hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Luther, Europe and the First Hard Brexit

“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write”.
Martin Luther

Alphen, Netherlands. 31 October.  Five hundred years ago to the day a little known academic and theologian in a small, obscure German town wrote a lengthy tract entitled Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum to his local archbishop. The tract complained about the sale of so-called ‘indulgences’, the selling of pardons to wealthy sinners, whenever the Catholic Church needed money.  Dramatic though the story is Martin Luther did not nail what became known as his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church, Wittemburg as myth would have it, and he had no intention of starting the storm he did. However, Martin Luther is the undoubted ‘father’ of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation that followed. What does the anniversary of Luther’s ‘Protestantism’ say about Europe today?

That Luther could ignite such fury showed the extent to which the reputation the distant Church of Rome had gained for elite corruption.  Much of northern and western Europe of the time was utterly fed up with what it saw as the self-serving power of the Catholic Church and its princely acolytes.  Luther exploited that anger and within four years of publishing the Theses in 1521 he declared Pope Leo X the anti-Christ.  In 1524 he also published On the Bondage of the Will in which his separation of individual faith from the structure and power of the established Church helped to generate a mass movement that was as much political as spiritual.

Millions died between 1517 and 1648 when the Treaty of Westphalia brought the bulk (by no means all as I saw during my trips to Northern Ireland) of Europe’s religious wars to an end with the creation of the modern European nation-state.  The counter-reformation saw the Church and its princely allies try to eradicate Protestantism during a series of reverse-engineered crusades, the worst of which was the Spanish Inquisition.  However, as protestant states emerged the struggle over the conscience of the faith became systemic, as did the wars that were fought in pursuit of the One True Faith

Perhaps the most important of those states was England.  In 1534 King Henry VII embarked on the first hard Brexit (Engxit?) when he broke with Rome and formed the Church of England which, naturally, he headed.  Henry was hardly a reformist. In 1521 Henry had been awarded the title, Fidei Defensor, or Defender of the Faith, by Pope Leo X for defending the established Church against Protestantism.  What Henry sought in 1534 was distinctly earthly, the money and wealth the English Church had accrued over the centuries, as well as the removal of a competing pole of power in the land.  He also wanted a divorce from his first wife, the Spanish Catherine of Aragon, which Rome had refused to grant. 

The Reformation today in Europe?  It is everywhere.  The cultural difference between northern and southern Europe reflects the Protestant and Catholic traditions that emerged as Rome tried to stamp out the Reformation.  To simplify what was a very complicated process (and by no means wishing to offend Catholics) Protestantism, with its greater emphasis on the personal relationship between the Almighty and the individual, saw the church and society in much of Northern Europe become more austere, modest. Catholicism, with its emphasis on High Church ritual and strict Observance, saw a very different form of governance emerge across much of Southern Europe.  This is not least because the established Church reinforced the power of the established Aristocracy.  It is no coincidence that modern democracy emerged in Northern and Western Europe, as well as its colonial offshoots.

Which brings me to the EU and the Reformation. Many historians, mistakenly to my mind, simply focus on the role of what became the Union in resolving the economic, and by extension strategic tensions between France and Germany.  The most important tract of the EU is the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which in many ways reads like a semi-secular Edict of Worms that emerged from Holy Roman Emperor’s counter-Luther Diet of Worms in 1521.  In its highest form the EU was, and is designed to end the deepest split of all in Europe; the historical split between Catholics and Protestants, plus now those member-states that share the Orthodox tradition.

It is no coincidence to my mind that Brexit took place in Britain, with England the heartland.  The same English distrust of distant, unaccountable, arrogant and self-aggrandising power that so irked my ancestors also irks many of my compatriots today, me included.  Even though I am a big picture Remainer, I am also an EU-sceptic.  This is partly because I worked for the EU and saw at close quarters the emergence of an intolerant Euro-theology, replete with the High Priests of Euro-fanaticism and their One and Only True Way creed for some form of European super-state…that they would (of course) lead.  Worse, I also witnessed at close hand the self-serving indulgences of the Brussels elite paid for with the taxes of hard-pressed citizens too often held in aloof contempt by an elite who also believe they always know best. 

And yet, I believe Europe also needs a ‘Europe’. However, if the EU is to survive it must be the Reformation not a latter day Counter-Reformation, believing it can crush all opposition simply by calling them ‘populists’.  Luther was just such a ‘populist’ because he expressed in his pen the frustrations millions felt with a failed power mainstream.  Indeed, Luther emerged just like contemporary populists because the power mainstream had failed to deal with the legitimate concerns of millions of ordinary people, and steadfastly refused to acknowledge their own failure.  Then as now!   

If the EU is to survive it must offer hope to ordinary Europeans by becoming the champion of people, not power.  That aim will also mean an EU willing and able to recognise limits to its ambition and power. Luther helped create the modern states of Europe against the universalism of the Church because he reflected the identity-politics of his age.  In this latest struggle between national-identity and power-universalism the EU would do well to accept its role as the agent of the States of Europe United, not the ruler of a United States of Europe. To many the latter is simply the latest incarnation of a new/old Rome, with Jean-Claude Juncker cast as the Bishop of Brussels and the Commissioners his cardinals.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 30 October 2017

El Alamein 75

“This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning”.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill
10 November, 1942

The Second Battle of El Alamein:

Alphen, Netherlands, 30 October. Seventy-five years ago today the Australian 9th Division broke the German lines and moved to block the coastal road, at a railway halt called El Alamein, some 60kms/100 miles west of the Egyptian city of Alexandria.  In so doing the Aussies cut off several of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps divisions, and set-up the first great land victory of British and Imperial forces over the Germans.  The battle, which subsequently became known simply as ‘El Alamein’, took place between 23 October and 11 November, 1942, and began a rout of German and Italian forces in North Africa that ended with the latter’s surrender to the British at Tripoli on 12 May, 1943.

Order of Battle:

The 9th Division formed part of the British Eighth Army, under the command of the then General (soon-to-be Field Marshal) Bernard Law Montgomery. On 23 October, 1942 the ‘8th’ had a strength of some 195,000 personnel and 1,029 tanks.  This compared with an Axis force at the very end of its supply lines, and with little or no air cover, with a strength of 116,000 personnel, plus the 547 tanks of Panzerarmee Afrika.

On the night of 23 October a heavy British artillery barrage, supported by air power hammered the Afrika Korps and their Italian allies before British, Australian, Canadian, Indian (including personnel from what in 1947 became Pakistan), New Zealand and South African forces launched the ground offensive. In what in many ways was a classical set-piece World War One assault Montgomery had planned a three-phase battle: the break-in, the main fight, and the break-out. However, determined counter-attacks by Rommel’s German forces and Italian paratroopers and other regular elements, soon turned the battle into one of attrition. 

Over the next eleven days Montgomery, whose name became synonymous with this battle, struggled to break through. Finally, on 4 November, no longer able to parry Montgomery’s repeated thrusts along a battle-front that extended over some 60kms or 40 miles, and absent their sick leader Rommel, Axis lines broke.

Losses were relatively steep on both sides. British and Imperial forces lost 13,560 killed, wounded or captured, whilst Axis forces lost between 37,000 and 59,000. Even to this day the actual toll is unclear. Critically, by the end of the battle the Afrika Korps had lost much of its armour, the once impressive Panzerarmee Afrika having been reduced to less than thirty tanks. Within days of the victory at El Alamein Anglo-American forces landed in Morocco and began the roll up of the Afrika Korps and Axis forces in North Africa.

Military-Strategic Assessment:

For the British it was vital to win a significant land battle against Axis forces for the first time since the 1939 outbreak of the war. Indeed, with the Americans rapidly taking over the strategic direction of the Western war from the British, and with Stalin increasingly dismissive of British efforts, Churchill desperately needed a major victory to preserve at least a modicum of influence with Roosevelt and Stalin. El Alamein provided Churchill with just such a victory, even though by late 1942 it was plain to see that Britain’s power was waning fast and that it would be the Americans and Soviets who would henceforth call most of the strategic shots.

Prior to El Alamein the campaign in North Africa had been a by then all-too-familiar story. Rommel and his German expeditionary force had arrived in North Africa in March 1941.  During the ensuing eighteen months Rommel’s smaller, but better-led and better-equipped force had military-strategically out-manoeuvred bigger, but often poorly-led and poorly-equipped British and Imperial forces. El Alamein changed that dynamic, even though it is hard to suggest the conservative Montgomery was ever the match as a commander of his more daring and creating German counterpart.  

However, ‘Monty’ did the job because for the British the victory was particularly timely. By late 1942 the Royal Navy had effectively defeated the surface fleets of both the German Kriegsmarine and, of particular importance to the battle, the Italian fleet in the Mediterranean. Ultimately, El Alamein was a victory of supply and re-supply, for which Montgomery’s superior General Sir Harold Alexander must take much of the credit.  However, the Battle of the Atlantic still raged at the time of El Alamein with German submarines continuing to threaten the British people with starvation in the Battle of the Atlantic. And, although the retaliatory strategic bombing campaign of the Royal Air Force was beginning to wreak havoc on Germany, it was at an immense cost. 

In the wake of the victory of British-led forces at El Alamein the Western Allies began the long slog to eventual victory in 1945.  First, through Sicily, then onto the arduous campaign on the Italian mainland in 1943 and 1944, during which the Allies laid the groundwork at Salerno and Anzio for the critical D-Day amphibious assault on Normandy on 6 June, 1944.
Lessons for today:

There are also lessons from El Alamein for the defence and military strategy of today. Firstly, defence strategy that is not properly grounded in national grand strategy, i.e. the organisation of large means in pursuit of large, well-considered ends, and employed in properly-established and balanced ways, is but a meaningless waste of taxpayer’s money. El Alamein served a very clear strategic end, employed means to effect, in ways that eventually proved victorious. Secondly, military strategy that is not embedded in and conscious of a workable political strategy (and its context) is merely a waste of lives and materiel. El Alamein was essential to the ultimate success of West’s political strategy. Above all, El Alamein was proof of that age-old military adage: do what the enemy least desires, where and when he least desires it.

El Alamein is also testament to another military truism: decisive advantage comes only when the critical weight of mass, manoeuvre and mobility has been established. Military innovation, and with it new technology is important, but cannot act as a short-cut to such advantage. Today, British defence strategy is driven too much by the triumph of hope over experience. For example, a platoon will never do the job of a brigade, let alone a division, whatever cap badge is assigned to it.

Stalingrad & El Alamein:

Without in any way denigrating the effort and sacrifice of the Aussies, Brits, Indians, Kiwis, Pakistanis, South Africans et al who fought at El Alamein there are also limits to the strategic importance of the battle.  Between August 1942 and February 1943 the Battle of Stalingrad took place, involved 2.2 million personnel, and saw between 1.7-2 million killed, wounded or captured. It is fair to say that the May 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany really began in the wastes, the meat-grinder, that was Stalingrad. Equally, El Alamein must not be under-estimated.  Taken together the two contemporaneous victories broke the myth of invincibility that the Wehrmacht had acquired. And, having already defeated the Italians at sea El Alamein critically gave the Western Allies undisputed control of the Mediterranean, and a base from which to launch one of the three-prongs from east, south, and west that would eventually bring the Reich to defeat.  In the wake of El Alamein Nazi Germany was trapped in a three-dimensional grand strategic vice between the Anglo-Americans, the Red Army and Western air power.
In honour of the men of ALL nations who fought and died at the Second Battle of El Alamein. Lest we forget.

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Is This the End of the Royal Marines?

Per Mare, Per Terram

Alphen, Netherlands. 26 October. At a time when the deterrent power of capable expeditionary military power grows by the day the British government is again planning to cut long-term strategic capability to plug a short-term cash hole. Earlier this month Rear-Admiral A. J. Burton RN reportedly resigned his commission in protest at further planned cuts to the Royal Marines.  Confirmed (further) cuts to the ‘Royals’ already include the loss of 200 Marines, vital training in the US and Norway, as well as battlefield training in Canada and Kenya. Planned cuts include the scrapping of the Royal Navy’s only two amphibious assault ships, HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, plus the loss of a further 1000 Royal Marines from a force that is only 7,500 strong plus 500 reserves. The US Marine Corps is some 182,000 strong, with 35,000 reserves.  London (as usual) says that talk of such cuts is mere speculation. They always do…until they are confirmed, probably during a Christmas or summer parliamentary break to minimise political embarrassment. Still, this latest sorry British defence saga begs a question: does Britain still need the Royal Marines?

As I write up the last sentences of the massive GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Report, which is due to be launched in November, the news that London is even considering cutting the Royals (again) fills me with despond. If realised such a cut would not only be the latest act of strategic illiteracy for which London has a now well-earned reputation, it would also be strategic lunacy.  One of the report’s findings is that high-quality, expeditionary forces, such as the Royal Marines, have a deterrent and defence multiplier effect for NATO out of all proportion to their size, even if size, in the words of a once famous French car commercial, does indeed matter.

Naturally, the Ministry of Defence tries to smother such ‘speculation’ with the usual minister-protecting, politics-before-strategy civil service nonsense. The Government, we are told, is conducting a National Security Capability Review, not (of course) as a way of finding further cost-savings to plug a £30bn short-term cash flow hole, but to consider in the round how best to configure Britain’s future force for new forms of threat, such as hybrid and cyber warfare.  This is also nonsense.  It is not the job of Britain’s armed forces to deal with the bulk of hybrid and cyber threats. The mounting of such a defence requires a cross-government, whole-of-government effort. Such threats are simply being used by the Grand Budgeteers at HM Treasury to justify further cuts to elements of Britain’s vital expeditionary military capability in the ideological pursuit of balanced books by an arbitrary date at any strategic price.

Don’t worry, we are told, the Royals will in future be launched by helicopter from Britain’s two new aircraft carriers.  More nonsense. A week ago, a recently-retired very senior Royal Navy officer and friend, someone who really knows about maritime/amphibious operations, contacted me. He said this: “The Royal Marines’ future is under severe threat. No amphibs (amphibious assault ships) means no sea-lift/effects from the sea; arguing that QNLZ (the new carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth) will launch helos with Royal is nonsense.  No amphibs means no Royals in the Caribbean dealing with future HRDA (humanitarian disaster) demands.  I’m surprised no-one has picked up the threads of the threat to the RMs…” A few years ago I was an Observer on Exercise Joint Warrior and I witnessed first-hand just what 3 Commando Brigade afforded Britain – discreet strategic influence and effect.  In other words, the ability to deliver a powerful fighting force at short-notice to trouble-spots the world-over, and, if needs be, act as lead force during a more sustained campaign such as the ‘Major Joint Operation-plus’ at the heart of current NATO planning.
So, does Britain still need the Royal Marines?  First, if one bothers to read Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015, which is fast becoming one of the great works of British fiction, after over a decade of land-centric operations Britain’s defence strategy was to shift to a ‘joint’ expeditionary capability with a focus on the maritime/amphibious and land operations supported from the sea. After all, some 80% of the world’s population live less than 100 kms from the sea.  Second, the whole justification of the two new 70,000 ton aircraft carriers was precisely such a strategy.  However, carrier-enabled power projection (CEPP) only works IF carrier-strike works in conjunction with the maritime/amphibious capability, NOT at the expense of it. Third, implicit in SDSR 2015 was the creation of a joint expeditionary force of such high quality that it could also act as a coalition command hub. The Royals are thus vital not only to the realisation of such a strategy, but provide a very significant part of Britain’s strategic and force command influence over allies.
Further cuts to the Royals would also weaken a key influence tool, which London can ill afford to lose right now. In 2013 I had the honour of attending the fortieth anniversary of the UK Netherlands Amphibious Landing Force on board the HNLMS Rotterdam. In June of this year UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon signed a new agreement with the Dutch for closer defence co-operation, to which the Royals are vital.  Further cuts to the Royal Marines will not only weaken that agreement, but place the future of both the Royals and the Korps Mariniers, the Royal Netherlands Marines Corps, in grave jeopardy.

Indeed, what I fear for the Royal Marines is something that I saw happening a decade ago to the Korps Mariniers, when I was a professor at the Netherlands Defence Academy.  The Korps Mariniers is a superb fighting force. It is also a close partner of the Royal Marines. Indeed, the two forces are so close that the British and Dutch Marines are effectively inseparable. However, without the capability to deliver effects from the sea, or to control the Littoral, the Royals and the Korps will become little different from any other light infantry force. So, why not cut the Royals to avoid cutting the Army further?

The Royals also bring reputation to bear, which is a vital part of influence and effects across the conflict spectrum.  A year or so ago I stood at the spot in Gibraltar where in August 1704 the Korps Mariniers and the Royal Marines landed.  This Anglo-Dutch operation was a classic of its strategic kind. Indeed, this small force generated strategic effect out of all proportion to its size, blocked the French Navy, and gave Britain control of the gateway to the Mediterranean…which it still has.  Britain needs more Royals not less of them! 

Planned cuts to the Royals also begs a further question. Does London think Britain needs a strategic navy at all?  The Royal Navy these days is a bijoux navy, a couple of soon-to-have flashy but under-equipped heavy carriers here, some ageing frigates there, and a few showcase nuclear-attack submarines, who knows if and when.  Which brings me to the real issue implicit in this latest round of defence/influence destroying cuts: even though Britain, on paper at least, is a top five world economic and military power, too much of Britain’s elite Establishment no longer believes in Britain as a power. That lack of elite self-belief oozes through the Brexit negotiations, and threatens to weaken NATO at a crucial moment.

Is this the end of the Royal Marines? No. However, if these planned cuts do indeed go through it could well mark the beginning of the end of a world-class, world famous force that has served Britain since 1664.  Which begs one final question: if marines are now deemed by London to be irrelevant why is it then that the Chinese, Russians and other powers are spending so much money creating the very kind of force Britain is proposing to cut…again?

Per Mare, Per Terram? Britain does, indeed, need the Royal Marines, and given what they can do, the flexibility and the capability with which they do ‘it’. London either chooses not to understand such ‘Grand Strategy for Dummies’, or simply does not care.  One more thing: Britain is an island.

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Vladimir Putin and the October Revolution

“We must write in a language which sows among the masses hate, revulsion, and scorn towards those who disagree with us".

Vladimir Illjitsj Lenin 

Alphen, Netherlands. 24 October. Born in war Russia’s October 1917 Revolution was a cataclysm.  Like many such events it took some time before its ‘clysm’ became truly ‘cata’, but cataclysm it was.  On 25 October, 1917 (actually 7 November because Russia at the time used the Julian not the Gregorian calendar – ho hum!) Vladimir Illjitsj Lenin led an armed insurrection in what was then Petrograd (St Petersberg).  In the ensuing years the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) first descended into chaos before it was eventually forged in the Russian mind by the Nazi assault and the ensuring Great Patriotic War of 1941 to 1945 in which up to 23 million Russians were killed.  And yet, President Putin seems distinctly ambivalent about marking the anniversary of an event that for all its undoubted brutality transformed Russia for a time into a genuine superpower. Why?

President Putin, like Marshal Josef Stalin before him, merges Russian history and politics into a vision of Mother Russia that he personifies.  Part tsar, part nationalist, part revolutionary, part devout son of the Orthodox Russian church, part marshal Putin appeals to Russian nostalgia, taking bits of Russian history here, rejecting bits of history there.  Putin’s embrace of the Soviet era is a case in point. He has restored some of Soviet state’s key security structures, such as the massive Ministry of State Security as a purposeful recreation of its Soviet forebear. Defence Minister Shoigu deliberately likens Moscow’s National Centre for Defence Management to the old Soviet Stavka, the General Staff which once commanded the Red Army. President Putin has also reinstated the massive Victory Day military parades in Red Square, complete with allusions to the past when Marshal Stalin took the salute.

There are even proposals to restore the giant statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, or ‘Iron Felix’ as it was known, to Lubyanka Square. In 1991 with the fall of the USSR it was torn down as a symbol of oppression. Dzershinsky was variously director of the feared Cheka and NKVD, secret police forces that were also forerunners to the equally feared KGB, and the increasingly feared FSB.  Dzerzhinsky was complicit in the murder of tens if not hundreds of thousands of political opponents, He once said that, “We represent in ourselves organised terror, this must be said very clearly…the Red Terror involves the terrorisation, arrests and extermination of the enemies of the revolution on the basis of their class affiliation or of their pre-revolutionary roles”. 
The light embrace of Dzerzhinsky says a lot about Vladimir Putin’s view of the events of ‘October’ 1917. Under no circumstances does he wish to re-awaken any revolutionary zeal in the Russian people. Rather, he prefers to cherry pick those parts of Soviet history that suggest order, patriotism and expansionism. Putin also seeks to exploit a nostalgic and misplaced sense amongst many Russians that the Soviet Union was somehow 'great' simply because it intimidated Russia’s neighbours.
President Putin’s very partial use of Russian history is not confined to the Soviet era.  He has reached back at moments of rhetorical flourish to Alexander Nevsky, the thirteenth century ‘Grand Prince of Vladimir’ who many Russians romantically see as the founder of the Russian state and scourge of Germans, Swedes and other ‘western’ invaders. Putin also cites Peter the Great, the seventeenth century ruler of the then Russian empire who transformed Russia into a major European power.  Peter the Great also reveals Vladimir Putin’s very parochial use of history. One reason for the success of Tsar Peter was his extensive administrative reform of the Russian state.  President Putin can be accused of many things but he is certainly no reformist, unless concentrating ever more power on himself can be described as ‘reform’.  
Vladimir Putin will not be making a big song and dance about the centennial of the October Revolution, but nor will he disrespect it.  Rather, he will endeavour to corral those bits of Russia’s revolution that reinforce his rule, and ignore the rest.  This is because Vladimir Putin is the very natural Russian successor to those Russian leaders who over decades distanced the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from Marxist-Leninism, and in time Russia from communism.  This is much the same process that is now taking place in China with the elevation this week of the political thought of President Xi into the Chinese constitution, alongside Mao and Deng Xiaoping. ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’ is simply yet another of those metaphors beloved of former Soviet leaders to mark the abandonment of ideology in favour of authority.

Like a host of late Soviet leaders Putinism masks Russia’s economic decline and chronic social problems by promoting a cult of personality and assertive nationalism to help the regime stay in power by whatever means.  As communism lost its way and the USSR failed this is not far different from the methods employed by a series of Soviet leaders Stalin, Malenkov, Krushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko, and over time all with declining effect.

Putin’s Russia is no dictatorship of the proletariat.  Indeed, if Vladimir Illjitsj Lenin was not glued in he might be well be spinning in his Moscow tomb. You see Putin;s use of history also reveals the paradox of Vladimir Putin. A reformed Russia could in time be transformed into the Great Power President Putin craves Russia to be, but one lesson of Russian history is that Russian leaders rarely survive such reforms. 

There is an old Soviet joke. Stalin, Krushchev and Brezhnev are stuck in a failed train in the middle of nowhere. Stalin says, “Shoot the drivers!”  Krushchev says, “No, no Comrade Tovarich Stalin. The problem is structural. I will prepare a five year plan”.  “Five year plan?” asks Brezhnev. “Simply close the curtains and let’s pretend we are moving”.  Vladimir Putin is certainly moving Russia but even he does not know where, and to what eventual fate.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 20 October 2017

Oxford Blues 2017

Alphen, Netherlands. 20 October. This is a Friday blog blast. Having spent much of the week undertaking a major edit of the forthcoming GLOBSEC report on NATO Adaptation, and royally sick of Brexit (bloody hashtag or no) I want to write about something closer to home - Oxford.  Don’t worry, next week I will write about the October Revolution and Luther, although not in the same blog.

David Lamy MP, one of the Labour Party’s more considered activists, has used freedom of information legislation to ‘prove’ that Oxford and Cambridge do not let enough people from modest backgrounds to aspire to dream at either.  On the face of it the figures speak for themselves, but only on the face of it.  Indeed, I am living proof of the efforts made by Oxford to recruit ‘oicks from the sticks’.

My success had little to do with my being a genius. Rather, I was a beneficiary of the then then Labour Secretary of State for Education, Shirley Williams. At the time she was issuing threats to Oxford and Cambridge that were very similar to those of Mr Lamy and friends today. When I went up to University College, Oxford I was one of the first pupils from a bog standard Comprehensive School.  Comprehensive schools had only been created in the early 70s by a Labour government which objected to the ‘streaming’ (segregation) of children by ability.  Before comprehensive schools pupils were divided at the age of eleven into a relatively small elite who went to so-called grammar schools, and the rest who were ‘binned’ in secondary modern schools doomed, as the Left would have it, to a life of drudgery and servitude.

Aged eighteen Oxford frightened the living daylights out of me.  Nothing in my prior life had prepared me for the social shock of ‘going up’, and the only thing lower than my teenage self-confidence were my social skills.  Well, at least my self-confidence has improved over the years.  Worse, because I was reading for an honours degree in Modern History I was required to pass an examination in Latin (which gives you some idea about Oxford’s view of modernity) some eight weeks after arriving in College.  Given that the nearest thing I had to an education in Latin was the occasional visit to a 1970s Italian restaurant this proved somewhat of a challenge.

To say my first year was not a success is an under-statement.  Oxford at the time was more class-ridden than the very class-ridden society it then served. I felt utterly intimidated by the people, I hated the place and I felt utterly miserable.  Indeed, I would have ‘jacked’ the whole thing in were it not for the fact that I was a half-decent sportsman and spent much of my time with US and other foreign Rhodes Scholars.  I had a lot more in common with them than many of the posh kids from ‘pubic’ schools who had spent their entire lives preparing for just such an elevation.  Still, the College stuck with me, and I stuck with the College, and eventually I gained my degree.

Fast forward to today.  University College, Oxford, and its Master Sir Ivor Crewe, make sterling efforts to recruit the best and the brightest from all backgrounds, and to ensure they are looked after whilst ‘up’.  Indeed, I have seen such efforts bear fruit as ‘College’ today is a very different place to the one I endured and experienced. In my own modest way I support the College in this endeavour by supporting in turn students from backgrounds not dissimilar to my own.  In the 1970s I hated College, now I am proud of it and its efforts to promote intelligent diversity, and the sense of family it creates.  Of course, more can and will be done but not I hope at the cost of the excellence for which Oxford stands.

Like many alumni I occasionally return to ‘Univ’.  Now, I am careful not to go back too often as I am a firm believer that one should avoid imposing too much nostalgia on those present today. We all have our time and then we move on. However, precisely because my return visits are few and far between I am always pleasantly surprised by the extent to which Univ moves with the times, and actively seeks so to do.

It would be an absolute travesty to lower standards simply to meet class/race quotas, or because Mr Lamy wants to make some class war point, or because much of the country’s education system is crap. This is because Oxford and Cambridge are, and must remain inherently competitive places. Any institution committed to excellence must be.  For all the efforts of Sir Ivor and his team to make students feel comfortable those who were ‘sent up’ simply to fill said quotas would be miserable. Indeed, for those unable to keep up Oxford can be an unforgiving place.

Oxford and Cambridge must always recruit the best and the brightest...but how? What David Lamy’s report really points to is the lamentable state of much of Britain’s state education.  This is something I witnessed in some students during my brief time as a lecturer at King’s College, London.  What is needed is a school system that identifies talent early and nurtures it. The problem in many schools is that such 'selection' smacks too much of the elitism that people such as Mr Lamy deride.
If Mr Lamy succeeds Oxford and Cambridge would become like much of the rest of Britain – bloody mediocre with an elite even more bloody mediocre than the one that is so royally screwing up the country right now…several of whom were my contemporaries!

Oxford and Cambridge are good because they are good.  They should be kept that way.

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 17 October 2017


“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe”.
H.G. Wells

Brussels, Belgium. 17 October. Yesterday, I took part in a small but great meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. The purpose of the meeting was to report to the ‘Sec-Gen’ on progress towards completion of a series of reports for the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Initiative.  The main report will be published in a month or so, and will be entitled The Future Tasks of the Adapted Alliance. Watch this, and many other spaces.  For obvious reasons I will not disclose too much of what was discussed. However, I was deeply impressed by Secretary-General Stoltenberg’s understanding of the rapidly-growing defence-strategic importance of artificial intelligence (AI). Over lunch at the Atlantic Treaty Association the brilliant Amir Husain, Founder and CEO of sparkcognition, an American company at the cutting edge (my cliché of the day?) of AI, gave a masterclass on the importance of AI and intelligent machines across multiple domains of human endeavour.  Now, I would not go as far as to suggest it was AI for dummies, but this dummy sure did learn a lot.   

NATO maintains defence by keeping the threshold of deterrence high. NATO is a defensive alliance the principal purpose of which is to cast a credible deterrence and defence posture by striking a balance between military capability, military capacity, and affordability. This is NATO’s iron triangle. However, Europe’s under-invested and under-capitalised military forces are dangerously weak and fast losing their deterrent value. Yes, the European Allies are spending more money on defence, but in the all-important battle of relative conventional military power NATO Europe continues to decline.
Right now there is a gap, a vector, between NATO’s conventional deterrent and its nuclear deterrent, which is – to employ Yorkshire strategic language – bloody dangerous.  Worse, Europeans can no longer expect the Americans to offset European weakness indefinitely.  It is unlikely, given the shifting balance of military power in the world, that the Americans will be defence-strong everywhere, all of the time. Thus, NATO Europe’s military power is vital to the enduring defence-credibility of the Alliance.  Yes, enshrined in NATO collective defence is nuclear deterrence.  However, if NATO’s conventional forces fail early in a future war some European allies could be faced with that most unpalatable of choices; surrender or nuke. NATO must assure and ensure no Ally ever faces that choice.

AI could help close NATO’s deterrence gap by assisting NATO European forces to increase their defence effectiveness through enhanced defence efficiency by exploiting such technologies without increasing the size of the peacetime force. AI would also ensure European and US forces will be able to work together safely and efficiently into the future.  This is because NATO’s deterrence gap is not simply a function of the exaggerated legacy weakness of too much of Europe’s military metal (and too many of Europe’s military people).  It is also a function of a growing ‘technology-interoperability’ gap between US forces and their European counterparts. Indeed, such is the revolutionary nature of AI that the very strategies and structures of the forces that employ it will themselves be changed radically by them. AI will also create winners and losers.  

There is, however, a major impediment to N.A.T.O.A.I: NATO does not understand the new AI defence sector, and the new defence sector does not understand NATO.  Critically, NATO does not understand the companies driving AI, and with which it will need to work to fashion an affordable twenty-first century defence. Nor, at present, is NATO (or many of its nations) ready to countenance the radical change in its own approach to procurement and acquisition if vital new relationships with such industries are to be forged via a new NATO defence-industrial partnership. NATO is simply too clunky, an analogue alliance in a digital age.

What must NATO do?  First, NATO must gain a far better understanding of the nature of AI and associated technologies, and their potential application to credible and affordable defence. Second, NATO must become far more acquisition nimble. The companies driving AI are not defence giants who can afford to wait for five years or more to be paid.  They need to be sure that if they invest limited people and resources on NATO projects their existence will not be threatened by sclerotic acquisition practices with fielding times so long that the defence of Europe is also put at risk.  Third, defence planners and technology-drivers like Mr Husain need to better understand each other.  Too many defence planners in Europe do not really understand AI (even if they talk about it), too many technology-drivers do not understand either Europe or defence.  

Why N.A.T.O.A.I?  AI is not simply another civilian technology with military applications. It is an enabling architecture.  Indeed, NATO IS architecture and thus the natural locus for the development of collective AI-empowered defence.  AI, robotics, intelligent drone-swarms, big data, and a host of new technologies are now being applied to that most basic of human endeavours – war.  NATO needs to grasp this new reality and grip AI. This is because AI can a) act as an affordable defence-multiplier; and b) China, Russia, and the US are far AI-advanced of NATO Europeans.  

If you don’t believe me then let President Putin educate you.  Last month he said; “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind. It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”  Need I say more?

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Brexit: Germany Risks Turning Remainers into Leavers

“The secret of politics? Make a good treaty with Britain”.
Otto von Bismarck (actually he said Russia, but you get my drift)

Alphen, Netherlands. 12 October. It was a telling moment.  At a recent conference I was engaged in a forthright, but honest debate with a senior German colleague I have known for many years, and whom I both like and respect.  Suddenly, as I was in mid-sentence, he turned on his heels and walked away. It was rudeness bordering in contempt, which is pretty much Berlin’s attitude towards Britain these days.  This was not an isolated incident. What struck me was the gulf at the conference between senior non-official Brits and senior non-official Germans at the conference over Brexit.  There were three convinced British ‘big picture’ Remainers (including me) who became increasingly frustrated to the point of protest at what all three of us saw as the intransigence of our German colleagues. They seemed determined to punish the British people for an egregious act of democracy that committed Britain to leaving what was meant to be a free association of democracies. These are not at all unreasonable people, so why the attitude? There are four reasons; Berlin politics, Germany’s legalistic tradition, the German need for control, and echoes of history.

However, before I dive into my main argument, let me say at the outset that Germans have some grounds for the contempt in which they clearly hold Britain.  The British people have been very badly-led by their leaders over a good too many years. Yet, as Chancellor Merkel said earlier this year, Britain remains an immensely powerful actor and should be treated as such, which is clearly not the case at present.

Berlin politics: Germany does not presently have a government, which tends to set policy into a default mode. Chancellor Merkel is locked in negotiations with FDP ‘liberals’ and the Greens in an effort to form a new coalition.  For her this is not the moment to be seen to ‘award’ Britain for what many Germans see at best as a family tragedy, and at worst an act of treachery.

Germany’s legalistic tradition: Britain and Germany have very different foreign policy traditions, at least since World War Two.  The Germans have a very legalistic approach to international relations as an antidote to both Machtpolitik and Realpolitik (German words for a reason), and the excessive emphasis on power for power’s sake that characterised German foreign policy between the fall of Bismarck in 1890 and 1945.  One delegate to the conference went as far as to say that European treaties could not be changed, simply because the treaties exist. This is nonsense. International treaties exist to prevent extremes of unregulated state behaviour. If the situation changes and threatens to see an uptick in such behaviour, as is the case with Brexit, then new treaties must be forged.

Berlin’s need for control: Germany’s mixed reaction to President Macron’s 26 September ‘more Europe’ speech was illuminating.  Berlin rejected the idea of a European finance ministry and decisive fiscal convergence for fear it would make the German taxpayer liable for the massive debts of countries like, err, France. However, if Berlin was really committed to the idea of creating a state called ‘Europe’ (which German rhetoric implies), and accepted that Germany itself would one day be reduced to something like a German ‘lande’ today, then such institutions would be vital. Rather, Berlin sees the EU more as a mechanism for exerting German control, than a prelude to some European super-state.  The irony is Germany is Britain’s best guarantor against the realisation of such a super-state.  Berlin is angry with Britain because Brexit implies a loss of German control. Did Germany ever seriously think it could ever control the British?  Which brings me to history.

History in Europe is like a fart at a state banquet – everyone can smell it, but everyone pretends to ignore it.  In many ways, Britain and Germany are natural allies in that they both normally take a pragmatic attitude to inner-European relations.  A legitimate German frustration is the sense that London has taken leave of its senses across a whole raft of matters strategic – a frustration that regular readers know I share.  Unfortunately, Berlin is also the problem, but unable to see it. Contemporary Germany is appallingly bad at holding a mirror up to itself. One question the Germans should be asking and are not is this; why are all three of Europe’s major peripheral powers, in their varying ways, – Britain, Russia, and Turkey – now alienated from Germany and the ‘European Project’? One reason is that all three, in their varying ways, fear the European Project is in fact a German Project. Senior Brits will not say that publicly, but it has been mentioned to me in private on several occasions.

As I write, the fifth round of Brexit talks between chief negotiators David Davis and Michel Barnier are about to stall.  My sources tell me that it is not the fault of M. Barnier, or even the European Commission, but primarily Berlin, egged on by an opportunistic Paris.  Berlin must be careful. Most commentators seem not to realise that the next two months prior to the December European Council are the most critical for the entire negotiating process.  There is much talk in Britain at present of ‘no deal’. If German intransigence continues there will, indeed, be no deal and the new post-Brexit European political settlement vital to the stability of Europe could be put in danger.  Worse, more ‘big picture’ Remainers like me, who see themselves as friends of modern Germany will switch to leave. France?  Paris cannot expect to preserve a close strategic defence relationship with London if it continues to play ‘mini-me’ to Berlin, and seek to scavenge from the carcass of a dead Britain. 1. Britain will not die. 2. Britain will not forget.  

Even though I remain a ‘big picture’ Remainer there could come a point when friends and allies who seek to damage my country stop being my friends and allies, and become something else. Maybe Berlin needs to think about that…respectfully.

Julian Lindley-French 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Defence Blindness: Why Are Our Leaders Destroying Our Armed Forces?

Adjust: ‘to adapt oneself to one’s environment’; ‘Cuts’; ‘to reduce expenditure, to prune.’
The Concise Oxford Dictionary
Cuts; ‘to adapt oneself to one’s [political] environment’; Adjust: ‘to reduce expenditure, to prune’.
British Ministry of Defence Speak

Alphen, Netherlands. 10 October. I am on nonsense-watch this morning. This blog emerged from a weekend debate I had with a British friend with very senior experience at the top of the Whitehall machine.  He raised two interesting questions about defence policy, not just in Britain but across Europe.  First, if what is desirable/necessary is politically impossible should one call for its enactment? Second, would an alternative not be to point out the consequences of political choices and failure? This raised in my mind a third question. Why are Europe’s leaders destroying Europe’s armed forces?

Take Britain. If the British defence budget goes on increasing at the rate the British government claims, the British armed forces will soon cease to exist! London is in the midst of yet another of those ‘defence reviews’, which I am assured is an ‘adjustment’ to the defence budget, not a further ‘cut’. It is a cut. This one is euphemistically called the National Security Capabilities Review which will see Britain’s already woefully small armed forces lose yet more military capabilities.  These were capabilities that as recently as 2015 were not only deemed ‘critical’, but irreducible.  If, for no other reason than to demonstrate and reinforce Britain’s continuing importance to the post-Brexit defence of Europe one might think London would desist from such a further cut to defence. But no. Unfortunately, Britain is not alone in pursuing politics at the expense of strategy.

Why?  Too many leaders prefer, i.e. choose sound money at the expense of sound defence.  Take Britain again. Yes, the annual deficit and national debt are far higher than should ideally (in an ideal world) be the case, although both are far lower than they were for much of the twentieth century. However, London does not live in an ideal world and yet chooses to emphasise not an ineffective policy of austerity, whilst at the same time favouring a relatively low tax regime. Now, I am (absolutely) no Corbynite, but at a time of high demand on the public purse, and a relatively small said purse something clearly has to give. Unfortunately, sound defence and sound money are at opposing poles between income and expenditure, and between strategic responsibility and political benefit, with everything else in between. London has adopted arbitrary austerity targets based on dodgy statistics whilst pursuing relatively low taxes, and yet maintains relatively high spending on areas such as health, and education for a fast-growing population clamouring for ever more entitlement and threatening political mayhem (Corbyn) if denied. Consequently, London chooses to make the armed forces weak, and thus accepts a higher degree of defence risk. It is not even grown-up politics, let alone sound strategy.

Unfortunately, Britain is by no means alone. Defying defence gravity (in both senses of the word) is also the position of Berlin, which is critical to what happens across the rest of Europe. This is why the Germans are rowing back (along with the Belgians, Dutch, and other Europeans) from meeting the solemn commitment Berlin made at the 2014 NATO Wales Summit to spend 2% GDP on defence by 2024.  Now, one can argue until the few defence cows we Europeans have left about the utility and/or appropriateness of the ‘2%’ Defence Investment Pledge. Put it this way, 2% spent reasonably well on defence is at least twice as effective as the roughly ‘1%’ many Europeans on average spend on defence, and spend badly. 

Germany’s defence effort is, not unreasonably, still influenced by the dark eloquence of Germany’s none-too-distant history, and Berlin’s legitimate concerns about the structural weaknesses of the euro, and the cost of keeping the single currency stable. And, given history, sound money is sound defence for Berlin – period.  However, by placing sound money above sound defence, Berlin imposes its own neuroses on the rest of the Europe it leads through the EU, and enables other Europeans to slide away from solemn defence commitments.

Why is a gap between sound money and sound defence so dangerous?  Danger develops when the balance between sound defence and sound money becomes so out of kilter that one or the other effectively collapses. Russia suffers from the diametrically opposing problem; unsound defence at the expense of both a sound economy and sound money.  The problem for European defence, as I implied in my last blog, is that whilst both unsound money and unsound defence can blow up in your face, only one is could at some point produce an unheralded nuclear mushroom cloud!

Here is my point (and there is one) if a European political leader accepts a higher degree of security and defence risk by cutting the very military capabilities and capacities upon which credible deterrence and defence sit then one at least ought to try and balance that by being more command and efficient and resource effective. Unfortunately, such ‘integration’ is impossible for a host of political reasons. The result is that all Europeans, NATO and EU members alike, are trapped in a kind of defence black hole between dangerously low defence investment and growing risk.  In other words, Europe’s 'leaders' are helping to create the very ‘risk space’ through which a politically unstable, economically weak, but militarily over-bearing Russia, could, in extremis, drive a new Armata tank (and many of its ilk).

Does all of the above really matter? The problem is not only do European leaders actually believe their own defence-blind rhetoric, the very real impact on European armed forces is already proving fatal. Last week the Dutch Research Council for Security published a report on Dutch UN peacekeeping operations in Mali that was so damning that both the Dutch Defence Minister and the Chief of the Netherlands Defence Staff stepped down. The essence of the report was that in April 2016 two Dutch soldiers were killed, and one gravely injured, because in 2006 the Dutch had bought cheap and untested mortars from the Bulgarians for operations in Afghanistan.  The implications of the report are clear; old, and clearly ‘dodgy’ second-hand munitions were in use only because a Dutch government deployed over-stretched, but under-funded forces for political reasons, and for which Dutch soldiers payed the ultimate price.  The continual under-funding of the Netherlands Armed Forces over twenty years and more (See my 2010 co-authored RUSI Whitehall Report on the state of the Dutch armed forces entitled “Between the Polder and a Hard Place”) meant the force was thus deployed at a far higher level of risk to its own safety than should have been the case, if they were properly funded and equipped.

Therein lies the essential problem of European defence – too many of Europe’s political leaders are strategically-illiterate and defence-blind, and only listen to political advice, not strategic guidance.  Worse, they listen to economists! Unfortunately, if governments in Britain, and elsewhere in Europe, go on treating defence budgets as contingency reserves for funding politically convenient projects.  If, in so doing, they abandon the proper management of strategic risk. And, if sound money is deemed to be more important than sound defence and at any cost, then at some point risk will be replaced with disaster.

Back to the British. The reason for the ‘adjustment’ is to counter the fall in the value of the pound since the Brexit vote and the impact of said fall on the cost of defence imports and thus defence cost inflation.  The ‘cost’ is believed to be as high as £30bn. In the past London would have made such an adjustment by drawing money from the contingency reserve. Today, London merely cuts the force, proving conclusively that both the 2015 National Security Strategy and the Strategic Defence and Security Review were not worth the paper they were written on.

My British friend answered the question at the head of this blog in his usual succinct and crafted manner; “Strategic circumstances demand certain measures; if political decisions prevent those measures being taken, then the consequences are a high strategic risk. That has to be weighed against the arguments for those decisions. Both strategy and politics in the present world are about choices: denying that is not grown up and could prove (literally) fatal”.

At other times in history perhaps European leaders could get away with defence blindness. However, as Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman suggests in his new book, “The Future of War: A History” (London: Allen Lane), war most definitely has a future. So, why are Europe’s leaders destroying Europe’s armed forces?  Because too many of them are in denial, and history could well damn them (and us) for it. Worse, by consistently weakening their own defences the defence blind make future war more likely.

Julian Lindley-French