hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 9 October 2015

Brexitwatch: To Europe or not to Europe?

“To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune, Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles…” 

French President Francois Hollande, er sorry, Hamlet. 

Alphen, Netherlands. 9 October. Why Brexit? With Queen Angela of Europe looking on the Prince Regent Francois Hollande yesterday gave an impassioned and ever so slightly niggled response in the European Parliament to Blackadder Farage. In so doing Hollande finally drew up the battle-lines over Brexit. The Great Pretender Cameron must have been squirming because the last thing he wants is such a deliciously clear statement of Hollande’s implacable opposition to the EU reforms Cameron is seeking. 

Such is the importance of the statement it is worth quoting President Hollande in full: “If we don’t want to strengthen Europe, then there’s only one road and I heard what Mr Farage said that the only road is for those who are not convinced of Europe to leave Europe. There is no other way. It’s a horrible path, but it’s a logical path. Leave Europe, leave Schengen (sic Britain is not actually in Schengen), and leave democracy. Do you really want to participate in a common state? That’s the question”. 

Does Britain want to participate in a common state? As a Briton and an Englishman my response is a respectful, but absolutely firm ‘no’! Does that mean I actually want to leave ‘Europe’, or rather the EU? No. President Hollande has clearly made his choice; Britain out of the EU. This is why he is framing the choice in such a stark way. So, why am I still the ‘soft sceptic’ Farage despises, and why is my ageing backside still gathering rust sitting on an EU fence? 

The other day in Italy over dinner I had a very good chat with a senior German friend and colleague about Brexit. The debate initially took a predictable and rather familiar pattern. As my 15 inch naval guns tracked round to their target American and French friends present fearing I was about to hoist battle ensigns scattered in all directions. Save, that is, my German collocutor. Instead we settled down to a reasoned debate as to why Germans find the position of Britons like me baffling, and why so many Britons dislike the EU. 

For Germany the EU has done everything that could be asked of it; neatly-wrapped German history in a European box, helped modern, peaceful Germany establish non-threatening leadership, acted as a zollverein for German exports (which this week slumped), and helped shift the centre of power gravity in Europe away from London and Paris to Berlin, with Brussels acting as the willing bag carrier of German power.

Britain's experience of the EU has been and is entirely different. David Cameron was for once spot on this week when he said that Britain would never accept the ‘ever closer union’ that Hollande is calling for (with the full backing of course of every free born Frenchman and woman). Hollande went to the European Parliament to call for precisely that: a common defence policy, which would see France’s armed forces scrapped in favour of a European Army; a common asylum policy, which would to all intents and purpose end once and for all national control over national borders; an EU coastguard, and the transfer of core national sovereignty to Eurozone institutions. In other words, Hollande wants to transfer huge amounts of state power legitimised by national voters to unelected and unaccountable EU bodies. 

I am not kidding. ‘Common’ institutions work precisely by being unaccountable to electorates. For example, the other day European Commissioner Avramoupolis said that he was not concerned with opposition to EU plans for a common asylum policy because he did not have to be elected. Technically he is right. Ever since the European Coal and Steel Community was formed in 1950 ‘commissioners’ were appointed to be above the national fray and thus accountable to nobody but themselves. Thus, the more ‘common’ the EU becomes the less democratic. 

Thus, my main concern is the nonsense President Hollande spouted yesterday about ‘democracy’. To be precise, Hollande's nonsensical suggestion that by leaving a European ‘common state’ Britain would be leaving ‘democracy’. Indeed, what Hollande called for this week offends everything I stand for as a free born Briton, in particular the growing distance between power and the people that is taking place, and the gulf between power and the people a common state would entail. To my mind such a state would represent the greatest threat to democracy in Europe since the Soviet Union. 

Furthermore, as I explained to my German colleague, the English in particular have been fighting distant, arbitrary power both at home and abroad for some eight hundred years. Indeed, if there is an English political DNA this is it – the distrust of distant, arbitrary power. By the way, it was the same distrust that inspired Englishmen to break away and form the United States of America in 1776. 

Abroad this political DNA drove first England, and from 1707 Britain, to oppose Phillip II, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler, and now (dare I say it) the European Commission all of whom/which attempted to impose their idea of ‘Europe’ on Europeans. At home the same political DNA led to the overthrow of tyrants such as King John and Charles I, and underpinned the creation of Simon de Montfort’s first ‘modern’ English Parliament in 1265. Therefore, asking we British to accept yet another form of elite European hegemony dressed up as a ‘common state’ might work for the dirigiste French heirs of Colbert, but to many of we Britons it means the subjugation of a thousand years or so of political culture.

Some reading this will suggest I am simply another Little Englander. Far from it. I have spent much of my life living in various European countries and around the World. Today, I live in the Netherlands, I am married to a Dutch woman, I enjoy and cherish my European identity and I acknowledge that the EU helps to make my life possible. Indeed, I also acknowledge that at the micro-political level the European Commission does much good in areas such as consumer rights. Nor do I for a moment believe simply by dint of my Englishness I any more ‘special’ than my German colleague, or my French, Italian, Polish, Lithuanian, or any other of my fellow European citizens. 

However, it is at the macro-political level where the threat to democracy and President Hollande and his ilk lurk. Specifically, the mad rush in the teeth of a crisis to concentrate ever more power in a few unaccountable, elite hands that is implicit and explicit in President Hollande’s call for a common state. 

For all that, it is still my hope that common sense rather than a common state will prevail, and that a new political settlement can be crafted which again balances political legitimacy with efficiency within and across the EU. That for me means a return to common sense subsidiarity so that together we as Europeans can take collective action with our national parliaments acting as the legitimate transmissions between citizens and collective action. 

If I can be assured of such political balance, that my rights as a citizen and a free born Briton can be preserved, and that my voice actually matters (which was not the case in the sham that was last year’s elections to the European Parliament) then I will vote to keep Britain in the EU. If I cannot be so assured I will vote to leave in the name of freedom, democracy, and like my forebears work to deny distant, arbitrary power. 

“And thus the Native hue of Resolution Is sicklied o'er, with the pale cast of Thought, and enterprises of great pith and moment, with this regard their Currents turn away, and lose the name of Action”. 

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

NATO: The West must play Chess AND Poker

Forli, Italy. 7 October. A grigio mist hangs over the ancient Italian hills; an infant autumn awakening. Below me ageing leaves born of a long, hot Italian summer nestle in russet mantle clad. Gentle change in ancient permanence? I am back in my beloved Italy; tired, stressed, noble Italy, in a beautiful medieval castle high above Forli and not far from where the River Rubicon of legend flows. Roman armies of antiquity were forbade to cross the Rubicon and enter what was then Italy unless they had express permission from the Roman magistrates for only they could exercise Imperium. That sense of a strategic Rubicon being crossed suffused an excellent conference organised by Rome’s Istituto Affari Internazionale, the University of Bologna, and NATO’s Allied Command Transformation. The conference discussed the threats with which NATO must contend, and the myriad complex mix of ends, ways and means the West’s adversaries present. Rapid change in strategic flux.

The other day President Obama complained about President Putin and his penchant for Machtpolitik. “This is not a superpower chess game”, Obama said. With respect, Mr President, yes it is. Or, rather this is the beginning of a new Great Game of power as the illiberal and the downright evil challenge the liberal order the West has come to take for granted. As I said in my typically modest and understated speech, NATO’s future world will be one in which “chaos, confusion and Clausewitz will meet in an unholy trinity of uncertainty”. Or, to put it rather less pompously; wake up and smell the strategic coffee!

Where Americans fear to tread, Europeans refuse to think. By implying that Russia is still a superpower and thus America’s strategic equal President Obama affords woeful Russia an equality in European and world affairs that can only be an equality of fear. The Stolichnaya must be flowing in the grand halls of the Kremlin with this anointing of Putin's great power super-bluff. Sadly, the contradiction that is Russia means the inevitable end of the bluff is inevitable, and that at some point in the not-too-distant future the inevitable end of the bluff will inevtiably be more dangerous than the bluff itself. 

The focus of the conference was the 2016 NATO Warsaw Summit. Given where the summit is to be held the core topic should be clear; the re-invigoration of NATO as a conventional and nuclear deterrent. Central to that mission will be the readiness of Alliance forces. ‘Readiness’ means to be prepared to do something, anything, whatever and wherever. In the NATO context that means Allied forces able to cope with the future shock that is surely to emerge from the swamp of deceit, disinformation, and de-stabilisation that is hybrid warfare, today’s way of war.  And therein lies the challenge because keeping military forces at ‘readiness’ is expensive and as the strategic context expands and the strategic picture gets bigger, and the military task-list of nationally-funded Alliance forces grows exponentially, the size of the force is being cut.

So, give the Alliance more and better forces? Well no. Defence IQ’s new report “Global Defence Spending 2015” states, “Western and central Europe is the only region in the world that saw its military expenditure fall during the 2014-2015 period”. Nor is the problem confined to Europe. Only last week US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter warned that the threat of sequestration continues to stymy effective long-term US defence planning and that US forces are suffering from a “hand-to-mouth existence”.

Which brings me to chess and poker, the strategic metaphors du jour. President Putin likes to imply he is engaged in strategic chess. After all, Russia has had many grand masters. In fact Putin is playing military poker and he is doing so with a weak hand.  His aim? NATO, or rather the collapse of the strategic unity of effort and purpose without which NATO as a deterrent is no longer credible.

Whether it be chess or poker strength is the key to victory and weakness the guarantee of failure. Whilst chess stresses foresight, guile and manoeuvre, poker is built on the premise that a strong mind with a weak hand can trump a strong hand held by a weak mind. It is precisely that game President Putin is playing as he seeks to exploit the seam between the West’s actual strength and its strategic feeble-mindedness.  
Therefore, Europeans and North Americans must be under no illusion about the Great Game in which it is being engaged. The future of liberal international values is at stake if the Game is lost. Moreover, the West could well defeat itself through its own contradictions, specifically the tension between values and interests from which many Western states suffer. ‘Values’ for too many in the West means the replacement of interests, i.e. the success of values is defined by the abandonment of interests.  

NATO is an instrument of power. If NATO is to defend the West and its ‘values’ it must be firmly established on an equally firm understanding of shared interests, and the credible, relevant military power required to generate influence and effect.

So, Mr President, the real danger to the West, and by extension NATO, comes not from the ‘strength’ of a weak President Putin and his ilk. It comes from the growing tendency in Western capitals to define security purely in terms of values rather than interests, and the uncertainty such strategic wooliness creates in our minds, and the encouragement it affords our adversaries (or ‘counterparts’ as the Kremlin now styles itself). 

The world today is one in which chaos, confusion and Clausewitz sit cheek by jowl. In the midst of such uncertainty the West must be able to play chess and poker at one and the same time. That means a clear understanding of one’s opponents, the strategic foresight upon which stratagems can be built and the diplomatic machine to enact them, the strength of mind to raise the stakes when our interests are threatened, and the military capacity to render Western strategy and indeed NATO credible.  Thereafter, the West’s very ability to defend its vital interests will itself be the best way to promote its values.

The mission of NATO’s Warsaw Summit? Deliver on the promises made at NATO’s 2014 Wales Summit. If that means crossing a strategic Rubicon so be it…and get on with it!

Julian Lindley-French        

Thursday, 1 October 2015

SDSR 2015: The Second Battle of (Max) Hastings

Alphen, Netherlands. 1 October. Sir Max Hastings is the doyen of British military history and strategy and more often than not an expert with whom I am in violent agreement. However, in an op-ed for The Times this week entitled, “Britain needs more in its arsenal than loose-lipped generals and No. 10 fudge” Hastings misses the point about the forthcoming Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR 2015) and the future force the British are (as ever) stumbling towards. The armed forces of Great Powers serve four purposes: to reinforce the state; to generate and project the influence of the state; to deter other states and those with pretentions to be a state from projecting their influence; and, if needs, be to punish and defeat the enemies of the state through violence. Therefore, given the world into which Britain and its armed forces are moving SDSR 2015 should champion a defence-strategic concept that enables Britain to exert political influence over allies and partners, and a future force established on what I call the Super Joint Force Concept.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have not suddenly become a No 10 spin doctor.  SDSR 2015 will indeed be the “fudger’s fudge” about which Hastings warns. Hastings is also surely right when he suggests there is a “…mismatch between commitments and military resources”.  Hastings certainly nails the strategic soufflé that is David Cameron when he writes about the, “ minister’s eagerness to focus on the short-term terror threat, whilst running down the capability to participate in inter-state warfare, which may not be as redundant as he supposes”. Last week I briefed senior NATO commanders on the strategic direction and method of President Putin and the Kremlin’s belief that force creates “new realities on the ground”, as is now evident in both Ukraine and Syria.

However, having identified the malaise Hastings gets defence strategy wrong.  Indeed, in spite of his concerns about the need for Britain to think big about threat and risk the defence strategic implication at the centre of his article is wrong; that a mass of force is more important than a force that can truly project, credibly command, and effectively connect.

For example, Hastings complains that Cameron can do, “nothing to avert the catastrophe of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers…which are less relevant to Britain’s security needs than is the Great Pyramid”. He then compounds his error by pointing to the lamentably small size of the British Army at the outbreak of World War One.

First, Hastings seems to forget that Britain in 1914 was an imperial power with an empire built on the strength of the Royal Navy with land forces the world over primarily designed to police said empire. Second, it was reasonable for London to assume at the time that those great continental powers France and Russia could cope with Wilhelmine Germany’s Army.  Third, the role the British naval blockade played in bringing Wilhelmine Germany to its knees was vital to winning the war. Fourth, over the four years of the war it was the innovative mobilisation of British imperial land forces, and after a shaky start the development of air and land tactics together with new technologies, that led to the modern concept of military jointness. Britain’s imperial land forces also delivered the critical defeat of the German Army which eventually ended World War One.

A more open-minded view would see that the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will in time act as a core power component for the future force, affording Britain influence, power projection, and command thus reinforcing Britain’s strategic brand.  Indeed, they will be national strategic platforms that will happen to be run by the Royal Navy (after all they float - hopefully) upon which and from which one of the world’s top five military powers will be able to launch air, maritime and amphibious operations and from which significant land operations can be supported. When I speak to French colleagues far from wanting to scrap their one aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle they want more; and France is essentially a continental, land power. In other words, Britain's super-platforms will be currencies of power in and of themselves in an age in which power is back - big time.

Hastings’s critique of the new mobilisation structure also misses the point.  Yes, in a growing economy it is hard to recruit reserves, and yes there is a large dollop of political spin masking cuts to the regular force which the part-time force is meant to hide.  However, what really matters is the mobilisation mechanism upon which the Reserve Force relies and the break-out from the professional military ghetto that the Force implies and helps.  In a true national emergency Britain would be in a far better position than most allies to begin the process of the mass mobilisation of a twenty-first century democracy, something for which Hastings at least implies there may be a need.

Hastings also implies that the Army needs to be much bigger, but for what? However big the British Army it could never be big enough to prevail in sustained counter-terror, stabilisation and reconstruction campaigns over time and distance.  The 400,000 US Army was almost broken by Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, Britain’s forces will always need to work with allies – American, Canadian, European, and of growing importance the world-wide Anglosphere, plus Japan and possibly India.  That is why a future force that reinforces Britain’s traditional strategic virtues, updates them, and thus makes Britain an indispensable ally represents sound strategic and political investment for Britain. 

Given the centrality of the United States to British defence strategy of critical importance will be Britain’s ability to retain influence in Washington, which is as weak today as I have ever known it. And yet America's NEED for a British (and by extension NATO) military that can work to effect with US forces has probably never been greater.  Indeed, an over-stretched American military is under pressure from emerging great illiberal powers such as China and Russia abroad, and from its own sequestering politicians at home.  

Therefore, to meet the defence-strategic and force-strategic challenge Britain needs a cost-effective, powerful core or hub force designed to multiply power and project influence for Britain, its allies and the international institutions to which it belongs. The force must be able to act credibly and affordably across much of the conflict spectrum,  in and across government, in support of US leadership, and at times as a coalition leader, hub or framework.

Such a force would thus be informed by three defence planning assumptions: a) Britain will be dependent on allies and partners the world-over and thus the force must act as an interoperability and command focal point for multinational coalitions engaged in counter-terrorism and stabilisation and reconstruction operations; b) the force must enshrine a mechanism that enables a ‘surge’ towards the high-end of advanced expeditionary operations alongside the Americans, and a strong national defence in the event of a major national emergency; and c) force connectivity must be an essential element of credible whole-of-government crisis responses, particularly in the event of a major terrorist or state-sponsored attack.

Critically, if SDSR 2015 is to pass muster for more than five political minutes it must be seen to balance effectiveness, efficiency and affordability. That means finding new ways to balance ends, ways and means through a radical force concept.  That in turn means developing a super or deep joint force concept that promotes a new force singularity via a new relationship between the Royal Navy, the British Army, and the Royal Air Force.  

A ‘balanced’ force would thus look something like this; the development by 2025 of a modern blue water Royal Navy, able to project, protect and sustain a pretty high-end, deployable Army of special and specialised forces (with support), and a Royal Air Force that can both protect the home base and reinforce and sustain the deployed force. Such a force will buy Britain influence, leadership and effect.

In the end, SDSR 2015 is not about the Army fighting the Navy fighting the Air Force over limited resources, much though many of them see it that way. SDSR 2015 is really about what kind of power Britain aspires to be in the twenty-first century, what kind of military power Britain needs to be, how much twenty-first century relevant influence and effect Britain is prepared to invest in, and to what extent Britain’s future forces will be able to cope with inevitable future shock. 

Therefore, SDSR 2015 must be seen in context as the first stage of a defence-strategic recovery programme.  If Whitehall and the Top Brass hold their nerve and for once evince a modicum of imagination and innovation what could (and I stress 'could') emerge from the political swamp that is SDSR would in military terms be quite exciting.

Clearly, SDSR 2015 will be a close run thing. Whilst the July decision to maintain defence spending at 2% GDP until 2020 enabled Britain’s armed forces to step back from the brink of irrelevance, it is only just. Indeed, SDSR 2015 will fail if it reinforces the pretence that Britain can afford the £100bn Successor replacement for the Trident nuclear system AND a credible global reach, highish-end, deployable conventional force from within a £34bn defence budget. SDSR 2015 will also fail if it ‘fudge’s’ Britain’s investments in so-called ‘enablers’ vital to the effectiveness and protection of the nuclear deterrent, and a deployed British force. 

However, if SDSR 2015 confirms an innovative British future force established on the Super Joint Force Concept then it will have done its job and Britain’s forces can look towards 2020 and 2025 and beyond with at least some cautious confidence. If not, and SDSR 2015 really is another astrategic exercise in ‘how much threat can we afford’, and/or a muddling-through trade-off between No 10, the Treasury and the three Services, then President Putin will be able to sleep easy firm in his belief that his strategic super-bluff will in time work.

Therefore, Sir Max, with respect, whilst you are right to be concerned about SDSR 2015 you are fighting the wrong battle, on the wrong ground, at the wrong time, and for the wrong reasons. 

Julian Lindley-French          

Monday, 28 September 2015

Who Will Make the Future?

“Who will make the future?”
Eric Hobsbawm

28 September. The masters of the universe met in Washington last week. Watching the body language of Presidents Obama and Xi was like witnessing a form of geopolitical cross-dressing. President Obama once the youthful Mercury of a new America was lame duck expectant.  President Xi, the unelected victor of a thousand Party power struggles, was self-promotingly, self-assured. This was no ordinary state visit. Xi had come to America to confirm China as the ‘other’ superpower in a new bipolar world. Power is back, red in tooth and claw.

Viewed from close to the Russian border in a tired, failed Europe the sight of Obama and Xi power-striding across the White House lawn looked a bit like the last lap of one of those weird Olympic walking events in which the protagonists are endeavouring to move fast without ever breaking into a run. For that was the essential point of Xi’s visit to Washington; to mark the start of the marathon bipolar power race that will come to define the twenty-first century.  Hopefully peacefully, quite possibly not.  Like all marathons the real racing will not come until the latter stages. 

Obama and Xi walked side by side trying by their forced, relaxed nonchalance to communicate one’s strength to the other.  A hint of the hard yards to come came from Obama – cyber, industrial and military spying,  trade imbalances, dumping, China’ extra-territorial ambitions in the South China Sea, were all (sort of) on the agenda.  However, as with so much to do with the foreign policy of this White House, almost but not quite. Xi just matched Obama step for step, firm in his belief that when the real racing begins power will do the real talking.  Indeed, having confused its values with its interests for far too long Xi believes America will be exhausted and Washington will as ever snatch defeat from the jaws of its own over-stated victory, particularly in Asia.

Europe’s puny leaders looked on. It felt ever so like the Cold War when Europeans routinely watched the Americans and the Soviets debate Europe's destiny over Europe's head.  One man clearly understood that. Although not in Washington President Putin was knocking hard on the White House door by offering support over Syria and thereby suggesting a return to the ‘the good old days’ when Soviet Russia really mattered, rather than merely appeared to. 

As an aside, Britain went its own increasingly idiosyncratic way last week by offering a glimpse of its future strategic life outside the EU. Having for years been America’s poodle Chancellor George Osborne was in Beijing trying to turn Britain into China’s Pekinese. Osborne, Cameron’s designated 2018 successor as prime minster, offered China terms to support a British civil nuclear programme which Britain had once given the world that were so advantageous they were close to slavish.

Last week was all about power and weakness, who's up and who's down, who's rising and who is most decidedly not. Whilst America and China pondered the future of the world millions of illegal migrants were continuing their Cook’s Tour of EU countries, deciding which one they would like to try this week. They were noisily but ineffectually assisted by weak European leaders busily engaged in destroying their own rules and further crumbling the Tower of Babble that the EU has become. Power? Rules? Who needs them?

And that is the tragedy of Europe’s great liberal crisis.  European leaders seem unsure now as to whether the security of others is now more important to them than the security of their own people.  Small leaders in a big world,who refuse to prepare or compete offering instead empty and meaningless liberal mantras. Word is that Chancellor Merkel will be made UN Secretary-General for turning Germany (and much of northern Europe) into Lebanon on the Rhine. Well, that’s alright then.

‘We’ Europeans are lost in a failing, declinist, liberal experiment called the EU unable or unwilling to see what is soon to come over our horizons, ever more subject to the will and whims of emerging illiberal Great Powers. Our great friend America is over-stretched and politically indifferent in equal measure, and thus we Europeans have doomed ourselves to suffer the prescriptions of somebody else’s future. And I say that as a confirmed liberal.  Make no mistake, self-obsessed Europe's future also died in Washington last week as little institutionalism was replaced by big, brash, bipolar power politics as Europe’s fall from power was eclipsed like a giant blood moon by China’s rise.

If Europe is to survive this Huxleyesque world Europeans must escape the trap they set for themselves; the institutional denial of power that is constraining Europeans within Europe and Europeans without Europe to disastrous effect.  Indeed, if Europe is to influence the world America and China will together make and quite possibly break, and face down the ‘mini-me’ tribute act that is President Putin’s Russia, then Europeans must re-learn and quickly the rules of the game they gave to the world. Europe must re-grasp the principles of power and influence that for centuries made Europeans the champions of the world.

If ‘Europe’ is to survive the brave new bipolarism Europeans must put away the toys and grow up; fold away the Meccano set that is the EU, collect up the little pieces of little Lego Brussels, and lay aside the political Barbi doll that is ‘ever closer union’. Europe is far too old for such childish fantasies now.  Instead, Europeans should build together what European states should always have built – the European Alliance.  Then and only then will European states be able together to face the future with confidence.  Then and only then will Europeans be able to face the Americans and Chinese with credibility.  Then and only then will Europeans be able to put President Putin back in his little box.

It was not meant to be like this.  At the end of the Cold War ‘Europe’ was meant to emerge as the ‘other’ liberal pillar of a liberal world-wide west which would dominate the world.  Instead, in Washington we witnessed the launch of the world-wide East of which America is now a part, with power no longer centred in the American half of the Atlantic, but somewhere deep in the Stygian depths of the mid-Pacific.

There was one final irony last week in Washington. China's rise will release America from the shackles of European institutionalism and that most entangling of alliances if Europeans continue to refuse to invest in power.  After all, institutions in the American power mind were always for lesser peoples not blessed by America’s manifest destiny.  Make no mistake, once America’s most European of presidents has gone Washington will get back to the business it loves best; power.

Who, indeed, will make the future? It will not be we Europeans and forgive me my hubris but the world will be worse for it.

Julian Lindley-French                    

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Countering Russia’s Strategic Maskirovka

Riga, Latvia. 24 September. Power and freedom speak with a clarity and eloquence that is matched only by history here in Latvia. Tonight I will address NATO commanders with a speech entitled “Countering Strategic Maskirovka”. I coined the term Strategic Maskirovka because it seemed to me terms such as hybrid or ambiguous warfare are far too limited and too military to describe contemporary Russian ambition, strategy and actions.  Rather, Moscow has adapted its traditional art of military deception (maskirovka) into a strategic campaign from the head of state down in a bid to exploit the many divisions within Europe and the wider West and offset Russia’s many weaknesses. Strange then that in the past fortnight Russia suggests it is open to partnership in the struggle against ISIS and despatched upwards of fifty combat aircraft to Syria to reinforce the point. What is Moscow up to?

In fact, Russia’s actions over the past fortnight or so all conform to the tenets and goals of strategic maskirovka, including the forced removal of a hard-line separatist leader from ‘office’ in eastern Ukraine.  The aims implicit in Russian strategy can be thus summarised: the creation of a contested but de facto ‘buffer zone’ to Russia’s south and east, and acceptance of a special sphere of Russian interest incorporating EU-NATO ‘neighbourhood’ state such as Latvia; to keep Europe and the wider West strategically-divided and politically off-balance, to establish de facto legitimacy for Russia’s conquest of Crimea and much of eastern Ukraine; and to use the threat of ISIS to establish a transactional strategic relationship with the US over the heads of the EU, NATO and most Europeans.   

Any such ‘partnership’ would be fraught with dangers. Russia’s aim is to blur the distinction between influence, co-operation and competition by exploiting ‘strategic ambiguity; i.e. the refusal of many European leaders to face up to the reality of Kremlin’s strategy and actions. The very act of deception is an eloquent statement of influence designed to force leaders who want to look west to look instead east. This goal is both implicit and explicit in recent ‘snap’ military exercises around this region all of which imply the political circumcision of the Baltic States from the rest of Europe, and the nuclear intimidation of allies who might seek to come to their rescue; a strategic an end in and of itself. 

That is why Russian offer of partnership against ISIS must be treated with extreme caution, especially so as its come at a moment when the Obama Administration’s strategy is on the brink of failure. Critically, implicit in any mil-mil talks over Syria and the defeat of ISIS would be a de facto acceptance that Russia is an indispensable partner, not just in the Middle East but also here in Europe, and in effect reward Moscow the special status it craves.  It is that prospect of an enhanced Russian role that led hard reality Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu to hot-foot it to Moscow this week to seek assurances that Russia would not support Assad and by extension the Iranians so they could intensify their attacks on the Jewish State.

Like it or not Putin has in the short-term out-manoeuvred the West and succeeded in giving the impression Russia is far more powerful than it actually is, another goal of Moscow’s ‘strategic ambiguity’. That is why negotiating with President Putin from a position of his strength is dangerous.  Sadly, someone, somewhere in DC, Brussels or Berlin is today suggesting that a deal with Moscow over Syria could help President Putin realise his prejudice about the West is utterly misplaced and thus lead him to return to the path of partnership.  Apart from the sobering consequence of the oil shock on the Russian economy I see absolutely no evidence of such a shift in President Putin’s prejudice or Russian strategy.

That is why NATO exercises here in Latvia such as Steadfast Pyramid and Pinnacle are so important. They demonstrate not just a commitment to collective defence and strategic reassurance, but also a form of forward deterrence. Dishonourable it may be but if Russia succeeds in establishing a transactional relationship with the West then part of that transaction must be the integrity and freedom to choose allegiances of states like Latvia. If that means NATO troops being stationed here permanently to ensure transactions are honoured so be it.  

Which brings me full circle to countering Strategic Maskirovka.  Maskirovka lives in the dirt down underneath the broken floorboards of international relations, amidst the dust and cob-webs of de-stabilisation, deception and disinformation. Now, I am no naïve when it comes to international relations and sometimes dirty deals must be done. However, such deals should at least be thought through because the implications to say the least are profound.

Right now President Putin and his Kremlin team believe they are winning this sordid little ‘war’ they are waging with the West and any such deal would confirm him in his prejudice that we are weak. However, Putin also needs something from this deal – to come in from the cold. Therefore, any form of co-operation in the Middle East must only be countenanced in return for clear evidence of Russian withdrawal from eastern Ukraine and an end to pressure on Latvia and the other Baltic States. Crimea?  Done deal I am afraid.

Latvia’s freedom is Europe’s freedom.  Fail here and President Putin could succeed in his efforts to replace the rules-based community concept of international relations so beloved of Europeans with his hard-edged dark power politics. Any deal that permits Putin to believe de facto or otherwise he  is a vital broker in Western security after all that Moscow has done over the past twenty-four months would come dangerously close to appeasement and must be resisted at all costs. Rather, Europeans and North Americans must together ask why they have failed so badly in Syria and move to correct that failure before many more die and possibly millions more decide to move the Middle East to Europe.

Russia: the indispensable power? Prefer not.

Julian Lindley-French 

Monday, 21 September 2015

Groundhog Day in European Defence

Brussels and Oslo. 21 September. Winston Churchill once said, “True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous and conflicting information”. This past week in Brussels and Oslo at two high-level conferences to discuss European security and defence I have seen the best and worst of elite Europe. Threats abound; Russian challenges in the Arctic/High North and its use of strategic maskirovka/ambiguous warfare to Europe’s east, ISIL and the collapse of the Middle Eastern state order to Europe’s south, cyber-penetration of a virtual Schengen, uncontrolled massive migration and lawlessness, strategic tensions with newly-powerful illiberal states, arms races and proliferation, American overstretch, state-threatening organised crime, and I could go on. However, the biggest threat comes from a strategically under-cooked elite Europe that only wants to see the world as they would like it to be not as it really is. The result is a Europe that is by and large bereft of strategic judgement and unable or unwilling to apply statecraft and a failed Brussels elite that is retreating steadily into the meaningless mantra of ‘ever more Europe’.

On Wednesday last I visited Planet Brussels to attend the magnificently-named European Defence Summit.  It was an excellent event organised by the Munich Security Conference and I was honoured to be present. However, I spent much of the day feeling like Bill Murray in that old film Groundhog Day. You know the one; each morning Murray awakes to find he is trapped in a nightmarish repeat of yesterday. 

For the past thirty years I have listened to the High Priests and Priestesses of Unionology calling for ‘ever more defence Europe’.  Now, I would not mind if such calls came from younger members of the Church of Unionology. After all, Brussels is built on large numbers of young people working in the name of ‘Europe’ for next to nothing in search of patronage that will they hope confirm them as members of said EU elite.  However, when it is the same old people saying the same old thing and nothing happens I am reminded of Einstein’s definition of insanity; repeating the same experiment but expecting different results. That is why group-think prevails in Brussels and healthy dissent is so frowned upon. Indeed, on some occasions I am almost crushed in the Brusssels rush of the young and ambitious to agree with the old and stupid.

Rather, Priesthood did what they always do when faced with a crisis; talked about how a future ‘Europe’ that will probably never exist might in future deal with such crises if in future (not now) such dangers ever intrude on their EU self-obsession. If you want to understand why Europeans are so crap at managing crises you need look no further.  Bill Murray might be stuck forever in yesterday, the Priesthood are forever stuck in a fantasy ‘tomorrow’.

Now, contrast the Summit with my meeting in Oslo. Late on Wednesday night I flew from Brussels to Oslo to address a meeting with my friend the impressive Norwegian Defence Minister Ine Erikson Soreide at another excellent event this time co-organised by the Norwegian Parliament and the Norwegian Atlantic Association. The speech she gave was quite simply the best speech I have heard for a long time by any serving defence minister.  Grounded firmly in reality the speech balanced strategy, politics and cost to present a vision of a Norway that is thinking seriously about how a small European state balances defence ends, ways and means. Indeed, as an example of a small state thinking big politics in a big world I have heard no better.    
The problem with ‘more defence Europe’ is as ever the set of political assumptions that are behind it.  The Priesthood believe the ‘finalitć’ of European defence to be a system of common security and defence that will ensure both efficiency and effectiveness though the creation of a singular political and security entity called ‘Europe’. However, that is simply not how security and defence works. It is the impracticable in pursuit of the unworkable.

Take the pooling and sharing of military assets.  Some marginal pooling and sharing makes sense if it is parallel with an effective system for loaning assets to those engaged in coalitions.  However, deep pooling and sharing which the Priesthood seek by removing sovereign choice effectively destroys the ability of a state to to choose which coalitions to join and how.  In other words, the very idea of ‘more defence Europe’ trades defence effectiveness for a false efficiency in pursuit of unrealistic politics at the expense of sound defence strategy.

That is why pooling and sharing is still born.  Yes, it may make sense for smaller EU member-states who will never have to really think about leading, organising or enabling (framework nation) variable coalitions of Europeans and non-Europeans.  Moreover, there are some very expensive systems such as satellites for which collective procurement makes sense because all states can use such systems by acting as intelligent customers without infringing sovereign choices over the use and utility of force.   However, collective procurement will only ever work for the likes of Britain, France and Germany system by system.

Europeans must also avoid false defence economies. At the European Defence Summit it was fascinating to see southern European defence manufacturers queuing up to support the Priesthood with the call for a single European procurement structure. Naturally, they talked the talk of innovation, economies of scale and security of supply. However, what they really wanted was a new form of protectionism in the shape of a single European defence procurement budget; the very antithesis of innovation, competition and value for taxpayer’s money.

Europe’s defence bottom-line is this; Britain, France and Germany as well as to a lesser extent Italy and Poland, may never be able to prevail alone in crises. However, they must all retain sufficient command autonomy and flexibility to enable and assure coalitions of the willing not just with other Europeans, but also with the US and partners the world over.  That is the single most salutary pol-strat lesson from the past thirteen years of pol-mil campaigning.

The EU certainly has a role to play in European defence not least in cyber-defence, critical national infrastructure protection, and societal resilience. However, because NATO is built on the assumption of collective coalition action in crises and collective defence rather than common action/defence the Alliance must and will always remain more important than the EU in the field of defence.  The trick will be to prevent the sovereignty-busting ambitions of Planet Brussels (NATO HQ is not actually in Brussels) from affecting the Alliance to the point of failure.

European defence highlights the dangerous contradiction to itself and others ‘defence Europe’ has become.  The specific problem is the relationship between the here and now and the then and beyond goal.  Europe’s elite are failing the here and now precisely because they deliberately (at least in Brussels) confuse the sound security and defence of Europe with ‘ever more Europe’ and the building of a European super-state. Indeed, the fruitless search for a truly ‘common’ security and defence policy actively prevents collective action and thus in turn provides an alibi for many EU member-states to avoid strategic judgement and statecraft.  Worse, it enables strategically-illiterate European politicians to defer vitally-need defence spending in favour of a fantasy defence union and thus in turn undermines NATO.

To paraphrase Churchill: The future security and defence of Europe will reside in the capacity of all Europeans to collectively evaluate uncertain, hazardous and conflicting information and then decide and act quickly on the appropriate course of action.  Such action will itself depend on firm collective political will, a willingness collectively to invest in the means to ensure desired outcomes, and a shared collective determination to stay the political and military course.

Russia and ISIL have revealed a Europe that is increasingly lawless and defenceless. However, it is not the likes of Russia or ISIL that is leading Europeans towards disaster, but small politics in a big world political leaders unable or unwilling to grip the big dark picture world in which Europeans live and thereafter apply strategic judgement and the principles of statecraft.

More European defence, yes please. More EU defence, no thanks.

Julian Lindley-French 

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The Strategic Implications of Comrade Corbyn

“In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issue are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia”
George Orwell

 Alphen, Netherlands. 15 September.  Saturday’s thumping victory by hard left candidate Jeremy Corbyn in the elections to lead Britain’s main opposition party has implications not just for Britain, but for allies and partners the world over.  This long-time pacifist, who wants Britain out of NATO and the EU, is also a committed nuclear unilateralist and long-time ‘friend’ of Hamas and Russia. Corbyn is now on paper at least but one electoral step from becoming the prime minister of a top five world power. What are the strategic implications of Comrade Corbyn?

British politics: It is a mark of the failure of the mainstream political class on both the centre left and centre right of politics that a serial leftist rebel and protester could be elected to one of the great offices. It reflects a mood across much of the country that holds Orwell’s dictum to be true.  Indeed, a huge number of British people have lost all faith in the self-important, self-obsession of a self-satisfied Westminster/Whitehall elite that has compounded strategic error with strategic error. 

Countering ISIS: In the immediate future agreement over a decision to extend RAF strikes against ISIS to Syria has suddenly become far harder for Cameron to achieve.  This is because decisions over the the use of British force are focused more on the so-called Privy Council than Parliament.  The Council brings together the leaders of all the main political parties with senior lawyers and other key figures in the name of Her Majesty the Queen.  It has traditionally reflected a much more consensual approach to strategy and action than the public impression allows for. However, for the Privy Council to work members must accept the responsibilities of official secrecy if they are to have access to key intelligence and planning documents.  Corbyn is not at all sure that he even accepts the principle of the Privy Council.

Defence Policy: All the assumptions underpinning British defence policy are now at risk.  The new Labour leader is particularly keen to scrap the ‘Successor’ programme that will see Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons replaced in the late 2020s at a cost of some £16bn.  Corbyn also wants to set up a so-called Defence Diversification Agency that would seek to re-task those working in Britain’s large defence-industrial sector so that swords may in future become ploughshares.  This ‘policy’ implies that Corbyn wants not only to unilaterally scrap Britain’s deterrent, but much of the conventional force and the industry that supports it.  People around Corbyn are already talking of a root-and-branch review of how Britain engages in the world and Corbyn himself has said he could foresee no circumstances in which as prime minister he would order the deployment of British forces.  There may be one cloud that has a partially-silvered lining; the idea that the defence budget can fund both a submarine-based strategic nuclear deterrent and a global reach conventional force will be revealed for it is – patent nonsense.

British Foreign and Security Policy: The election of an insurgent to lead the Labour Party has the most profound implications for Britain’s foreign, security and defence policy.  Indeed, given that Cameron has only a majority of twelve in the House of Commons it is likely he will need a significant number of Labour MPs to defy their leader if he is to gain the support of the House. 

EU and NATO: Corbyn himself is a long-time Euro-sceptic who has been a long-time on record of wanting Britain to quit the EU, which he believes to be a super-capitalists, super-plot.  By holding such implacable views he has already set himself on a collision course with much of the Parliamentary Labour Party, not least his own new Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn.  Certainly, the election of Corbyn has made a Brexit vote in the forthcoming referendum on EU membership more likely. He is equally and implacably opposed to Britain’s membership of NATO the very existence of which challenge his long-held pacifist views.  Interestingly, the newly-elected deputy leader Tom Watson wants to retain the nuclear deterrent and keep Britain in NATO, which should make for some interesting Shadow Cabinet meetings.

The Crisis of Liberal Democracy: The abject failure of European leaders to deal with a cacophony of crises that they themselves have helped generate – from handing too much power to a distant, technocratic Brussels, through the eternal Eurozone crash and on to the seemingly insoluble migrant crisis – has led to another crisis; the crisis of liberal democracy.  The election of Jeremy Corbyn thus says something else about politics, policy and strategy in Europe and indeed the wider West.  Establishments everywhere are under pressure from insurgent politicians and their groupings.  Huge numbers of electors see little or no relationship between what mainstream political leaders say, what they actually do, let alone what they achieve.  This systemic failure by distant mainstream politicians to cope with crises and protect their people from dangerous change has been exacerbated by the 2008 financial crash and the subsequent austerity which has left huge numbers of people at the poorer end of societies feeling victimised.

The Rise of the Insurgents: Sooner or later one of these insurgents is going to get hold of the keys to one of the great states of the West – be it Trump in the US, Corbyn in the UK, or Le Pen in France.  The world will then be in for roller-coaster politics as the insurgents, by definition anti-strategists lurch between disengagement and over-engagement.

The Death of Statecraft: However, to my mind perhaps the most dangerous strategic implication from the election of Corbyn will be the death of statecraft – the reasoned art of conducting state affairs.  One reason why mainstream Western politicians have failed is because it is very hard for the Western state to ‘succeed’ in the twenty-first century in a world in which borders seem archaic and identities endless. It is Putin's Russia that will likely prove the beneficiary of this as Corbyn's starry-eyed nostalgia for a fantasy Russia will make Britain's role in deterring Russia hard to take seriously. 

The Political Irony that is Jeremy Corbyn: Which brings me finally to the political irony that is Jeremy Corbyn. Seventy-five years ago today in the skies above London the decisive engagement took place in the Battle of Britain.  Believing the RAF to have been virtually destroyed the Luftwaffe pressed home a daylight attack on the great city.  The shock of German aircrew was all the greater when far from being faced by a few squadrons of Hurricanes and Spitfires to which they had become accustomed they were suddenly confronted by large formations and were defeated.  It was a turning point in World War Two and is today rightly commemorated.  To Corbyn and his Corbynistas the Battle of Britain has about as much resonance for a modern Britain in a modern Europe in a modern World as the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. 

The irony is that Jeremy Corbyn believes himself and his supporters to be the future.  In fact, they are the heirs of George Orwell and as such offer all of us little more than a return to the class war, Orwellian world of the 1950s.  As such they are every bit as anachronistic as the forty Hurricanes and Spitfires that will today take to the skies of Britain to commemorate The Few.

Julian Lindley-French