATOs; eastern NATO, southern NATO, and  America.

The EU is particularly good at change-speak, but hideously bad at acting on it. With Brexit the EU will soon lose some 10% of its budget, but speak to EU officials and it is as though nothing has happened. EU security and defence efforts have been and are particularly lamentable. Last week I happened upon my PhD thesis. Written many years ago and entitled, “The Security and Defence of Western Europe”, the final chapter laid out what was in effect a blueprint for what in time became the European Security and Defence Policy, then the Common Security and Defence Policy. As I re-read it I was struck by the paucity of strategic ambition in Europe over the intervening years. Names are changed, meetings are held, a few adjustments are made, hyperbole is applied, but sod all that is actually relevant to the defence of Europe actually happens.

Which brings me back to the question why? Both the Alliance and the Union suffer from a common problem that will need to change if either NATO or the EU are to be made fit for the twenty-first century – the strategic inferiority complex of many of their respective members. NATO was born in 1949 primarily of arranging Europeans into some form of order so that America could protect them. With the 1954 accession of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Alliance, NATO also took on the additional task of preventing Germany again becoming a threat to Europe. In a sense the European Project, which began its long and winding road with the 1950 creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, suffered from the same strategic inferiority complex as NATO. However, whilst in NATO Europeans over time became strategically incompetent under America’s protection, which is certainly the case today, the EU evolved into a mechanism for the small Europeans to strategically castrate bigger Europeans in the name of European stability. The result? A ‘Europe’ that is still far too obsessed with structure for structure's sake, too inward-looking, and incapable of either understanding or responding to change beyond its completely ill-defended borders beyond the odd, and quite often hideously expensive gestures.  

If NATO and the EU are to change Europeans must finally expel the last remnants of a mutual-constraint culture that has turned Europeans into strategic prey. To do that Europeans must abandon once and for all the idea that Europe can only achieve stability through mutual weakness. Instead, both the Alliance and the Union must be adapted to act as mutual aggregators of legitimate power, complete with the full, credible and capable panoply of state-owned security and military capabilities and capacities. That is exactly what Sec Def Mattis will demand of his European allies, because that will be the only way he can sell NATO to his Eurosceptic boss when he comes to Europe in May.

Like many Europeans there is much about President Donald J. Trump I find distasteful. However, I am a pragmatic, hard-bitten Realist. For that reason, and because I respect both the United States and the Office of the President of the United States, I will examine each policy position on its merits.  However, Europeans should not wait for President Trump’s prejudices to be confirmed. Even at this time of division they should endeavour to offer the Americans a more equitable vision of the future transatlantic relationship. European states are grown-up and can be trusted not to go to war with each other and they must stop using the past as an excuse not to properly prepare for the future.  The danger is that if the appearance of structure is deemed to be more important than adapting structure then sooner rather than later change will win and our structures could collapse catastrophically.

Big change is coming to transatlantic relations, and NATO and the EU must be adapted to cope with it. President Donald J. Trump is just the beginning…

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Brexit: The Phoney War is over!

“Are you feeling lucky, punk? Go ahead, make my day!”
Theresa May, sorry Clint Eastwood, as Dirty Harry

Alphen, Netherlands. 18 January. Theresa May cut an unlikely Dirty Harry yesterday as she arrived in her tartan pyjamas to give her Global Britain speech at Lancaster House. That was at least the inference as she set out her twelve objectives to extricate Britain from the EU. As she spoke she must have would-be Euro-despot and chief European Parliament negotiator Guy Vershofstadt in mind. No deal was better than a bad deal for Brexit Britain, she said, and any attempt to ‘punish’ Britain would be met with a robust response. Time to dust off the Spitfires? Err, no. The far more sensible Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, yesterday told a private meeting in Brussels that there was no intention of ‘punishing’ Britain for leaving the EU. The aim, he said, was to seek a fair settlement for all. Still, the phoney Brexit war is now at an end. If May is to realise her ambitious objectives at the very least London will need to re-discover its long lost strategic mojo.

The speech itself was tinged at times with a little bit of Thatcher and a little bit of Churchill. Not surprisingly, many of Britain’s newspapers this morning are making the usual overblown references to the ferrous female as they do on such occasions. Britain is going to take back control of its law-making and borders, she said, and forge a new future as global free trading power. Britain, she said, would leave the single market and seek only to remain part of the customs union in those sectors where British industry is already part of an integrated supply chain, such as aerospace. To be frank, much of the speech was at last a statement of the bleeding obvious. Britain’s leaving of the single market is a no-brainer as a state cannot be a member of the single market and curb free movement within the EU. Indeed, for Brussels to concede one of the four fundamental treaty freedoms over Brexit would be tantamount to self-harm.

May did succeed in skilfully taking away much of the EU’s negotiating leverage. The message to the European Commission was clear; do you really want to deny European democracy, undermine European security, and further damage Europe’s already vulnerable economy by attacking Britain for Brexit? Britain, she said, is far too powerful and important a power to be intimidated. Rather, she called for a new ‘strategic partnership’ between the EU and Britain to the post-Brexit benefit of all.

The speech was not risk free. May could only have made such a speech because of three factors that have changed Britain’s strategic landscape since Brexit. First, the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States means London suddenly has a powerful new ally in its Brexit negotiations. Second, in spite of dire warnings from economists (bloody useless economists) Britain had the fastest growing economy of all the G7 countries last year. Third, the strategic challenges Europe must face together mean it would be utter folly to alienate Britain, free Europe’s strongest intelligence, security and defence actor. As May said, “Britain is leaving the EU, but not leaving Europe”.

So, all well and good? Yes, but. It is high time Prime Minister May showed the leadership she showed yesterday and inject some much needed clarity into the post-Brexit torpor. And yes, she reminded fellow Europeans that given Britain’s huge trade deficit with the rest of the EU, and the access to global capital markets London affords, Europe needs Britain as much as Britain needs Europe (as it does).

May must be both resolute and careful at one and same time. Britain’s new ‘special relationship’ with President Trump will come at a price. Forget all the legalistic nonsense about Britain not being able to do a new trade deal with the Americans until after Britain has left the EU. Much of that deal can be in place well before Britain leaves, especially if President Trump decides unilaterally and informally to treat Britain’s goods and services preferentially. Equally, there is also much over which London disagrees with the Trump administration. Take NATO. Trump wants it to focus on counter-terrorism and not Russia, something Britain cannot and must not accept.

Another challenge will come from the Scottish Nationalists (SNP), which May must face down. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon wakes up every morning with only one thought on her mind; the destruction of the United Kingdom. Whether it be the EU or some other issue over which she can feign offence Sturgeon will do all she can to achieve her goal, because it is her only goal. May needs to point out forcefully and publicly to Sturgeon the hypocrisy of her position. The latter legitimised the UK-wide EU referendum by campaigning in it. By so doing she also legitimised the UK-wide result.

However, the main barrier to the realisation of May’s Global Britain vision is not in Brussels, Edinburgh, or Washington, it is in London.  It has been fascinating to me how parts of Whitehall (not all) have raised roadblocks in the way of implementing Brexit. Almost all of those roadblocks have been procedural, i.e. about Britain’s inability to manage the process of Brexit. That speaks volumes about Whitehall. The key to yesterday’s speech was that it focused on power not process. This is because Britain’s future relationship with the EU will be decided by power not process. Having surrendered so much power to Brussels over the past forty or so years, Whitehall does not any longer understand power, its generation or its application. It will need to re-learn quickly.

Yes, Brexit will be complicated and yes, if May is to realise her vision she is going to have to begin the patient process of rebuilding all the competences a state needs to be ‘independent’. That ‘process’ will indeed take time. However, for Global Britain to be more than yet another empty British prime ministerial rhetorical flourish that is precisely the challenge May laid down to the British elite yesterday.

This morning President Juncker of the European Commission will respond to May’s speech. The Brexit phoney war is indeed over. “Go ahead, make my day…but can we please be friends afterwards?”

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 16 January 2017

Snowmeeting: Atlantic Resolve or Yalta II?

“It was for the freedom and independence of Poland that Britain went into this war…It’s also important that Poland is a Catholic country. We cannot allow internal developments there to complicate our relations with the Vatican…”
Prime Minister Churchill, by way of pompous opening…
“How many divisions does the Pope of Rome have?”
Marshal Stalin, in direct response.

Trakai, Lithuania. 16 January. A myriad of miniscule snowflakes drift across the landscape before me giving the impression I am enshrined in a Georges Seurat painting. The frozen lake and frigid forest before me dipple and dapple as momentary shafts of weak sun paint solitude in broad brushes. Here, at the truly beautiful IDW Esperanza Resort in deepest Lithuania I have just had the honour of part-moderating the outstanding annual Snowmeeting in support of Foreign Minister Linus Linkevicius and his team. What was interesting to me was the marked difference between how the Russians see the current strategic situation in NATO’s east, and how senior NATO politicians and officials see it. If there was an implicit if unspoken theme running throughout the Snowmeeting it was this; no more Yaltas.

Yalta I took place between February 4-111945. Otherwise known as the Crimea (!!!) or Argonaut Conference, the meeting was the last time British Prime Minister Churchill, US President Roosevelt and Marshal Stalin of the Soviet Union were to meet. The purpose of the meeting was in effect to ‘carve’ up post-World War Two Europe into spheres of influence between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies.

Marshal Stalin certainly understood that, as did Prime Minister Churchill, although by 1945 Britain was, as it is today, a shadow power with little or no real influence. Unfortunately, an ailing President Roosevelt still clung onto the idea that Stalin’s Russia would be a constructive partner in a post-war United Nations which would see Machtpolitik in Europe replaced by Gesetzpolitik.

On several occasions over the last year I have head Russians call for a Yalta II. As I rose to speak some 187 US main battle tanks, 4000 personnel, plus a couple of hundred other assorted vehicles of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team were bedding down in Western Poland as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.  US Army Europe yet again to the fore of defending Europe. The Russian reaction was both typical and illuminating, as though a virtual Yalta II already exists. That the Americans were intruding on an existing sphere of Russian interest, rather than reinforcing the defence and deterrence posture of NATO in pursuit of the legitimate collective security of the Alliance.

Yalta was just one of a whole herd of elephants in the room at the Snowmeeting. Perhaps the largest was Colonel-General Kartapolov’s nearby Russian Western Military District which can now boast both mass and manoeuvre forces way beyond anything NATO can put into the field,. As I spoke there were some 400,000 Russian troops either side of me, reinforced by treaty-busting short range nuclear missiles, including the estimated 800 tanks of the First Guards Tank Army.

President Putin’s reaction to Atlantic Resolve is not that dissimilar to Marshal Stalin’s put down of Churchill in 1945. For Putin power is as power does. And yet at the Snowmeeting NATO officials put preservation of existing structure above transformation and effect by highlighting the marginal gains the Alliance has made by halting the decline in defence-spending as absolute gains.  President Putin, rather, views Russia’s influence through the all-important prism of relative power. Russia to Putin’s mind now ‘controls’ much of Eastern Europe simply by the fact of the military vice Russia is constructing there. A few American tanks to his mind makes little real difference to the politico-strategic situation, not least because he thinks President-elect Trump is of a similar mind and about to ‘reward’ him with some form of Yalta II.

There are lots of caveats in my analysis. Let’s see what President Trump really demands of Russia and what, if anything, actually comes out of the Putin-Trump bromance. However, Trump has a point in his critique of NATO. For too long Europeans have become strategically ‘fat’, lazy and complacent under the protection of America’s strategic umbrella. It really is about time an American president exerted pressure on all of us to get our European strategic act together. A Yalta II might also look superficially attractive to a president who is going to want to spend most of his time meeting the needs of the people who voted for him. President Trump is first and foremost a businessman. In business spheres of business influence are an essential part of deal-making.

For all of the above reasons President Putin believes he is well on the way to securing his strategic objectives and the creation of a buffer zone – both actual and virtual – between Russia’s Western border and the NATO he despises. Ukraine has been divided, both the EU and NATO have all but abandoned any further enlargement to Europe’s further east, Turkey  has been rendered semi-detached from the Alliance, and powerful Russian forces exert an unwarranted influence over the Baltic States whether we like it or not.

What I heard at the Snowmeeting was as ever interesting. However, I come away from Trakai with a profound sense of unease. Business as usual is about to end, hard change is coming fast to the transatlantic relationship, and yet what I heard was business as usual. Europeans had better understand this in the way President Putin clearly does. Unfortunately, we Europeans have become very good at self-delusion, at forever ‘defending’ values, but useless at defending space, territory and people, or even wanting to think about it.

To President Putin’s mind NATO is the new Vatican – pious but powerless. President Trump could well be of the same opinion.

A new Atlantic resolve or Yalta II? Our choice to make!

Julian Lindley-French           

Monday, 9 January 2017

MY NEW BOOK: The New Geopolitics of Terror: Demons and Dragons

“Ultimately, strategy is about getting more out of a situation than the starting balance of power would suggest, i.e. creating power. In essence, leaving aside major technological innovation, that means inducing others to pull with, rather than against the West. The choices Western leaders face will not be easy, apparent or costless. The crafting of what might be genuinely considered a grand strategy for the Middle East, i.e. one which all the major state powers support would be momentous. Such a strategy would not only require political dexterity on the part of Western leaders few if any have demonstrated, it would also require nothing short than a twenty-first century Marshall Plan for the Middle East”.

The New Geopolitics of Terror: Demons and Dragons
William Hopkinson and Julian Lindley-French

Alphen, Netherlands. 9 January. It is my pleasure to announce this week’s publication of my new book The New Geopolitics of Terror: Demons and Dragons (London: Routledge) which is, of course, brilliant and very reasonably-priced. Co-written with former senior British practitioner William Hopkinson, with a powerful foreword by General John Allen, President Obama’s former Special Envoy, the book places the current conflict in Syria in its regional-strategic and geopolitical context.

Central to the thesis is that the instability of the Middle East is as much due to interference by outside mainly western powers as inept, incompetent, and corrupt leaders in the region. The essential mission of the book is to consider what if anything the ‘West’ should do to reduce the threat the Middle East poses to itself and to others. The book examines a century of Western policy failure in the region beginning with the 1916 Anglo-French Sykes-Picot Accord.

To reinforce that narrative the book places the current struggle in Syria and Iraq in its regional-strategic and geopolitical context. The ‘demons’ are the many often small criminal and terrorist groups in the region seeking local or regional dominance. Al Qaeda and Islamic State are a relatively new phenomenon that bestride the distinction between local, regional and geopolitical with roots deep in both Sunni society and yet with systemic ambitions. As such they are the nexus between terror and geopolitics.

The dragons are the states. Even as weak states in the region struggle to survive there is also a regional-strategic struggle underway for supremacy in the Middle East between an Iranian-led grouping, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. On the surface the struggle appears to reflect the confessional divide between Sunni and Shia, but it is driven as much by Realpolitik calculations as questions of faith. The future of Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, is central to that struggle. A general Middle Eastern war cannot be ruled out, in which modern destructive technologies would be used to devastating effect.

The failed West has much to answer for. A central contention of the book is that for the first time in a century of by and large policy bungling policy the ‘West’ is now in retreat both in and from the region. This has enabled outside powers such as Russia, and to a lesser extent China, to exploit the vacuum left by a retreating West. Today, the influence of both Americans and Europeans is at a low ebb in the region. Consequently, Europe in particular has become prey for many of the anti-Western forces the region is spawning.

The retreat of the West from the Middle East has many facets. Americans and Europeans do not agree over policy or strategy, and neither are prepared to commit the resources or possibly the forces needed to change the situation on the ground. Europe is itself in full-scale retreat from geopolitics for the first time in four hundred years willing neither to defend nor secure itself, nor engage in a region strategically vital to its own security beyond iterative, gesture-prone ‘investments’. And yet, for all the West’s many failures in the region the consequent policy and strategic vacuum is not only making the Middle East more dangerous, but has led to the loss of Turkey. Turkey remains a vital actor in the region as it has been for centuries.

Ultimately, the struggle in and for the Middle East is as ever about power - big power, who has it, who does not, who can apply it and how. Therefore, the book concludes with a warning. Whilst the West is certainly part of the many problems in the region, it is also vital to any possible conflict resolution. However, any such resolution would require such policy cohesion and consistency over time and space that it would look like the kind of grand strategy not seen since the Marshall Plan and the reconstruction of Europe in the wake of World War Two.

First and foremost, ‘The Plan’ would need to be established on a series of diplomatic partnerships in which Americans and Europeans work together with key powers in the region to help ease the many grievances that drive the many and merged conflicts across the region. Moreover, for such a plan to work an accommodation would need to be sought with Russia and Iran, or if they prove irreconcilable, they would need to be faced down. However, no ‘intervention’ could possibly work until the terror the Middle East is spawning has been contained and over time reduced.  

The book concludes by exploring four policy options all of which are stark: do nothing; organise serious humanitarian action and support; undertake serious military interventions to defeat Islamic State and impose a solution on Syria; or undertake serious military and other interventions to reshape the region. None of the above are attractive and no ‘success’ could be guaranteed. However, unless the West is willing to seriously re-engage in the region using all possible means and forms of engagement then not only will the people of the Middle East continue to suffer, but Europe and the wider world will have to face the many consequences of the interaction between the new terrorism and the new geopolitics for which the region is the terrifying cauldron.    

The New Geopolitics of Terror: Demons and Dragons.

Julian Lindley-French   

Friday, 6 January 2017

Trump: Geopolitics is more than the Art of the Deal

“My style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after. Sometimes I settle for less than I sought, but in most cases I still end up with what I want”.

Donald J. Trump, “The Art of the Deal”

Alphen, Netherlands. 6 January. Giving evidence to Congress yesterday leaders of the US intelligence community were clear; Russia was not only complicit in the election-warping theft of data and its release, Moscow is a “full-scope cyber-actor” engaged in a cyber offensive against the United States. In other words, Russia is using cyber as statecraft as part of a concerted anti-American geopolitical campaign. And yet, President-elect Trump seems to reject much of this assessment. Why?  

Geopolitics is the competition of and for power. The successful conduct of geopolitics is driven by a clear understanding of a state’s interests, a proper perception of relative power and weakness, driven forward by well-considered policy, and applied via well-crafted strategy underpinned by an appropriate mix of hard and soft power tools and instruments of which cyber is now but one. The aim of geopolitics is to shape the choices of others in pursuit of those interests.  Central to the successful conduct of geopolitics is in turn a proper understanding of the strategic environment, the likely choices and capabilities of adversary states and actors, and indeed those that lead them. Consequently, the gathering of information and the expertise to interpret it are the stuff of ‘intel’. Knowledge and understanding are strategic weapons in geopolitics.

However, if one reads with serious intent President-elect Trump’s recent Twitter storm his ‘beef’ with the US intelligence community seems to run far deeper than concerns that the intelligence community is seeking to de-legitimise his November 2016 election victory.  There is profound ‘cultural’ dissonance between Trump’s understanding of geopolitics and that of much of the Washington policy establishment. For the status quo latter American geopolitics concerns the establishment and maintenance of strategic relationships with friendly states and actors vital to the securing of American interests. For the radical Trump geopolitics seems rather to simply be an extension of his real estate business, with the world as real estate. 

Cultural friction is not the only issue between Trump and High Washington. President-elect Trump seems also to conflate his determination to ‘clear out the swamp’, with his rejection of intelligence assessments, and his desire to reform US intelligence efforts. Let me try and untangle the Trump conflation.

That US intelligence structures need reform is a moot point. There is no question that since the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in the wake of 911, to better co-ordinate the efforts of the many agencies in the domain of ‘intel’, there have been occasions when intelligence assessments and analysis have been politicised. The structure is also top heavy and critically the CIA’s vital Directorate of Operations has withered. However, the need for agency reform has nothing whatsoever to do with the US intelligence assessment of Russian complicity in the 2016 cyber-attack on American democracy, most of which comes from the National Security Agency (NSA). If Trump wants that evidence ‘re-scrubbed’ he should speak to Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. The British also have clear evidence of Russia’s 2016 cyber-offensive, and I am sure Prime Minister May would be only happy to share that information post the January 20th inauguration as part of the new ‘special relationship’.

What this rumpus really reveals is Donald J. Trump’s understanding of geopolitics is vastly different from that of High Washington.  In Art of the Deal Trump states, “…listen to your gut, no matter how good something sounds on paper”. Trump has repeatedly said during the transition that he sees his strength as a deal-maker. In real estate the deal is the end in and of itself, with relationships merely a ‘beautiful’ means to that end. However, geopolitics are not iterative they are constant, meaning that relationships are as important as ends. Indeed, in geopolitics means and ends are essentially the same thing, with relationships built on years of analysis-led mutual understanding.

If President Trump sees geopolitics as merely a series of trade-offs then the world is in for a rough few years.  For example, if President Trump seeks a deal with Putin over combatting Islamic State, would he in return accept Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and much of Eastern Ukraine? Will he offer Europe a continued American security guarantee but only in return for much more money spent by Europeans on their own defence, and on condition they offer more support for what he deems to be America’s interests? Art of the Deal suggests that implicit in any of those ‘deals’ would be the constant threat that he could abrogate all and any of them at any time if he did not get what he wanted, as he pushed for ever more. Art of the Deal certainly implies he will be anti-EU. He would far rather have a group of weak European satellites subject to his will, than a co-ordinated group that could act as both partner and competitor. If so, NATO would only be of utility to Trump as a tool for ensuring European compliance as the supplicant partner in a new transatlantic ‘deal’.  

However, it is his relationship with China that is likely to be the biggest challenge for the Trump ‘doctrine’ of geopolitics. Donald Trump is instinctively attracted to those with a ruthless appetite for and understanding of power. That is why he is a ‘friend’ of Putin. However, Beijing is far more complicated and sophisticated than one-man Moscow. Like Beijing and Moscow Art of the Deal suggests that Trump geopolitics would also be instinctively drawn to the idea that might is right, with Western-led institutions seen merely as constraints on his deal-making action.  

What allies need to understand is what matters to Trump. Trump’s overarching aim is to secure and maintain his own power and wealth. America is a means to that end. Preserving his voter-base will thus be central to Trump geopolitics. A trade deal with China is central to that ambition. However, to get such a ‘deal’ with China will demand trade-offs. What would those trade-offs be? Would be implicitly accept China’s absurdly grand self-proclaimed sphere of interest in East Asia in much the same way he is about to legitimate Russia’s sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and the Middle East? What would he want in return? China to stop using competitive devaluations of its currency in a de facto geo-economic ‘war’ with the US? China to enter into a bilateral trade deal with the US to replace the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the rest of Asia-Pacific simply be forced to accept their 'place' in the new Pacific order?  He says he wants China to thwart the nuclear ambitions of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un but in return for what? Would be implicitly accept that Taiwan's future is an internal Chinese matter? They must be quite nervous in Taipei right now.           

Yesterday it was announced that two Russian warships had arrived in the Philippines for ‘exercises’. President Putin has sent those warships deep into the Pacific because he sees a strategic and political vacuum developing due to America’s retreat from geopolitics. Traditionally, American presidents have prevented the emergence of such vacuums by establishing early a series of foreign and security principles or 'doctrines' that make it clear to the world where America sees it vital interests, and which in turn are reinforced by a series of alliances and relationships.

If, as seems likely, President Trump abandons a ‘doctrine’ in favour of a series of iterative deals he will help deepen the emerging vacuum because neither allies nor adversaries will have any certainty as to the nature or extent of America’s commitment to them or indeed anything else. To say this would be somewhat of a paradox is an understatement; that is precisely what happened on President Obama’s watch with a White House that had neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies, just values…and vague ones at that.

President-elect Trump must realise and quickly that the White House cannot play petty politics with geopolitics. There are brave Americans risking their lives and their freedom daily to give the Office of the President the information it needs for the Commander-in-Chief to successfully conduct geopolitics and, when the time inevitably comes, make some very big calls. And, there could well be a very big call to make during President Trump’s first year in office if North Korea proves it can place a nuclear warhead atop a missile capable of reaching Seattle.

In geopolitics gut feeling is never enough.  Indeed, successful geopolitics demands far more than the art of the deal. ‘Deals’, however clever, are often the antithesis of geopolitics because in the absence of principles of political realism they destroy good, long-term relationships with friends, too often in favour of bad, short-term relationships with (excuse me) assholes.

Relationships not deals are the key to successful geopolitics as President Donald J. Trump will soon discover…along with the rest of us!

Julian Lindley-French  


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Britain Must Play Offence with Defence in 2017

“Britain spends some 7% of GDP on security in the round. Elements of this broad security spend that the Government has shifted into the defence budget to give the appearance of maintaining the defence budget at 2% GDP. It has done this by exploiting to the full the NATO definition of ‘other’ expenditure in support of deployable forces. This has been done primarily by shifting intelligence assets and resources not directly supporting the force to within the defence budget. Therefore, the ‘increase’ in the defence budget announced in the July [2014] Statement is unlikely to lead to enhanced fighting power, which was the political inference in maintaining 2% GDP expenditure on defence”.

Professor Julian Lindley-French, evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee, November 2015

Alphen, Netherlands. 3 January. Britain must play offence with security and defence in 2017. Why? 2017 will be one of those inflection moments in geopolitics and Britain needs to influence it. Brexit, Trump, Russia, IS, and and a host of wider challenges to the fast collapsing Western world order 1.0 demands proportionate action by one of the world’s top five world economic and security powers. Consequently, invisible security power and visible military power must be at the core of Britain’s 2017 influence campaign in at least two vital strategic arenas; Brexit and the forging of a new hard-nosed strategic relationship with the incoming Trump administration.

Brexit: In my November 2016 remarks to the annual alumni meeting of University College, Oxford I said Brexit will not be resolved by the pettifogging process and legalism beloved of Brussels, small European powers, and Whitehall. Britain’s new relationship with the EU will be forged over power fundamentals such as wealth, security and defence. Unfortunately, the process-junkies of the London elite establishment simply do not get this. That once great newspaper The Economist, which today too often confuses ‘analysis’ with one-eyed efforts to thwart Brexit, mistakenly suggested in its Christmas edition that the EU may withhold security and intelligence co-operation if Theresa May seeks a hardish Brexit. Wrong. Britain’s security and intelligence services are by far the best in Europe, particularly in the fight against IS. Take the Dutch for example.  Whatever Britain’s future relationship with the EU the Netherlands would never countenance seeing co-operation end between its MIVD and Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) because of some parochial, vindictive directive from Brussels. Much the same can be said for the rest of Europe, including France and Germany.

Trump: Hard-headed businessman that he is President-elect Trump has already indicated he will judge America’s European allies on the extent to which they are willing to invest in their own defence, and their concomitant commitment to support America’s global security role. Trump’s litmus test will likely be the willingness of allies to meet the NATO defence investment pledge of 2% GDP on defence, of which 20% must be investment on new military equipment.

The problem: The strategic situation has worsened markedly since the disastrous 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR 2010) and yet London sticks doggedly to too many of its already outdated prescriptions. Britain will blow both opportunities to influence Brexit and Trump if London continues to play defence pretence. London routinely trots out the mantra that Britain is one of only five NATO members that spend 2% of GDP on defence, and that London is investing some £178bn on new equipment. This is simply political rhetoric. As former Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Houghton suggested in December 2015 the reality is that Britain’s armed forces are too small, hollowed-out, over-stretched, under-resourced, and increasingly stressed, with little or no relationship between roles, missions, capability and capacity.

The force challenge: Take the British Army. At 82,500 the Regular Army is too small, efforts to offset cuts to the force via the creation of a 30,000 strong part-time Reserve Army have failed, and much of the non-commissioned officer backbone of the force taken voluntary redundancy in disgust. Moreover, the insistence on cost-neutral investments (?) is forcing the Army to make bad choices, such as the December 2016 decision to scrap more main battle tanks simply to fund lighter armoured vehicles just at the moment the Russians are deploying significant numbers of the new T-14 Armata tank to NATO’s eastern border.  Much the same can be said for the Royal Air Force.  However, it is the Royal Navy which reveals the extent of that lack of balance in Britain’s unbalanced defence policy. This year it is likely the first of Britain’s two new super-carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth will be commissioned. I say ‘likely’ because my sources in the Trump camp tell me President Trump could well cancel the vertical take-off version of the F-35 to teach US defence contractors a lesson about excessive cost and poor performance. The problem is that the F-35B is the very aircraft for which the British carriers are designed and why the two ships are so big. Should the F-35B indeed be cancelled the two ships will either have to be re-designed (again) to handle conventional carrier aircraft, turned into gigantic helicopter carriers, or simply mothballed. The strategic and political impact of any of the above would be disastrous for London precisely because the two carriers are meant to be national strategic assets and statements of power.

The cause: Beyond including the cost of intelligence and ‘other’ items in the defence budget for the first time in its history Britain’s sea-based future nuclear deterrent is now funded from the defence budget.  At the current level of defence investment Britain can afford either a powerful conventional force, or a credible nuclear deterrent, but not both.  The result is that the credibility of both Britain’s conventional and nuclear forces is declining and in turn undermining Britain’s strategic influence at a critical juncture.

The consequence: No real increase will take place in force investment until at least 2019. Consequently, the Royal Navy will lack the personnel to properly man the two carriers because SDSR 2015 forced the Senior Service to make an absurd choice between capability and capacity at the operational expense of both. There is now profound uncertainty about when the under-hulled Navy will actually get the new frigates on order.  Moreover, its state-of-the-art Type 45 destroyers are effectively laid up due to a design flaw in propulsion and power systems. There is also much concern about the ability of a future deployed British maritime force to defend itself in the face of emerging anti-ship technologies.

The paradox?  The danger exists that the two great carriers, far from projecting power and influence, will instead become icons of strategic failure and incompetence. Certainly, those that need to know in Washington, Berlin, Paris, Moscow, Beijing, Brussels and elsewhere, understand this. This is the reason why Britain punches so far beneath its weight these days in international affairs.  

The solution: If Britain is to properly use its armed forces as a lever of strategic influence (as it should) it must do so by creating a force that can not only play a full and proper role in the contemporary and future defence of the Alliance (and not just the defence of Britain), but also help relieve the pressure on over-stretched US forces, and demonstrate the indispensability of Britain as a security and defence ally to Americans and Europeans alike. In other words, London must urgently rebalance Britain’s unbalanced defence policy so that investment in military assets is matched by investment in the numbers and quality of personnel needed to exploit those assets, together with the supporting structures needed to sustain the force across the entirety of its roles and missions.

The proposal: The British government very publicly announces an addendum to SDSR 2015 (it has been done before) in which it states that 2% of GDP will be invested in the future force, and that the cost of the new Successor nuclear deterrent programme will again be met from the national contingency budget. London should also announce that much of the funding diverted in 2015 away from defence will be reinvested in defence. Much of the rest of the shortfall, the Government should state, will be met from the gesture-laden, appallingly wasteful aid and development budget, too much of which has been revealed of late to be hopelessly out-of-control, and in terms of the British national interest by and large useless.

The conclusion: Will London have the strategic vision and the political courage to do this? Probably not. The price?  A loss of critical influence at the very moment when Britain needs not just to appear strong, but to be strong in the coming Brexit negotiations and the forging of new power relationships.

The bottom-line: IF London in 2017 is to influence the power fundamentals of its respective relationships with Europeans and Trump Britain must play offence with defence. To that end, London must stop being in thrall to accountants and penny-pinchers, and start re-capitalising all of its influence assets. That means more strategists in charge who properly understand power and its application.

Julian Lindley-French